We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, a soundbar is the single easiest way of improving your TV’s sound, and with the soundbar format now being embraced by everyone in the industry there’s a huge amount of choice available to consumers.
Of course, as with anything audio-related, you can spend upwards of thousands on a soundbar such as Samsung’s phenomenal HW-K950, but at the more budget end of the market you also have the likes of Roth Audio providing surprisingly capable soundbars that won’t break the bank.
The Roth Audio Sub Zero III doesn’t offer the most refined sound out of any soundbar we’ve ever listened to, but what it does offer is a solid upgrade to your TV’s sound that manages to bring a health boost to bass levels whilst preserving the detail in the sound.
The single biggest problem it has is its form-factor, which means that you literally have to purchase a couple of right-angled HDMI adaptors to get the soundbar set up properly.
The Roth Audio Sub Zero III’s physical appearance is nicely understated: it’s a piece of tech that will blend into your TV setup rather than stand out from the crowd. We liked this look as it’s a versatile one, but we wouldn’t fault you if you’re looking for something that makes more of a visual statement.
The front of the bar is mainly taken up with the speakers themselves which are covered in a soft cloth, but in the middle you have a central display and control panel for the soundbar.
The display itself is a simple, yet functional, LCD display. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but at least it turns off when you’re not using it so at least it’s not a constant source of distraction.
Along the front of the soundbar are a basic series of five buttons which you can use to control the equipment in the absence of a remote. As well as offering volume control you can change the soundbar’s source and EQ mode (of which there are 3, ‘Movie’, ‘Music’, and ‘Voice’).
Around the back we find the connectivity ports. Most people will probably use HDMI to get sound into the Sub Zero III but you also have the option of connecting it via a standard 3.5mm cable or optical cable.
If you go the HDMI route, simply plug in any set top boxes, games consoles or Blu-ray players into the HDMI inputs, and then you can connect the box to your TV to pass through the video. If you’re not using HDMI and your TV supports it, we’d suggest going with an optical cable.
But, when you take a closer look at the ports on the back of the bar, you might notice something: all six of the ports are downward facing, meaning that if you choose to rest the soundbar on your TV cabinet then your cables are going to need to bend sharply at a 90 degree angle.
This isn’t an issue for thin cables like your 3.5mm aux and optical cables which will happily bend, but we encountered real difficulties with our HDMI cables, which are much less flexible.
Naturally if you wall-mount the soundbar then you won’t encounter this problem. But, considering that a fair amount of soundbar buyers probably place the equipment flat underneath the TV, we’d wager that this is likely to be a problem for most people.
Roth Audio includes a single right angled HDMI connector in the box – which indicates that it’s aware of the problem – but you’re going to need at least one more in order to do HDMI passthrough to the back of your TV.
At least the soundbar’s remote is a refreshingly simple affair – it’s small, simple and well laid out.
If you’re worried that the Sub Zero III won’t be capable of enough bass for you due to its lack of separate subwoofer then you shouldn’t be too worried.
The soundbar’s contains four drivers in total, two 2.5 inch bass and two 2.5 inch full range, and these bass drivers offer a solid amount of volume.
The bass response isn’t quite as refined as if you were to have a dedicated subwoofer, but it’s more than capable of filling out your TV’s sound when you’re watching your average re-runs of Friends on Comedy Central.
This lack of bass precision is more of a problem when it comes to a Hollywood blockbuster like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II where it can overwhelm the higher-pitched dialogue.
The soundbar’s simple approach to controls is frustrating at a time like this when you might find yourself reaching to turn down the bass a touch and finding the soundbar doesn’t offer this level of control over EQs.
You can overcome some of these difficulties by switching to the soundbar’s ‘Voice’ mode, but this reduces the bass levels by a touch too much.
Switching to The Martian, the Sub Zero III adds a nice amount of gravitas to the film as you watch the movie’s ships rumble through space.
Sound can be a little tinny around the edges, however, which can be a problem in the quieter scenes that are a little heavier on the dialogue.
You can also connect to the soundbar over Bluetooth (the bar supports AptX), which works well if you want to use it as a music player. Just be sure to put it in music mode first if you want to avoid the bass taking over.
Simple but effective, the soundbar offers a nice boost over the built-in speakers of your television. HDMI passthrough means that the majority of your TV devices will be supported with a minimum of fuss, and the remote control is nicely simple.
Bluetooth aptX support is a nice addition if you want to save some space by not having a dedicated music player in your living room.
The soundbar’s bass levels can sometimes overwhelm, and it would have been nice to have some sort of audio equaliser available to customise the sound profile offered by the soundbar. Although overall the sound quality was good, the bass was not as precise as more expensive models.
Make sure you buy at least one right-angled HDMI connector to use with the soundbar if you plan on resting it on your TV stand since the ports all face downwards and you’ll otherwise need to bend your HDMI cables at a right angle to have them fit.
The Roth Audio Sub Zero III is refreshingly simple to control, but this simplicity can sometimes be frustrating when the soundbar isn’t quite working how you want it to. The Sub Zero III offers a decent boost to your TV’s sound, however, and offers a level of sound quality that’s acceptable at this budget price point.
It’s not our first pick from the pantheon of great soundbars out there, but at £119 it gets the job done and costs significantly less than the majority of the competition.