Soundbars are a popular option for people who want to improve on their flat-panel TV’s built-in speakers, but don’t want a full-blown surround-sound system. You can place a soundbar on a shelf below a stand-mounted TV, or on the wall underneath a wall-mounted TV. Most soundbars have limited bass, so many come with matching wireless subwoofers.
The sound base is a variation on this theme. It’s meant to sit on a dresser, desk or other deep shelf, with the television directly on top. It’s a great add-on for TVs in bedrooms and dorm rooms.
This type of speaker is deeper than a soundbar, so does not require a subwoofer to produce bass. But many such products, including the Kanto Grandstand reviewed here, have subwoofer outputs that let people who want more impactful bass connect a powered sub.
Like other products from Coquitlam, BC-based Kanto Living, the Grandstand is designed in Canada and built in the Far East. It retails for $389 in Canada. The Grandstand will accommodate TVs with bases up to 20” wide, and weighing up to 120 pounds.
Build quality is very high. The Grandstand is available in gloss black and matte grey finishes. Both versions come with two mesh grilles: one black and the other grey. The finish on my gloss black review sample was impeccable.
The Grandstand is a self-contained 2.1-channel powered speaker, with front-firing oval 3x1.5” paper-cone mid/bass drivers and .75” silk dome tweeters for the left and right channels, plus a downward-firing 4” paper-cone woofer that’s shared by both channels. (Kanto’s Website erroneously specifies the Grandstand as having 3” mid-bass drivers.) Amplifier output is not specified.
The solidly built MDF enclosure is a bass-reflex design, with dual rear-firing ports. It sits on rubber feet to isolate the enclosure from the shelf underneath, and to give the woofer room to fire into the room. On the back are RCA analog input jacks, optical and coaxial digital inputs, and an RCA subwoofer output jack. The Grandstand also has built-in Bluetooth so you can stream music from a mobile device.
Commendably, Kanto provides a full-size remote with the Grandstand. It’s well designed and well labeled, with buttons for power, source selection, volume, bass, treble and balance. Cleverly, the remote has small reset buttons for bass, treble and balance, which restore these settings to the default centre position. Given that there are no visual cues to tell you how these controls have been set, this is a welcome feature. Another clever touch is buttons on the back for adjusting volume and selecting source, which is useful if you’ve misplaced the remote.
For my tests, I connected an LG Blu-ray player to the Grandstand using the optical input, then played some TV shows and movies to check different aspects of sound quality. The Grandstand sat on a tall built-in shelf in my small third-floor listening room, with a Samsung display on top. The shelf is about the same height as a dresser, and similarly constructed; so this seemed a good simulation of a probable real-life application for this product.
I started with the opening episode in HBO’s marvelous series Treme on Blu-ray. Many of the key characters are musicians; so music plays a big role in this series, which is set in post-Katrina New Orleans. I half-expected upper bass to be boomy, given the close proximity of the downward-firing woofer to the shelf; but this was not an issue. The string bass in the opening theme had good snap and definition. And the lively second-line parade in the series’ opening scene sounded good as well. The drums and brass instruments had good bite and impact, though there was some lack of definition and sparkle in the highs.
The Grandstand did a good job producing effects like helicopters flying overhead and doors slamming. Of course, these sounds were not as dramatic as a full-blown surround system, but they were much more dynamic than you’d get from built-in TV speakers.
I had the same impression with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on DVD. The fly-by effects in the Quiddich scene were quite impressive, and the big musical soundtrack was satisfying, despite some compression (which you expect from a product like this). Again, the highs had less sparkle than I’d like.
While the Grandstand provides better dialog intelligibility than typical TV sound, it suffers from some midrange colouration that makes both male and female voices sound hollow. This was audible in both Treme and Harry Potter.
I also found this somewhat bothersome when streaming music from my iPhone 6 Plus. Pairing the phone with the Grandstand was a snap. Just press the Bluetooth reset button on the remote, go to Bluetooth in the iPhone’s Settings menu, select the Grandstand, and the devices are connected.
Bob Dylan’s voice in “Gotta Service Somebody” from Slow Train Coming sounded cavernous, and the overall presentation sounded constrained. And the vocals sounded weirdly disconnected from the instrumental accompaniment.
Patricia Barber’s voice in “Regular Pleasures” from Verse was a bit hollow; but I was impressed by how well controlled the big bass drum and stand-up bass sounded on this demanding track.
Keith Jarrett’s solo piano in his live album Rio lacked body, as if he was playing a small upright rather than a concert grand.
The bottom line: the Grandstand is a mixed bag. Build quality and human elements are both first-rate. But there are sonic issues. For movie and TV viewing, the Grandstand is quite satisfying, despite the midrange colouration and lack of high-frequency sparkle. In terms of dynamics, clarity and intelligibility, it’s a big step up from built-in TV sound. But for casual music playback from a smart device, the Grandstand is just okay.