The SpeakerCraft CS3 ($600 street) is the best high-performance sound bar we've tested. For one, it features a "pedestal" design, letting you place it under your TV rather than in front, which we prefer, for a sleeker look. It's also a top-notch performer, which is unusual for a pedestal sound bar, as they tend to sound thinner than sound bars with a separate sub. And just for good measure, the CS3 features built-in Bluetooth, which is frequently left out of sound bars, despite adding a lot of convenience.
The CS3 has its faults, such as no front-panel display and a lousy remote, but they're relatively minor compared with what it gets right. The biggest drawback is its price. Budget-minded buyers will prefer the Zvox Z-Base 420 ($300), which is a very similar product, albeit with lesser sound quality and less refined looks. And those looking for great performance will get better sound by pairing up a cheap AV receiver, like the Onkyo TX-NR414 ($275), with some inexpensive tower speakers, like the Pioneer SP-FS52 speakers ($260 per pair).
But the SpeakerCraft CS3 is for those who want a simpler, unobtrusive home audio system that still delivers excellent sonics. You'll have to pay for its charms, but the SpeakerCraft CS3 is a worthwhile investment if you want a great-looking sound bar that will serve you well for years.
Editors' note (November 1, 2013): The price of the SpeakerCraft CS3 reviewed here has been lowered to $399, making it an even better deal.
Design: Low profile, refined look
Aesthetically, the CS3 is a blend of the boxy Zvox Z-Base 420 and the more elegant Bose Solo. While it has the same large footprint as the Zvox, the CS3's nicely curved edges and solid-feeling build quality give it a more refined appearance. The CS3 may be expensive, but it has a commensurate high-end feel.
Tug on the speaker grille and it comes off easily in your hands, since it's held in place only by magnets. Even better, without the grille you can see that the CS3 has a serious set of drivers: two 1-inch tweeters and four 3-inch midrange drivers. There are also two 5.25-inch subwoofers mounted on the bottom.
The only considerable misstep in the CS3's cabinet is the lack of a front-panel display. That means you don't get any visual feedback when you're adjusting the volume or making bass/treble tweaks. The competing Zvox 420 includes a display that's cleverly hidden behind its speaker grille.
For all the thoughtful work that's been put into the CS3, it's a shame it's stuck with lousy remote. The remote is of the thin, credit-card style variety, with unsatisfying, mushy buttons. The button layout is mediocre, too; you can't tell at a quick glance how to adjust the volume. We get the impression that sound bar manufacturers often don't put a lot of effort into the included remote since they expect many buyers will use a universal remote, but that's a weak excuse, especially when the Bose Solo includes a nice clicker at nearly half the price.