Monday, December 7, 2015

Bose CineMate 120 sound bar and subwoofer

Ever since I was moving to California, I was getting rid of my 900+ watt, 7.1 audio system, and thinking about what I could get for an apartment.  I was banging my head against the wall because there are so many products that aren't much more than TV-quality sound.  Why pay an extra US$200-$300 for equally bad sound?

Then again, you could get high end sound bars for over US$2000.  Yamaha had some great choices that were somewhat economical, and I have been a Yamaha amplifier/receiver user since 1977.  I didn't like their consumer-oriented speakers because they were too flat (in sound) for homes.  Japanese homes are more sparse and probably won't absorb the sound so well.

I had a demonstration of Bose's CineMate 1SR, and I was positively surprised.  Years ago, I was asked to go to a presentation of the Acoustimass surround system before most people had seen them.  They were awful, and I was a Bose 901 Series VI user at the time, and I couldn't imagine why they would bother.  However, there are 400 sq. ft. apartments and people needed an audio system that would fit.

I'm not sure that there is a full Acoustimass system these days, but I didn't want one.

While I found the CineMate 1SR good, the main speaker was too big.  That's the same problem I have with the Yamaha YSP-series.  Bose had the CineMate 10, then the 15, and they didn't seem enough.  Then, they introduced a replacement for the 1SR with the CineMate 130 and introduced a smaller version, the CineMate 120.

The CineMate 120 has 4 HDMI inputs, which helps a lot.  My LG 4K TV has three general purpose HDMI inputs, and the fourth for portable MHL-compatible devices.

At US$799.99, it wasn't a difficult choice.  It was replaced a while back with the SoundTouch 120.  I couldn't see a difference, except that the latter comes with a wireless module.  The Best Buy location was selling the current item for a sale price of US$999.99, which seems a lot for a ~US$50.00 wireless module.  (I looked at a lot of other brands that are owned by Harman International--Jamo, JBL, etc. which were being sold around US$599.99 and they didn't please me.  I certainly didn't want to spend US$399.99 for sound that was barely different than that of the TV itself.)

Setup wasn't difficult but confusing.  For a product that sold for US$1199.99 and has a full HDMI switcher, it is annoying that they don't have an On Screen Display for setup.  The TV kept telling me that there was no signal, and there was no audio, so I thought that the product was defective.  However, I turned on the Sony Blu-Ray player and the TV told me that it was available, even though it was no longer directly connected but there was nothing connected to the HDMI port that it specified.

The physical setup is simple--even a company executive could do it without his assistants.  The speakers have distinctive, unique connectors that cannot be inserted into the wrong ports.  The subwoofer is wireless, unless there is a problem--there is a wired connection that is not included but the ports are there.

Looking at the little, one line display on the front of the console is annoying when I have a 4K TV that they could be using.  After all, they're passing input from various TV-compatible products.

Thankfully, there wasn't much to do with it but if I want to change the bass level, I have to look at the tiny display.

The AdaptIQ (Bose uses all uppercase letters but they pronounce it more like this) setup was automated, for 5 sitting locations.  I felt like an idiot wearing a sort of headset that wouldn't stay well, but it includes a microphone (or two) to check where you sit, and calculate the audio trajectories.  Having used Direct/Reflecting speakers from Bose (the 901 Series VI and 601 Series IV), I've been more concerned with experience than sheer numbers.  For those who live and die by numbers, you're missing something.  As an example, it's like when a 4 cylinder-powered Lotus vehicle could cross the country much faster than an 8 cylinder-powered Corvette simply because the Lotus car didn't waste as much time re-fueling.  It's not the end-all-be-all for everyone.  If I wasn't living in an apartment, I probably wouldn't be using it.

After everything was set, it sounds great and the video looks great.

Even at a very low volume I'm able to understand much better than hearing the same from the TV itself at any volume.

Update 2015.12.09: I'm pleased with the system.  Sound from every point where I have been in the trouble is good.  Whether it could be considered excellent or not is up to your ears.  My previous 900+ watt 7.1 system with 5 speakers was amazing at most louder volumes.  This system is very clear at lower volume, and the subwoofer definitely brings more emotional impact.  The center "speaker" is very good at delivering speech.

I tested a 3D movie tonight and that worked fine.  I'm not really sure about the 4K upscaling making it through the console.  Color actually looks better than it had been, possibly because it's going through the ARC-capable HDMI port.

I set up my Sony Blu-Ray and 4th generation Apple TV to work with the Bose remote and that seemed to go just fine.  The latest DirecTV Genie remote is not compatible with anything else, unfortunately.

Update 2015.12.16: I've lowered the volume of the subwoofer significantly to be a good neighbor.  The subwoofer is strangely, unexpectedly powerful.  Remembering the original Acoustimass demo, I didn't think any of it was good, but that was around 25 years ago, if I remember correctly.  They've apparently researched port shape very carefully and made things work well.

Update 2016.02.19: There have been minor issues.

When starting, it sometimes has a huge echo.  It seems as though it has a stadium mode, that is otherwise inaccessible.  Having had Yamaha DSP-capable equipment, I would like to enable various soundfields.

It sometimes does not see the Blu-Ray or DirecTV box.  Other times, it does seem to connect to the TV, leaving the TV to tell me that there is no input signal.  Powering off and on again is useful.

Considering the price compared to discrete components and speakers, the performance is reasonable, including the quirks.

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