Polk Audio MagniFi 2 soundbar review: Virtual 3D audio and built-in Chromecast, but iffy bass

Polk Audio manages to tease some relatively impressive virtual 3D audio out of its 2.1-channel MagniFi soundbar, which makes the speaker’s subpar bass response all the more disappointing. Equipped with built-in Chromecast and Google Assistant support, the MagniFi 2 is easy to set up, and Polk Audio’s custom digital sound processing delivers subtle surround and height effects without undue harshness.

The $499 MagniFi 2 also comes with three HDMI inputs, a pleasant surprise for a soundbar in this price range. But while it’s unquestionably an upgrade over standard TV speakers, the MagniFi 2’s otherwise crisp audio is undermined by muddy bass from the wireless subwoofer, robbing the sound of punchiness.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best soundbars, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.

Configuration

Polk Audio has three lines of soundbars. The budget Signa series includes soundbars that range in price from $129 for the 2.0-channel Signa Solo to $249 for the 2.1-channel, Chromecast-enabled Signa S3. The mid-range MagniFi line includes the MagniFi 2, which we’re reviewing here, along with the compact 2.1-channel MagniFi Mini ($299) and the 5.1-channel MagniFi MAX SR ($599), which comes with wireless surrounds and Chromecast support. Finally, the 2.1-channel Polk Audio Command Bar (which we’ve also reviewed) comes with onboard Alexa, complete with Alexa’s telltale halo light on top.

The Polk Audio MagniFi 2 is a 200-watt, 2.1-channel soundbar, with two oval-shaped 1 x 3-inch midrange drivers and one 0.75-inch tweeter for each of the left and center channels in the main unit, plus an 8-inch down-firing cone in the ported wireless subwoofer for low-frequency effects. Each driver gets its own dedicated Class-D amplifier.

Like other 2.1-channel soundbars, the MagniFi 2 lacks a dedicated center channel, which is typically reserved for dialog. Instead, the left and right channels combine to create a third, “phantom” center channel, a technique that can (depending on the quality of the soundbar’s audio processing) make dialog sound distractingly echo-y. We’ll evaluate the MagniFi 2’s audio quality a little later in our review.

The MagniFi 2 doesn’t support immersive 3D audio formats such as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, nor does it come equipped with DTS Virtual:X, a popular sound mode that teases virtualized surround and height effects from as few as two drivers, without the need for either in-ceiling speakers or upfiring drivers that bounce audio off the ceiling. Instead, the MagniFi 2 boasts Polk Audio’s own SDA (Stereo Dimentional Array) audio processing and its new 3D audio mode, which allows the soundbar to deliver virtualized surround and height cues.

Virtualized 3D sound has its pros and cons. Unsurprisingly, you’ll hear more precise height cues from upfiring drivers that bounce sound off your ceiling, or—even better—height speakers that are installed in your ceiling. That said, not everyone wants to go through the hassle of installing in-ceiling speakers, and upfiring drivers won’t be effective if you have a vaulted ceiling or acoustic ceiling tiles. In those scenarios, a soundbar with a virtual 3D sound mode might be your best option. Again, we’ll assess the effectiveness of the MagniFi 2’s custom 3D audio mode in the performance section of our review.

The MagniFi 2 can’t be upgraded with wireless surround speakers for true surround sound—or at least, not quite yet. While Polk’s existing SR1 wireless surround kit, which works with the MagniFi MAX soundbar, isn’t compatible with the MagniFi 2, a new SR2 wireless surround kit ($199) that will work with the MagniFi 2 is due in January 2021, so hang tight.