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It’s been interesting to watch the rise of home theaters in America over the last two decades. I remember seeing my first big-screen plasma TV in Best Buy years ago. I also remember later hearing my first demo home theater experience, also in Best Buy (the demo film was Jurassic Park). In both cases, the price was well above what I could then afford — the plasma TV, for example, cost somewhere in the range of $7,000.
Times have changed. Televisions are better and more affordable, and home theater sound systems are likewise easier to come by. The best TVs and sound systems will still cost you some money, but not nearly what they were decades ago. And if you’re willing to settle for something less than top of the line, you can get a quality audiovisual experience at a solid price.
Multi-speaker home theaters are still the best way to experience sound at home. Most TV speakers are passable at best, fine for watching the news but not real inspiring when you’re talking blockbuster movies. Home theater sets, though, require several components and proper connections between them.
A soundbar has emerged in recent years as a middle option between TV speakers and surround sound. Soundbars have a richer sound than a TV speaker, with more bass and depth, and while they don’t fill a room with sound like multiple speakers do, soundbars are more compact and less expensive.
Aldi is not Best Buy. Nevertheless, the grocer has this penchant for rotating technology into its stores from time to time. Nothing about Aldi products really surprises us anymore, so it came as no shock to see the German supermarket sell, of all things, a soundbar.
We decided to try it out.
Spoiler alert: I had problems. Big problems.
The Medion Soundbar (Product Code 15654) is an Aldi Find. That means it’s only in stores for a short time. Once it’s gone, you won’t be able to get it in stores again until it comes back, whenever that might be. Aldi doesn’t ship products online, so if you can’t find any in your local store, you’re out of luck.
At the time of this post, the soundbar cost $49.99. That’s on the lower end of prices for a sound bar. It’s also a fraction of the cost of your big name bars, which can run $150 or more.
Medion is an Aldi-exclusive brand. Unlike many Aldi brands, however, it’s actually a company: Medion is a German subsidiary of Chinese tech giant Lenovo. Medion makes a number of tech products for Aldi, both in the United States and in other countries.
Unboxing and Overview:
The soundbar comes with the following:
- The soundbar
- A wall plug
- RCA (red / white) cable
- 3.5 mm cable
- Optical cable
- AAA batteries for the remote
- Wall anchors and screws (if needed)
- Warranty information
The soundbar comes with a 2-year warranty serviced by Medion.
Setting this soundbar up is relatively straightforward. You plug the soundbar into the wall, then connect the device to your TV or other device by way of the various options the soundbar supports. Those options include:
- RCA (red / white)
- 3.5 mm
The one thing the speaker doesn’t come with is an HDMI cable, so if you want to input through that, you’ll need your own. The other connections do not require anything beyond what come in the box.
Of note: the remote is an important part of the soundbar. While the device can do a few things without it — power, volume, and selecting Bluetooth are all buttons on the side of the soundbar — many major functions are tied to the remote.
The remote has buttons for the following:
- mode cycling, which cycles between the various inputs
- forward / backward, which work primarily with the Bluetooth and USB modes
- mute / pause
- treble and base output buttons
- an equalizer cycle button, which rotates between movie, dialog, and music
There are a couple of things that I should disclose before talking about how the device tested.
One, this review covers testing of two different soundbars, purchased at two different Aldi stores in my area.
Two, I tested the soundbars on three different TVs of varying ages as well as two different smartphones. For better or worse (worse, unfortunately), both soundbars performed identically to one another.
With that said, here is what I discovered.
RCA connection. I tested this input on an older HDTV with an RCA output. This output worked fine, both with the enclosed cable and with another cable I owned.
3.5 mm connection. I tested this input on two different TVs as well as two smartphones. The connection worked fine with all of them.
Bluetooth. I was able to pair two different smartphones with the Bluetooth by setting the soundbar to the Bluetooth setting and then searching for it on my phone. The soundbar chirped when the connection was made, and I could use the soundbar remote to pause and start what I was playing on the phone. The connection between the soundbar and phones was generally solid.
USB. This mode is for playing music on a USB flash drive. I tested it with a flash drive with music on it. The USB drive played without problem. When I tapped the forward and back buttons on the remote, it went to the previous or next track, and when I held those buttons, it went forward or back in those tracks. I could also pause the tracks with the pause / mute button on the remote.
HDMI-ARC. I tested the HDMI-ARC connection on two different TVs, an older Insignia LED TV with an ARC port as well as a newer Samsung TV that also had an ARC port. Here I ran into serious problems. In every case, the HDMI connection failed to work. At best I’d get a split second of sound, while at worst I’d get a loud pop. In addition, trying to use the optical cable resulted in the soundbar essentially stopping working — it would no longer play on any other setting, including Bluetooth. The only way I could get the soundbar to work again was to unplug it and then plug it back in.
Optical cable. I tested the optical connection on three different TVs using both the enclosed optical cables in each soundbar as well as another optical cable I already owned that I use with a speaker system. The results were much like the HDMI input. In every case, the optical cable failed to work, and trying to use the optical cable resulted in the soundbar failing to play any sound on any other setting, including Bluetooth. I had to unplug the cord and plug it back in to get the soundbar to work.
In short, the RCA, 3.5mm, Bluetooth, and USB functions worked without a problem. The HDMI and optical connections did not work and rendered the sound non-functional until I unplugged and plugged in the soundbar.
For the connections that functioned, sound quality is about what I expected, which is actually decent. It’s definitely superior to my TV speakers, with a deeper sound and more bass. The built-in subwoofer doesn’t exactly make my floor rumble, but it has some resonance to it. My home theater speakers are still better, but this isn’t bad.
I had some hope that this little soundbar would be a nice addition for a TV. And in some ways it is, as the sound is actually pretty good. It’s a decided upgrade from TV speakers and delivers a decent punch of sound at a budget price.
Unfortunately, I ran into some serious design flaws with this device. Both the HDMI and optical connections were not only non-functional, but they caused the device to stop outputting sound altogether until it was unplugged and plugged back in. The fact that I experienced these problems on two different soundbars purchased at two different stores — and on three different HDTVs using different cables — suggests that this is not about the TVs or cables. Nor is it a case of a single faulty device. I don’t know how many devices are like this, but it’s not a good sign when I buy two different ones and encounter the same operation-breaking bugs.
My soundbars are still technically usable on TVs that have RCA or 3.5 mm inputs, but at least one of my newer tested TVs only has optical and HDMI. For that TV, this soundbar just won’t work. It shouldn’t be that way.
This isn’t the most disappointing Aldi product I’ve reviewed, but it’s definitely on the lower end.
Richard have one it worked very well for the cost its not a Bose but it worked ok a lot better then the dime size speakers in my Samsung tv !!
Your symptoms are classic of not having PCM output enabled over HDMI to the soundbar. TV settings will have a toggle option for PCM which both optical and HDMI-ARC will require because the soundbar has to use its internal DAC circuitry to decode PCM. All the other analog input methods to the soundbar rely on the TV’s internal DAC circuitry.
After 2 weeks it stopped working ugggg