The sound coming from a TV’s built-in speakers typically sucks: It’s invariably thin and weak, and the dialog is nearly unintelligible. Of course, you could assemble a complete outboard sound system with an A/V receiver and speakers, but that is often more trouble—and more expensive—than it’s worth, especially for a secondary TV in the bedroom or other outlying area of your home.
The best solution for this conundrum is a soundbar, a wide, thin enclosure that includes several speaker drivers and sits just below the TV screen. Most soundbars do not deliver the sound quality of a full-blown audio system, but they far exceed the capabilities of most TVs’ built-in speakers. And many can even simulate the effect of a complete surround-sound system using psychoacoustic trickery.
The $700 Harman Kardon Enchant 800 is just such a soundbar. Does it fulfill the promise of better sound without the hassle or expense of a more extensive outboard audio system? I was eager to find out.
Four buttons on the top of the unit provide basic control.
Like most soundbars, the Enchant 800 is wide and slender, measuring 33.8- by 2.6- by 4.9 inches (W x H x D) and weighing in at 9.5 pounds. It will fit neatly below the screen of most stand-mounted TVs, but it needs almost five inches of of depth. If your TV is wall-mounted, the soundbar can be mounted below it with the included hardware.
The Enchant 800 provides eight channels of audio with six 2-inch woofers, two 1-inch tweeters, and a proprietary technology called MultiBeam. Using sophisticated digital signal processing (DSP) and side-firing drivers that direct some sounds to reflect from the walls, the Enchant 800 is intended to create a 5.1 surround-sound field from Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams. A feature called Acoustic MultiBeam Calibration (AMC) optimizes the system for your room without requiring a separate calibration microphone.
Built-in audio amplification provides a combined maximum peak of 180 watts, with an RMS power rating of 90W. Total harmonic distortion (THD) is 1% with a maximum output of 91dB SPL. The frequency response is specified from 76Hz to 20kHz, and a port on the back of the unit enhances the bass performance. If you want even deeper bass, an optional Enchant wireless subwoofer is available for an additional $699.95.
One HDMI 2.0 input that supports HDCP 2.2 copy protection lets you connect an HDMI source device to the Enchant 800. The audio portion of the signal is reproduced by the soundbar, while the video is sent to the TV from the unit’s HDMI output. That output supports ARC (Audio Return Channel), which lets the TV send audio from its internal streaming apps or over-the-air tuner back to the soundbar along the same cable. The HDMI input and output offer bandwidth of 18Gbps to support 4K/UHD content and HDR10 video.
The Enchant 800 includes six 2-inch woofers and two 1-inch tweeters.
Other connections include a 3.5mm analog-audio input, an optical digital-audio input, and a USB 2.0 port. In addition, the Enchant 800 offers two wireless options: You can send audio from a mobile device via Bluetooth 4.2 (A2DP v1.2 and AVRCP v 1.5 profiles are supported), and you can stream audio from online services on your mobile device via Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n/ac), thanks to Google Chromecast being built in.
The Enchant 800 offers five preset sound modes—Standard, Music, Movie, Voice, and Personal—which adjust the EQ and amount of MultiBeam effect for different types of content. The Voice mode enhances dialog, while the Personal mode starts out identical to Standard mode, but can be customized with different levels of bass and stored in five independent memories. The other sound modes can be modified, but they cannot be stored.
Two additional features are Night Mode and Audio Sync. Night Mode reduces the dynamic range of the audio, so you can hear everything when the volume is low. That way, you won’t disturb others who are trying to sleep or otherwise require quiet. Audio Sync lets you adjust the audio delay if it is not synchronized with the video. This is especially important to ensure dialog is synchronized with the lips of anyone who is speaking onscreen. The Night Mode setting is stored in the user presets, but Audio Sync is a global setting that applies to all sound modes.
Two of the 2-inch woofers are aimed toward the side walls to create a surround effect.
The Enchant 800 provides four buttons on the top of the enclosure: power on/off, volume down and up (press both simultaneously to mute), and a button that cycles through the inputs to select the one you want. A small, square, dot-matrix display on the front shows a few characters and basic graphics to indicate the selected input, muting, and other information that scrolls if necessary. The display is located behind the fabric grill cloth and becomes invisible when it’s not active.
The included remote offers the primary means of controlling the Enchant 800. The dominant feature is the large volume up/down rocker, which is surrounded by smaller buttons to mute, select the source, select the sound mode, and initiate Bluetooth pairing. Above this group are buttons to dim the display and engage the auto-calibration feature, followed by five buttons that let you store and select user presets.
Below the volume rocker are transport controls (skip to the previous track, play/pause, skip to the next track) for streaming content, a button that shuffles the order of streaming tracks, and a button that engages Night Mode. Finally, one horizontal rocker adjusts the bass level, and another adjusts the audio delay for lip sync.
The remote has a rubberized surface that feels nice and secure to the touch. It is not illuminated, however, and many of the buttons are the same size and shape, making them difficult to find by feel in the dark. (The big volume up/down rocker is easy to find by feel.) Some of the buttons have a raised bump to help in this regard. On the other hand, once you set up the soundbar, you’ll probably use the TV’s remote most of the time, so these little complaints don’t really matter much.
The remote includes a large volume up/down rocker in the middle, surrounded by buttons to control everything else. At this price, the buttons should be illuminated.
The Enchant 800 automatically responds to the IR commands for volume and mute for most TVs from LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio, which makes integrating the soundbar with any of these TVs much easier. You can also disable this feature if you prefer. If you have a TV from another manufacturer, you can teach the soundbar its IR remote commands. Even better, if the TV supports HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), many TV remotes will automatically work that way.
I decided to use the Enchant 800 with the TV in the master bedroom, a Sony KDL-40V5100 LCD TV. It fits nicely on the rotating platform the TV sits on and does not obscure the TV or its infrared receiver for remote commands. (Some soundbars are tall enough to block the IR receiver.)
Unfortunately, the TV is located with an open closet to the right and an open hallway to the left, making reflections impossible from those areas. I don’t have a better place to test the soundbar, so I initiated the soundbar’s calibration routine and let the chips—er, sounds—fall where they may.
After calibration, I started with an optical digital-audio connection from the TV to the Enchant 800. My Dish satellite box and Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player were connected to the TV’s HDMI inputs. I set the TV to use an external audio system rather than its own speakers, and the soundbar responded to the TV remote’s volume and mute commands as expected.
The Enchant 800’s connections include (L-R): AC power, 2-channel analog-audio in, HDMI out (with ARC), HDMI in, USB, and optical digital-audio in. The large port in the center enhances the bass, and a button next to the port lets you pair the soundbar with its optional subwoofer.
The TV’s optical output, however, only sends 2-channel audio, so I switched to an HDMI cable from the satellite box or Blu-ray player to the Enchant 800 and another HDMI cable from the soundbar to the TV. (The Enchant 800 has only one HDMI input, so I had to swap cables depending on whether I wanted to watch the satellite box or Blu-ray player.) In that configuration, the soundbar no longer responded to the TV remote’s volume and mute commands. Also, I tend to keep the satellite box on, even when the TV is off, in which case the audio is still audible unless I mute the soundbar or put it in standby mode.
These issues can be addressed by programming the TV, satellite, or universal remote with the volume and mute commands for the soundbar and creating a macro to put the soundbar in standby mode when the TV is turned off. I didn’t do that, but it is certainly possible.
Also, when I fired up the satellite receiver and TV, the soundbar awakened from standby mode and selected the ARC input, not the HDMI input. (When I had both the optical and HDMI connections between the TV and soundbar, the soundbar awakened with the optical input selected, so I disconnected the optical cable.) The input is selected by repeatedly pressing the Source button to cycle through the inputs, so this can’t be easily incorporated into a universal-remote macro. I wish you could set the soundbar to awaken with the last active input selected.
Harman Kardon offers an optional wireless subwoofer, but adding it doubles the price of this system.
I started my performance evaluation with some audio tests on the THX Calibration Disc; specifically, the channel-identification tests, which play pink noise in each channel sequentially. I played the 5.1 tests in Dolby Digital, DTS, and PCM. In each case, the surround channels did not extend beyond the boundaries of the enclosure.
Moving on to real content, I watched some of the Pixar film Inside Out on Blu-ray. After trying the different sound modes, I liked Movie mode the best; it sounded the most robust. In Voice mode, the dialog was front and center, but there wasn’t much bass at all. I could increase the bass level, but I couldn’t save that as a user preset. During the scene when Joy and Sadness accidentally fly through channels in Riley’s mind and end up in long-term memory, I listened for surround effects beyond the boundaries of the soundbar, but I couldn’t hear any.
Next up was Gravity on Blu-ray, which has lots of surround content. This time, I heard a bit of sound extending beyond the enclosure during the initial encounter with the debris field near the beginning of the movie. The dialog was good, with excellent localization of voices across the front soundstage.
Another Blu-ray I checked out was Certifiable, a live concert video of The Police performing in Buenos Aires. As expected, Voice mode was quite wimpy with very little bass. The bass was much better in Music mode—in fact, perhaps a bit too much—but the vocals were somewhat muffled. Movie mode sounded the best to me, with good vocals and slightly emphasized bass. That mode sounded more lively and present than Standard mode.
The Enchant 800 measures 33.8 inches wide, so it should match up nicely with 55-inch and smaller TVs.
As The Police performed “Synchronicity II,” I played with the Audio Sync control and found that it had much less effect than I expected. I ran it up to its maximum value of 250ms, but the audio/video sync was nowhere near a quarter-second off. This is especially easy to see and hear when watching a drummer on the screen. Still, I settled on 40ms, which brought Stewart Copeland’s drum hits into near-perfect sync.
I also watched a bit of The Chronicles of Riddick on the Encore channel as provided by Dish Network. In Movie mode, dialog intelligibility was very good, and I could hear a few surround effects beyond the confines of the soundbar. The bass was okay, but nothing spectacular.
Finally, I paired my iPhone 6 with the Enchant 800 via Bluetooth and listened to “Funky ‘T’” on Steve Turre’s album Rhythm Within. This Latin-jazz track includes Turre on trombone and sea-shell trumpets along with full horn and rhythm sections. Movie and Standard modes sounded too tubby, while Voice mode was too thin and anemic. In this case, Music mode was the cleanest, with nice renditions of the trombone and trumpet solos, acoustic bass, piano, and sea-shell trumpet backgrounds.
The Harman Kardon Enchant 800 certainly provides much better sound quality than my Sony TV’s onboard audio—and, I’d wager, most other TVs’ internal speakers. Dialog intelligibility is better, the bass is deeper, and the overall sound is cleaner—though typical TV sound sets a very low bar. Adding an Enchant subwoofer would improve the bass significantly, but that doubles the cost of the system, which is already high.
I was unable to hear much in the way of surround effects, but I think that has more to do with the room it was in than the soundbar itself. I’m sure the surround effect would be more pronounced in a room with reflective side walls.
On the downside, I found several operational drawbacks. For one thing, the Enchant 800 does not respond to the TV’s volume and mute commands if you are using an HDMI connection. Another problem with the HDMI connection is that the soundbar wakes up from standby mode with the ARC input selected, not the HDMI input. Finally, I wish any of the sound-mode presets could be saved in the user memories after adjusting the bass.
At nearly $700, the Enchant 800’s price is quite high. You can get very good soundbars for far less, and in most cases, they include a wireless subwoofer. Many provide simulated surround, while others come with actual surround speakers. Granted, that makes setup more complicated, but the sense of immersion is much greater.
While the Harman Kardon Enchant 800 does provide better sound quality than most TVs’ onboard speakers, that improvement is not big enough to justify its price tag. Other soundbars offer similar improvement for much less and often include a wireless subwoofer. In the end, I’m afraid I cannot recommend this one.