From foldable phones to a slew of daily gadgets, TCL has been trying its hands on everything. Its 2020 lineup included five soundbars with the ‘Alto’ moniker across varying price points. One of them is the Alto 8i, a sub-$200 bar with two built-in subwoofers and a decent package. The key selling point? There is support for Dolby Atmos.
But is it enough for buyers to flock to it? Probably not. The TCL Alto 8i will require a decent sound prowess for people to try it.
It also packs in many features and looks like a tempting offer for those looking to upgrade their TV audio without shelling thousands of dollars.
Is the real-world performance a force to reckon with, or does it fall short? We will find it all for you. This is the TCL Alto 8i review.
List of specifications
|Product Dimensions||39.0 x 2.6 x 5.2 inches|
|Wireless Audio Protocol||Bluetooth|
|Audio Decoding Codecs||Dolby AtmosDolby Digital
Dolby Digital Plus
|Subwoofer and Satellites Type||None|
|Connectivity||1 x Optical In – Audio
1 x Full HDMI In
1 x HDMI In/Out – Audio/Video
1 x 1/8 inches / 3.5 mm – Audio
1 x USB – Audio/Video
- It follows a clean and compact design language
- It has three preset EQ settings
- Users can tweak most aspects to get the sound of their choice
- It doesn’t handle max volume levels well
- Lacks low-bass
What’s in the box?
- TCL Alto 8i Soundbar
- AC Power Cord
- Optical Cable
- HDMI Cable
- Remote Control
- 2 x “AAA” Batteries
- Wall-mounting Template
- 2 x Wall-mounting Template
- 2 x Wall Anchors
- 2 x Wall-mounting Brackets
- 2 x Wall-mounting Screws
- User Manual
Design and build
The TCL Alto 8i soundbar is all about minimalism, and it shows in its build. The company opts for a bland, all-black plastic exterior for the bar. The body feels robust and has a tight fabric cover, unfortunately, a dust magnet. There are two subwoofers built into the bar along with the regular drivers.
The TCL Alto 8i bar stretches 39.0 x 2.6 x 5.2-inches and weighs a very manageable 2.90 kg. It is not very wide and should fit under most 55-inch TVs comfortably. It is also not very tall, meaning that your TV-viewing experience won’t be marred unless you have it flush on the table.
On the back of the bar, you will find universal holes for wall-mounting on the bottom and a cutout for the ports and power cable.
The TCL Alto 8i soundbar doesn’t have a dedicated subwoofer or a satellite speaker as part of the package. It, instead, opts for two subwoofers baked directly into the bar.
Overall, there is very little for us to comment on here. The bar is well-built, feels solid, and is relatively compact for most scenarios.
The TCL Alto 8i soundbar keeps things simple but gets in the basic requirements well. There is a five-character LED display placed in the front-middle of the bar. It can inform users of the changes they make, such as volume levels, inputs, bass and treble, audio format, and EQ. One surprise inclusion is a white dot on the display that lights up when the soundbar is on standby. It also flashes in sleep mode.
There are five physical buttons on the top of the bar. The array includes Power, Inputs, Bluetooth, and Volume Up/Down options. The Power button doubles down to let you enter Sleep mode by short pressing and Standby mode by long-pressing it.
There is a basic remote as part of the package that stays true to the simplicity stand. It has all the controls packed in a standard format. TCL adds in a Night Mode that we haven’t quite seen with other manufacturers. It is more of a gimmicky addition but balances the volume levels across different programs when you activate it. It also turns on the dim setting for the display.
There is no application accompanying the TCL Alto 8i soundbar. Another feature that it misses out on is a Power Saving Mode but compensates by letting you manually do it. It supports HDMI CEC, allowing users to control some of its functions via a universal remote.
Unlike most budget offerings we have come across, the TCL Alto 8i has plenty of input ports. It has a Full HDMI In, HDMI In/Out, Optical In, USB, and a traditional 3.5mm jack slot. The Aux port lets you connect your phone or other PDA devices, whereas the HDMI port enables you to connect it with your TV and PC conveniently.
As for wireless playback, the soundbar only has support for Bluetooth. There is no Wi-Fi or Chromecast support here.
As for audio codec compatibility, there is Dolby Atmos here, the star of the show. Other than that, the soundbar supports Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and 5.1 PCM. The hardware limitations mean it downmixes every high-quality codec you throw at it.
Another surprising addition for its price is 4K Passthrough support. It also supports HDR10 and can stream the highest quality content.
The TCL Alto 8i is a 2.1Ch configuration with two built-in subs. It is also Roku TV compatible, giving you more legroom for your streaming needs. It opts for a punchy, bright sound profile out-of-the-box, and that can disappoint neutral sound lovers. Its mid-range is more balanced, and there are some EQ presets to let you fiddle with the final output.
The overall sound profile of the bar is punchy and boomy, with a higher emphasis on treble. The lack of subwoofers means that there is not enough low-bass in the mix, forcing the listeners to feel the lack of thump and rumble in the output. It is evident when you play action games or bass-heavy content such as EDM.
The soundstage of the bar is limited to the width of the bar. Unfortunately, focusing is not its forte. It means that you are more likely to listen to the sound coming from a specific side than pinpointing the exact location. It takes some points away from it in the performance department.
The 2.1Ch configuration means that the TCL Alto 8i soundbar misses out on a center channel. It instead uses the right and center speakers to replicate dialogues, and they end up sounding up a bit muddy.
The bar can get loud enough for most occasions but doesn’t handle higher volumes well. There are sufficient compressional artifacts and pumping audible to the users, and you are better off sticking to 80 percent volume levels most of the time.
As for surround sound, there is nothing in the hardware department to augment the performance. The software does not have any trickery up its sleeves, resulting in a below-par surround performance. The boomy sound profile further dissolves the sound profile, and we can call it passable at best.
The TCL Alto 8i has a terrible selection of sound enhancement features. There are three EQ presets – Music, movies, and TV. Also, there are treble and bass adjustments for fiddling with the sound output. The bar adds in a Dolby Virtual Surround mode to elevate your movie-watching experience. There is no room for correction or dialogue enhancement to handle the overall sound profile better.
The TCL Alto 8i soundbar is okay on the performance front. It is okay for mixed usage, and we would have liked a better dialogue performance. But you get what you pay for, and there are barely any complaints when you take the price in the picture.
The TCL Alto 8i costs under $200 and has built-in subwoofers. There are many dirt-cheap bars in the market, and it has an array of competition. Here is how it stacks up against its peers –
TCL Alto 9+
The TCL Alto 9+ is a 3.1 setup and is pricier than the TCL Alto 8i soundbar. It comes with a dedicated subwoofer and has a neutral sound profile. The 9+offers more wireless options and a better center channel performance.
The TCL Alto 8i hits back by providing a better bang for the buck and has a better soundstage.
The Sony HT-X8500 is a 2.1Ch configuration and supports Dolby Atmos too. It topples the TCL Alto 8i in performance, has a more neutral sound profile and center performance. There is a dialogue enhancement feature that ensures crispier voice output and improved height performance. It also pips the TCL bar in terms of sound enhancement features.
The TCL soundbar has a better soundstage, and the build is also fractionally better.
The value-for-price proposition is high enough for us to recommend the TCL Alto 8i soundbar
A few years ago, there were hardly any noteworthy soundbars in the sub-$200 category. The scenario has now turned on its head.
The TCL Alto 8i has an uneven sound profile and can disappoint the purists. The loudness is sufficient, and there are some compression artifacts present to mar the performance.
Everything taken into context, the TCL Alto 8i bar offers decent bang for the buck. You get many input ports, three EQ presets, and it lets you manage bass and treble. Even though you can pull down the latter, the sound still was a bit bright for our liking. Apart from that, we barely had complaints with the overall proposition and can recommend it as a viable option.