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TCL Alto 5 Soundbar Review

Tested using Methodology v0.8
Reviewed Jun 11, 2020 at 11:20 am
TCL Alto 5 Picture
6.2
Mixed Usage
7.5
Dialogue/TV Shows
6.3
Music
5.3
Movies
Channels
2.0

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. 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

6.2 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.
7.5 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.
6.3 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.
5.3 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.
  • 6.2 Mixed Usage
  • 7.5 Dialogue/TV Shows
  • 6.3 Music
  • 5.3 Movies

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Test Results

perceptual testing image
Market Context
Market Context
Market Context

The Alto 5 is part of TCL's original soundbar lineup aimed to offer budget options. This 2019 model is pretty much identical to the TCL Alto 5+ but without the subwoofer. It can also be found under the Alto TS5000 name. Overall, it's a typical stereo 2.0 soundbar and competes with other cheap options such as the Vizio SB2020n-G6 or the Sony HT-S100F.

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
Bar Width 31.6" (80.2 cm)
Bar Height 2.7" (6.8 cm)
Bar Depth 3.0" (7.6 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
Sub Width N/A
Sub Height N/A
Sub Depth N/A

There's no subwoofer with the TCL Alto 5.

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

This soundbar doesn't come with satellite speakers.

Design
Back - Bar
Bar Mounting Type
Proprietary

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
N/A

This setup doesn't have a subwoofer.

Design
Back - Satellites
Sat Mounting Type
N/A

The TCL Alto 5 doesn't have satellites.

7.5
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
5.0 ft (1.5 m)

  • 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
6.7
Sound
Stereo Frequency Response
ST Slope
0.13
ST Std. Err.
3.73 dB
Low-Frequency Extension
72.3 Hz
High-Frequency Extension
19.9 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. 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.

Sound
Stereo Raw Frequency Response
6.0
Sound
Stereo Soundstage
Crosstalk Error
3.40 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.

7.6
Sound
Stereo Dynamics
ST SPL @ Max Volume
89.4 dB SPL
ST DRC @ Max Volume
1.13 dB

This soundbar has decent stereo dynamics. It can get decently loud, but there are a few compression artifacts when pushed at its max volume, especially in the bass range. However, this will barely be noticeable to most listeners.

6.8
Sound
Stereo Total Harmonic Distortion
ST Weighted THD @ 80
0.82
ST Weighted THD @ Max Volume
3.03

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.

5.8
Sound
Center
C Localization
Phantom
C Slope
-1.34
C Std. Err.
4.29 dB
C SPL @ Max Volume
89.8 dB SPL
C Weighted THD @ 80
0.64
C Weighted THD @ Max Volume
2.22

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.

3.6
Sound
Surrounds
Sr Localization
Stereo (Downmix)
Rears
N/A
Sr Slope
-1.35
Sr Std. Err.
4.31 dB
Sr SPL @ Max Volume
89.8 dB SPL
Sr Weighted THD @ 80
0.61
Sr Weighted THD @ Max Volume
2.23

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.

0
Sound
Height (Atmos)
H Localization
N/A
H Slope
N/A
H Std. Err.
N/A
H SPL @ Max Volume
N/A
H Weighted THD @ 80
N/A
H Weighted THD @ Max Volume
N/A

This soundbar doesn't support Atmos content.

2.0
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
N/A
Height Level Adjustment
N/A
Virtual Surround
No

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
1
HDMI ARC
No
HDMI Out
No
Full HDMI In
No
Analog Audio In 3.5mm (Aux)
1
USB for Files
1
Ethernet
No

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.

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

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.

6.0
Connectivity
Wireless Playback
Bluetooth
Yes
Wi-Fi
No
Chromecast built-in
No
Apple AirPlay
No

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
N/A
4k @ 60 Hz @ 10 bit Passthrough
N/A
4k @ 60 Hz @ 4:4:4 Passthrough
N/A
HDR10 Passthrough
N/A

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

Connectivity
Connectivity - Subwoofer
Sub Wireless
N/A

This soundbar doesn't have a subwoofer.

Connectivity
Connectivity - Satellites
Sat Wireless
N/A

This soundbar doesn't have satellite speakers.

Additional Features
Additional Features
Interface
Display
No

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
No

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
App
App Name N/A
iOS No
Android No
Acts as the 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
Standby
HDMI CEC (TV Remote Control)
No

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.

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 7+
SEE PRICE
Amazon.com

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. 

Bose Solo 5
SEE PRICE
Amazon.com

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 presets and a dialogue enhancement feature, which the Bose lacks entirely.

Sony HT-S100F
SEE PRICE
Amazon.com

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 Alto 5. 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 HT-S100F doesn't have. 

Vizio SB2020n-G6
SEE PRICE
Amazon.com

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. 

TCL Alto 5+
SEE PRICE
Amazon.com

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. 

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