The Hisense AX51000G is an eminently affordable surround-sound system but its audio performance disappoints in a number of areas
- Authentic surround sound
- Good standard of build and finish
- HDMI eARC
- Dolby Atmos effect is negligible
- Unrealistic and disagreeable tonality
- Subwoofer sounds like it’s from a different system
The Hisense AX5100G is the Chinese brand’s latest attempt to deliver a cheap soundbar capable of an audio performance that belies its price tag. It’s pulled this trick off with TVs before, so why not with Dolby Atmos home cinema audio systems?
There’s no arguing with the surround sound that’s on offer here. Hisense includes rear speakers in the system, and once everything’s up and running there’s no denying the surround effect is more pronounced than is possible from a system without rear channels. But wonky tonality, a subwoofer that drones rather than punches, and a Dolby Atmos effect that’s conspicuous only by its absence entirely scupper the AX5100G’s chances.
Hisense AX5100G: What do you get for the money?
The Hisense AX5100G has a list price of £329 but was available for £259 from Amazon at the time of writing and £279 from other retailers including AO and Box. In the bluntest terms, that money buys you a fair bit more stuff than it would if you spent it with pretty much any other manufacturer. This is a true surround-sound system, consisting of a soundbar, wireless subwoofer and rear speakers.
The soundbar is a svelte 920 x 60 x 90mm (WHD), which means it’s happy enough to sit on the same shelf as any number of TVs without getting in the way and looks the part accompanying TVs of anything up to, say, 58in. The subwoofer is an equally discreet 214 x 294 x 304mm (WHD), and because it connects to the mains via a figure-of-eight mains lead (rather than having a captive cable) it can be sited anywhere you like (as long as you have a long enough mains lead, and as long as its rear-facing bass reflex port doesn’t become overconfident). The rear speakers are a similarly tidy 90 x 144 x 109mm (WHD) and have little feet for positioning on a shelf and a moulded keyhole fixing on the rear in case you’d rather wall mount them. One of these speakers requires mains power, and connects to its passive partner using the considerable length of supplied cable.
The soundbar and the rear speakers are made of decently robust plastic and perforated metal, while the subwoofer has the same perforated metal on its front plane and is of vinyl-wrapped MDF elsewhere. Build quality is perfectly fine, and if anything slightly better than you might be expecting when you bear in mind just how affordable this system is. Once the components are plugged into the mains, they pair both automatically and rapidly. The subwoofer and the primary rear speaker have little pairing buttons to instigate the process in the unlikely event it doesn’t just happen.
Behind the metal grille of the soundbar, there are four racetrack drivers. Two sit pretty centrally and provide centre-channel information, and there’s one more at each end of the bar to create the front left and right channels. And in the absence of any tweeters, they’re charged with generating all the high-frequency sound these three channels require, as well as the mid-range frequencies, too. Power is quoted at 20W per driver for an all-in soundbar total of 80W – but bear in mind those figures are measured at a hefty 10% total harmonic distortion.
The low end, of course, is the responsibility of the subwoofer. It has a 165mm forward-facing driver, powered by 60 Class D watts (again, measured at 10% THD), supplemented by its rear-firing reflex port. The rear speakers, meanwhile, are in receipt of 15W each (measured the same way) and, despite the impression the metal grille might want to give, the single driver in each unit is forward-firing. Yes, the AX5100G wants to create an impression of Dolby Atmos spatial audio, but it does so using digital sound processing – all seven drivers in the system face forwards.
As well as four drivers, there’s a big, bright and rather vague LED display behind the soundbar’s grille. It displays volume level, signal source and signal standard, and it does so at pretty high speed.
Input selection can be taken care of using one of the four little touch controls on the soundbar’s top surface – the others allow you to increase or decrease volume and turn the soundbar on and off. These controls are duplicated on the handy little remote control Hisense supplies, which also features buttons controlling Bluetooth pairing, mute and individual output controls for bass and treble. There are play/pause and skip forwards/backwards here too, a button to scroll through EQ presets (Movie, Music, News, Game, Sport, Night and AI), and control over the brightness of the display.
Physical inputs are in a little cutaway at the rear of the soundbar: there’s an HDMI eARC socket, digital optical and digital coaxial inputs, a USB-A slot and a 3.5mm analogue input. The appearance of eARC is both unexpected in such an affordable product and very welcome, because it means the AX5100G can handle Dolby True HD Atmos content from a 4K UHD Blu-ray player as well as the Dolby Digital alternative used by the likes of Disney+ and Netflix. Wireless connection is taken care of by Bluetooth 5.0 (with SBC and AAC codec compatibility).
READ NEXT: The best subwoofers on the market
Hisense AX5100G: What did we like about it?
To be honest, this is a tricky one. We’re not in the business of damning with faint praise, but in the case of the Hisense AX5100G it might just happen anyway.
First of all, it’s hard not to admire both the amount of kit your very modest outlay buys here and the very professional way it’s all put together and finished. There are plenty of soundbars around for this sort of money but we can’t think of any that come with rear speakers as well as a wireless subwoofer. True surround sound at this sort of asking price is not to be sniffed at.
And then there’s the sheer scale of the AX5100G’s presentation. The soundbar spreads sound good and wide, and in conjunction with the rear speakers creates a sensation of being surrounded by sound in a far more pronounced way than any other comparably priced system can muster.
It’s also very adept at describing big dynamic shifts, thanks in no small part to the deep-breathing nature of the subwoofer. The system can shift from very quiet to impressively loud almost instantaneously, and seems happy to do so repeatedly.
READ NEXT: Our favourite LCD, QLED and OLED 4K TVs
Hisense AX5100G: What could be improved?
This, unfortunately, is the longer list. And it’s hard to know where to start with the things Hisense could improve about the AX5100G.
Tonality is as good a place as any to begin. Basically, the Hisense is all over the shop: the tonal quality of its soundbar is not at all similar to that of the rear speakers, and it’s different again with the subwoofer. Despite its lack of tweeters, the soundbar contrives to deliver sound that’s edgy, hard and insubstantial at the top end, and it struggles to project the midrange with any conviction. Add a lack of fine detail and an inclination to become yet harder at higher volumes, and it’s a far from convincing performer.
The rear speakers are differently, but equally significantly, flawed. Perhaps thanks to their lower power rating, they’re less inclined to sound stressed when the going gets loud, but the sound they make is airy, short of body and shorter still on detail. There’s a sort of convexity, a kind of hollowness, about these speakers that’s not even remotely engaging.
The subwoofer does at least have one trait in common with its partnering speakers: it doesn’t retain or deliver much in the way of detail. Its tonality is soupy, and it slurs and drones where it should describe straight edges at the attack of bass sounds. It’s not on especially good terms with the soundbar, either, and the transition from the frequency information the subwoofer is dealing with up to the frequencies that are the responsibility of the soundbar is way too obvious.
This lack of low-frequency control means bass tends to swamp all the rest of the frequency information, no matter how you seek to trim the subwoofer’s output using the remote control. Music in movie soundtracks suffers especially badly as a result, but music streamed via Bluetooth comes off worst of all – there’s precious little rhythmic expression and next to no light or shade in the way the Hisense deals with music.
The final straw is the almost complete absence of any height effects. The AX5100G is relying on processing, rather than speaker directionality, to create an impression of height from a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but it’s just not very good at it. The system does good work in the horizontal plane, for sure, but in vertical terms, it’s close to non-existent.
Hisense AX5100G: Should you buy it?
It really depends on what your priorities are. If you’re interested in getting the biggest effect of surround sound possible for as little outlay as you can realistically get away with, the Hisense AX5100G makes a lot of sense.
If you’re expecting a system that claims to be able to deliver Dolby Atmos sound to actually do so, though, you’ll need to have a bit of a think about it. And if you’re hoping for some sonic coherence, some sensation of tonal fidelity and commonality across the components of your home cinema system, the AX5100G is almost certainly not for you.