Walter Shillington writes about products he is familiar with. His articles focus on healthcare, electronics, watches, and household items.
The soundbars I’ve owned previously can be best be described as cheapies. They were preferable to my flatscreen’s internal speakers but failed to create anything close to the experience I’d find in a traditional theater.
When my last soundbar began to emit a sound much like that of a demented blender rapidly approaching the point of explosion, I removed the device from service and threw it away.
Although cost is always a factor, I was determined to replace my broken soundbar with a powerful unit equipped with a massive subwoofer and featuring theatre-like sound. I also decided to break my normal tradition and go with a well-respected brand name.
The Omni SB1 Plus caught my eye. This device had been Polk Audio’s flagship soundbar a few years back but was now on sale for 40 percent of its original price. Reviews on Amazon were mixed, but most of the problems revolved around poor software rather than audio quality. It was worth the risk. I put in an order.
The Polk soundbar arrived well protected in a massive and weirdly designed cardboard box. Total weight worked out to 33 pounds.
The soundbar is 43 inches long, 2.1 inches high, and 3.2 inches deep. It is composed of black plastic with a front-mounted black metal grill.
This unit contains three 3 x 1-inch full-range drivers. A control panel mounted at the top provides adjustment of overall, voice, and bass volume. Included as well are a power button, source selector, pause/play control and a Wi-Fi setup button.
Located at the back of the soundbar are optical, subwoofer, and auxiliary outputs. There is also a power input, sub sync connection, and a USB jack. The power cable terminates in an adaptor/transformer, which can be connected, via another cable, to AC power.
The wireless subwoofer case is 13.5 inches wide, 11.5 inches deep and rises 14 inches from the floor. This black plastic enclosure houses an eight-inch woofer, which is powered by 120VAC. Although an input suggests this unit can be physically connected to the soundbar, the manual states that the subwoofer is strictly a WiFi device.
Listed accessories include a tiny remote control, 8-foot analog stereo cable, 6-foot optical cable, Bluetooth adapter, and a set of user guides.
This system consists of 3.1 channels but, with the addition of two optional rear speakers, may be upgraded to 5.1 channels. It features Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 decoding. The total output power is 350 watts.
The SB1 Plus can learn the original IR remote commands from your TV or cable box remote control.
Voice Adjust Technology provides the ability to isolate and increase the volume of frequencies in the voice rang, reproducing clear and crisp dialogue.
A variety of music services can be broadcast via a WiFi connection. In addition, music can be streamed to the soundbar by any Bluetooth capable device.
- Brand: Polk Audio
- Name: SB1 Plus
- Model: AM6946-A
- Total weight: 15 Kilograms (33 pounds)
- Soundbar dimensions: 109 x 5.3 x 8.1 centimeters (43 x 2.1 x 3.2 inches)
- Subwoofer dimensions: 36 x 34 x 29 centimeters (14 x 13.5 x 11.5 inches)
- Power: 350 Watts
- Subwoofer speaker: 20-centimeter (eight-inch) wireless
- Soundbar speakers: Three 76 x 25 millimeter (3 x 1 inch) full-range drivers
- Inputs: Optical, analog (3.5mm input jack), Bluetooth and WiFi via PlayFi App
- Dolby decoding: Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1
- DSP Modes: Movie and Music
- Features: Adjustable voice and bass volume
- WiFi: Yes
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Remote: Yes
- Online updates: Yes
- Optional rear speakers: Omni S2, Omni S2 rechargeable, and Omni S6
Polk Audio was founded by Matthew Polk, George Klopfer, and Sandy Gross in 1972.
With the release of the Monitor 7 in 1974, Polk Audio become a recognized name in audiophile circles. Polk utilizes a two-way configuration on most of its speakers, typically high-performance 6.5-inch mid/bass drivers with rubber surrounds and passive radiators.
In 2006, Sound United, a division of Dei Holdings, purchased Polk Audio. They also own Definitive Technology, Boston Acoustics, and electronics brands Denon and Marantz.
In early 2015, most non-engineering/technical positions were moved from the Baltimore office to the parent company's headquarters in San Diego, California. Polk's engineers joined with those of Definitive Technology as part of the ARAD (Audio and Acoustics Research and Development) center, which is located in Owings Mills, Maryland.
The SB1 Plus is long, low-slung, and features a black metal grill. Sitting in front of my 50-inch television, it appears overly lengthy and awkward. I suppose that will eventually help convince me to purchase that brand new 65-inch Samsung ultra-smart TV I’ve been considering. The soundbar’s low profile is useful because it does not block the signal between my remote and the television.
I like the design of the subwoofer enclosure. It is imposingly large and nicely curved. I would have preferred a wooden case, but you can’t have everything.
As you would expect from Polk Audio, this system’s best feature is its ability to faithfully reproduce audio. Sound is clear and crisp, and the subwoofer provides plenty of oomph without becoming overbearing. Both the bass and voice frequency ranges can be boosted in volume when required. If a pair of back speakers were added, the SB1 Plus would provide theatre quality sound.
The SB1 Plus, in conjunction with a cellphone, can access and play music services such as Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Prime Music. This worked reasonably well, although I feel that the software provided was poorly designed.
A Bluetooth adapter that plugs into the soundbar’s USB and Auxiliary jacks is provided as an accessory. The Bluetooth capability was obviously an afterthought on the part of Polk Audio but, never-the-less works very well. I could select music on my phone, using the soundbar as the external speaker. The sound quality is excellent.
A software package provides the ability to add additional WiFi speakers to the system and to access a variety of music services.
When I initially set up the Polk Audio SB1 Plus, I was able to download an update. The system then tried to download a second utility package from the Google Store, but it was unavailable.
I emailed Polk Audio's support. About ten days later, they responded with a request for further information. I provided the model number and support quickly emailed me instructions and a zip file containing the missing software package.
The program works but is cumbersome and appears to be aimed solely at American customers. I, for example, could not take advantage of my Amazon Music subscription because the software connects me to the Amazon.com site, rather than Amazon.ca. Also, Spotify insisted on using my cellphone’s speaker rather than the soundbar. Other services, such as Deezer, were accessed properly and provided excellent sound.
Optional Omni S2 Speakers
I purchased a pair of used Omni S2 speakers and added them to the system. The setup was straightforward. Even the much-maligned Polk Audio application managed to quickly download and install two firmware updates.
While these speakers function well, providing surround sound to my system, this feature does add considerable cost to the price of the soundbar.
The SB1 Plus is an excellent soundbar that provides a theatre quality experience. Those that have difficulty picking up the actor’s voices will appreciate this system’s Voice Adjust feature.
The SB1 Plus can take advantage of Bluetooth, playing music broadcast from other devices. Also, its WiFi capability allows this soundbar to access a variety of music services. Due to poorly designed and difficult to obtain software, the WiFi section does not work as well as expected.
This soundbar, despite its software problems and orphan status, performs extraordinarily well when connected to my television. If you can find the Polk Audio SB1 Plus on sale at a discount, it is well worth considering. At full price, there are better options.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Walter Shillington