ABOVE: Skybars used in an LCR configuration - the availability of the different LCR and Satellite versions provides great installation flexibility.

We rarely review installation speakers in Best Buys Audio & AV. Why? Because the sound is typically extremely unpredictable. But when we saw the TDG Audio Skybar speaker system, we had to give it a go. There were two main reasons. First, it eliminates one of the main causes of unpredictable performance in most installation speakers. And second, because this system is so extremely versatile. We had to see if it could really do as we expected.

EQUIPMENT
With a high fidelity loudspeaker, the design of the box is very nearly as important as the design of the front baffle. But if you’re cutting a hole in Gyprock and inserting an open-back speaker driver into it, none of those things are known. Hence that unpredictability of installation speakers. TDG Audio’s Skybar system removes much of that uncertainty by coming with a solid, closed enclosure. The box is necessarily fairly small in volume. But it’s rigid, and the designers can do their job knowing things like enclosure volume.

There are two different kinds of loudspeakers in the TDG Audio Skybar system. One is called the Skybar LCR (horizontal in the image above). The other is called the Skybar Satellite (vertical above). As is usually the way with installation speakers, you purchase the number of single units needed for the installation. Both are priced the same: $1599 each.

And from the outside, both look the same. They use a sturdy case measuring 152mm wide, 648mm tall, and only 89mm deep (wall cavities are typically 90mm deep). They present a slightly larger — 179mm by 673mm — face to the world because of the larger mounting flange and steel grille each uses. The grilles (not shown here) are held in place magnetically. They come in white but can be painted to match room décor.

Each has six swing-out arms which are turned and tightened from the front, making for relatively easy installation and removal. The connections to each speaker are on the sides rather than the back. We will return to them shortly because they are an important part of these speakers’ versatility.

So what’s the difference between the Skybar LCR and Satellite? Essentially, the drivers. The
LCR speaker has a total of seven drivers. There are six 76mm full-range drivers and one 25mm titanium-dome tweeter. The seven are in a line with the tweeter at the centre. They use just about the whole length of the speaker.

The baffle to which they are secured is not parallel to the front of the speaker, but slopes back by 10 or 15 degrees. If the speaker is installed horizontally, as it will be in most cases, all seven drivers will be firing slightly upwards or slightly downwards, depending which way you put it.
On the side are four pairs of sturdy spring-posts for the speaker connections (see image above). Their holes were big enough even for banana plugs. Using fat cables presents no problems.

One pair of binding posts feeds the input to all seven drivers — if the switch next to the binding posts selects that. You can use the LCR speakers in that mode if you’re using multiple units in different parts of the room. But flick the switch the other way and you use the other three sets of binding posts instead. In that mode, the two left-most full range drivers receive the left-channel signal, the two right-most get the right channel, and the two in the middle, plus the tweeter, get the centre channel. So you can see where the name LCR comes from.

The Skybar Satellite speakers are very different, although they also are switchable. Each has only four drivers rather than seven (see above). Three are the 76mm full-range units, while the fourth is a tweeter. Two of the full-range drivers and the tweeter have a set of binding posts. The additional full-range driver has its own binding posts, and thus signal. (Or you can flick the switch and use the third pair of binding posts to feed the same amped signal to all the drivers.)

Here’s where things get even more unusual: that extra full-range driver is on a baffle that’s almost at right angles to the main baffle of the speaker. A channel in the enclosure guides its sound so that it fires out along the length of the speaker, rather than radiating outwards.

The trick here is that you can install the Satellites horizontally on the side walls, with the surround channels wired up to the main speaker array. Or you could put them on the ceiling. You’d wire the surround back channels to the driver that fires backwards. Much of its sound would be bounced into the room from the back wall.

Or you could install these speakers vertically on the side walls, and wire up the extra driver as the height channel, so it could bounce its sound from the ceiling. Possibilities!

TDG Audio does not specify a frequency response for these speakers. But it makes no bones about it: they are not designed to produce deep bass. They should be coupled with a subwoofer.

PERFORMANCE
The distributor Canohm provided one Skybar LCR and two Skybar Satellite speakers for review. These three speakers, combined with our subwoofer, could be conveniently configured as either a 5.1.2 system or a 7.1 system. We chose the latter.

At this point we must confess: we did not whip out a jigsaw and cut large rectangles out of walls or ceiling. We merely placed them hard up against the walls. That means they protruded some 90mm out from the walls, rather than being more or less flush. That likely has some small impact on the sound, particularly at the bass end. The tweeters can be swivelled by 10 or 15 degrees, so we made sure they were pointed at the listening seats.

These days installation speakers intended for home theatre work are made on the assumption that they will be equalised for the room. Our AV receiver correctly set all channels to ‘Small’, with the bass crossover put at 110 or 120Hz. That was not unexpected.

We wondered what distances the receiver would dial in for the speakers, particularly our semi-virtual ‘rear surround’ speakers. Would the receiver determine the distance for the rear surround channels produced by the angled drivers of the Skybar Satellite speakers as the distance directly from the listening position to the speakers? Or the path of the reflected sound? Hah, the receiver split the difference! On the right-hand side it used the longer distance. On the left-hand side it set the distance as the path directly from the driver to the calibration microphone. We realised we had some screens on the left, interrupting the path of the reflected sound. That was easily fixed: we moved the screens and recalibrated.

The first thing to note was that these speakers could produce very high levels of sound very cleanly. We didn’t anticipate that the 76mm drivers could do such a powerful job, but they did. Tonal balance wasn’t an issue because the EQ from the receiver looked after all that. With the subwoofer handling the bass content, the street battle scene in ‘Heat’ (1995) had superb impact.

Just as importantly, the surround field was really quite impressive. We used a test track which involves a spoken male voice rotating around the room twice with no other sound going on. This shows the ability (or otherwise) of a system to place sounds in their correct locations. As the voice moved across the back of the room from surround to rear surround (we had Dolby Surround enabled, so it extracted rear surround channels) to rear surround to surround, it was wonderfully smooth. The voice raced, even jumped, down the sides of the room and positively dawdled in moving between front left and front right. That would be because the left and right speakers were only around 400mm apart, while the distance between them and the surrounds would be closer to three metres.

The width of the Skybar LCR is the limiting factor in surround effectiveness. Simple geometry makes that unavoidable. Fortunately, it’s rare that actual program content is quite so demanding on placement. In actual movies and TV shows, the surround field was convincing. For stereo music, the stage spread was narrow. No way around that. We expected the lack of tweeters in the left and right channels to have an impact on tonal balance, but it didn’t. Again, the receiver’s EQ was correcting any issues there. Combined with the subwoofer, the Skybar LCR produced music that was tight, undistorted and fine for regular listening. Those concerned with ultimate stereo imaging and stage depth qualities would probably want to consider different system.

Conclusion
Obviously the Skybar speaker system is for those who require a system with a low visual impact. It did its job extremely well, especially when it came to projecting sound, and offers great versatility — indeed we could see a system with no Skybar LCR used at all. Instead, four Skybar Satellite speakers, one on either side of the screen, two in surround speaker positions, all vertically orientated, all using the extra speaker to project the height channels from Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio tracks.

TDG Audio Skybar speaker system

+ Solves several problems with installation speakers
+ Incredibly flexible
+ Sound from two places in one speaker with Skybar Satellite

- Will need subwoofer support at the low-end

Skybar LCR
Price: $1599
Drivers: 1 x 25mm titanium dome tweeter, 6 x 76mm full range driver array
Impedance: 8 ohms compatible
Cut-out dimensions: 648 x 152mm
Grille dimensions: 673 x 179mm
Mounting depth: 89mm
Weight: 7.0kg

Skybar Satellite
Price: $1599 each
Drivers: 1 x 25mm titanium dome tweeter, 3 x 76mm full range driver array
Impedance: 8 ohms compatible
Cut-out dimensions: 648 x 152mm
Grille dimensions: 673 x 179mm
Mounting depth: 89mm
Weight: 6.0kg