Well we do like a product you can set up in under five minutes. The big black box of the Cambridge Audio TV5 slipped easily under our TV; we plugged in its mains cable and an optical connection to the TV, and put the batteries in the remote. And turned on. The longest part of the process was spotting the quick start guide tucked away in a corner of the packaging. Not that we needed it.
While this TV5 doesn’t perfectly fit in our group of upmarket soundbars, it certainly comes from an established hi-fi company of repute, and reveals a different path to enhancing your TV sound. Since the earliest days of the soundbar onslaught, we have registered our preference for a sound base over a sound bar. Bars may promise a neater solution than surround speakers all over your lounge, but they can still muck up your décor sitting in front of the TV, often with cables trailing from their nether regions. A base like the TV5 sits under your TV with its connections firmly to the rear; it is far neater. The main effect is to raise your TV, in this case by about 10 centimetres, likely non-critical unless you’ve very carefully arranged for the centre of your screen to be at eye-height, which is the ideal.
So the full dimensions here are 72.5 × 10 × 34cm — many of this year’s TVs have feet at each end that will go over this (though check they’re high enough), while pedestal designs will need their base to sit fully on the top — it is built to take 30kg of weight, “strong enough to support any TV that will fit on it”, says the company.
Connections here are also nearly the simplest possible — two analogue inputs, and one digital input via optical. But the analogue inputs are really an either/or choice — they don’t have separate selection buttons, and plugging something into the minijack socket will mute the RCA sockets. So it’s really only one analogue input with two choices of socket. There’s no HDMI here, so you keep everything connected to your TV and take all the sound from there. Less obviously apparent is that the TV5 can also receive via Bluetooth, so you can stream music direct from any smart device or laptop.
Use the analogue feed from your TV, if it has one, and you can continue using your TV’s remote control for volume adjustments, though at the penalty of using what is probably a very low-cost audio output stage in your TV.
Use the optical input and the Cambridge will use its own DAC and audio circuits to deliver potentially better sound quality, but most TVs keep their digital output fixed, so you’ll then need to use the Cambridge remote for volume, or ‘teach’ the TV5 the commands from your TV remote. That is possible here, though as with all such learning systems you’ll probably also trigger your TV’s own speakers at the same time. (Turn them off if your TV allows this.)
It’s worth remembering that some TVs and PVRs can also transmit their audio via Bluetooth, though a cable will usually give you better quality and higher reliability, especially given the potential lip-sync issues.
The TV5 includes a quoted 100W of internal amplification feeding a proudly stereo speaker system with none of your pseudo-surround nonsense — two 6.5-inch woofers fire down from the bottom of the cabinet (so we’d suggest you avoid having soft furnishings underneath the TV5, which might absorb the sound), with two rather small circular 57mm Balanced Mode Radiator (BMR) drivers firing forward at either end of the front panel. BMR drivers use both pistonic motion for lower frequencies and flat-panel surface excitation for higher frequencies.
You can see these two small BMR drivers by removing the front grille (as pictured above), which also then gives access to the buttons needed for learning your TV remote commands — Cambridge considers the instructions on the unit itself sufficient for this, which proved to be so, though without any hint as to what feedback the flashing light is supposed to give, you’ll have no notion whether the learning process has actually worked until you try it out. (It did.) The TV5 auto-activates on receiving a signal, so powering it up wasn’t necessary.
The supplied guide is also silent on the effects of the four EQ buttons on the remote, labelled ‘TV’, ‘Music’, ‘Film’ and ‘Voice’. Which of these is flat, which emphasised? There is no hint, so suck them and see, but ‘Movie’ delivers the most bass, ‘Music’ a little less, ‘TV’ still less in order to raise the midrange presence in prominence, while ‘Voice’ makes everything relatively squashed and boxy but does stripout lower midrange, thereby clarifying any voices that are difficult to discern because they have become overplummed or woofy. We settled on the ‘Movie’ setting and pretty much stayed there.
Initially we found the BMR radiators a little bright and abrasive when we turned on daytime TV, at least compared to the standmounts that routinely flank our screen. But we loaded up a DVD of Rockwiz (as we often do), cranked the level a little, and were soon enjoying a solid and substantial sound notable for significant bass — indeed the higher we cranked it, the better the TV5 sounded, the more balanced the sound, and the more able to rock out it proved. We ended the Rockwiz episode with a Martha Wainwright/Dan Kelly duet playing at the TV5’s top volume, with amazingly impressive bass from a box so unobtrusive (indeed we tamed it back using the ‘Music’ EQ setting), a rich midrange and clear non-abrasive treble.
We here switched to Bluetooth and quickly paired our iPod touch to throw some tunes at what we would guess from the quality was AAC 256k streaming; Android users can also benefit from higher-quality aptX if their phones support it. Cambridge knows its hi-fi, and the circuits sound good, though there were a few holes in our listening room from the unusual speaker arrangement — real response from 30Hz upwards was impressive, though with a dip at 80Hz and a peak around 120Hz, which could cause bass on some tracks to become a little dominant. The sound was musical if not entirely balanced, which still counts as a decent result from a sound base.
If it can do music content this well, you can bet it can do movies — we loaded up Gravity and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, while also sneaking an episode of Game of Thrones into our review time. All were well handled, presented with dynamics and impact. There isn’t the air-shifting power of a subwoofer here for the deepest lows, of course, so the Cambridge doesn’t slam and rumble with the home cinema feel of some of the larger more expensive soundbar-sub combos in this issue, but for such an unobtrusive addition to your lounge, the Cambridge ably fulfills the brief of replacing your TV’s thin-panel sound with something enormously more substantial. The explosion at the end of the Ghost Protocol credit sequence made us smile with its impact — big, solid and dynamic; it is a testament to the solid build quality Cambridge has implemented here.
At this price our only caveat, as with all base-style speakers, is that you should check the measurements will work with your TV. Otherwise we applaud both the simplicity and the performance here — the Cambridge Audio TV5 just does its job, and does it extremely well. Jez Ford
Cambridge Audio TV5 $649
+ Unobtrusive base speaker
+ Simple connections
+ Good sound especially when turned up
- Check size works with your TV
Drive units: 2 x 57mm Balanced Mode Radiators, 2 x 165mm (6.5-inch) woofers
Inputs: 1 x optical digital, 1 x analogue (choice of minijack or RCA phonos), Bluetooth with aptX
Outputs: headphone 3.5mm headphone jack
Amplifier power output: 100W (no specs provided)
Dimensions (whd): 725 x 100 x 340mm
Product page: www.synergyaudio.com