FUSION FRAME SOUNDBAR REVIEW FOR THE SAMSUNG THE FRAME TV- AV NIRVANA
- MSRP — Fusion Frame 65″ LCR Soundbar $1899.00 – CI-IW10S In-Wall Subwoofer $1199.00
Ultra-low profile at 1.75″ depth
High-gloss black front speaker face and back panel
Extraordinary acoustical dynamics and clarity
Proprietary driver and crossover configuration
Seamless framed finish to mimic the Samsung “The Frame” aesthetics
Flush wall pass-through mounting system
Flipped speaker terminal cups for easy cable management wiring access
43″, 49″, 50″, 55″, 65″, 75″ (Stereo) / 55″, 65″, 75″ (LCR)
Available in Black, White, Walnut/Brown, and Beige frame finishesSubwoofer:
Proprietary cast frame 10” long throw bass driver
Performance that rivals competitor’s free standing floor subwoofers with excellent room efficiency and bass power
Standard model: 34hz – 120 Hz frequency response (ultra-compact design) (CI-IW10S-ULT – Ultra model available: 30hz frequency response)
Only 3.9″deep to fit standard 2×4 construction
An interesting, well-built and elegant passive soundbar solution matching the aesthetics of Samsung’s “The Frame” TV and static art display series. The construction, coloring, size and detailing match the various sized TV’s in “The Frame” line creating a stunning and seamless display combo. Proprietary crossover, Proprietary 4.5” aluminum coned woofer and a 1” Vifa soft dome tweeter for each channel combine to good effect projecting a very listenable sound and a convincingly large soundstage belying the small slender size.Subwoofer:
With a Proprietary 10” driver this In-Wall Passive Subwoofer pairs perfectly with the Next Level Acoustics Fusion Frame and Fusion Flat Soundbars. Good bass extension and low distortion make it a good match to any system where an in-wall subwoofer solution is required or desired. Paintable white grille is standard.Meant to be mounted in-wall but for the purposes of review Next Level Acoustics supplied the sub mounted in a nice well-built box and with a subwoofer plate amplifier installed for testing. This was done to enable a meaningful test of the subwoofer while precluding the necessity for a big hole in my wall! Thank you!
First of all…. This speaker just looks good!
Secondly, The combo has an outstanding and intriguing design pedigree with Mr. John Sollecito as the lead designer. Mr. Sollecito has put forward several very well-regarded speakers over the years as designer and builder of JSE Infinite Slope Speakers and others.
Thirdly, I’m just a curious sort that wanted to see just how well a soundbar and in-wall sub could do when replacing my current home theater speakers in my Media Room, my Family Room (both LARGE spaces). And, in the somewhat smaller, more confined, Master Bedroom space (that currently just uses the built-in speakers in the TV) where a soundbar would likely be the preferred option.
If you are planning to read no further here is the short version… It did quite well, actually!
If, as I hope, you will continue onward I will supply some measurements and subjective input and thoughts for this well designed and versatile product.
The Soundbar arrived via FedEx in a box that was a svelte 61.5” x 9.5” x 5.25” and looked to be in good shape. It was a sturdy, well-designed, box made from heavy, single layer cardboard material. The box sort of folded around on itself and appeared that it might be designed to work with the various sizes of the other soundbars offered by Next Level Acoustics. Closed cell foam bars were glued in strategic positions around, and placed as end caps in the box, suspending and protecting the soundbar. The soundbar itself was wrapped and sealed in nice heavy plastic bag. Accessories manuals and mounting hardware were in a black cloth/paper bag.
The Subwoofer arrived a few days later and packaged in much the same way as the Soundbar. Packed in heavy cardboard supported by closed cell foam corner blocks. Since the sub was in a custom enclosure made for the purpose of this evaluation, I’m assuming the shipping box was a one-off piece as well.
Next Level Acoustics had sent their Fusion Frame 65” LCR version that is meant to match the dimensions of the Samsung 65” “The Frame” TV series. And while I do not have that particular version of Samsung TV it is an extremely good-looking piece that should go well with any flat screen TV. The bar is also offered in a “Fusion Flat” design that is edge-to-edge grille. Both versions are offered in several physical sizes to better match whatever TV you are looking to match it up with and are available in both Stereo and LCR models.
The fit and finish was perfectly done in a softly textured matte black on the front and sides, and somewhat inexplicably, a high gloss, piano black on the back of the speaker and behind the grille. The front of the speaker has a bezel that is sized to perfectly match the width, color and texture of the Samsung bezel. Other speaker color options are available to match the range of Samsung choices. There are even custom options available for speaker box and grilles for an additional charge. The bezel-to-bezel grill cover is firmly held in place with a magnetic fastening system.
The back of this particular review model has three recessed terminal cups that sport spring loaded, push and capture style terminals that will accept up to a 10 Gauge wire (it’s a tight fit at 10 gauge… but it does fit!). The terminals for the right speakers are separated by several inches from the Center and Left cups. There is a milled channel connecting all of the terminal cups to accommodate a single point speaker wire entry near the Center/Left terminals. This is necessary because the speaker is designed to be mounted directly flush to the wall. The wire channels should accommodate up to 12 Gauge FLAT Speaker cable without issue. Round speaker cable in the 14 to 18-gauge range should work as well. The speaker could be flipped 180 degrees if needed to accommodate the wire feed from the other end. Flipping the speaker would, of course, flip the left and right speakers.
Rear Connection Detail
Fusion Frame Soundbar Construction
The reviewed soundbar, in this instance, is a passive LCR speaker measuring 57.4” L x 6” H x 1.75″ D and is a two-way (X3) design featuring a proprietary 4.5” Convex Dome aluminum cone woofer (designed and built by Next Level Acoustics), and a 1” soft dome tweeter made by Danish speaker manufacturer Vifa in each of the three chambers. Frequency response is rated as 77hz to 20Khz (no +/- listed) with a sensitivity of 87.5db @ 1-watt input at 1-meter. Recommended amplifier power is 30W to 150W nominal. Each speaker set is specified as a 4 Ohm impedance load.
Woofers are said to operate in an “Air Load” cabinet design. I’m assuming that is a different nomenclature/syntax for an “Acoustic Suspension” sealed cabinet type design. This speaker is said to have a 72 cubic inch chamber for each speaker section.
The 4.5 Convex Dome aluminum cone woofer is custom designed to work in the VERY SHALLOW (1.75”!) cabinet while still delivering real bass output down to 77hz with ultra-low distortion. Both my listening tests and my measurements tend to vet this claim. The shape of the woofer cone is unusual in that it is convex rather than concave, a “Dome” Midrange/Mid-Bass speaker if you will. The shape of the woofer is said to enable increased travel (and thus stronger bass) while giving the speaker a unique, wider dispersion pattern that contributes to the size of the apparent soundstage.
Convex Dome Woofer Midrange
Another piece of the proprietary “Secret Sauce” is the all-important crossover. Specifically designed for the speakers used this was explained to me as meeting “The design goal of a 2-pole circuit that is Phase Coherent and featuring 12db/octave filter slope with transmission zeros engineered into the circuit. The transmission zeros design further minimizes the lobe/comb filter effects between the drivers by abruptly ending interaction between the drivers where it is unwanted/unneeded. Crossover properties were designed for maximum clarity in mind using those design principles.”
The mounting of the speaker is accomplished through four mounting holes through the body of the speaker itself and are totally hidden behind the magnetically attached full length grill assembly when hung on the wall.
Mounting Holes on Soundbar
Included with the speaker are the mounting instructions/manual, the warranty card, the mounting hardware and a pair of white cloth gloves to use when handling the speaker. If you choose to forgo the gloves there is good news and bad news… The good news is that, on my sample model, the matte finish on the front and sides easily resists the application of fingerprints and is easy to clean if fingerprints are inadvertently applied to the surfaces…. The bad news is the piano black, glossy surface of the back acts like a fingerprint magnet. But, being the back side of the speaker, it is going against the wall anyway, so no biggie. I did try initially to handle the speaker with the supplied gloves on, and while the gloves are a nice thought, I never felt I had a firm enough grip on the speaker when handling it, so I just did not use them after my initial attempts.
The cabinet is made from CNC machined MDF and lined with an unspecified anti-resonant damping coating/material internally to control unwanted resonances and spurious vibrations. Whatever the coating material is, it seems to work well, and I could detect no overt cabinet colorations or nasty vibrations at any time, or at any volume during testing and listening. The cabinet passed the “Knuckle Thump Test” handily producing a nice solid “THUNK!” with no ringing heard.
The CI-IW10SW Subwoofer
The subwoofer is supplied normally in its own sealed box enclosure and is made to be installed in-wall using studs on standard 16” center spacing. Dimensions are 14.25″ h x 14.25″w (outside dimensions) with a 12.75″ x 12.75″ (hole cutout). As mentioned before, in this case, it was supplied in a custom shallow cabinet complete with a plate amplifier for evaluation purposes.
The Sub diver itself is a flat faced air suspension 10” driver. That 10” driver is proprietary (designed and built by Next Level Acoustics) and is said to have a “high flux BL motor design” with a 90db @ 1watt at 1-meter sensitivity. This is a passive subwoofer and recommended amplifier is a wide ranging 40-400 watts as specified. Frequency response is given as 120hz down to 34hz (30hz in the case of the Ultimate edition of the sub) and capable of 107db peak output. Given the high efficiency any good amplifier of moderate power should work well.
The Plate Amplifier supplied was not accompanied by any specs but was sufficient to drive the sub to high levels with no indication of strain.
Evaluation Sub as supplied by Next Level Acoustics
The “Proof of the Pudding” is in the Listening!
To properly test the soundbar I decided to try it out in three different environments using the soundbar and the supplied subwoofer only supplemented with my on-hand subs when necessary;
The Media Room – 22.5’ x 18.5’ with a 9.5’ ceiling (at the center). This is about 3700 cubic feet (+/-) of volume. The soundbar would be replacing a fairly robust front end. I would listen with Fusion Frame Soundbar and The NLA supplied subwoofer combined at times with my Rythmik Subs. Carpeted floor and a nod toward room tuning through GIK Panels placed strategically around the room to control any stray flutter echo’s and tighten up the low end a bit. I sometimes listen quite loudly in the Media Room, both music and video, so I considered this the torture test!
Living Room/Family Room – A very large space that combines the Family Room open to a large kitchen and breakfast area and to the dining room and foyer spaces. Ceilings vary from 12’ in the family room to 9’ in all the other areas. This amounts to about four times the cubic volume of the theater! In this case the speakers being replaced would be three BG PD-6 in-wall two-way speakers with a 3” Planar Ribbon Tweeter flanked by two 6” Kevlar woofers. I also have a Polk PF-110 10” subwoofer to provide some low-end foundation. Wood floors with a large throw rug in the Family room make it a lively space. Video is supplied by a 58” Samsung 1080P plasma display. Amplification and processing is via a Sony STR-DH800 AV Receiver (110 watts per channel, at 1KHz, two channels driven).
Master Bedroom – A medium sized room with a trayed ceiling 10’ at the center. The room is roughly 15’ x 16’ x 10’ (about 2400 Cubic feet of volume) with no acoustical treatment. The only speakers at play in the bedroom are the speakers in my Samsung 55” 4K TV. The same Sony receiver was used for the processing and amplification.
Next Level Acoustics recommends a forty-hour (plus) break-in on the speakers before serious listening. With that in mind I started Amazon Music HD playing in “All-Channel” stereo (to ensure the center channel speakers were being exercised) at a moderate volume and just let it play. I did this for four straight days through the morning and into the evening. Since the Media Room is my prime listening and watching spot we also spent time watching TV/movies and listening to music while the speakers broke-in.
Music-wise I listened to a lot of Amazon Music HD streaming several different artists and several selections on CD and SACD. For the video part of the testing I watched several movies in their entirety on Blu-Ray along with some additional streaming content from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Acorn and iTunes/Apple TV as the speakers were breaking in.
While soundbar was certainly very listenable right out of the box I ran through the included room EQ apps in each space to dial it in with the rest of the speakers in the system and the subs when used.
I made several selections for both music and video in different formats that I could try in each of the three spaces.
Program Selections Used for Comparison in all Three Areas
CD – Spock’s Beard – The First Twenty Years – Track 1 – Disk 1 – “The Light”
Great low end, digging very deep with synth and bass combined. Percussive keyboard stabs alternating with quiet passages. Great tune for testing dynamic range and bottom end weight.
SACD/CD – Nora Jones – “Come Away with Me”
The classic “audiophile” test spin with a well recorded female voice sparely accompanied by minimal instrumentation. Grammy award winning recording.
Amazon HD Music – HD Peter Gabriel – Best of Genesis – Keiko Matsui
Blu-Ray – RED – Well shot movie, full range sound and super LFE in a very dynamic presentation.
Good, sharp, focused dialog in the center channel.
Blu-Ray – John Carter – Lots of action and LFE.
Apple TV – Acorn – Delicious – Fantasy/Soap Operatic Dramedy with strong dialog and narration.
Apple TV – Amazon Prime – The Expanse Season Four – Great Sci-Fi drama and action. With plenty
of Sfx and low-end content as well as fantastic imagery.
My first steps were to facilitate the recommended speaker break-in and get the listening process started by connecting the soundbar in my media room. The home theater is a large space at about 22.5’ x 18.5’ with a 9.5’ ceiling (at the center). This is about 3700 cubic feet (+/-) of volume. The room is rectangular and has a roughly thirty-degree soffit-like area on all four walls at the ceiling where the surround speakers are mounted.
I modified my speaker cables and attached a 16-gauge zip cord using wire nuts to the 10-gauge cables already in place for the LCR and then connected those pigtails to the soundbar. In this case, not wanting to punch holes in the wall I just sat the speaker on one on my GIK 1’ x 4’ x 4” acoustic panels that sits directly below the 10’ widescreen. Since I used the Media Room for the speaker break-in I decided to start the listening sessions in that room as well.
Media Room Listening Impressions
Whether listening to music or movies this soundbar and subwoofer combo delivered remarkably full range and coherent sound at any volume I would care play it at. I played it softly and I played it ridiculously loud. I threw everything at it and it only smiled and said “Here it is… Right back at ya!”.
Fusion Frame Speaker in Theater
NLA Sub in Media Room
All content and listening were, for the most part, using the Next Level Acoustics Sub with the Fusion Frame Soundbar. I did listen with the other subs that I had available to supplement the 10” NLA sub on occasion and that only reinforced and increased my enjoyment of the presented sound.
Listening to “The Light” by Spock’s Beard through this slender soundbar and subwoofer combo was a revelation! The combo did such a good job with the subterranean lows that I had to check to make sure I had not left one of the Rythmik F18’s and the buttkickers engaged! I had not!
With all music the soundstage was concise and only slightly constrained by the small speaker. There was a smooth, well defined, midrange coupled with a sweet but somewhat rounded high end.
Listening to the other musical selections on CD and streamed via HEOS fared just as well.
With movies and television content the slender soundbar really strutted its stuff. What was a slightly constrained soundstage with music really brought a focus and clarity to the dialog/center channel. Action flicks like RED were coherently presented and the excitement level never wavered. I played the DTS-HD Intro from RED 2 several times just enjoying the impact of that one short piece!
The Next Level Acoustics combo worked well with all of my surround speakers and never felt out of place or demonstrated a timbre mismatch.
Soundbar and Sub at Listening Position in Media Room
The sound was full and broad-banded when the Next Level Acoustics Sub was engaged providing a real impact and solid foundation for both music and most movie content. The 10” sub was fast and concise and really provided a strong bass presence with most content material thrown at it… when it was called for!
In every instance I felt this was a system that was easy to live with and provided satisfying sound and impact with all content thrown at it.
Living/Family Room Listening Impressions
I made an “Executive Decision” (Read: I followed a directive from the Wife) and decided to mount the soundbar to a stand of sorts instead of poking holes in the living room (and the bedroom) walls. I essentially created a “Speaker on a Stick” that would allow me to set it up anywhere close to the wall adjusting the height as needed.
After a quick level calibration using the very superficial Sony provided, receiver based, room app, I started my listening session, again in stereo, with Spock’s Beard, “The Light”. I tried it without the sub first and found the sound solid but somewhat thin as expected. Switching on the Next Level Acoustics sub, that I had placed near the position of my little Polk 10” sub, made all the difference with this deep digging musical piece. The Next Level Acoustics subwoofer blew the small Polk P-110 sub away in the way of usable output and “felt” LFE.
Soundbar and Sub in Livingroom/Family Room at Listening Position
I continued on listening to several other selections from Nora Jones, Simply Red and Thomas Dolby. The sound in stereo with the subwoofer in place was full range, very focused and very engaging.
The bottom end was full and tight, the mids remained silky and full with that same focus and clarity noted in the Media Room. The highs had that same somewhat soft, somewhat rolled off high end previously noted but in the harder surfaced, less acoustically controlled, and larger volume of the living room the soundstage seemed to open up considerably over what I had heard in the more acoustically controlled Media Room environment.
I continued on with some streaming from Amazon Music HD through my Apple TV Gen 4 both listening to, and enjoying some Peter Gabriel and Genesis compilations, Best of Bob Marley, and Keiko Matsui (soft jazz) with the Reggae bass on the Bob Marley tunes coming through strong and solid. The Next Level Acoustics pairing sounded great throughout.
When I watched Blu-Ray selections RED and John Carter the soundbar and sub supplied good slam with great center channel imaging and good cinematic spread across the front soundstage.
All television and streaming selections sounded great throughout.
Master Bedroom Listening Impressions
For this series of tests, I moved the “Speaker on a Stick”, the Next Level Acoustics subwoofer, and the Sony Receiver into the bedroom and placed it under the 55” Samsung TV hanging there. In this room the NLA pairing would be the only speakers, and only the front LCR channels would be represented. There would be no other surround speakers so it would sink or swim on its own.
As I cycled through the same material once again, I was indeed struck with how much more satisfying ordinary TV can be with elevated sound. The change supplied by the NLA combo was so satisfying on every level and raised the “TV Speakers Only” sound to something else entirely different. With the NLA gear in place I was actually drawn into the material now being presented on the screen and I wanted to watch and listen to more despite the smaller screen size. The simple addition of the NLA equipment made it now seem worthwhile watching something of content in the bedroom.
Despite being a smaller space than either the Media Room or the Living/Family Room, and despite the fact that there were no surround speakers in play, the soundstage seemed, conversely, both larger and deeper than what the speakers had exhibited previously with stereo material. With movies and TV made with surround sound in mind the image did suffer a bit, but it was so much better than the TV speakers alone that it just didn’t matter.
This was the room where I had expected the most dramatic improvement in sound, and I was not disappointed. The Next Level Acoustics soundbar and sub sounded great throughout supplying a consistently satisfying sound. In this room the TV is normally only occasionally used for watching a little news, or whatever. The addition of the soundbar and subwoofer made me reconsider the viability of this current arrangement.
Soundbar and Sub in MBR At 1-Meter
Soundbar and Sub at Nominal Listening Position
Closing Thoughts and Impressions
The Fusion Frame Soundbar is beautifully finished, sized and built using obviously high-quality components. This soundbar and subwoofer combo acquitted itself very well in every space it faced despite the diminutive size of the soundbar and the modest size of the subwoofer.
Sound was very “together” for lack of a better descriptor. There was good separation with all program material. And, while the sound stage was much bigger than the size of the speaker would suggest, it was understandably, still somewhat compressed when compared to that image thrown up by bigger speakers with some distance between them.
There was an overall forward presence to the sound that was a tad in-your-face with some material but never strident or harsh. It was a bit rounded on the top end and that is consistent with the type of driver used and was vetted by the rolloff measured starting around 16KHz. There was clearly measurable output at 20kHz, but it was down about 6 to 8db at the listening position in each room where it was tested. Very few of us can hear that high (I certainly can’t 🙂 in any event and the sound produced was always very listenable and never fatiguing.
The mid-range was silky smooth, precise and well-focused remaining very listenable at all levels. Dialog was very good with only infrequent and very transitory exceptions that could have been more setup/material centric than anything else.
SOME male voices when used for narration, on JUST A FEW different program sources, that over featured the center channel, were somewhat chesty and a smidgen overblown. The bar had a way with some male voices (but not all) and on some program material (but not all) of letting you know this was not a natural, in-the-room, person speaking, but clearly an amplified, artificially reproduced, voice. It was seldom really objectionable… just present occasionally.
And, by-the-way, this was nothing I had not heard from many, even more expensive, center channel speakers at times with similar material. Some program material exaggerates mid-bass voicing and I felt that was, for the most part, what was happening here. Careful tweaking of the crossover on the center channel eliminated all but the tiniest bit of that “Male Chestiness”. As an experiment I reconnected my main center channel speaker and listened to some of the same material. The narrators voice on the Acorn series “Delicious” still had some of that same “Chesty/Overblown” sound noted on the Soundbar but was reduced. Likely the sound characteristic noticed is an artifact of the recording/editing of the “Delicious” series, but my larger three-way center channel spread it out and didn’t emphasize it as much as the smaller, two-way driver set-up in the soundbar.
If using just the soundbar don’t expect buckets of bass. This does not mean that there was no bass content to be heard. Quite the contrary! The soundbar pumped out an extraordinary amount of bass for the size of the drivers and cabinet volume. When listening to some music, or TV with minimal LFE (think news or Sitcom), I rarely missed the sub in the mix.
Music listening with much program material was largely uncolored, rich and full range at all volumes. The soundbar and subwoofer combo acquitted themselves well with every DB I threw at it and provided remarkable volume and dynamic range when called upon to do so! This slender contender can really play LOUD when it is needed!
However, this is a speaker that is most happy when co-existing with a subwoofer! Adding the Next Level Acoustics sub, or any of the other subs that I had on hand, really brought the system to life allowing it to play with much more impact and authority at any volume any reasonable person would inflict themselves to.
The addition of this soundbar, or one of its cousins, is definitely a HUGE step-up from any of the in-TV speakers I tried it with, whether when using with the NLA Subwoofer, or not. But, with the sub, the system simply came alive as a very convincing and eminently listenable full range system!
The companion CI-IW10SW In-Wall Subwoofer is a really heavy hitter despite its small size. In larger rooms two might be better to split the bass load. But even one can, and will, fill up even a large space with prodigious bass if carefully placed and installed. And, since this compact sub can really punch it out extra caution should be used during installation to make sure it is firmly secured in place along with everything else around it! If you have the luxury of integrating one or multiple subs in a new build situation then opt for the available “new construction brackets” and get your dry-wall guys to double-fasten the surrounding drywall sheets.
These are certainly not inexpensive speakers at $1899.00 for the 65” LCR soundbar tested and $1199.00 for the 10” sub. However, given their elevated level of performance, the quality of the components used, the robust construction, and the SOUND reproduced, they are certainly not overpriced or outlandishly priced by any stretch and offer a very good value-to-performance ratio!
Add all of that to the beautiful aesthetics and the perfectly matching notes to the visually striking Samsung “The Frame” TV’s they are made to be used with, and they should appeal to many consumers wanting and desiring elevated audio performance along with a healthy dose of visual appeal!