Onkyo Envision Cinema LS-B50 Sound Bar System Review

Onkyo Gets into the Sound Bar Act

Onkyo LS-B50 6.1-Channel
Image copyright Amazon

Onkyo is primarily known for its home theater receivers and home-theater-in-abox systems, but now they have decided to jump into the ever-growing sound bar market. The LS-B50 is a system that combines a sound bar with a wireless subwoofer with the intention of giving consumers with a way to get better sound for TV viewing, without having to use a system with a lot of speakers. For more details on how to set it up and how it performs, keep reading this review.

Onkyo LS-B50 Sound Bar System Overview

Features of the LS-B50 System Sound Bar Unit include:

1. Speakers: The LS-B50 sound bar unit incorporates a two-way bass-reflex speaker system that features eight speakers total. There are six 2.75-inch full-range cone drivers: three are front facing, and there is one mounted facing outward from each end of the sound bar. For additional low frequency support there are also two front mounted ports. The remaining speakers consist of two front mounted ring-type tweeters.

2. Frequency Response (entire system): 40 Hz-20 kHz

3. Sound Bar Amplifier Configuration: Six amplifiers total - one each for the right and side mounted speakers, and one amplifier each assigned to the innermost full range speaker and tweeter on each front side. Onkyo states that each amplifier output 9 watts of power (36 watts total for the sound bar.

5. Inputs: One Digital Optical, One Digital Coaxial, One analog audio (3.5mm), and One USB.

6. Bluetooth Audio Input: Allows wireless streaming of audio content from compatible Bluetooth-equipped devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and PCs/MACs.

7. Audio Decoding and Processing: AuraSphere DSP  - Also, the LS-B50 can accept and decode Dolby Digital input signals, but it will not recognize DTS audio streams from Blu-ray or DVD players.

In these cases, you need to set your Blu-ray Disc or DVD player to PCM output so that the LS-B50 can accept the audio signal.

9. Equalization Presets: Additional equalization preset modes include: Movie, Music, and News.

9. Wireless transmitter for Subwoofer link: Bluetooth 2.4Ghz Band. Wireless Range: None stated, but should be at least 30 feet.

10. Sound Bar Dimensions: 35.8-inches (W) x 3.76-inches (H) x 3.5-inches (D)

11. Sound Bar Weight: 8.6 pounds

Features of the Wireless Subwoofer unit of the Onkyo Envision Cinema LS-B50 include:

1. Design: Bass Reflex with side mounted 6.5-inch cone driver, supported by bottom mounted port for added low frequency extension.

2. Power Output: Information not provided.

3. Wireless Transmission Frequency: 2.4 GHz

4. Wireless Range: Up to 30 feet - line of sight.

5. Subwoofer Dimensions: 10 1/4-inches (W) x 13 1/4-inches (H) x 10 9/16-inches (D)

6. Subwoofer Weight: 12.8 pounds

Additional components used to specifically review the LS-B50:

Blu-ray Disc Player: OPPO BDP-103 (used to play Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, and Music CDs.

Blu-ray Discs: Battleship, Ben Hur, Cowboys and Aliens, The Hunger Games, Jaws, Jurassic Park Trilogy, Megamind, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The Dark Knight Rises.

Standard DVDs: The Cave, House of the Flying Daggers, Kill Bill - Vol 1/2, Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut), Lord of Rings Trilogy, Master and Commander, Outlander, U571, and V For Vendetta.

CDs: Al Stewart - Sparks of Ancient Light, Beatles - LOVE, Blue Man Group - The Complex, Joshua Bell - Bernstein - West Side Story Suite, Eric Kunzel - 1812 Overture, HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Nora Jones - Come Away With Me, Sade - Soldier of Love.

Additional music content on USB flash drives.

Set-Up

After unboxing the LS-B50's sound bar and subwoofer units, place the sound bar above or below the TV (the sound bar can be wall mounted - a mounting template is provided but hardware is not).

Note: For the purposes of this review, all my listening tests were conducted with sound bar using the shelf-mounted placement option, I did not conduct any listening tests with the sound bar section in a wall-mounted configuration.

Next, place the subwoofer on the floor to the left or right of the TV/sound bar location, but you can experiment with other locations within the room - you might even find that putting the subwoofer in the back of the room may be your preference. Since there is not a connection cable to deal with, you have a lot of placement flexibility.

Now that you have placed the sound bar and subwoofer, connect your source components. You can connect either the digital or analog audio outputs from those sources, as well as the audio output of your TV, directly to the sound bar. Of course, make sure you connect  the video outputs of your source components directly to the TV.

Finally, plug in the power to the sound bar and the subwoofer. The sound bar comes with an external power adapter and the subwoofer comes with a detachable attached power cord. Turn the sound bar and subwoofer on, and the sound bar and subwoofer should automatically link up. If the link hadn't taken automatically, there is a "wireless link" button on the back of the subwoofer that can reset the wireless connection, if needed.

Performance

With the LS-B50 set up properly and the subwoofer link working, it was time to check out what it can do in the listening department.

I used the Digital Video Essentials Disc (Audio Testing Section) to measure the frequency response of the system.

On the high end, I found that usable sound started dropping off at about 12kHz, becoming inaudible not much above that point.

I also found that the subwoofer had a decent low end (40Hz) for its size, but as frequencies moved into the 60 to 80Hz range instead of gradually producing a louder output, the sub seemed to jump unnaturally, creating a boomy effect that overwhelmed the midrange frequencies produced by the sound bar. In order for a subwoofer to be properly effective, the bass output needs need to slope up and down its audio output smoothly from its low and high points without being abruptly exaggerated in between those points.

Even though the subwoofer volume on the LS-B50 can be adjusted separately from the main system volume, the over-exaggerated mid-bass frequency range of the subwoofer didn't really match that well with sound bar as I found myself fiddling around with main and subwoofer volume settings more that I would have liked to get the right balance.

As far as the sound bar unit goes, the mid-range, especially with music vocals, did not quite have the presence and detail I would have expected as high frequencies were somewhat subdued.

On the movie side, one example used was the first battle scene in the film Master and Commander. The boominess of the subwoofer was OK on the cannon fire. However, the sound detail as the cannon ball hit the ship, causing the flying of wood splinters and the chaos of the crew's footsteps on the wooden decks of the ship were very dull - definitely detracting from the full excitement of the scene.

On the music side, vocals, although loud enough, sounded somewhat flat. Overall, they did not have as much clarity in the midrange or subtle nuance in the higher frequencies as I would have preferred (or as I would have expected given the AuraSphere 3D audio processing). Also, the high frequency drop-off made acoustic instruments and drums sound less present and impactful.

Another thing to point out about the LS-B50 is that its on-board AuraSphere 3D audio processing is always active no matter what the source. On the positive side, the listener does get the benefit of a wide front sound stage whether listening to TV, movies, or music, but on the other hand, it does not provide an option for a straight two-channel stereo listening sound stage for music if that is what is desired.

In terms of the overall sound stage, the always-on AuraSphere 3D audio processing does provide a wide front sound stage in relation to the relatively narrow width of the sound bar unit, but I found that it doesn't project as much to the sides as I would have expected, given that it has a speaker driver facing out from each end of the sound bar, in addition to its front-facing speaker complement.

Also, another thing to point out is that the LS-B50 does not accept or decode DTS. This makes it somewhat confusing when playing back DVD, Blu-ray, or CD that only provides a DTS soundtrack. In such cases, you must set your source (such as DVD or Blu-ray Disc player) to PCM output. You then, if you want to get the benefit of the LS-B50's Dolby Digital decoding capability for most DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, reset your source to output in Bitstream format (if you are using the digital optical/coaxial connection options - if using the analog audio connection option, you can keep your source setting on PCM).

To sum up the audio performance of the LS-B50: It does sound much better than what you would get from a TV's built-in speaker system, or compact mini-audio music-only system, but falls a little short of some the sound bar systems I have heard and/or reviewed at its general price point.

What I liked About the Onkyo LS-B50

1. Easy to unpack, set up, and operate.

2. The included Wireless Subwoofer reduces cable clutter.

3. Provides on-board Dolby Digital audio decoding.

4. The sound bar can be shelf, table, or wall mounted (template is provided but hardware must be purchased separately).

4. IR sensor cable provides TV remote control command pass-through.

What I Didn't Like About the Onkyo LS-B50

1. Cannot accept or decode DTS.

2. The Center channel is, at times, overly prominent in relation to the left and right channels.

3. Vocals and dialog sounded flat, high frequencies and transient sounds are a little dull.

4. Subwoofer provides adequate bass for a modest system, but is overly boomy in the 60 to 80Hz frequency range.

5. Most of the LED status displays are mounted on the top of the sound bar, so they are not visible from a seated position. In other words, if you want to confirm your input and sound equalization settings, you have to get up, walk up to the sound bar, and take a look at the top of the unit. This is an easily correctable design issue.

Final Take

The Onkyo LS-B50 is very easy to setup and does enhance audio for TV viewing, as it does provide better sound than you would get from those TV speakers.

However, in comparison with other sound bar systems I have heard in its general price range, I feel that Onkyo has come up a little short with the LS-B50.

The bass output of the subwoofer, while strong, is overly boomy, and although the sound bar adds more "body" to TV dialog, the high frequencies are dull. Also, while the AuraSphere 3D audio processing provides a wide front soundstage, it didn't project sound that much to the sides.

My suggestion is that if you are shopping for a sound bar, definitely give the LS-B50 both a listen and consideration, but also do some comparison listening of sound bar/wireless subwoofer systems in the same price range.

For a further look at the Onkyo LS-B50, check out my supplementary Photo Profile.