Modern day flatpanel TVs are getting so thin that their sound output tends to be equally thin on the ears. If you're spending four figures on a quality telly then you really ought to invest in sound for the ultimate home cinema experience. That's where a soundbar comes in to beef up the soundwaves. But why not go the whole hog and invest in a 5.1 surround system, including satellite speakers and a subwoofer for full-on frequency fulfilment?
Enter the Philips Fidelio HTL9100, a good looking system comprised of a soundbar with detachable satellite speakers and a separate active subwoofer. We paired this Dolby Digital 5.1 system up with the quality 55-inch Samsung 8000-series TV to see whether its sound could match up to the TV's width. Did it satisfy our audio needs and should it be on your surround sound shortlist?
Out of the box and the first thing you'll notice about the HTL9100 is that it's big. Or, more to the point, long. The main soundbar measures in at over a metre in length which, for smaller TV setups or where space is limited, will be to excess. This is a soundbar that wants to be seen, it hogs up all your home cinema space.
But then it deserves to: it's a good looking system from whichever angle you happen to look at it. The cloth-covered main speaker has small white LED lights to display connectivity, volume and bass/treble levels, while a brushed central panel with the "Philips Fidelio" name sits in the symmetrical centre, and there's just a single on/off button to keep things uncomplicated.
Two satellite speakers easily slip onto the outer extremities of the main soundbar, further extending the length. In this setup you have stereo system. Pop them off, push the individual on buttons on their rears - which will deliver a subtle off-white on light to the front of each speaker - and they can be placed or mounted behind the listener for that surround sound experience.
A separate wired subwoofer finishes off the package, and continues with the "long" theme. It's a tall sub, meaning its base footprint and 6.5-inch woofer size isn't as large as some competitors. We're not sure if it needs to be as big, or as bold, as it looks, but against the other black furniture in our setup and we soon forgot it was there - a good thing for any sub in our books.
Wired about wireless
Setting up the Fidelio HTL9100 system in is really, really easy. Plug the soundbar into the wall. Plug the sub into the wall. Plug your home cinema kit into the soundbar. Now switch on. That's it, you're done. How about that for zero faff?
The sub auto-pairs without the need for wires, the soundbar was in perfect sync wired up via the HDMI Arc to the TV - if it's not then you'll need to offset the sound from within the TV's menus - and we felt quite smug at how well it had all gone.
There's plenty more connectivity on the rear too so you can plug in multiple items. From games consoles to media players, the HTL9100 includes Aux, Coaxial digital, 3.5mm, two HDMI and optical inputs. There's also the aforementioned HDMI Arc relay. Can't think of much else you'd ever need.
But it's the wireless stuff that's come into abundant use in our household. Bluetooth pairing requires the included remote control to trigger the device search, but from here it's easy to setup wireless transfer from all manner of devices. We've been delivering tunes from MacBooks, smartphones and tablets without a hitch. If anything it's replaced our full-on stereo system as everything can be done from the sofa and the sound, as we'll come to, is great.
However, there is no on-screen interface that can be pushed to your TV. It's all down to the remote, and in that respect you'll be making adjustments somewhat blindly. The LED levels do assist clearly, but fuller EQ adjustment, delay controls and so forth aren't present here. They would be a benefit - albeit one that would complicate a simple-to-use system. That's as much a criticism as it is a benefit.
Sound as a pound
A significant purpose of a soundbar is to bolster audio; to turn things up a notch in not just the volume department but the quality stakes. And the Philips HTL9100 sure does that with minimal effort, delivering audio quality throughout its available volume range.
With all components switched on it's a rich, full experience. The remote control has a soundbar bass/treble adjustment and we found the treble needed to be pushed up fairly high to get the most room-filling projection. It's not crunchy, with just the right level of twinkling high-end to it. There's no mid-level adjustment, however, and that's one area where the soundbar is sometimes a little flat.
Bass is the biggest positive surprise of the package as that 6.5-inch woofer really delivers the goods. Minimal delay, silky bass that's striking but not overpowering - it adds an all-round depth to anything you happen to be listening to. Whether that's music or those typical pitched-down low-end bass notes in oh so many movies, it makes all the difference having true bass in the mix.
If you're trying to keep things quiet when the family's gone to bed then there might be an urge to switch the sub off. But we'd advise against it as the overall output sounds a little thin. Part of that is down to the mid-levels sounding a bit withdrawn in the mix, and also the soundbar's own bass output is limited. The latter point has to be the case, as otherwise it'd clash with the sub's frequencies. So if you're trying to keep things quiet then it'd probably best to switch the system off altogether. You'll groan with how poor the TV sounds by comparison though, which proves the HTL9100 absolutely does its job.
The full experience
We've spent a lot of time using the HTL9100 as a giant, elongated soundbar with the satellite speakers attached. It's been great for music and or for amplified TV viewing. But for the proper 5.1 experience you'll want to detach the satellite speakers and place them behind the sofa.
However, as not everything is delivered in Dolby Digital 5.1, we've found ourselves only moving them into position as a bit of a treat, such as when settling down to watch a Blu-ray. It all adds to the drama. Placement is fairly critical as with any 5.1 system, and we found that leaving the satellites on and in "5.1 position" delivered a scattered audio experience is a bit weird, truth be told.
These satellite speakers can't remain in situ forever, however, as their battery power will diminish after 10 hours of use and eventually they'll run down. That's still an overnight Lord of the Rings trilogy marathon catered for. The recharge solution is just as simple as the overall setup: pop them onto the main soundbar and wait for it to do its magic. We like this whole simplicity thing.
The whole Fidelio system is also wall-mountable, except, of course, for the subwoofer (unless you're a mad professor type). The main bar can be hung up on high, as can the individual satellites. We've not been drilling into our walls to see what that'd look like, but based on how decent the soundbar looks to the eyes we're sure it'll suit some homes.
It's hard to say a truly bad word about the Philips Fidelio Soundbar. It looks good, it sounds good, is super simple to set up and the modular satellite speaker experience is fun.
There might not be the advanced on-screen adjustments that you may (or may not) crave, but on the whole - and when every component part is in full operation - the sound quality is rich and full yet balanced. It'll take your TV from soap opera to the opera and you'll think all your mates' tellies sound flat as a pancake.
Use it for TV, bring your Blu-ray experience into the 5.1 realm for that movie treat, Bluetooth your music through it during the day when the TV's off - the Philips Fidelio HTL9100 has a multitude of uses and succeeds across the board. It's got the visual and audio aesthetics covered and we love it for that. It might not be cheap, but it's definitely a 5.1 system worthy of consideration and one we've been using almost non-stop for many weeks now.