TCL TS9030 Dolby Atmos Soundbar review: The only soundbar with wings
Quick verdict: The TCL TS9030 is an incredibly easy-to-use soundbar that would suit TVs in small living rooms. Unfortunately, the bold Ray-Danz design doesn’t quite live up to its promise of surround sound.
- It’s cheap!
- Super-easy to set up
- Clear dialogue on TV shows and movies
- Music comes out a bit flat
- Dolby Atmos isn’t particularly noticeable
- Works better in smaller rooms
If you think the TCL TS9030 Dolby Atmos Soundbar looks unusual, you're not alone. But the unique design isn't just aesthetic. The "Ray-Danz" design of TCL's TS9030 is what sets it apart from the other soundbars in its $400(ish) price range, promising an enhanced surround sound experience.
Originally released mid-2020, the TCL TS9030 comes with many of the features you'd expect from a soundbar in this price range. It's 3.1 channel with all the usual connection options such as HDMI arc, optical, Bluetooth and a 3.5mm jack. It has a separate subwoofer which connects wirelessly to the main unit. It has a range of equaliser presets to pick from. You can choose to wall mount it, and it comes with all the parts for that, of course.
Finally, it can connect to both Google Home and Apple AirPlay. Sorry, Alexa fans – you'll have to look elsewhere. All of these options allow you to connect and set up your speaker exactly how you want it.
In the box, you'll find an HDMI and optical cable to get it all hooked up too, so no matter how you want to use your soundbar, you're pretty much catered for.
All of the connection features and cable inclusions add up to a soundbar that is incredibly simple to plug in and start using straight away.
This sound bar doesn't require or come with a companion app either, so you won't find yourself staring at your phone dealing with account set-up or learning the software. Here, everything is controlled by the remote or by touching the sound bar itself.
The functions on the remote are what you'd expect from a sound bar and are really clearly laid out. Whenever you press a button, the display on the front clearly communicates what the soundbar is doing in big, bold digital clock-style lights. The clear layout of the remote and the clear display makes this really easy to use day-to-day, and one that I could happily recommend to people who don't do well with tech.
Now, let's talk about that unique Ray-Danz design.
When I first unboxed it, I was a little taken aback because the actual speaker unit itself only takes up about half the length of the device in the centre. The rest is made up of 2 plastic wings on either side.
It's an interesting look for a soundbar and it helps the speaker stand out amongst a sea of similar looking competitors. Personally, I prefer my soundbar designs to be discreet so they're not distracting me from the telly, but if you're looking for something interesting to look at if your movie gets boring this certainly has you covered.
The wings (known as "waveguides") take the sound from the 2 side speakers and guides it around the room in a way that simulates surround sound. It means, unlike other soundbars which use digital processing to simulate surround, the audio from this is physically bouncing off the walls. Digital processing normally aims for a sweet spot to target its surround sound and anything on either side of that sometimes begins to sound a bit funny. With this design, the sweet spot is a fair bit wider.
The design is a cool prospect in theory, but in reality, it only kind of works depending on your viewing environment. I tested it with a bunch of movies and dedicated Dolby Atmos videos, and I could certainly hear some spatial audio going on, but it's pretty subtle.
When I moved the soundbar into my office, which is far narrower than my living room, the surround was more pronounced because the sound could bounce off the walls much closer to my ears. Still, it's not convincing enough to call this proper surround.
In general, though, the speaker itself sounds pretty good and you'll notice straight away that it's at its best with TV and movies. Dialogue always comes out super-clear through the centre channel and the bass, while certainly present, never overwhelms. The subwoofer is there as a supporting act, not the main event.
Music, on the other hand, fell a bit flat for me. All the songs I tried with it sounded perfectly listenable, but it all felt a little mushed together. If you want to dance, though, you can crank this pretty loud. At 55%, it was easily filling my house and probably starting to annoy the neighbours. At around 90%, sound starts to distort a bit, but if you're pumping it that hard you've got bigger problems to worry about. It's loud.
Should you buy the TCL TS9030 Dolby Atmos Soundbar?
- Buy it if you want an easy-to-use and easy-to-listen to speaker for the TV.
- Don't buy it if you're mainly looking for something to play music on.
The TCL TS9030 won't please everyone. The unique design and what it sets out to achieve with surround sound isn't really making a huge impact at the end of the day, and there are certainly sound bars that pack a bit more punch if you're an audio nut – especially if you're looking for a big, powerful music speaker.
If you're just looking for something that is easy to set up and delivers crisp dialogue for your TV, you can't go wrong. For a mid-range soundbar, the TCL TS9030 is well worth considering.
Pricing and availability
How we tested
The TCL TS9030 was tested as a main TV and living room speaker over a month in lockdown. Consequently, many hours of TV, movies and video games were played on the speaker over the period. Music was tested across Spotify, YouTube music and Tidal HiFi streams. It was provided to Tobias by TCL for the purposes of this review.
Images: Tobias Venus
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