Next Level Acoustics Fusion Reference Soundbar & CI-HV10 Subwoofer Review
by Chris Eberle
Next Level Acoustics takes the design of soundbars to, er…, the next level with its Fusion Reference Soundbar. Coupled with the CI-HV10 subwoofer, the system offers premium sound in a beautifully-styled package that blends into a room when a front array of towers just won’t do. While typical soundbars will improve the audio that comes from a flat-panel’s built-in speakers, they can’t replicate the broad soundstage and frequency response that comes from large cabinets. The Fusion Reference Soundbar delivers full, rich sound and a broad soundstage from a slim, three-sector cabinet. Filling in the bass is an innovative subwoofer, the CI-HV10. A 10” driver hidden inside a small-footprint cabinet supplies sound down to 24Hz, and is easy to hide behind a couch or inside a wall unit. This is a package worthy of a high-end jumbo flat panel or front projection system.
- 66” passive soundbar with three channels
- TWW/WTW/WWT configuration
- Six carbon wool 5.5” mid-range drivers, three silk dome tweeters
- Removeable magnetic grill
- Slim sealed cabinet can be attached to the wall or set on furniture
- 10” ported subwoofer plays loud to 24Hz
- Available in custom finishes and veneers
Next Level Acoustics recognizes that not everyone wants to put an array of large tower speakers in their living room, or their home theater. But traditional soundbars represent significant compromise. Even the more expensive ones are limited by size. Physics cannot be ignored and speakers need cabinet volume to sound their best, the more the better. The Fusion Reference Soundbar seeks to bridge the gap between run-of-the-mill soundbars and individual speakers. Next Level Acoustics makes their products available through dealers and installers but will also accommodate DIY enthusiasts. The prices shown above are for the basic finish models I received for review.
Today, I’m checking out the 66” model which has three-channels in a TWW/WTW/WWT. There are six carbon wool mid-range drivers and three silk dome tweeters. The cabinet is designed for flat panels up to 75”. Larger models are available by custom order. It’s a sealed design with a slim 3.75” deep cabinet made from a combination of MDF and Baltic birch. A magnetic grill finishes off its high-end look. To be clear, this is a passive soundbar, speakers only. There are no amplifiers or on-board processing. You’ll need to provide a multi-channel receiver or separates, and a subwoofer is recommended. To that end, Next Level sent me their CI-HV10 model. It’s a ported cabinet with a 10” driver hidden in a unique dual chamber configuration that plays loud down to 24Hz. This looks like the perfect stealth system for a media room or small theater. Let’s take a look.
Next Level Acoustics Fusion Soundbar and HV10 Subwoofer Specifications
Fusion Reference Soundbar
- Three-sector sealed soundbar, TWW/WTW/WWT
- Bass and Mid Drivers: 6 x 5.5” carbon wool
- Tweeters: 3 x 1” DYNA silk dome
- Sensitivity: 92dB @ 1W/1m
- Impedance: 4 ohms, each sector
- Response: 44Hz-20kHz
- Power handling: 30-350W
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 66” x 6.3” x 3.75” (custom sizes available)
- Weight: 38lbs
- Warranty: Five years electronics, 90 days cabinet
- Next Level Acoustics Fusion Reference Soundbar MSRP: $2499 as tested
- Manufacturer’s Website: https://nextlevelacoustics.com/fusion-reference-soundbar/
- Design: vented, bandpass
- Driver: 10” aluminum cone with 3” voice coil & 110oz magnet
- Amplifier: 500W RMS
- Frequency response: 24-100Hz
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 14” x 20” x 17”
- Weight: 69lbs
- Warranty: Five years electronics, 90 days cabinet
- Next Level Acoustics CI-HV10 Subwoofer MSRP: $2199 as tested
- Manufacturer’s Website: https://nextlevelacoustics.com/ci-iw10-12/
Secrets Tags: Next Level Acoustics, soundbar, subwoofer, home theater speakers, speaker review, subwoofer review
Design of the Next Level Acoustics Fusion Soundbar and HV10 Subwoofer
The Next Level Acoustics Fusion Reference is a soundbar in name only. Yes, it incorporates three distinct channels into a single cabinet, but the sectors are completely isolated from one another. The drivers are of premium quality and the crossovers utilize high end British ESA Clarity capacitors. What the Fusion offers is shallow depth, making it perfect for wall-mounting. At less than 4” deep and just over 6” high, it’s barely visible once installed. A magnetic grill snaps in place to cover the driver array. My sample was 66” wide, perfect for televisions or screens up to 75” across.
Six mid-range drivers and three tweeters are solidly bolted into the cabinet in a TWW/WTW/WWT array. They are well-isolated so there is no lobing or interference from one channel to another. The 5.5” midranges are made with cast baskets and carbon wool cones. Large butyl surrounds allow for high excursion. Despite their size, they deliver bass down to a claimed 44Hz. The tweeters are 1” DYNA silk domes. They provide a smooth and clear sound with none of the harshness associated with metal dome tweeters.
The sealed cabinet features solid build quality and feels monolithic. It weighs 38 pounds in the 66” version and can be ordered in larger sizes. If you plan to use one of these in a projection setup, the Fusion Theater model shown above adds six passive bass radiators to the array and comes in a 90” width. And it’s available in custom sizes too. Either way, you get a ¾” MDF baffle with the cabinet back made from Baltic Birch. The front and sides are covered with a thick woodgrain vinyl and the back is piano black. Three speaker inputs are provided and consist of spring loaded plugs designed for bare-wire connections. You can use bananas but that will prevent wall-mounting. The connectors are gold-plated and very sturdy, installer-grade all the way.
The CI-HV10 subwoofer is unique in that its driver is hidden inside the cabinet. It features chambers on both sides of the cone with a large port near the floor that allows air to exit. The 10” cone is made from aluminum with a 110oz magnet and a 3” voice coil. A 500-watt amplifier drives it to high levels down to 24Hz. There is no eq provided but you can set the crossover, phase, and volume with knobs around back. Inputs include two speaker level along with stereo line level in and out jacks.
The big advantage to its design is that it can be placed inside furniture or more easily hidden behind a couch or credenza. Its footprint is relatively small for the volume it produces at only 14” x 17”. It ships with thick rubber feet already installed. Like the Fusion Soundbar, it features solid construction from thick MDF. My sample had a shiny black finish that seemed very durable.
Custom options for both the soundbar and subwoofer extend to grill fabric colors, laminate colors, paint match, and real wood veneers. You can get oak, maple, cherry, walnut, or chestnut in a custom stain with lacquer. In addition, the soundbars can have a grill notch installed to accommodate television badges and IR sensors.
Setup of the Next Level Acoustics Fusion Soundbar and HV10 Subwoofer
For my review, I connected the Fusion Reference Soundbar to an Emotiva XPA-5 amplifier. Processing duties were handled by an Integra DHC 80.1. The sub was wired via coax using the LFE input. I placed the soundbar on the same stands I normally use for an Axiom VP180 center channel. The sub went in the same corner usually occupied by an Axiom EP800. I turned off the Audyssey room correction and set the front and center speaker crossovers to 80Hz. I re-measured the distances of the front three channels to derive the proper delays and set channel levels with an SPL meter. As I said above, the speaker wire connectors are spring-loaded plungers intended for bare wire. I used bananas which isn’t ideal since it prevents wall-mounting. Also, the plungers allowed my large plugs to touch so I had to keep them apart with three of the included rubber feet.
Given the cabinet designs in use here, there are a number of different ways one could install these boxes. The soundbar can be wall-mounted using hardware provided by Next Level Acoustics. I didn’t receive that with my samples but there was a small box with both felt and rubber feet inside. I did all my listening with the grill in place. If you want to remove it, the drivers are all black so they won’t stand out. Pictures on Next Level’s website show the soundbar set inside a large wall unit along with the sub. There are almost limitless ways to integrate these products into any room. They’re beautiful and stylish but can easily be made invisible.
The Next Level Acoustics Fusion Soundbar and HV10 Subwoofer In Use
Since the Fusion Reference Soundbar’s principal duties will be movie soundtracks, I started with a few Blu-rays. Coming from my reference Axiom LFR1100 towers and VP180 center channel was a surprising experience. I don’t mean to say that I didn’t hear a difference, but what I did hear was unexpected. There are two things these speakers do extremely well, produce a huge soundstage and control bass. Of course, the latter must be credited to the CI-HV10 subwoofer which easily trounces many of the subs I’ve heard. I set it up conservatively with the volume knob at 11 o’clock, as recommended, and was blown away with its ability to pump out loud and distortion-free bass with tight and precise control. Bass heads will be convinced they’re listening to a sealed design, it’s that good. Low extension is strong with tremendous presence. It came shockingly close to duplicating the slam I get from my Axiom EP800 and that is no small feat.
I opened with Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen. This film has a great introduction with a low bass sweep during the initial splash screens and an initial scene that involves lots of destruction. Can building-sized robots fly? No, but you’ll think they can thanks to the Fusion Reference Soundbar and CI-HV10 sub. My walls shook to the point where I had to look for cracks. The volume of air moved by the relatively small cabinet is shocking. The soundbar delivered clean detail with excellent channel separation and a soundstage far wider than its 66” size. The Fusion can really play like a much larger speaker system.
Moving on to U-571, I went straight to the depth charged scene to listen to a few explosions. The soundbar and sub created a nice balance of deep bass layered with water splashes and the shriek of twisting metal. I also paid close attention to the dialog-driven material. Male voices were clear and well-controlled but lacked just a little depth. I suspect the sub is a little better at the subterranean frequencies than with the lower part of typical dialog. It never sounded chesty but I found it just a bit dry. During an early sequence where a bustle of activity takes place at the sub’s dock, I thought background sound, while nicely delineated, competed with the dialog taking place in the foreground. It sounded better when the conversation moved to an office without any extraneous noise.
Star Wars, The Last Jedi features a polite soundtrack that is rich and detailed, but lacks impact unless turned up a bit. The Fusion Reference Soundbar and CI-HV10 sub played clean well beyond my own aural limits. With stout amplification, you can turn up the heat as much as you like. Here, I listened for John Williams iconic music as it plays a significant role throughout the film. The beauty of massed strings and strident brass shone through without taking over. It struck a perfect balance with ambient sound effects, dialog, and the intensity of battle.
The Fusion Reference Soundbar goes far beyond traditional soundbars when used for movie-watching. It can easily outpace mid-size tower and bookshelf speakers. It plays super-clean and creates a soundstage far larger than its physical size. Only the largest towers can boast a greater sense of space. The CI-HV10 subwoofer is not only a perfect partner to the soundbar, it can compete with other subs and best many of them. It’s one of the best small-footprint models I’ve ever heard, able to out-slam, and out-control many larger and more-expensive products.
To give the Fusion Reference a proper workout in the musical realm, I set my processor to stereo mode thereby treating the outer two sectors as left and right with the sub taking up the mantle below 80Hz. I was immediately struck by the immensity of the soundstage. If you take frequency response alone, the Fusion sounds like a pair of high-end mid-towers. Add in the sub and all the music’s glory is there for your enjoyment. Bass is both present and tuneful. The CI-HV10 is no one-note sub, it can clearly play all the notes from tuned percussion, to orchestral double basses, to heavy metal.
I started with a few classical selections. The St. Louis Symphony’s performance of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra is a reference disc for me. I’ve used it to audition speakers since before I was a writer. It dates from 1994, well into the age of digital recording. The Fusion Reference fleshed out all the detail and played with a nice wet sound, displaying all the hall’s reverb. I’ve heard concerts in that very space, it’s live acoustics are sublime and the recording captures all of it. The Fusion creates a huge sense of space.
Next was a 1957 recording of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Fritz Reiner. Even through the tape hiss, I could hear the high partials from the bassoon, the brilliance of the trumpet’s opening solo, and excellent clarity from massed strings. While this recording has an extremely narrow dynamic range, it was very enjoyable thanks to the Fusion’s immense soundstage.
Popular music fans may wonder, will it rock? In the words of Doug Marcaida, “it will rock!” Watch an episode of the History’s Channel’s Forged in Fire if you don’t understand my reference. I started with Five Finger Death Punch’s latest album, and justice for none. They play with dropped tunings which can make distorted guitar turn to mush on many systems. The Fusion Reference preserved the melody of each and every riff. I didn’t have to wait for the solos to hear a tune. Bass was equally musical thanks to that wonderful sub. The CI-HV10 is amazingly versatile.
I couldn’t finish without a trip down memory lane, courtesy of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. If you listen closely, you can hear so many nuances in the massed voices, mostly provided by Freddy Mercury of course. There are lots of subtle embellishments that lesser speakers just wouldn’t bring out. The Fusion Reference will play it all, cleanly and clearly.
The Fusion Reference Soundbar costs less than most high-end bookshelf speakers but easily exceeds them in quality. And the CI-HV10 subwoofer is one of the best I’ve heard at any price.
- Tremendous soundstage
- Clean and clear at all frequencies
- Plays loud without distortion
- Phenomenal performance from the CI-HV10 subwoofer
- Premium fit and finish with monolithic build quality
What We’d Like to See
I have difficulty declaring any product perfect, but honestly, I can’t find a flaw with Next Level Acoustic’s Fusion Reference Soundbar or the CI-HV10 Subwoofer. Are there better speakers and subwoofers available, of course. But none will deliver the kind of performance I experienced in such a convenient form factor. Given the choice between high-end bookshelves or this soundbar, I’d go with the Fusion Reference every day and twice on Sundays. Between its unfailing clarity and tremendous soundstage, only a large set of towers can even hope to perform on its level.
I was even more impressed with the CI-HV10 sub. The cabinet is plain and small but once you crank it up, be ready to raise your expectations for other subs. It is quite simply, the best small sub I’ve ever heard. It plays loud. It never distorts. And its tuneful. Most subs require compromise. What works for movies isn’t so great for music. The HV10 can do it all. Its versatility is unmatched.
If you want high-end audio from a soundbar and sub combo, look no further than the Next Level Acoustics Fusion Reference Soundbar and CI-HV10 Subwoofer. In this class, they are unbeatable.