Hands-on review: Majority Audio soundbars
Image credit: Majority Audio
Plug and play soundbars can enhance the quality of TV audio or give a boost to your phone and laptop. We put two of the most popular models through their paces.
The compact Majority Audio Bowfell is Amazon’s best-selling soundbar. It’s sold as an instant upgrade on the weedy sound and muddy dialogue that plague many slender TVs. For just £15 more, the Majority Audio Snowdon II is larger and puts out 120W, more than double the Bowfell’s 50W power. We put both to the test.
First impressions of the 2.1-channel Bowfell were that it’s surprisingly small at 72x388x54mm (HxWxD), so it’s nowhere near as wide as even a small TV. It’s also not designed to be wall-mounted: there are no fittings for this purpose. Instead, it’s designed to sit on a table in front of a smaller, stand-mounted TV. In front of any modern TV it will look rather small: it’s wider than most portable Bluetooth speakers, but not as wide as you’d expect a soundbar to be.
Your TV can connect via the Bowfell’s digital optical input or analogue line-in 3.5mm jack. It comes with an RCA cable for the latter that plugs into the red and white audio outputs on the back of most TVs. It also comes with a simple 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, for connecting from the headphone socket of a portable device like a phone, tablet or laptop, although many people will doubtless prefer to use the built-in Bluetooth for music streaming. You can play audio straight from a USB device, too - for example, MP3 files on a USB memory stick.
Setup was simple: the power button on the side or the ‘Mode’ button on the remote control cycle through whether you’re using a cable or Bluetooth to connect. A coloured light behind the grille indicates the selected mode. Sound was bass-ier and louder than my TV’s built-in sound. The sound also seemed marginally louder via the cable.
The remote control is small but solidly built. You can cycle between modes, pair Bluetooth and control the volume. You can choose a couple of digital sound processing (DSP) modes, too: rock, jazz or flat. There are also basic controls for navigating USB tracks.
The 50W Bowfell’s sound quality is on a par with a good Bluetooth speaker and can handle high volumes and big bass without distortion. We put it through its paces with some Skrillex and it filled the room with party-worthy bass that made the phone’s half-decent sound seem beneath contempt. Impressive, considering there’s no subwoofer. It gives TV sound a boost, too, but it lacks stereo separation. Partly this is due to size: you can’t get much space between the left and right speakers in such a small device. Also, one end of the Bowfell is used for circuitry, so the right-hand speaker isn’t even at the end.
The Bowfell is sold on either size or price. Size-wise, it’s perfect for students who want to pack light. You can fill a room with sound easily. Price-wise, it’s a cheap and cheerful sonic upgrade that gives you extra oomph if you’re watching TV on a laptop or phone. However, if you can stretch to the extra £15 to get the bigger, better Snowdon II (see below), it's worth it if you want to boost the sound from a larger television.
With the Majority Audio Snowdon II, you visibly get a lot more for your money. At 83x810x83mm (HxWxD), it’s more than twice the Bowfell’s width. That means it would look good sat under a TV of 37 inches and up. It looks sleek, too, with a curvy design rather than boxy. A pair of brackets on the back make for easy wall mounting, although it also sits just fine on a table.
The 150W Snowdon II is a 2.1 channel soundbar, which means left and right stereo channels plus subwoofer. It’s very clear from a look through the grille that there are three equal-sized speaker cones. A listen confirms the fact that the middle driver isn’t a centre channel: it’s dedicated to bass. There is also a bass port on the rear, something the Bowfell lacks. The brackets keep this positioned a little off the wall.
Once again, the circuitry is all at the right-hand end, so the right speaker is shifted to the left a bit, which affects stereo separation. This feels less problematic with this model because the Snowdon II is so much wider than the Bowfell. Inputs are a little different. There’s no USB: instead, you get separate red and white RCA sockets for aux in, as well as a 3.5mm jack. The RCA cable supplied for analogue input from the TV connect to these and there’s an optical in for digital, too.
The remote control is similar to the Bowfell’s control, but this time DSP modes are called flat, music, dialog and movie. You can also fine-tune bass and treble. The modes do make a difference: movie is bassier, whereas dialog pares back the bass so you can hear the treble better. The only downside is there’s no visual indicator of which mode you’re in, so it’s easy to forget.
The Snowdon II is louder than the Bowfell, but not dramatically so. What’s noticeable is that the sound is more refined, so you get a full sound that can fill even a large room, rather than just a beefy bass. Skrillex sounds even better, as do television and action movies. The difference was impressive.
The names of the DSP modes betray the fact that the Snowdon II is designed as a TV soundbar which doubles as an impressive Bluetooth speaker, whereas the Bowfell is a cheap Bluetooth speaker that can give your TV or laptop sound a boost. The Snowdon II is affordable enough that it’s the better buy, unless you need the compact size of the Bowfell – for example in a student bedroom or to boost laptop, rather than TV, sound.
From £34.95 www.majority.co.uk
JBL Bar 2.0
Big, immersive sound from a slim bar. The JBL measures 58x614x90mm (HxWxD). Despite its size, it’s an all-in-one soundbar: you get a full and bass-rich sound without the need for a subwoofer. You can connect it to your TV via HDMI or optical.
If money is no object, Sonos soundbars offer a high-quality sonic upgrade. You can integrate with other Sonos speakers. For example, have two wireless speakers elsewhere in the house and then bring them to the back of the living room for movie night surround sound. This model - its smaller soundbar - measures 69x651x100mm (HxWxD).
Audio Pro T3+
Alternatively, invest in a good-quality Bluetooth speaker for a music upgrade that can also work with a TV. This only has 3.5mm and Bluetooth inputs, but it’s rechargeable with a battery life of up to 30 hours for listening anywhere. The Swedish design is typically Scandi elegant - doubly so in limited edition lemon yellow.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.