Budget TVs today come with a host of options like HDMI ARC, 4K HDR playback and some smart capabilities. One of the compromises made to keep the price of these TVs low is the quality of audio output. Most budget TVs today pack in 20W of sound output which sound average at best. It gets the job done for everyday TV viewing but for an immersive gaming or movie watching experience, you need a dedicated sound system. The lacklustre sound experience from TV speakers has given birth to soundbars.
In the past few years, advances in technology have made it so that soundbars can offer stiff competition to entry-level home theatres with advantages such as ease of setup and installation along with good sound output. We have seen soundbars priced around Rs 5,000 to Rs 7,000 offer good sound output in the entry-level segment. But to get an immersive experience a consumer would need to spend about Rs 20,000. Today we have with us the Blaupunkt SBWL-03 Soundbar. It is priced at Rs 13,990 and brings with it connectivity like HDMI ARC, Bluetooth, optical, 3.5mm and USB. it also comes with a wireless subwoofer. Is it a worthy entry-level soundbar?
Blaupunkt SBWL-03 Soundbar key specifications at a glance
Soundbar and Subwoofer Weight: 8.5 kg.
Audio Inputs: HDMI ARC, Optical In, USB, Bluetooth and AUX-In.
Soundbar Dimension: LxWxH = 48.5 x 10.4 x 32.2 cm.
HDMI Input: 0.
HDMI Output (Audio Return Channel): 1.
Soundbar Speaker Driver: 2.75-inch x 2.
Subwoofer Speaker Driver: 8-inch.
Power output: 250W.
Price: Rs 13,990.
What’s in the box of the Blaupunkt SBWL-03 Soundbar
In the box, you get the soundbar, subwoofer and 2 aux cables (one 3.5mm at both ends and the other, RCA to 3.5mm). You also get the remote control and manual. The power cables are attached to the Subwoofer and the soundbar.
Blaupunkt SBWL-03 Soundbar Build And Design
The Blaupunkt SBWL-03 has a simple traditional soundbar design. It’s made of plastic with a glossy finish on the top of the soundbar. The front has a textured wavy plastic design and some may like it as it will stand out in a traditional home entertainment setup. Below the logo of the soundbar, we have an LED indicator to show you the sound preset, the current source, etc. I wish this were a little dimmer or would automatically go off after some time as its constant visibility can get distracting, especially if you watch content in a pitch dark room. The power button also doubles up as a source select button which is nice in case you lose the remote control.
The soundbar itself is very light and is almost as long as a 50-inch TV making it ideal for 50 to 65-inch setups. The power cord is attached to the soundbar and is not user-replaceable. On the right of the soundbar, we have the physical controls which include a volume rocker and a power button. The buttons have a distinct click to them when pressed and honestly feel a little cheap. There are no rubber feet at the bottom of the soundbar to help hold it in place on a table and this is a bummer.
Moving over to the subwoofer, it is tall and slim with the duct on the upper side of the subwoofer. It has a matte finish which I like and when light shines on the subwoofer, it looks a little textured which is nice. The subwoofer has no connectivity options except for the power cable which is attached and not user-replaceable. The soundbar and subwoofer connect wirelessly to each other when switched on.
Overall, even though the soundbar is light, it is decently built. It doesn’t have rubber feet to hold it in place on the table which is a downer. The subwoofer feels well built.
Blaupunkt SBWL-03 Soundbar Ports And Connectivity
Speaking of connectivity options, the speaker has one HDMI ARC port, one Optical in, one USB port, Bluetooth and one AUX-In. The USB port is one the side while the rest of the connectivity options are at the back in a little cavity. There is no HDMI passthrough on the bar, but I think at this price point, asking for HDMI passthrough is wishful thinking. The soundbar also comes with a remote control in the box.
A good thing is that the soundbar comes with 2 AUX cables, one 3.5mm at both ends and the other 2.1 aux cable (RCA to AUX) in the box ensuring you are ready for some form of connectivity when you unbox the speaker. For optical and HDMI ARC connectivity, you will have to fend for a cable yourself.
Blaupunkt SBWL-03 Remote Control
Speaking of the remote control, it is all plastic and feels quite cheap. The buttons are rubbery and have a fairly decent grip to them but it is hard to imagine this remote control surviving more than a few drops, considering its plastic construction. It runs on two AAA batteries and offers playback controls for Bluetooth and USB connectivity, four different EQ presets, treble, bass and volume controls and the ability to change inputs. Whatever you do on the remote control is reflected on the LED display on the soundbar.
Blaupunkt SBWL-03 Setup
Setting up the soundbar is extremely easy. Place the soundbar under the TV, place the subwoofer in a corner (the soundbar and the sub shouldn’t be more than 30 feet apart), connect both to a power supply, and connect it to your TV and you are good to go. The setup shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes. There is a blue light that blinks at the back of the subwoofer when powered on for the first time and becomes a constant blue light when the soundbar is switched on.
Blaupunkt SBWL-03 Performance
This is where it gets tricky, so let’s get the good stuff out of the way. The soundbar can get loud, really loud. On the display, the volume can go up to 32 at its maximum and I was more than happy leaving it between 15 and 25 depending on the input method used to get an enjoyable experience. However, only the line in (aux port) and the Optical connection gave a consistently good performance with HDMI and Bluetooth giving issues.
When connected to the TV via HDMI, there was a constant audio drop, until the audio wasn’t audible anymore. I checked and changed the cables as well to eliminate a cable issue and my very own YAMAHA YAS-209 did not show these problems with the same cables connected. For about 10-15 min the audio will play fine from the ARC and then all of a sudden the audio will start to drop and sometimes vanish all of a sudden as well. There was no listening session where this did not happen. With optical, there were times when there was a noticeable lip-sync issue at times. The only input that worked flawlessly was the line in. I connected the Blaupunkt SBWL-03 to an LG B9 OLED with all the sources – HDMI ARC, Optical, Line-in and Bluetooth.
When connected with line-in and optical I managed to watch some news, Young Sheldon, Mad Max, play a few games like Marvel’s Spider-Man and The Last of Us II. From just this one source (line-in) I can tell you that if the other input sources worked flawlessly, it would be easy to recommend this soundbar. The vocals and dialogue are clean and clear, the bangs from the sub are decent and the volume can get pretty loud. There is good channel separation as well be it with objects moving on-screen or when different characters are talking from different corners of the room. In the optical connection, I did face a sync issue sometimes between the audio playing and lips moving on the screen with the optical connection and this can get quite distracting. In a game like The Last of Us 2 where enemies are calling out to each other, there was distinct channel separation. Even in Mad Max, when the cars in the desert zoom from one side of the screen to the other, there is good separation. There is enough bass thump and roar when the engines of the cars fire up.
Even for music, be it rock, classical or Bollywood dance numbers, the soundbar is fun when listening to music. Bluetooth connection does degrade the audio quality when compared to AUX, and that’s a known thing for all soundbars. But with more and more smartphones getting rid of the 3.5mm port, soundbars need to up their Bluetooth connectivity game. Also, when connected via Bluetooth there is a slight hum that comes from the subwoofer. It is evident at low volumes removing you from the listening experience. The hum wasn’t there always but appeared often enough for me to highlight it as an issue.
Overall, I actually enjoyed the sound output considering the price range we are talking about. Alas, the buggy performance with ARC and optical makes it really hard to recommend this soundbar.
The buggy performance of the HDMI ARC, Optical and Bluetooth connectivity of the soundbar makes it hard to recommend. The soundbar launched at Rs 13,990 but as of writing this review, it is available on Amazon for Rs 15,234. At that price, it is even harder to recommend especially when the likes of the JBL Bar 2.1 are available at about 20k, offering better value for money proposition with the same connectivity options. We also have the Sony HT-S20R that gives users a 5.1 setup for Rs 18,000.