A sound bar must server two purposes in order to succeed: the first being to provide an accurate and faithful rendering of the audio being outputted from a television (or video source device that is connected to the TV). The second purpose that must be served is to blend into the surroundings so as to be an integral component of a home theater; it is not to stand out and call attention to itself.
Hitachi’s HSB32B26 Bluetooth Sound Bar fulfills both of these purposes. It is totally self-contained in that there is no subwoofer accompanying it (although there is an output for connecting one, should the home owner have it already). Wiring is also kept to a minimum, since the sound bar has built-in Bluetooth capabilities for streaming audio from sources such as mobile devices. Physical connections are kept to a minimum, as other than a power supply input, there is only the choice between coaxial, digital optical and analog L/R RCA audio inputs.
The Hitachi HSB32B26 Bluetooth Sound Bar also has a sleek and non-intrusive appearance (piano black) that can compliment its placement beneath a wall-mounted display or placed in front of it if the TV is on a cabinet. There are two brackets attached to the bottom that serve as feet. These can be removed and screwed onto the back to serve as wall mounts. The sound bar’s lightweight nature (6-1/2 pounds) means that very little difficulty will be had in wall mounting on drywall/plasterboard (but care must always be taken as regards electrical wiring that could be inside the wall).
Power and volume controls are hidden behind the front grill at the sound bar’s middle. It’s best to ignore these controls and use the euro-rounded remote instead, as it provides access to all functions such as switching between inputs, muting the audio, raising/lowering volume and activating the “surround sound” like effect. A panel at the extreme left front provides a visual indicator of what has been enacted through colored lights. But for the most part, one’s ears will provide a better indication of the choices made with the remote, as the panel is quite small.
A black cloth grill wraps the front of the Hitachi HSB32B26 Bluetooth Sound Bar and covers the speaker set inside. These consist of 4 midrange /woofers (2-3/4th-inches) and 2 soft dome tweeters (3.4th-inches). A dual port bass-reflex enclosure is evident by looking at the holes in each end of the sound bar.
The Hitachi HSB32B26 Bluetooth Sound Bar is placed on the cabinet in front of the HDTV that is being used to test it with. Audio is connected between the two using the digital optical input. Once turned on, it’s immediately evident that the quality of the sound is far superior to that of the TV’s built-in speakers.
Switching between TV channels, the dialogue was crisp and clear. But for a more realistic test, I’ll be playing audio from the “The Expendables 2,” which is in the Blu-ray player connected to the TV. This movie is high on explosions and so offers the opportunity to push the volume up. Doing this didn’t cause the sound bar to make rattling noises or distort; a decent balance was maintained between the mid and high ranges, while the bass had a very good impact on the overall sound field. But the volume does get a bit reduced with the surround effect turned on, so volume will need to be at least 3/4ths of the way up if a group of people are gathered around the TV and more than 10 feet away (from distance and ambient noises from the crowd).
There are three modes that affect the overall sound response: Music, Sport and Game. Both Sport and Game seem to increase the level of bass, although the differences are so subtle that leaving the sound bar on Music will work well most of the time.
To get a better feeling for the overall response of the speakers, I turned off the TV and played some music: to kill two birds, as it were, I activated the Bluetooth function by pressing a button on the remote and then selecting the audio option from a smartphone’s Bluetooth setting. Being used in this case were a number of high-resolution audio files streamed from an iPhone from about 12 feet away. Playing the Doors’ “Strange Days,” the mixture of organ and electric guitar remained separate, even as the reverb didn’t cause the vocals (thready to be sure) to be muffled. Moving to the earlier recording of “Break on Through,” the drum-set and bass remained steady and didn’t break on through to deaden the vocals (sorry, couldn’t resist the horrible pun). For a purer rock and roll test, “My Sharona” from the Knack shows that good stereo separation is possible, especially if you are closer than 10 feet to the sound bar. Running up the volume didn’t cause any distortion — even with the guitar’s wah-wah pedal wailing.
Bottom line: The Hitachi HSB32B26 Bluetooth Sound Bar is a compact sound bar that physically matches up best with a 42-inch or smaller TV. Getting good sound from a $149 retail sound bar may not be unusual, but one that provides Bluetooth capabilities is. This is also true of the high wattage, which lets the sound bar maintain a comfortable level in a moderate space, such as a den or bedroom, while providing a few more notches up in volume if desired.
- Remote can control volume of a subwoofer if attached
- Night mode activates auto-volume and can deactivate auto-bass for a quieter response
- Speaker grill is not removable
- Headphone port inaccessible if wall-mounted
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.