DALI KATCH ONE Soundbar Review
DALI's first soundbar makes an impression bigger than its minimalist form, says Michael Darroch…
KATCH ONE Soundbar
AUD $1,499 RRP
DALI is no stranger to music and home theatre lovers around the world, but the Katch One is the first of its loudspeakers to incorporate an HDMI input. Yet the company's CEO Lars Worre says that it's more than just a regular soundbar. “It is in fact a music system, in the sense that it holds a neutrality and musicality as a standalone system”, he explains.
It expands on a range which started with the Katch portable speaker in 2017, reviewed here and described by Marc Rushton as “class-leading”, no less. The inevitable question is whether the Danish company can still be a championship contender after stepping up a weight class? Not everyone can do it.
Before deciding whether the Katch One is for you, you need to first decide what you actually want from a soundbar. This isn't a product for a gadget enthusiast, so if you seek the latest surround sound decoding, you'll be sad to discover there isn't a single Atmos label to be found. And you can forget 5.1 because the Katch One doesn't even ship with a subwoofer. It can be added if you like, via the handy Sub Out socket, but the company says this is not necessary unless you want a more “dramatic cinema experience”.
Nor does it act as an HDMI hub, as there's just a single HDMI input for your TV's ARC connection. This means if your television only has a limited number of full-range HDMI inputs, the Katch One will take over one of your juiciest 4K60P HDR slots. To be fair, this is more of a limitation of our current range of televisions than a genuine criticism of the DALI. Still, if the thought of choosing between whether to plug in your UHD player or next-gen gaming console leaves you in a sweat, then perhaps the Katch One isn't the right purchase. The company unapologetically explains that “this is the new and better approach, leaving all operation of the sources to the TV only.” Minimalism at its simplistic best, folks…
DESIGN FOR LIFE
If you value ease of use, stylish integration into almost any décor and – most importantly – musicality, then the Katch One should be on your shortlist. In a market saturated with all manner of soundbars, it's clear that DALI has recognised it needs to avoid generic black plastic boxes with speakers inside. Indeed, redefining what a soundbar should look like was a clear goal of the Katch One, if you believe the designer. Lars remarks that “it is designed to be our take on the inevitable compromises you have to deal with when designing elegant sound systems, for already elegant and slim TVs.”
In my view, the company has hit the mark dead-on, as the Katch One's smooth round curves, soft fabric front and range of hidden or visible mounting options make this a tasteful – if perhaps controversial – offering. Indeed it oozes Scandinavian charm. Fittings to direct mount it directly to a wall are provided, and you can also hang it under the TV using the admittedly rather agricultural looking mounting straps, which hide the HDMI cable. There are also some simple IKEA-style wooden feet. The sense is that this product is as much a room accessory as it is a functional soundbar – and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Even its size and weight – 164x860x69mm and 3.7kg – seem just right for the job in hand.
Hiding away at the back of the Katch One is a recessed connectivity hub. In addition to the aforementioned HDMI socket, there are also two TOSLINK digital optical inputs, subwoofer output and a 3.5mm auxiliary line input. Between this little lot, there's a connection of a sort for almost any device. There's also a USB socket, but it's for firmware upgrades, and powering an Amazon Echo for convenient voice control of your entertainment. However, if there's one thing you won't need to think about too much with this bit of kit – it is control. Using the HDMI ARC connection, you'll be up and running within minutes, and once the Katch One gets talking with your TV via HDMI control, it will take its commands from its HDMI port, at which point it virtually disappears, and you can forget it's even there. This is the very essence of simplicity and in keeping with the ethos of minimalism.
When it comes to wireless connectivity, the Katch One will connect to Android or Apple devices via Bluetooth using AptX or AAC4.0 standards. I found this a curious decision for such a new product, given the relatively low resolution of the formats – both have since been replaced by AptX-HD and AAC5.0 respectively, offering more than four times the transfer capability. I asked Lars why and he replied, “we'll stand up for the [Bluetooth] quality of the solution we use. It's not just about the protocols you use, but a lot more about what you do with the signal internally once it is received. We believe the performance of the [Bluetooth] is absolutely right for the purpose.”
Underneath the skin, the maker says that the Katch One uses four 50W Class D amplifiers to drive its ten speakers, building on the framework established for the high performing Katch. This time we have two 21mm soft-dome tweeters, four 3.5” woofers which have been designed to maintain the “maximum excursion of a traditional sized woofer”, and a further four 4.5” passive radiators, giving the Katch One an impressive ability to reproduce low frequency sound. It's certainly not the most speakers ever packed into a soundbar – Yamaha's YSP-5600 rocks an amazing 46 drivers – but we do know from this just what DALI is capable of doing in small spaces. Certainly, the Katch One delivers a big sound from this simple package.
SOUND AND VISION
Given the Katch One performs as essentially two devices – it's a music system that doubles as a soundbar – it can only fairly be described by separating the two tasks. So first, as a music player, the DALI performs admirably. The company's audiophile pedigree is immediately apparent from the moment you start listening, with its bright and clear tone being the first characteristic that strikes you. With the omission of any real adjustable EQ function, the company's intention is clearly a transparent listening experience, and this is undoubtedly the case with the Katch One. It shows an exceptional level of detail, especially in the mid to higher frequencies.
The claimed frequency response of 46Hz to 25kHz doesn't to my ears sound implausible, because you get an even and extended presentation with bass, midrange and treble represented accurately, although on occasion I did find that certain lower frequencies sound stronger than others. On some types of music, this means that certain instruments can be exaggerated or muted slightly. This can be largely sorted by positioning, as I found the bass response improved by moving the unit closer to the wall, playing to the strengths of the radiator and woofer design and delivering frequencies well below what a speaker this size has any business dealing with.
Dynamic range is another standout of this bit of kit. In a quiet listening environment, the Katch One will stretch itself from a very low noise floor, all the way up to its claimed 101dB ceiling. It can easily fill a small-to-medium-sized room with enough volume to host a party that's worth turning up to. Indeed you can and will wake the neighbours if you're not careful. Another nice surprise was the size of the soundstage; for a reasonably narrow physical package, there are moments when you could mistake this for a grown-up pair of hi-fi speakers. Indeed it had me wondering how much value I was getting from my full-sized floorstanders at times…
Any misgivings I had about its Bluetooth performance soon disappeared after the opening moments of Hans Zimmer's Live in Prague, where the gentle high-hat taps give way to deep and clear piano notes as the great man plays the opening bars of Driving Miss Daisy. The strength of the Katch One seemed in the upper mid and high ranges, with a light, bright and lively sound that never transgressed into distortion.
For example, Billy Joel's It's Still Rock and Roll To Me powered along with authority. I loved the tightly snapping snare behind the smooth vocals of Mr. Joel at his finest. Even changing to denser electronic music couldn't trip up the Katch One; Kavinsky's Nightcall has a rolling bassline, the bottom octave of which was well handled by the passive radiators. They really showed their grit, only compressing at high levels where physics got the better of the Katch One. Indeed, DALI has packed a lot of punch into this small package, and many won't feel the need to add a subwoofer. It's worth noting that when working with a sub, a high pass filter is activated that does change the tonal character of this soundbar.
Katch One is super-impressive with music then, considering its price, but there are some caveats because what's good for music isn't always best for television. Indeed, you could say it's simply too revealing because its bright, detail-rich sound lays bare any compression related distortion in your streaming movies. I would have liked to be able to dial back the dynamic range when watching TV, as unless your viewing area is very quiet, it can be easy to lose the softer sounds, and then be startled when something loud suddenly jumps out at you.
The Katch One has two EQ modes designed to combat this – Wide and Focus – with the former opening up the soundstage and giving a much larger feel to the content, and the latter intending to give a narrower stage for more voice-heavy content. However, in reality, I found it didn't necessarily help with the dynamic range issue and only lessened the pseudo-surround effect of the wide setting. You'll find yourself switching between both as you get a feel for which works best for what you're watching or listening to, but I found my preference was generally the Focus setting for a more natural sound. Despite my gripes, the Katch One still sounds dramatically better than standard TV speakers, and the great thing is that when you combine this with the ease of use via HDMI control – plus its visual appeal – it's hard not to love. It's relatively seamless both in sound and in function.
Starting with the opening sequence of Top Gun, this is hardly an audio tour-de-force, but the uplifting guitar anthem awkward jarring into Kenny Loggins' Danger Zone as the F14 Tomcats roar down the carrier deck has rarely been better represented at this price point. J.J. Abrams' 2009 blockbuster Star Trek is a great opportunity to throw some fastballs, and the Katch One hits every one out of the park, delivering a great sense of scale, with every phaser blast and explosion erupting from the Michael Giacchino score, as Nero's mining ship battles the USS Kelvin.
To round out with something a little more dramatic, watching Cooper and Brand race to beat Matt Damon to the mothership in Interstellar, had me on the edge of my seat as the DALI wove the desperate clock ticking into the depth of the intensifying organ notes before the string crescendo of “No time for caution”. Every lurch and creak of the spaceship draws you into the experience, as they try to dock with the stricken craft. The Katch One never falls short of delivering a big sound experience, but with a level of finesse often missing from some of the more mainstream soundbar options. And for those of you with Disney+, that extra headroom will finally help you get a volume level you might be happy with when the next season of The Mandalorian lands later this year.
The Katch One takes DALI's hi-fi know-how and scales it down into something that will fit in even the smallest of rooms. It provides a larger-than-life sound to improve every aspect of your TV watching experience. It doesn't have everything that other soundbars offer, but instead attempts to redefine what such things should actually do. It asserts that such a device shouldn't just be a festival of high technology, but instead an excellent sounding TV-friendly sound system that doesn't swallow up the room like full-size hi-fi speakers. Indeed, in a way, you could say it has a heart. With elegant simplicity, no small amount of charm and the capability to deliver the sonic goods, this is a unique and compelling choice.
For more information, visit DALI.
With a 20 year passion for home cinema ensuring he will never be able to afford retirement, Michael’s days involve endless dad-jokes and enjoying the short time before his son is old enough to demand the home theatre becomes a temple to Frozen II.