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TCL Alto 5 Soundbar Review

Tested using Methodology v1.0
Reviewed Jun 11, 2020 at 11:20 am
TCL Alto 5 Picture

The TCL Alto 5 is a very budget-friendly stereo 2.0 soundbar. It's quite similar to the TCL Alto 5+; however, it doesn't have a subwoofer. This results in a lack of low-bass and it can't really reproduce deep thump and rumble, which is quite sub-par but expected. There's also a bit of compression when pushing the bar to its maximum volume, especially in the bass range. On the upside, it can still get decently loud without distorting and the rest of its sound signature is fairly well-balanced. It's also quite surprisingly well-built for its affordable price point.

Our Verdict

N/A Mixed Usage

The TCL Alto 5 is a mediocre soundbar. This 2.0 stereo system is pretty barebones and doesn't offer great performance overall. It lacks a subwoofer, so its bass performance isn't the best. It also doesn't support any height channels so it can't play Atmos movies. On the upside, it can play surround files, although it downmixes it back to stereo to be able to play it. It's also very well-built for its cheap price point, which is a pretty good option if you just want to upgrade from your TV speakers.

Pros
  • Good build quality; surprising for the price.
  • Decently well-balanced sound profile.
Cons
  • Lacks bass due to no subwoofer.
  • Not a lot of customization options.
N/A Dialogue/TV Shows

The TCL Alto 5 is a good soundbar for dialogue-oriented content and TV shows. The mid-range is very well-balanced, so voices are clearly reproduced and they aren't drowned out by the bass as this soundbar lacks a subwoofer. You can also use the News EQ preset to enhance even more dialogue.

Pros
  • Good build quality; surprising for the price.
  • Decently well-balanced sound profile.
  • Dialogue enhancement feature with the News EQ preset.
Cons
  • Not a lot of customization options.
N/A Music

The TCL Alto 5 is a mediocre soundbar for music. It lacks a lot of bass, so it won't be ideal for bass-heavy content and might sound a bit too thin for some. Also, objects aren't separated well in the stereo soundstage; everything seems to be coming from the center of the bar rather than from the left and right speakers. On the upside, the overall sound profile is fairly well-balanced, which can be good for other music genres. You can also easily stream your music via Bluetooth, which is useful.

Pros
  • Good build quality; surprising for the price.
  • Decently well-balanced sound profile.
  • Bluetooth compatibility.
Cons
  • Lacks bass due to no subwoofer.
  • Not a lot of customization options.
N/A Movies

The TCL Alto 5 is a pretty bad soundbar for movies, although it's not designed for this use. It's a 2.0 system that downmixes surround content to stereo and that doesn't support Atmos. On the upside, the sound profile is well-balanced, but action movies may feel a bit dull to the poor bass performance of the bar.

Pros
  • Good build quality; surprising for the price.
  • Decently well-balanced sound profile.
Cons
  • Lacks bass due to no subwoofer.
  • Lacks Atmos support.
  • Not a lot of customization options.
  • Poor surround sound performance.
  • N/A Mixed Usage
  • N/A Dialogue/TV Shows
  • N/A Music
  • N/A Movies
  1. Updated Apr 09, 2021: Converted to Test Bench 1.0.
  2. Updated Sep 21, 2020: The Dynamics tests have been reconducted due to a value input bug.
  3. Updated Jun 11, 2020: Review published.
  4. Updated Jun 08, 2020: Early access published.

Compared To Other Soundbars

The TCL Alto 5 is a very straightforward stereo soundbar that's very affordable. It stands out for its good build quality for such an affordable price point. It may not have the same amount of bass as the TCL Alto 5+, but this is to be expected since it doesn't have a subwoofer. Overall, it's a versatile option if you're on a tight budget as it can play surround files, which some soundbars around the same price can't do, like the Vizio SB2020n-G6. For more options, see our recommendations for the best budget soundbars, the best soundbars overall, and if you want something for movies, check out the best Dolby Atmos soundbars

TCL Alto 3

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.

LG SK1

The TCL Alto 5 is a better overall soundbar than the LG SK1. Both bars have a fairly well-balanced sound profile but lack deep, extended bass. However, the TCL has a slightly better bass performance than the LG, making it better suited for bass-heavy music and movies. The TCL also has a dialogue enhancement feature, which the LG lacks. Neither bar supports Atmos or DTS.

Roku Smart Soundbar

The Roku Smart Soundbar and the TCL Alto 5 are very similar 2.0 setups. Depending on your listening habits, you may prefer one over the other. The TCL has a better build quality. Neither bar comes with a subwoofer, and neither bar can play Dolby Atmos content. However, the Roku has a companion app and an auto volume feature, which is good if you want to control the volume level between different programs and commercials.

Vizio SB2020n-G6

The TCL Alto 5 is a better stereo 2.0 soundbar than the Vizio SB2020n-G6. It supports surround channels while the Vizio can't, which makes a big difference for movie watchers. It's also slightly better built. On the other hand, if you only want to watch some stereo content, the Vizio has a better-balanced bass, although its overall sound profile lacks a bit of detail in higher frequencies. 

Bose Solo 5

The Bose Solo 5 and the TCL Alto 5 perform quite similarly, but the Bose has a bit more bass and is easier to fit in most setups due to its smaller size. On the other hand, the TCL has a few EQ presets, unlike the Bose.

TCL Alto 5+

The TCL Alto 5 and the TCL Alto 5+ are pretty much the same soundbar, but the 5+ comes with a powerful wireless subwoofer. Therefore, it has a much more present bass, although it's overdone a bit and the overall sound profile is very boomy and cluttered. If you listen to a lot of bass-heavy content, go with the Alto 5+, but if you're on a tighter budget and mainly want to upgrade your TV speakers for stereo TV shows or the news, the Alto 5 is a better option. 

Sony HT-S100F

The Sony HT-S100F may be a better option for most people over the TCL Alto 5. The Sony has an HDMI ARC port, which makes it a bit more versatile to plug-in devices, while the TCL only supports surround content via optical. The Sony also gets noticeably louder than the TCL. However, the TCL soundbar feels a bit more premium thanks to the front grill covering the speakers and it even comes with wall-mounting brackets, which the Sony doesn't have. 

TCL Alto 7+

The TCL Alto 5 and TCL Alto 7+ are somewhat similar, but the high-end 7+ is a better overall choice. It comes with a wireless subwoofer, which the Alto 5 doesn't have. It also gets noticeably louder, and its center channel performance is a lot better balanced. It also features an HDMI ARC port which allows you to use the soundbar as a hub for another device. However, if you're on a tighter budget, the Alto 5 is very similar in performance but can save you a few bucks if you don't care that much for bass. 

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Test Results

perceptual testing image
Design
Design
Style - Bar

The TCL Alto 5 looks pretty sleek for a budget soundbar. There's a nice metal grill that wraps the front and sides of the bar, and a reflective plastic covers the top. Unfortunately, it's pretty easy to get fingerprints on it, which is disappointing.

Design
Style - Subwoofer

There's no subwoofer with this soundbar.

Design
Style - Satellites

There are no satellites in this setup.

Design
Dimensions - Bar
Width Lock" (Lock cm)
Height Lock" (Lock cm)
Depth Lock" (Lock cm)

The bar is fairly small and should easily fit between the legs of most 55" TVs. It's pretty small overall and it shouldn't cover the bottom of your screen unless your TV sits flush on the table.

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

There's no subwoofer with the TCL Alto 5.

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
Locked

The back of this soundbar is pretty straightforward. You have the power cable and an opening underneath it where you can find all the inputs. It comes with the wall-mounting accessories, but note that the soundbar doesn't sit flush to the wall since the brackets stick out a bit.

Design
Back - Subwoofer
Enclosure
Locked

This setup doesn't have a subwoofer.

Design
Back - Satellites
Mounting
Locked

The TCL Alto 5 doesn't have satellites.

N/A
Design
Build Quality

Surprisingly enough, the TCL Alto 5 has good build quality for such an affordable product. The metal grill that covers the front speakers feels solid and durable. However, the top side is covered with glossy plastic, which collects fingerprints.

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

  • Manuals
  • Optical cable
  • Remote with batteries
  • Silicone pads
  • Power cable
  • 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable
  • IR passthrough cable
  • Wall anchors
  • Wall-mounting brackets and screws

Sound
N/A
Sound
Stereo Frequency Response
Tested Preset
Locked
Slope
Lock
Std. Err.
Lock dB
Channels
2.0
Low-Frequency Extension
Lock Hz
High-Frequency Extension
Lock kHz

The stereo frequency response of the TCL Alto 5 is passable. It's fairly well-balanced, but the fact that it lacks a subwoofer shows in the bass performance. Like the TCL Alto 3, it's quite bass-light and doesn't reproduce deep thump and rumble. On the upside, the rest of the range is fairly well-balanced, which results in an accurate reproduction of vocals. Since the soundbar doesn't have a Standard sound preset, we tested it with the Music EQ preset.

N/A
Sound
Stereo Frequency Response With Preliminary Calibration
Suggested Preset
Locked
Suggested Bass Setting
N/A
Suggested Treble Setting
N/A
Slope
Lock
Std. Err.
Lock dB
Low-Frequency Extension
Lock Hz
High-Frequency Extension
Lock kHz
N/A
Sound
Stereo Soundstage
Crosstalk Error
Lock dB

The soundstage of the TCL Alto 5 is mediocre. The bar isn't the widest, to begin with, and it doesn't do anything to widen it. The soundstage is about as large as the soundbar is. Sounds don't seem to come from the L and R drivers, but rather from the center of the bar, which doesn't create a nice stereo separation.

N/A
Sound
Stereo Dynamics
SPL @ Max Volume
Lock dB SPL
DRC @ Max Volume
Lock dB

Update 09/21/2020: We've discovered a value input bug that would cause the Dynamics box results to be slightly off. All soundbars reviewed since January 30th, 2020 have been updated.

This soundbar has passable stereo dynamics. It can get decently loud, but there are compression artifacts when pushed at its max volume, especially in the bass range.

N/A
Sound
Stereo Total Harmonic Distortion
Weighted THD @ 80dB
Lock
Weighted THD @ Max Volume
Lock

The stereo harmonic distortion performance is passable. There's a bit of harmonic distortion even at normal listening volume, but most people won't notice it. There's a bit of a jump at max volume, which indicates it may have trouble reproducing clean and pure sound at a higher volume.

N/A
Sound
Center
Localization
Locked
Slope
Lock
Std. Err.
Lock dB
SPL @ Max Volume
Lock dB SPL
Weighted THD @ 80dB
Lock
Weighted THD @ Max Volume
Lock

This 2.0 soundbar has a sub-par center channel performance as it doesn't have a dedicated center speaker. It uses the left and right speakers to create a sound in the middle. Its performance isn't as bass-heavy as the TCL Alto 5+ but should sound pretty similar as there's not much bass in the center channel usually.

N/A
Sound
Surround 5.1
Localization
Locked
Slope
Lock
Std. Err.
Lock dB
SPL @ Max Volume
Lock dB SPL
Weighted THD @ 80dB
Lock
Weighted THD @ Max Volume
Lock
7.1 Rears
Locked

This soundbar's surround performance is quite poor. While it can play surround files, it has to downmix it to stereo first. The sound profile is also a bit bass-heavy and the overall performance isn't very immersive as it can only use the left and right drivers. The objects are perceived to come from the front instead of to the sides or from behind.

N/A
Sound
Height (Atmos)
Localization
Locked
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.

N/A
Sound
Sound Enhancement Features
Room Correction
Locked
Dialogue Enhancement
Locked
Auto-Volume/Night Mode
Locked
Subwoofer Level Adjustment
Locked
Bass Adjustment
Locked
Treble Adjustment
Locked
EQ
Locked
Surround Level Adjustment
Locked
Rear Level Adjustment
Locked
Height Level Adjustment
Locked
Virtual Surround
Locked

The TCL Alto 5 doesn't have a lot of sound enhancement features. It has a dialogue enhancement feature which is basically just the News EQ preset. The other two available ones are Music and Movies, and it doesn't have a Standard mode. It doesn't have room correction, either, so it may sound a bit differently depending on your room.

Connectivity
Connectivity
Physical Inputs - Bar
Optical Audio In
Locked
HDMI ARC
Locked
HDMI Out
Locked
Full HDMI In
Locked
Analog Audio In 3.5mm (Aux)
Locked
RCA In
Locked
USB for Files
Locked
Ethernet
Locked

This TCL soundbar doesn't have a lot of inputs. It lacks HDMI inputs, meaning you can't really use it as a hub for your other devices. It only has an optical port, a traditional 3.5mm AUX port, and you can play audio files that are stored on a USB key.

N/A
Connectivity
Audio Format Support - ARC
eARC
Locked
Dolby Atmos
Locked
Dolby Digital
Locked
Dolby Digital Plus
Locked
DTS
Locked
DTS:X (eARC only)
Locked
Dolby TrueHD (eARC only)
Locked
DTS-HD MA (eARC only)
Locked
5.1 PCM (eARC only)
Locked

This soundbar doesn't have any HDMI ARC inputs.

N/A
Connectivity
Audio Format Support - Full HDMI In
Dolby Atmos
Locked
DTS:X
Locked
Dolby Digital
Locked
Dolby Digital Plus
Locked
DTS
Locked
Dolby TrueHD
Locked
DTS-HD MA
Locked
5.1 PCM
Locked

This soundbar doesn't have any HDMI inputs.

N/A
Connectivity
Audio Format Support - Optical
Dolby Digital
Locked
DTS
Locked

Like most soundbars, the TCL Alto 5 supports Dobly Digital over an optical connection. However, it lacks DTS support, which is often used with Blu-ray discs. The light interface will flash when the bar is receiving a non-supported format.

N/A
Connectivity
Latency
- SAMPLE -
Get Insider Access for videos & test results
TCL Alto 5 Latency Video Sample
ARC
N/A
Optical
Lock ms
Full HDMI In
N/A
N/A
Connectivity
Wireless Playback
Bluetooth
Locked
Wi-Fi
Locked
Chromecast built-in
Locked
Apple AirPlay
Locked

This soundbar supports wireless playback via Bluetooth, so you can easily stream your content from your phone.

Connectivity
Other Input Specifications
4k @ 60 Hz Passthrough
Locked
4k @ 60 Hz @ 10 bit Passthrough
Locked
4k @ 60 Hz @ 4:4:4 Passthrough
Locked
HDR10 Passthrough
Locked

Since it doesn't have an HDMI port, it doesn't support high-signal passthrough.

Connectivity
Connectivity - Subwoofer
Sub Wireless
Locked

This soundbar doesn't have a subwoofer.

Connectivity
Connectivity - Satellites
Sat Wireless
Locked

This soundbar doesn't have satellite speakers.

Additional Features
Additional Features
Interface
Display
Locked

The interface of the TCL Alto 5 is pretty straightforward. You have 5 color-coded LEDs that light up when you change inputs or change the volume.

Additional Features
Bar Controls

This soundbar has very common controls on the top of its body. You can power the bar on/off, change the input, change the volume, and enable the Bluetooth pairing mode.

Additional Features
Remote
Universal Remote
Locked

The remote is very small and allows for the same controls that can be found on the bar, plus it lets you play/pause your content and gives you access to the three EQ settings.

Additional Features
Voice Assistants Support
Amazon Alexa
Locked
Google Assistant
Locked
Apple Siri
Locked
Additional Features
App
App Name Locked
iOS Locked
Android Locked
Acts As A Remote
Locked
Controls Soundbar's Settings
Locked
Casts Device Files
Locked

Unlike the Roku Smart Soundbar, this soundbar doesn't have a dedicated companion app.

Additional Features
Other Features
Power Saving
Locked
HDMI CEC (TV Remote Control)
Locked

The TCL Alto 5 automatically goes into a standby mode after being idle for a few minutes. The LED will turn red when in this mode.

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