I had recently purchased a Bauhm 4K 65 inch television (excuse my bragging) from ALDI at $599AUD. There had to be something crappy about this sleek, massive TV that had to reflect its questionably low price, right? Well, there is: it sounds like someone has put two empty dog food cans on its speaker and is trying to suffocate these cans with a tightly-folded fleece blanket.
So I needed a new sound system. At the time, I felt the cheapest, most efficient option was a soundbar, and my luck after banking the $599 4K TV was riding high. There must be a way I can hit two for two.
JB HiFi was running its Boxing Day sale, including the FFalcon 2.1ch Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer for $99, marked down from $149. Not only has it got just above-average reviews (and most things tend to be average these days), but it’s also within my broke-ass student price range! This must be a match made in heaven!
It was not a match made in heaven.
It steals your sound when you least expect it.
If you’ve read some of my previous blog posts, you may be aware that I play a lot of video games. Like, a bunch of them. Because of this, sound is very important to me. Sound provides a lot of context, cues, hints and clues. At first, after hooking up the FFalcon soundbar (and wireless subwoofer), everything seemed fine. It championed through my brother playing Cyberpunk 2077 and all appeared well. This was a great purchase!
And then I hooked up my Playstation 3. This was when things started to get suspicious.
Unlike the Playstation 4, the PS3 has a subtle soundscape for its user interface. A string orchestra tunes when you boot the system up. It’s clicky UI is soft but distinctive. On a reputable sound system, these things accent the PS3’s beauty.
The FFalcon soundbar stole my PS3’s jewelry.
At first, I didn’t quite notice the difference. I messed around with the settings to update how my PS3 was sending sound through to my television and hoped the suspicious lack of audible accents on the UI’s clicks was just me. I turned on Persona 3 FES. As the game’s introduction played, I realised that… I can’t quite hear the undertoning chords beneath Yumi Kawamura’s vocals. But then the drums kicked in, and suddenly I could hear everything. The quality seemed great. Maybe it was just me?
I clicked through the game’s menus, loaded my save game where the Persona 3 gang were waiting for me at the bottom of Tartarus.
Tartarus revealed the FFalcon Soundbar’s true form.
^ A little joke there for my fellow Persona fans…
The Voice Someone Calls is what I’d refer to as an ambience track. It includes a minimalist use of piano above a synthesised drumbeat that keeps the track moving along. It’s not particularly engaging for standard music listeners.
But the soundbar didn’t know what to do with it. It wasn’t that the sound was cutting out — for all intents and purposes, the speaker was working fine. However, because the track’s ambience sits so low on it’s register, it just opted not to emit certain parts of the track. I’d find myself without any sound whatsoever, when suddenly there was the song’s heartbeat and piano chords… until I was robbed of the ambience once more. That quiet drum beat underneath the whole track? It was gone.
At this point you might be asking, “Why didn’t you just turn the sound up?”
Turning the volume up did not bring back the ambience in The Voice Someone Calls. The soundbar didn’t believe it existed, so it didn’t give it a platform.
It’s quiet or LOUD. No in-between.
I had the soundbar connected to my TV in various ways to check whether this might have been the cause to my missing ambient sounds. I tried LINE (which is how L+R is labelled…) and Aux from my television’s headphone jack, Optical, and HDMI ARC. They all gave me the same degree of quality, but did not fix my issue. But turning the volume up revealed another intriguing issue: this thing doesn’t know how to volume.
The HDMI ARC allows you to control the soundbar’s volume with the TV remote. This is helpful, as the soundbar itself doesn’t have any display panels — just a flashing white light whenever you press a button — so the TV can give you an indication of where you are in the volume department. As I turned my TV up, I noticed it was skipping three steps of volume. There was no threshold for noise level between quiet and uncomfortablely high during night hours. On top of all the issues I was already having, this just did my head in.
The soundbar didn’t last the evening.
After playing a few battles in Persona 3 FES, I packed the thing back into its box, ready to return it to JB Hi-Fi the next morning. As I did this, I noticed the Wireless Subwoofer the packaging is so keen on promoting looked a little peculiar…
Subwoofers by nature are generally hollow things by definition, but the FFalcon subwoofer was light and unconvincing in its performance so far. If I didn’t want my $99 back, I would have cracked it open to see just what, if anything, was going on in there.
tldr: Don’t buy cheap shit expecting good quality.
I learned this lesson the hard way. If this is the kind of product my fellow broke gamer students are reaching for to supplement the terrible sound from their cheap 4K TVs, then I WEEP. Guys, I beg of you: regardless of your various states of financials, do not buy the FFalcon 2.1ch with Wireless Subwoofer. Don’t go for the cheap price. Go for a hand-me-down. I ended up plugging in my parents’ 2012 Samsung HT-E4500 system that’s missing the surround-left speaker and it sounds infinitely better than this questionable soundbar.