The purpose of a Sound bar is to provide louder volume than that of the TV that is has been placed or mounted in front of. This simple concept — driven home by the proliferation of ever thinner flat panel TVs that render the size of speakers puny — has had “bells and whistles” added to it, such as being able to see their menus through a video connection with the TV. But in the case of Sceptre’s SB301524W Smart Speaker Sound Bar 2.1 with Built-in Subwoofer & Android Platform, its addition of Android OS means “Smart TV’ capabilities designed around specific entertainment venues. And which makes its purchase more useful than that of just “louder volume.”
At a retail price of $299.99, the SB301524W shouldn’t come in a cheesy cabinet. It doesn’t — on the contrary, the “build” is of a nice quality — not deluxe for sure, but it’s understated attractive. There’s a solid feel when placed on a stand in front of the TV and it doesn’t wobble or “creak” when moved around either.
Connecting to the TV’s audio output can be done either through coaxial, 3.5mm jack or RCA analog stereo inputs. HDMI is also available, but this is for use so that the SB301524W’s “Smart TV” functionality via Android can be seen on the TV; the HDMI going into a free HDMI input on the TV. The next step is to integrate the SB301524W’s built in WiFI with the home network — for this reason alone you must be able to see the Sound bar’s menus. The procedure is straightforward and similar to that of a WiFi equipped Sceptre TV. But lacking is WiFi Protected Setup (WPS) support, so you have to key in the WiFi Network Key on your router. This is difficult with the Sound bar remote but fortunately only needs to be done once. On the other hand, the Internet connection was fast and stable.
The Android function allows you to use the Sound bar as if it were any Android device via the WiFi connection. This means you can log into your Google Play account and access any of your apps from the Sound bar. One downside of this arrangement is that all text has to be keyed in using the Sound bar remote’s limited text function. Where the remote fell down was with games. While the actual “speed” of game play was never an issue, as the single-core processor was more than up to the task, having a keyboard/mouse attached would make for more enjoyable experience. If you want to really interact with the Sound bar as an Android device, there is a USB connection on the Sound bar that lets you connect a keyboard and mouse via an external USB hub. On the plus side, there’s 4GB’s of internal memory for holding data, with a 32GB SD card slot allowing for more storage as well.
The SB301524W’s control menus were easy and intuitive to navigate, with pre-sets for Movies, Music, News and Games averaging out the settings as Sceptre thought best for each category. The front panel mirrors the choices being made, but its limited information is just another reason why using onscreen menus make more sense. But on the plus side the colored text is more readable from a distance.
Sound quality is singularly important, and it’s here that the SB301524W swings from good to “just OK.” The sound is being driven by two 2” stereo speakers amplified by 18 watts. The bar is big enough in size for there to be enough room between the speakers for a decent stereo sound field when seated in front of it. Nor does the volume hiss or crackle when driven pretty much all the way up — but that could be partly from the lack of overall “oomph” since it doesn’t get all that loud. Loud enough to command attention when the family is seated watching TV, but a group of football fans cheering and jeering in front of it would give this Sound bar pause. Sound is an improvement over TV speakers, with the overall effect fine for average viewing. However the 35 watt, 3” subwoofer’s bass effect (even with the addition of a passive radiator) could be better. Overall this made watching a movie less than ideal. Also the simulated surround effect is not very dramatic and somewhat negligible unless you were dead centered to the bar with the volume up pretty high.
Bottom line: The Sceptre SB301524W Smart Speaker Sound Bar 2.1 with Built-in Subwoofer & Android Platform sound bar has all of the good qualities of a basic Sound bar for enhancing audio quality plus the benefit of Android for playing Android games, music and videos and access to all of your Android apps on a big screen without needing to use phone, computer or other external device in between.
Touch Sensor control panel, Android 4.04
No optical digital input
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.