Polk MagniFi Mini review

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THE GOOD: The affordable Polk MagniFi Mini is capable of a much bigger sound than its minuscule size suggests. The package is compact and will fit easily into most living room setups. The ability to Cast directly from your phone simplifies music streaming.

THE BAD: The Wi-Fi connection on my test unit was unreliable, and the ARC-only HDMI input limits connectivity somewhat.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Polk MagniFi Mini’s mix of features, performance and compact size makes it one of the best sound bars for the money.

If the prospect of a traditional home-theater setup with a half-dozen speakers and a bulky receiver doesn’t thrill you, you may want to a consider a sound bar. These small speakers are discreet, easy to set up, and sound much better than your TV’s speakers. And they don’t come smaller or better-sounding for the money than the Polk MagniFi Mini.

Flexible and affordable, it sounds adept with both movies and music and includes some must-have features. The best is Google Cast, which enables easy streaming from your phone, works with numerous music apps, and even make the MagniFi Mini part of a whole-house music setup. While I found the Mini’s connectivity a bit quirky, it’s nonetheless an excellent buy.

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Design

Everything small is big again. While some gadgets have grown in size, like TVs and cell phones, the prevailing trend in the AV world is toward smaller devices. It applies to everything from Blu-ray playersto receivers to sound bars .

The Polk MagniFi Mini is tiny compared to most other sound bars, just 13 inches wide and three inches high. Although constructed of plastic and cloth it’s pleasing enough to the eye. Its small size means also means it’s less likely than many bars to block your TV’s infrared remote control sensor.

A set of lights on the front of the unit are designed to inform you of volume and input selection, although they’re mostly incomprehensible for the latter. At least there’s a limited number of inputs, and so switching until you find what you want is easy.

Unlike some other sound bars, the Mini needs to sit upright and can’t be wall-mounted, though you could put it on a small shelf. The included wireless subwoofer is minimalist and constructed of hollow-sounding plastic, although it’s attractive for the breed.

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Usually inexpensive sound bars come with dinky credit card remotes, but not the Polk. Some thought has obviously gone into the Mini’s clicker, with its ergonomic design and clearly marked buttons.

Features

The MagniFi Mini is a 2.1-channel sound bar with a wireless subwoofer. The main unit includes two 12mm tweeters and four 2.25-inch drivers, two of which are angled to the side for what Polk calls “SDA sound.” The subwoofer features a downward-facing 6.5-inch driver and port.

Connectivity is a little better than what you’d expect for a $300 sound bar, with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, optical, a 3.5mm input and HDMI. The HDMI port is a bit strange, though. In my testing I found that its Audio Return Channel (ARC) functionality will only work with a TV — specifically for listening to onboard sound from smart TV or an OTA tuner. If you have a Blu-ray player or other device, you’ll need to use one of the other connections, say optical, or connect it to the TV directly (provided that the TV supports ARC). If your TV doesn’t support ARC, you’ll have to use another connection.

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Polk has a long-standing relationship with DTS’ Play-Fi wireless technology, so I found it a bit surprising that MagniFi ditches it in favor of Google Cast. Given the potential of products such as the Google Home and the Chromecast Audio, however, Cast has the potential to actually challenge Sonos in the messy multiroom music race. So it’s definitely a welcome alternative.

The Polk sound bar will decode Dolby Digital and also incorporates three main sound modes — music, movies and sport — the last of which also increases speech intelligibility.

Setup

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While Polk’s more expensive sound bars feature their own apps, the MagniFi mini relies on Google’s Home app for setup. This is the part that didn’t quite work for me in testing.

In its default wireless configuration, I wasn’t able to get the app to find the sound bar. In the end, I had to connect an Ethernet cable to the speaker and keep it connected in order to use Google Cast. Once I did that, it downloaded an update to the Polk, and the speaker was finally visible in Google Cast apps. I have reached out to Polk for clarification on whether this is isolated to the unit I have, and will update this review when I hear more.

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Performance

When buying a sound bar like this you can’t expect it to sound as good as a pair of dedicated speakers, but the Polk does do a terrific job of transcending the confines of the tiny cabinet. Those side-firing speakers actually work!

Using Google Cast to stream hi-res music from aSamsung Galaxy S6 phone, the Polk had a very open sound when I listened to Steven Wilson’s jangly “Hand Cannot Erase.” The airy guitar and vibraphone transcended the physical boundaries of the speaker, making the soundstage seem much larger. The subwoofer added low-end heft when the rhythm section kicked in.

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By contrast the Zvox Accuvoice sounded small and enclosed when I compared the two directly. There was no bass to speak of on the subwoofer-less Zvox, and the sonics lacked the drama the track demands.

With movies the MagniFi pulled past the Zvox again, in both scale and involvement. The rooftop chase scene from “Spider-Man 3” was captivating when heard through the Polk. Each thump as Peter Parker’s body connected with one building after another was brutally conveyed, while at the same time the soundstage was wide and open-sounding. Only the full bassy roar of the Green Goblin’s jets as they point directly at the viewer came off sounding a little anemic — the smallish Polk sub was never going to convey the full force of a larger unit.

Switching to the Zvox, the sound became small and midrangey. Designed as a voice-centric speaker, with action movies it’s just not able to convey the same level of excitement as the Polk. Meanwhile the Polk also has the benefit of a voice mode for people with hearing difficulties which means it’s just a better unit all-round.

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The upshot?

At a mere $300, the Polk MagniFi Mini is one of the best sound bars we’ve heard for the price, and is certainly better than the Zvox Accuvoice. Its connectivity may be a little rough around the edges, but it’s still the best attempt we’ve yet heard at packing a big sound into a micro-size speaker.

(cnet.com, https://goo.gl/2dLAz6)

 

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