Polk Audio MagniFi 2 soundbar review: Virtual 3D audio and built-in Chromecast, but iffy bass

The 2.1-channel MagniFi 2 soundbar from Polk Audio does a solid job at delivering virtualized 3D audio, but gets tripped up by its mediocre bass response.

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Sound modes

The Polk MagniFi 2 offers a total of five audio modes. The Music mode boasts a narrower, “more natural” sound, while Movie mode bumps up the bass and widens the sound stage. The dialog-enhacing Sports mode is a de facto “voice” mode, although at any time, you can press the “Voice” volume buttons on the remote to either boost or dial down the dialog. There’s also a Night mode, which compresses audio dynamics for late-night listening (always a plus in our book).

Finally, 3D mode creates virtualized height cues by way of Polk Audio’s in-house SDA audio processing, essentially tricking your ears into thinking they’re hearing sound coming from the ceiling. It’s worth noting that unlike other 3D sound modes, Polk Audio’s version is exclusive of the soundbar’s other sound modes; in other words, you can’t activate Movie mode and 3D mode at the same time. After sampling the various sound modes, I opted to keep the 3D mode enabled for movies and TV shows, while sticking with Music for tunes.

Performance

When it comes to virtual 3D modes, balance is the key. If the virtual 3D effects are too aggressive, they tend to add an unpleasant harshness to the sound. If the effects are too subdued, well, what’s the point? Polk Audio audio seems to have taken a more conservative route with its 3D audio technology, opting for dialed-back effects to keep the shrillness at bay. That’s mostly a good thing, given that toned-down virtual 3D effects are preferable to exaggerated but harsh-sounding ones. The bad news, however, is that the MagniFi’s prowess in the virtual 3D department is undercut by its underwhelming bass response.

Starting off with the battle on Hoth from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (the UHD version), I liked the MagniFi 2’s overall flat sound signature (flat as in sonically flat, not boring flat), and I could hear some subtle virtualized height effects, such as when a hog-tied Imperial Walker tumbles and explodes, spewing debris that cascades into the air before plopping into the snow. The dialog in the Falcon (‘Never tell me the odds!”) sounded impressively crisp and clear for a soundbar lacking a center channel, although Han’s voice sounded a tad quiet until I maxed out the “Voice” volume setting. And while the MagniFi’s height and surround effects were somewhat restrained compared to similar soundbars with virtual 3D modes (I only got a vague sense of surround cues as the Rebel snowspeeders buzzed the Imperial Walkers) the soundbar’s 3D audio mode was thankfully free of the annoying harshness that plagues many of its competitors.

Unfortunately, the MagniFi 2’s bass response leaves much to be desired. During the battle on Hoth, the footsteps of the Imperial Walkers should sound like solid, tight thunks; instead, the thunks were replaced by dull squishes. And when the corkscrewing Millenium Falcon shot past the screen during the Star Destroyer chase, the deep roar of the Falcon’s engines was conspicuously absent. Cranking the bass only resulted in an overall—and unpleasant—boominess.

Switching over to the launch sequence from Apollo 13 (the UHD Blu-ray again), I had a similar reaction. While I admired the overall crisp, flat sound of James Horner’s soaring score, the bass was curiously missing. For example, as the Saturn V rocket rises off the launchpad and shoots past the camera, there should be a deep rumble, not a light whoosh, while the punch of the Saturn V’s stage separations sounded more like a light pop. On the plus side, the MagniFi’s 3D mode was again shrill-free, even if the surround effects (such as the gurgle of the fuel pumps just prior to launch) were quite subtle.

I also sampled the opening drag race of 2 Fast 2 Furious, and I appreciated the clear dialog at the raucous starting line (albeit with the “Voice” volume setting cranked up) and the clean but restrained 3D effects as Brian, Suki, and their fellow racers hurtled around the makeshift course. Once again, though, I was disappointed by the deficient bass, with the huge beats of Ludacris’s “Act a Fool” on the soundtrack sounding pale and empty.

The story improves somewhat when switching to music (I streamed music from Spotify via Chromecast), with the title track of Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad sounding crisp, flat, and natural, with plenty of detail in his unadorned vocals and reedy harmonica plus a nice, gentle warmth as the synthesizers kicked in. I also enjoyed the clean timbre of Bertrand Chamayou’s keystrokes during his performance of Maurice Ravel’s solo piano works for Erato. Ciara’s “Level Up,” however, was again deficient in the bass department, and while dialing up the bass volume helped to fill the gap, the audio was overly boomy when I switched directly back to Tom Joad.

Bottom line

The MagniFi 2 does a solid job at delivering virtual 3D thanks to Polk Audio’s SDA audio processing technology, while its Chromecast support and trio of HDMI inputs are welcome additions for a $499 soundbar. But mediocre bass hamstrings the MagniFi’s overall sound, and that’s a shame given the soundbar’s otherwise impressive performance.

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At a Glance
  • The 2.1-channel MagniFi 2 soundbar does a solid job at delivering virtualized 3D audio, but gets tripped up by its mediocre bass response.

    Pros

    • Easy to set up
    • Chromecast audio support
    • Three HDMI inputs, plus an HDMI-ARC port
    • Subtle 3D audio mode doesn’t sound too harsh

    Cons

    • Mediocre bass response
    • Limited support for Google Assistant voice commands
    • Many buttons on the remote are perfectly flat
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