TCL Alto 3 Soundbar Review

Tested using Methodology v1.0
Reviewed Nov 30, 2020 at 09:43 am
TCL Alto 3 Picture
5.3
Mixed Usage
5.8
Dialogue/TV Shows
5.5
Music
4.9
Movies
Channels
2.0

The TCL Alto 3 is a 2.0 setup with a small, compact design. It's Bluetooth-compatible, so you can stream audio from your phone or tablet to the bar wirelessly. However, it doesn't have a very versatile performance. It doesn't support Dolby Atmos, and it doesn't have a lot of physical inputs or customization features. Although it's light on extra features and offers an uneven sound profile pretty lacking in low-bass, it's an affordable choice that's best-suited for vocal-centric content.

Our Verdict

5.3 Mixed Usage

The TCL Alto 3 is bad for mixed usage. Its uneven sound profile is lacking a lot of low bass, but its balanced mid-range is suitable for vocal-centric content like TV shows. Due to its small size, it doesn't get very loud. It also doesn't support Atmos content, and it downmixes surround content into stereo, which isn't as immersive.

Pros
  • Three EQ presets.
Cons
  • Doesn't support Atmos.
  • Downmixes surround into stereo.
  • Lacks low-bass.
  • Doesn't get very loud.
5.8 Dialogue/TV Shows

The TCL Alto 3 is poor for dialogue and TV shows. This 2.0 setup has a phantom center channel, which doesn't sound as clear or real as a dedicated center channel. On the upside, its balanced mid-range is suitable for dialogue-centric content, and its TV preset doubles as a dialogue enhancement feature. While you can wirelessly stream audio from your phone to the bar over Bluetooth, unfortunately, the bar doesn't get very loud.

Pros
  • Three EQ presets.
Cons
  • Doesn't get very loud.
  • No auto-volume mode.
5.5 Music

The TCL Alto 3 is poor for music. Its sound profile isn't very balanced. It's lacking a lot of low bass, which is disappointing for fans of bass-heavy music genres like EDM. Also, its underemphasized treble hurts the detail and clarity of vocals and lead instruments. However, its balanced mid-range is suitable for vocal-centric content. It also has a few EQ presets to help you customize its sound.

Pros
  • Three EQ presets.
Cons
  • Lacks low-bass.
  • Doesn't get very loud.
  • No graphic EQ.
4.9 Movies

The TCL Alto 3 is bad for movies. It doesn't support Dolby Atmos content, and it has to downmix surround content into stereo, which doesn't sound as immersive. Its sound profile isn't very balanced, either, as it's lacking a lot of low-bass, and action-packed scenes don't feel very thumpy or punchy as a result. Also, it doesn't get very loud, likely due to its small size.

Pros
  • Three EQ presets.
Cons
  • Doesn't support Atmos.
  • Downmixes surround into stereo.
  • Doesn't get very loud.
  • 5.3 Mixed Usage
  • 5.8 Dialogue/TV Shows
  • 5.5 Music
  • 4.9 Movies
  1. Updated Apr 02, 2021: Converted to Test Bench 1.0.

Test Results

perceptual testing image
Market Context
Market Context
Market Context

The TCL Alto 3 is a 2.0 setup from TCL's 2020 lineup. However, unlike other soundbars from the company's 2020 lineup, it isn't 'Roku TV Ready', so it isn't designed to integrate seamlessly with your Roku TV. It's small and compact, but it isn't very versatile and doesn't support Atmos. Its main competitors include the LG SK1, the TCL Alto 7+, the Bose TV Speaker, and the TCL Alto 5.

Design
Design
Style - Bar

The TCL Alto 3 is a simple, rectangular soundbar. It's mostly made of plastic, and there's a glossy finish on the top, back, and underneath of the bar and a matte finish on the sides. There's also fabric covering the front.

Design
Style - Subwoofer

There's no subwoofer with this soundbar.

Design
Style - Satellites

There aren't any satellites in this setup.

Design
Dimensions - Bar
Width 23.7" (60.2 cm)
Height 2.4" (6.2 cm)
Depth 3.6" (9.1 cm)

This soundbar is fairly compact, so it should easily fit between the legs of most 55" TVs. It isn't very tall, either, so it shouldn't block your screen unless your TV sits flush on the table.

Design
Dimensions - Subwoofer
Width N/A
Height N/A
Depth N/A

This setup doesn't have a subwoofer.

Design
Dimensions - Satellites
Width N/A
Height N/A
Depth N/A

This soundbar doesn't come with satellite speakers.

Design
Back - Bar
Bar Mounting
No

On the back of the soundbar, there's an opening for the inputs and the power cable. Unfortunately, it doesn't have any mounting holes, so you can't wall-mount it.

Design
Back - Subwoofer
Enclosure
No Subwoofer

This setup doesn't have a subwoofer.

Design
Back - Satellites
Mounting
No

This setup doesn't have any satellites.

7.0
Design
Build Quality

The TCL Alto 3 has a decent build quality. It's mostly made of plastic, which feels solid and durable. However, the fabric covering the front of the bar could easily rip or get dirty. Also, like the TCL Alto 5, the glossy plastic on the top, back, and underneath the bar can collect fingerprints.

Design
In The Box
HDMI Cable Length
N/A
Digital Optical Cable Length
1.5 m (4.9 ft)

  • Quick Start guide
  • Optical cable
  • Remote with batteries (2x AAA)
  • Power cord for soundbar

Sound
5.3
Sound
Stereo Frequency Response
Tested Preset
Music
Slope
-0.25
Std. Err.
5.53 dB
Low-Frequency Extension
92.4 Hz
High-Frequency Extension
12.4 kHz

The TCL Alto 3 has a poor stereo frequency response. It's lacking a lot of low bass, so you don't feel the deep thump and rumble in bass-heavy music genres like EDM and hip-hop. It's underemphasized in the treble range too, so voices and lead instruments can lack detail and sound a bit lispy or dull. However, its balanced mid-range is suitable for listening to vocal-centric content like podcasts or TV shows. There are also a few EQ presets to help you adjust its sound.

5.3
Sound
Stereo Frequency Response With Preliminary Calibration
Suggested Preset
Music
Suggested Bass Setting
N/A
Suggested Treble Setting
N/A
Slope
-0.25
Std. Err.
5.53 dB
Low-Frequency Extension
92.4 Hz
High-Frequency Extension
12.4 kHz
5.5
Sound
Stereo Soundstage
Crosstalk Error
3.12 dB

The TCL Alto 3 has a middling stereo soundstage. The soundstage is about as wide as the bar itself, but the bar is quite small. It has an okay focus, but objects in the stereo image like footsteps seem to come from a general area, rather than an exact, pinpoint location.

7.8
Sound
Stereo Dynamics
SPL @ Max Volume
88.0 dB SPL
DRC @ Max Volume
0.38 dB

The TCL Alto 3 has very good stereo dynamics. It doesn't get as loud as some of the other soundbars we've tested, so it may not be suitable for use in large rooms or at crowded parties. However, it doesn't have a lot of compression at max volume, which is nice.

7.9
Sound
Stereo Total Harmonic Distortion
Weighted THD @ 80dB
0.40
Weighted THD @ Max Volume
1.11

The TCL Alto 3 has a very good stereo total harmonic distortion performance. At normal listening volumes, there isn't a lot of distortion, resulting in clean and pure audio reproduction. There's a bit of a jump in THD when you play the bar at max volume, but this shouldn't be too audible with real-life content.

6.4
Sound
Center
Localization
Phantom
Slope
-0.65
Std. Err.
3.01 dB
SPL @ Max Volume
82.8 dB SPL
Weighted THD @ 80dB
0.34
Weighted THD @ Max Volume
0.70

This soundbar has a fair center channel performance. It doesn't have a dedicated center speaker, so it uses the left and right speakers to create a sound in the center. However, this doesn't sound as clear or real as a discrete center speaker. On the upside, the sound profile is quite neutral, which is suitable for dialogue-heavy content like podcasts and audiobooks.

4.0
Sound
Surround 5.1
Localization
Stereo (Downmix)
Slope
-0.67
Std. Err.
2.97 dB
SPL @ Max Volume
82.7 dB SPL
Weighted THD @ 80dB
0.33
Weighted THD @ Max Volume
0.69
7.1 Rears
No

The TCL Alto 3 has a poor surround performance. It has to downmix surround content into stereo, which doesn't sound as clear and real as a soundbar with discrete surround speakers. Surround objects seem like they're coming from in front of you, rather than from all around you.

0
Sound
Height (Atmos)
Localization
Not Supported
Slope
N/A
Std. Err.
N/A
SPL @ Max Volume
N/A
Weighted THD @ 80dB
N/A
Weighted THD @ Max Volume
N/A

This soundbar doesn't support Atmos content.

1.8
Sound
Sound Enhancement Features
Room Correction
No
Dialogue Enhancement
Yes
Auto-Volume/Night Mode
No
Subwoofer Level Adjustment
No
Bass Adjustment
No
Treble Adjustment
No
EQ
Presets
Surround Level Adjustment
No
Rear Level Adjustment
No
Height Level Adjustment
No
Virtual Surround
No

This soundbar has a terrible selection of sound enhancement features. It only has three EQ presets: 'Movie', 'Music', and 'TV'. The 'TV' mode doubles as a dialogue enhancement feature, so voices sound more clear and crisp.

Connectivity
Connectivity
Physical Inputs - Bar
Optical Audio In
1
HDMI ARC
No
HDMI Out
No
Full HDMI In
No
Analog Audio In 3.5mm (Aux)
1
RCA In
No
USB for Files
1
Ethernet
No

The TCL Alto 3 has a few inputs. There's a 3.5mm AUX port, so you can play music from your smartphone using the bar. However, it lacks HDMI inputs, so you can't use the bar as a hub between your devices.

0
Connectivity
Audio Format Support - ARC
eARC
No
Dolby Atmos
No
Dolby Digital
No
Dolby Digital Plus
No
DTS
No
DTS:X (eARC only)
No
Dolby TrueHD (eARC only)
No
DTS-HD MA (eARC only)
No
5.1 PCM (eARC only)
No

This soundbar doesn't have any HDMI ARC inputs.

0
Connectivity
Audio Format Support - Full HDMI In
Dolby Atmos
No
DTS:X
No
Dolby Digital
No
Dolby Digital Plus
No
DTS
No
Dolby TrueHD
No
DTS-HD MA
No
5.1 PCM
No

This soundbar doesn't have any HDMI inputs.

6.0
Connectivity
Audio Format Support - Optical
Dolby Digital
Yes
DTS
No

This soundbar supports Dolby Digital over an optical connection. However, it doesn't support DTS content, which is often found on Blu-ray discs and streaming platforms.

8.2
Connectivity
Latency
ARC
N/A
Optical
53 ms
Full HDMI In
N/A
6.0
Connectivity
Wireless Playback
Bluetooth
Yes
Wi-Fi
No
Chromecast built-in
No
Apple AirPlay
No

The TCL Alto 3 has mediocre wireless playback options. You can stream audio from your phone or tablet to the bar wirelessly via Bluetooth, but that's about it.

Connectivity
Other Input Specifications
4k @ 60 Hz Passthrough
No
4k @ 60 Hz @ 10 bit Passthrough
No
4k @ 60 Hz @ 4:4:4 Passthrough
No
HDR10 Passthrough
No

The TCL Alto 3 doesn't have an HDMI In port, so it can't support high-signal passthrough.

Connectivity
Connectivity - Subwoofer
Sub Wireless
No

There's no separate subwoofer in this setup.

Connectivity
Connectivity - Satellites
Sat Wireless
No

This soundbar doesn't have any satellite speakers.

Additional Features
Additional Features
Interface
Display
No

The TCL Alto 3 has a simple interface with one LED light on the center of the bar that changes colors depending on the command. It tells you whether the bar is on standby or mute, your input, and your EQ preset.

Additional Features
Bar Controls

On the side of the bar, physical buttons let you turn the bar on and off, change the source for inputs, and adjust the volume.

Additional Features
Remote
Universal Remote
No

The remote is simple and allows for the same controls that can be found on the bar. It also lets you activate Bluetooth pairing, change the EQ setting, play/pause your content, and mute the bar.

Additional Features
Voice Assistants Support
Amazon Alexa
No
Google Assistant
No
Apple Siri
No
Additional Features
App
App Name No App
iOS No
Android No
Acts As A Remote
No
Controls Soundbar's Settings
No
Casts Device Files
No

This soundbar doesn't have a dedicated companion app.

Additional Features
Other Features
Power Saving
No
HDMI CEC (TV Remote Control)
No

The TCL Alto 3 doesn't have a power-saving feature, so you have to physically press the power button on the bar to turn it off. It also doesn't support HDMI CEC, so you can't use your TV remote to control the bar's basic functions.

Differences Between Sizes And Variants

The TCL Alto 3 comes in one color variant: 'Black'. You can see the label for the model we tested here.

If you come across another version of this soundbar, let us know in the discussions.

Compared To Other Soundbars

The TCL Alto 3 is a cheap 2.0 soundbar with a small, compact design. It's Bluetooth-compatible, and its balanced mid-range makes it ideal for listening to vocal-centric content like podcasts and TV shows. However, its overall sound profile is uneven, and it's lacking a lot of low-bass. It doesn't have built-in support for Roku TVs like other soundbars from TCL's 2020 lineup, either. See also our recommendations for the best soundbars, the best soundbars under $100, and the best small soundbars.

Bose TV Speaker

The Bose TV Speaker is a better soundbar than the TCL Alto 3. The Bose is better-built, and its sound profile is more neutral and balanced, making it suitable for a wider range of audio content. However, the TCL comes with a few EQ presets, which the Bose lacks.

TCL Alto 9+

The TCL Alto 9+ is a better soundbar than the TCL Alto 3. The Alto 9+ comes with a dedicated subwoofer, and it has a better-balanced sound profile. As a 3.1 setup, the Alto 9+ comes with a dedicated center channel, unlike the 2.0 Alto 3, and it supports Atmos content. It also has a Full HDMI In port, and it supports more wireless playback options.

TCL Alto 5

The TCL Alto 5 is a better soundbar than the TCL Alto 3. The Alto 5 is better-built, and it has a wider soundstage. It also has a more balanced sound profile, though both soundbars are lacking low-bass. However, neither soundbar supports Dolby Atmos or has a lot of physical inputs or sound enhancement features.

BOMAKER Odine II

The BOMAKER Odine II is a better soundbar than the TCL Alto 3. The BOMAKER gets louder, and it has a better-balanced sound profile, though both bars have a dark sound that's lacking low-bass. However, the TCL is better-built, and unlike the BOMAKER, it can play surround content, though it has to downmix it to stereo.

TCL Alto 7+

The TCL Alto 7+ is a better soundbar than the TCL Alto 3. The Alto 7+ comes with a dedicated subwoofer, and it has a better build quality. Also, its sound profile is more neutral and balanced. However, both soundbars don't support Atmos, and they don't have a lot of sound enhancement features and physical inputs.

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Discussions