- Excellent build quality
- Living room friendly design
- Smooth tone and gorgeous detail
- Big soundstage with impressive scale and bass weight
- Soundbar’s limited bass makes subwoofer essential
- Could be more attacking
- Stronger competition at this price
- No HDMIs or Wi-Fi streaming
- 4 x 3-inch mid/bass C-CAM drivers, 2 x 25mm C-CAM gold dome tweeters, 2 x passive bass radiators
- Four discrete class-D amplifiers (100W total) with DSPs for each driver
- 120W active wireless subwoofer with 8-inch C-CAM driver
- Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX
- Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II and Dolby Virtual Speaker
- Manufacturer: Monitor Audio
- Review Price: £698.00/$1047.00
WHAT IS THE MONITOR AUDIO ASB-10?
When it launched in 2013, Monitor Audio’s ASB-2 was hailed as one of the best soundbars around thanks to its powerful performance and premium design. So it’s with great anticipation that we welcome the follow-up, the ASB-10.
With a lower launch price, slimmer design and stripped-down spec, it’s a more modest affair than its predecessor, but I’m hoping the newcomer can still recapture some of the ASB-2’s audio magic.
You can buy the ASB-10 as a single-box soundbar for £399/$598.5, but for extra bass grunt you can pair it with the new, purpose-built WS-10 wireless subwoofer (£299/$448.5), which hikes the total price to around £700/$1050. With the sub-free ASB-2 still selling for £399/$598.5 online, can the ASB-10 justify the expense?
MONITOR AUDIO ASB-10 – DESIGN AND CONNECTIONS
The ASB-2 is a gorgeous soundbar, but its bulky cabinet made it tricky to accommodate. By contrast, the ASB-10 is built to blend in. Measuring a mere 94mm deep by 900mm wide, you can perch it in front of your TV with minimal fuss, although be warned that the 99mm-high cabinet might impede your TV’s remote sensor. In the box you’ll find stick-on rubber pads to stop it slipping, as well as a bracket and template for wall-mounting.
Up close you get a feel for the ASB-10’s luxurious build and classy design. The moulded polymer cabinet sports a black cloth grille on the front, with a grey backside and brushed aluminium end panels. Pick it up and the cabinet boasts all the heft and rigidity you’d expect from a Monitor Audio product.
Set into the front grille is a panel of tiny buttons that control standby, source, Bluetooth, 3D mode and volume. Above it, a pill-shaped light glows in various colours to indicate which input is selected; it flashes when you adjust the volume.
The rear panel is where the biggest changes have taken place. The ASB-10 ditches the ASB-2’s trio of HDMI inputs and RCA sockets and strips it down to optical, coaxial and 3.5mm mini-jack inputs. The idea is to make setup simple with a single cable linking the TV and soundbar, avoiding all the compatibility complications that come with HDMI ports.
You’ll also find an LFE output on the rear If you want to use a different subwoofer than the prescribed WS-10, while a USB port allows you to make firmware updates.
Another big change on the connectivity front is the removal of the ASB-2’s Wi-Fi and AirPlay. Instead, the ASB-10 streams via Bluetooth – which wasn’t featured on the ASB-2 – and thanks to aptX you can enjoy CD-quality sound from compatible devices.
The lack of Wi-Fi streaming is sure to disappoint some, but given the problems I had getting the ASB-2’s Wi-Fi connection to work, switching to Bluetooth is actually a welcome move.
The subwoofer is no oil painting but it shares the soundbar’s solid build quality. Its 18mm MDF cabinet is adorned by thick rubber end panels, grey plastic trims and twin HiVe reflex ports. It’s versatile too, offering a lossless 2.4GHz wireless connection to the soundbar and a choice of two placement options – horizontally on the chunky rubber feet or vertically. So whether you want it behind the TV, under the sofa or in a narrow gap, the WS-10 has you covered.
MONITOR AUDIO ASB-10 – FEATURES
The ASB-10’s four 3-inch mid/bass drivers use Monitor Audio’s renowned C-CAM cones, joined by a pair of 25mm C-CAM gold dome tweeters and two passive bass radiators. Four discrete class-D amplifiers supply 100W of power, with advanced DSPs providing precision filters and processing for each driver.
There’s Dolby Digital decoding, Dolby Pro Logic II and Dolby Virtual Speaker processing, the latter attempting to replicate surround sound, or a ‘life-like 3D soundscape’ as Monitor Audio puts it. You can switch it on and off using a button on the front panel or via the remote.
The WS-10’s rear control panel allows you to adjust the volume, flip the phase and switch between three EQ modes – Movie, Music and Impact. Inside lurks an 8-inch C-CAM driver, powered by a 120W amplifier.
Monitor Audio has also launched the optional WT-1 and WR-1 transmitter/receiver kit (£69), which allows you to connect external components to the ASB-10 wirelessly. It uses the 2.4GHz band to transmit uncompressed audio, eliminating the need for long cable runs. They can also be used to connect the WS-10 sub to other audio systems.
MONITOR AUDIO ASB-10 – OPERATION
There’s a satisfying simplicity about the ASB-10’s setup process. For most people, it will simply be a case of plugging in the power lead and optical cable then switching between sources on the TV. Of course, you can connect your Blu-ray deck to the optical or coaxial input to take advantage of the Dolby Digital decoding, but as a two-channel soundbar there isn’t much point.
Similarly, the Bluetooth connection is quick and painless, and once you’ve powered up the subwoofer it requires no extra tweaking to pair with the soundbar.
The ASB-10’s compact remote sits nicely in the hand and sports a clear layout, but the spongy rubber buttons and limited range make it slightly frustrating to use. Every now and again, a command would take too long to register, forcing me to jab it a few times until it worked.
MONITOR AUDIO ASB-10 – PERFORMANCE
In the immortal words of Sade, the ASB-10 is a smooth operator. That’s the overriding feeling I get when listening to music and movies through its refined C-CAM drivers. As with most Monitor Audio products, there’s an ease and smoothness to its presentation that makes it a joy to listen to for long periods.
For example, as Doctor Strange clatters around the screen fighting off mystical figures during the Sanctum siege, the mid-range and treble frequencies steer clear of hardness and stridency. Shattering glass and exploding scenery are calmly conveyed and voices have a smooth, natural tone.
The mask slips ever so slightly with the volume up high – one high-pitched effect in particular caused me to recoil – but stick to sensible levels and you’re treated to silky, spike-free playback.
The ASB-10 also digs out plenty of detail from the soundtrack, layering punches and explosions with subtle textures. The gentle croak and sibilance in Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice is beautifully handled; likewise the thunk of footsteps on a wooden floor. Such attention to detail makes effects all the more realistic.
The ASB-10 also provides a decent sense of width with Virtual Speaker engaged, but the effect is subtle and certainly can’t be described as surround sound. Effects are clearly separated within the stereo field and dialogue stays pinned to the screen.
Paired with the WS-10, the system is capable of creating a huge soundstage with a terrific sense of scale. As Manhattan bends and contorts Inception style, the subwoofer’s meaty rumble makes you feel dwarfed. It adds depth and impact to every thud as the characters do battle, in turn heightening the drama.
With careful adjustment the subwoofer integrates seamlessly, and hides its location well. During quieter moments it lends body to voices and music, but when big action scenes kick in, the WS-10 gives the bangs and crashes impressive slam and definition. After experimenting with the three EQ settings, I was quite happy to leave it in Music, as the Impact and Movie modes seemed slightly overpowering.
However, turn off the WS-10 and it really feels like something’s missing. The C-CAM drivers and radiators produce a fair amount of bass, but don’t unearth the deepest notes. As a result, action scenes lose much of their impact and overall cohesion is diminished.
You still get that smooth, detailed top-end, but the mid-range becomes exaggerated and voices lose authority without the bottom end present to balance them out.
Monitor Audio’s assertion that you can use the ASB-10 solo is certainly true, but if you’re serious about sound quality then you need to budget for the subwoofer. There’s nothing unusual about a soundbar relying on a sub to make up the deficit, but with Samsung’s HW-MS650 offering phenomenal bass grunt without a subwoofer for a cheaper price, it’s a better option – particularly since it throws multiroom and network streaming into the bargain.
While I’m in a critical mood, the smooth ASB-10 could also benefit from a little more bite. There’s enough attack to stave off the threat of boredom, but I didn’t get the adrenalin-fuelled buzz that I did from the HW-MS650.
However, when it comes to music the ASB-10 is a delight. Its easygoing approach works beautifully with Gregory Porter’s “Holding On”, streamed via Bluetooth. The track sounds rich and polished, with inviting piano chords, chunky, detailed double bass and finely detailed percussion. Porter’s voice has a deep, velvety tone, while the sax solo is agile and well rounded.
Again, the ASB-10 is at its best musically with the subwoofer in tow – drums and basslines benefit from the extra weight and punch it brings to the table. Thankfully, it’s tight and nimble enough to keep pace with frenetic rhythms and gives the other frequencies room to breathe.
Switch to Resolution 88’s “Homing In” and the funky bassline is precisely rendered. The C-CAM drivers’ sophisticated tone makes the catchy sax melodies sound rich and beefy while keeping hardness at bay. Its wide stereo stage, terrific timing and detail are further examples of the ASB-10’s superb musicality.
SHOULD I BUY THE MONITOR AUDIO ASB-10?
The ASB-10 is a superb soundbar in most respects, but if you’re tempted to buy one then bear in mind that the optional WS-10 subwoofer is a must. Without it, the soundbar simply can’t deliver the room-filling bass that brings a blockbuster movie to life.
The trouble is, adding the subwoofer puts the price up to around the £700 mark, where you’ll find some stiff competition. Samsung’s HW-MS650, our current soundbar champion, delivers masses of bass without a subwoofer and a better feature list for around £150/$225 less.
That said, when you put the ASB-10 and WS-10 together, magical things happen. They create an enormous soundstage, with convincing scale and thumping bass. The ASB-10’s smooth, silky tone provides hours of fatigue-free listening, not to mention clear, focused dialogue and plenty of sonic detail. Yes, it could be more attacking, but on the whole it’s a very impressive performer, plus Monitor Audio’s classy craftsmanship and eye for design are as remarkable as ever.
The beautifully built ASB-10 and WS-10 are a match made in heaven with their smooth, powerful sound – but there are better options at this price.