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Roth Sub Zero III review

Katharine Byrne
30 Aug 2016
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
150
inc VAT

A decent boost to your TV audio for films, and reasonably priced as well, but its design and sluggish controls make it fiddly to use

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Specifications

Drivers: 4, RMS power output: 90W, Dimensions: 850 x 80 x 88mm, Weight: Not stated, Dock connector: None, Networking: Bluetooth

It's not often we see audio equipment that's been primarily designed for wall-mounting, but Roth's new Sub Zero III is one such soundbar. All its ports, for instance, face downwards in a small, hollowed-out recess on the bottom, making it nigh on impossible to rest this on a table or in front of your TV if you're using one of its three HDMI ports.

It does come with a small adapter to allow at least one HDMI lead to exit the soundbar horizontally, but you'll have to buy more if you want to connect other devices, such as a Blu-ray player or a games console.

The adapters themselves don’t cost much – there are various types available from Amazon for around £5 – but considering this is a budget soundbar, it's surprising Roth hasn't been more accommodating for those who might be first-time buyers.

That’s a shame, as the fact that there are two HDMI inputs and an ARC (audio return channel) is rare on soundbars under £200. That's not all you get in terms of connections, either. There are also optical S/PDIF and 3.5mm auxiliary inputs, plus Bluetooth aptX support. However, when all of them are so fiddly to get to, the Sub Zero III starts to feel just as frosty and unco-operative as its name implies. As such, the Sub Zero III won't be for everyone, but if you don't mind the idea of wall-mounting your soundbar, then read on.

Design

From the outside, there's little to shout about. Measuring 850mm in length and 88mm deep, it's fairly compact as soundbars go, with Roth recommending that you pair it with a TV between 32in and 47in in size. Its plastic chassis and cloth grille are rather cheap-looking, though, and the entire front panel on my review sample wasn't sitting cleanly against the rear chassis, giving me a peek at the internal wiring.

The small display was also a little quick to time out for my liking, which – coupled with the sluggish, unresponsive controls on both the front of the soundbar and the remote – made using the Sub Zero III a rather onerous task. Pairing a device over Bluetooth was particularly tiresome, mainly because the Sub Zero III is only discoverable in the first few seconds after switching sources. Leave it too long and your smartphone or laptop won't be able to see it, prompting another irritating cycle through the menu

Sound quality

It's a shame it's such a hassle to operate, as the Sub Zero III's sound quality is decent for such a cheap soundbar. The bass won't blow your socks off, but it's almost certainly going to be a step up from your built-in TV speakers. Dialogue and sound effects were clear for the most part, and it did a good job of producing a full-bodied soundscape throughout each of our test scenes.

My test pop and rock tracks also sounded great, but only with the Sub Zero III’s audio profile set to Music. Voice mode boosted the vocals, but stripped out a lot of the bass, leaving everything sounding rather empty. The Music setting, however, provided a much better sense of balance. I’d happily use this as my main speaker system.

However, while the Sub Zero III is a good companion for films and TV shows, it struggled with more general listening. Its reproduction of some of the choral tracks from the How to Train Your Dragon 2 soundtrack were disappointing: highs and mids sounded thin, echoey and artificial, while more intricate sections of music had a tendency to get a bit lost and muddy, with strings and percussion suffering the most. The bass in the Batman vs Superman soundtrack wasn't very inspiring, and switching mode did little to improve the situation.

I also had problems switching audio mode when using the ARC-enabled HDMI port. The Sub Zero III started by playing Blu-ray audio perfectly fine, but all audio went dead as soon as I tried to adjust the sound profile. This issue may be confined to my review sample, but it's worrying nonetheless, as even powering the soundbar on and off failed to get it working again. The audio returned again after I'd left the soundbar turned off a while, but when I tried switching modes again, the same thing happened.

Verdict

Even putting this to one side, the Sub Zero III still has its fair share of flaws. The positioning of the ports mean it’s unnecessarily awkward to place flat on a surface, and its sluggish controls make it frustrating to use.

If, on the other hand, your budget absolutely won’t stretch further than £150, and it has to be a soundbar for watching films and TV (there's an argument to be made that you'd be better off with a good pair of traditional stereo speakers), the Roth Sub Zero III isn't half bad for the money.

It has a good range of connections, including ARC compatibility, which will help keep the clutter down; it sounds decent for the money; and its Bluetooth aptX support is a welcome rarity. However, if your budget can stretch a little further to £200, then the Evolve Audio SB-2501 will deliver a far punchier sound with a greater amount of bass.

Buy the Roth Sub Zero III now from Richer Sounds



Hardware
Drivers4
RMS power output90W
Subwoofer optionNone
Rear speaker optionNone
Dimensions850 x 80 x 88mm
WeightNot stated
Ports
Audio inputs3.5mm stereo, optical S/PDIF
Audio outputsNone
Video inputsHDMI
Video outputsHDMI
Dock connectorNone
USB portNone
NetworkingBluetooth
NFCNo
Features
Video playback formatsNone
Image viewing formatsNone
Audio playback formatsNone
Smart TV appsNone

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