Damn, I wish it were 1990 right now. With Robert Van Winkle’s “Ice Ice Baby” permeating the collective pop culture consciousness, this review would practically write itself. Lines like “All the bass sound / enough to shake and kick holes in the ground” and “If there was a problem, Yo, I’ll solve it” would just drop right into the copy effortlessly.
That’s the thing, though; the problems solved by AudioXperts’ 4TV Model 2112 Virtual Surround Sound Console simply didn’t exist in the days before flat panel TVs and smartphones and consumer surround sound. The 2112 is a new breed of don’t-call-it-a-soundbar all-in-one audio solutions designed to sit under (and support) your TV (or on a stand under your TV, if it’s mounted — but let’s face it: it’s probably not), and replace the anemic built-in 5-watt speakers squeezed into the back or bottom of said TV.
Granted, there’s still quite a bit of squeezing going on with the Model 2112. At just 17.2” deep, and 40.24” wide, and 2.13″ tall (2.56” with the included optional swivel base), this 55-pound beast packs in two 0.79” tweeters, four HART (High Aspect Ratio Transducer — in other words, a lot wider than they are tall) midrange drivers, and four 4.5” long-throw woofers.
AudioXperts hasn’t published frequency response measurements, and I’m not set up to give you fancy plus-and-minus anechoic measurements, but I can tell you that, using a tone generator in my actual living room, usable bass from the 2112 starts rolling off at a respectable 40 Hz, and on the high end, it held steady all the way up to the point where my hearing cuts out at around 17.2 kHz. (Bruno confirmed for me that it was still putting out plenty of sound all the way up at 20Hz, but he doesn’t quite understand what “plus-or-minus three dee-Bee” means. What’re you gonna do? He’s an unpaid assistant.)
That really doesn’t tell you much about the sound, though, so how’s this instead: the AudioXperts Model 2112 Virtual Surround Sound Console sounds way better than it has any right to. I recently reviewed this product’s most significant competition in its rather sparsely populated category — the SpeakerCraft CS3 — for Residential Systems and I was incredibly impressed by it. It worked in a room in which soundbars simply never work, and delivered a quality of audio that blew me away for its $699 price tag.
You guys, the 4TV Model 2112 smokes the CS3 like a cheap banana. As well it should for nearly three times the price (2.85 times, to be exact.) And if you suck at math, yes, that means the 2112 will set you back $1999.99. Which sounds like a very lot. You could get a heck of a lot of sound system for $2000 buying speakers and receivers and so forth separately. And a heck of a lot of them would sound very good.
Here’s the thing, though: all of them would take up a lot more room than the 2112, which is a critical consideration for many people, and would be a whole lot more complicated to set up correctly. And many of the hypothetical $2000 sound systems I’m building in my head right now probably wouldn’t sound any better. With stereo, at least.
Because despite all the talk of TV placement (and the fact that this line of console sound systems is dubbed “4TV”), not to mention all of the emphasis on Dolby Digital and DTS processing and simulated surround, a quick look at the back panel reveals that the 2112 is first and foremost a music machine. For one thing, it features built in Bluetooth reception (CSR aptX codec), as well as a handy built-in port and USB audio connection for Apple’s AirPort Express. There’s also a full-sized USB input that accepts audio from — and charges — iOS devices, as well as an eighth-inch mini-jack if you have a non-iOS portable media player and don’t want to go the Bluetooth route.
With my iPhone 4 connected, and the 2112’s EQ set to Music, which delivers a straightforward stereo experience with no surround processing, I kicked back to soak in my go-to demo tunes. First things first, the subwoofer setting needed a little kick, but there’s a handy knob on the back to adjust the relative bass level. LFE ports out the back of the unit, so placement — especially distance from the wall behind it — can have a pretty significant impact on bass performance, which my media room tends to gobble up. At any rate, with the subwoofer adjustment cranked to about 75%, I had more than enough bass for my large room, and more than enough to give more than ample kick to my go-to tracks like Beastie Boys’ “Hey Ladies” and Björk’s “Army of Me.”
Also, don’t get me wrong when I say “straightforward stereo experience.” The 2112 may not apply any surroundy DSPs when in Music mode, but the console delivers a really engaging, room-filling soundstage. That funky phase shift at the beginning of “Hey Ladies” sparkles. The out-of-phase stuff in Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland really reaches out into the room and grabs you by your naughty parts. But more than anything, my mind keeps drifting back to the amazing, pounding bass of the 2112. I’ve heard standalone subs that didn’t kick this hard, with this much musicality, and certainly didn’t integrate as well.
The only caveat worth mentioning about the bass is that it can be a little uneven from different listening positions, which isn’t atypical at all, but this little monster sounds so fantastically well balanced, so even-keeled, so radically different from the midrange-heavy output you might expect, that weensy issues like that are a little more noticeable. It’s like when your star pupil gets an A-.
One other word about the bass: when you put your hand on the top of the 2112, you can feel it. Seriously feel it. Like, that scene in Howard Stern’s Private Parts feel it. Despite that, though, its cabinet is quite inert, and although loose objects nearby might rattle, it’s not going to shake the snot out of a TV perched atop it (a good thing, give that said TV is probably lighter than this speaker system).
I’m also highly impressed by how stable the unit is, even with the bottom-mounted swivel base attached. There’s absolutely no reason to leave it off, especially given the fact that my plasma doesn’t have a swivel base, so the added functionality of being able to snuggle with Bruno on the couch at the side of the room and watch TV no longer means I have to deal with an off-axis picture. Or sound! Bonus points.
Speaking of pictures, in addition to the plethora of music-oriented inputs, the 2112 also features an optical in, as well as RCA stereo inputs. I tried out the 58” Samsung perched atop the console both ways, and preferred the optical route, using AudioXperts’ own internal Dolby Digital processing, and found movie watching to be an exceedingly pleasant experience, as well — although perhaps not as revelatory. The simulated surround processing is great, on par with the best I’ve heard from higher-end soundbars, although, again, the quality of the sound here does shine a light on the typical issues involved with faux surround. Dialogue clarity tend to take a little bit of a hit, for example, but AudioXperts have addressed that with a Dialogue Enhancement EQ mode that brings voices to the forefront of the mix, at the expense of a slight bit of verisimilitude in the surround-iness department. It’s a worthwhile tradeoff either way, and I imagine most listeners will find a mode they prefer and stick with it.
It should be noted that AudioXperts also has a two-piece, true 5.1-channel version of the 4TV coming out soon with more than double the power, called the 5122 (and seriously, with a name like 2112, why, why, why didn’t they call the full 5.1 model the 5150?), which should deliver even further improvements to dialogue clarity and even surroundier sound. But really, the two-channel model reviewed here isn’t a slouch in that department at all compared to two-point-one-channel soundbar solutions I’ve auditioned.
One other wonderful thing about the 2112 is that it remembers your last EQ mode by input, so if you switch from USB to the Digital or Analog input and back again, each input remembers your EQ selection of choice for that source.
The 2112 also has a handy mode that learns the volume up and down commands from your regular remote, so tweaking the volume is a cinch. Given that it doesn’t come with a remote of its own, though, you’ll be walking over to the front panel to switch inputs. What’s really nice, though, is that as you approach the front, the LEDs of the touch-sensitive top-mounted control buttons light up, and then dim again once you’re rocking.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room (and no, I’m not talking about the weight of this behemoth, although, like I said, at 55 pounds it’s not dainty, despite its elegance). $2000. That’s a lot of coin for a one-piece sound system that a lot of people would probably dump into the soundbar category. A category, I should add, that’s positively packed with lightweight $200 and $300 offerings. I addressed the economy compared to separate sound solutions in the intro, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about the build quality of this unit, above and beyond its aforementioned inertness. If you’ve got an iPhone 4 or above, pull it out and appreciate how well it’s built. (If you don’t have one of your own, borrow a friend’s.) The seamlessness. The solidity. The fit and finish. The sleekness. The shiny glass.
Take that and scale it up a few hundred times, and you’ve got the 4TV 2112 Virtual Surround Sound Console to a tee, with its smoked-glass-and-aluminum construction. There’s no doubt that this is a luxury device — one that will probably still be kicking when nothing else but la cucarachas and our remaining stock of Twinkies (R.I.P.) have survived the nuclear holocaust. And although I’m not going to try to convince you that a $2000 one-piece sound system is for everyone (it certainly isn’t), if you like nice things — if, ahem, “Anything less that the best is a felony” — if you love great sound, and want an immersive audio experience without the hassle of a full-blown surround sound system, yet find the performance of soundbars (not to mention the kludginess of the pitiful requisite subwoofer usually included with them) to be underwhelming, you should give AudioXperts’ solution a serious listen. Its stereo performance and incredible build quality alone make it worth the coin, if you can afford it, and the additional connectivity and audio modes are just sweet, sweet icing on the cake.
Would I take it over my beloved Anthem D2v and full array of tower speakers? Heck no. But I spend a good bit of time at my bestie’s house listening to horror movies through her reasonably high-quality HTiB system, and the AudioXperts 4TV Model 2112 Virtual Surround Sound Console positively embarrasses it. Positively. Embarrasses. It.