When you think of Haier, air conditioners and other appliances are the first products to come to mind. Yes, the Chinese company has ventured into discount MP3 players and TVs, but when CNET has reviewed them in the past, they often scored low -- even when taking their bargain pricing into account.
Guess what? We don't have Haier to kick around anymore. We spent a considerable amount of time listening to the company's SBEV40-Slim sound bar ($260 street), and we're pleasantly surprised to report that it's pretty great. In fact, the Haier is one of the best-sounding sound bars at this price level.
The SBEV40-Slim (which also goes by the name "Haier Slim Evoke") has an incredibly thin profile at just 1.1 inches thick, along with a slim, wireless subwoofer, making it one of the more stylish sound bars on the market. And its connectivity is a cut above most of its competitors, with two HDMI inputs, an optical audio input, and a minijack input.
On top of being thin, it sounds great and has all the features you could want -- what's not to like? Not much. There's no built-in Bluetooth or AirPlay for streaming music wirelessly from a smartphone or tablet, which is a nice perk you get on some systems. And it doesn't sound nearly as good as a true surround-sound system, although that's true of any system at this price. At any rate, these are nitpicks about what's an overall excellent home theater option. If you're looking for a sound bar that costs less than $300, the Haier SBEV40-Slim should be at the top of your short list.
We can't remember seeing a sound bar that's thinner than the SBEV40-Slim. The speaker's claim to 1.1-inch thinness isn't just marketing fluff; it's that thin all the way through. The metal feet on the bottom take up a little more room, but they're also very sturdy and stable, which isn't always the case on a sound bar system. I'm rarely impressed by ever-thinner HDTVs (99 percent of the time I'm looking at the big flat side), but the Haier's thinness is definitely a perk considering it will live on the cramped space in front of your TV on or in your home theater cabinet.
If the Haier was just thin, you could dismiss that as a gimmick, but a lot of thought has obviously been put into the rest of the design as well. There's no visible display on the front panel, but press a button on the remote and a display lights up behind the speaker grille, letting you know what input you're on or how high the volume is. And the display is smart enough to disappear again when you're done. There's nothing else on the front panel, except for a few buttons that run along the top in case the remote goes missing.
The subwoofer is seriously slim, too. While most subs have a boxy shape, the SBEV40-Slim's has a narrow profile, measuring just 5.9 inches deep. It's also wireless, so it's easy to place pretty much anywhere in your living room (although it does need to be plugged into the wall).
While the Haier gets most of the design notes right, the remote could use a little work. The volume rocker is nice and prominent, but it has an unconventional horizontal layout. The rest of the buttons are also laid out horizontally, even buttons like Mute that deserve a more distinctive treatment. It's not a bad clicker, but you'd be smart to invest in a quality universal remote.