TCL Alto 8i Soundbar Review

Tested using Methodology v1.0
Reviewed Dec 22, 2020 at 08:10 am
TCL Alto 8i Picture
6.8
Mixed Usage
6.9
Dialogue/TV Shows
7.2
Music
6.6
Movies
Channels
2.1

The TCL Alto 8i is a 2.1 setup that's advertised as Roku TV Ready, so it should be easy to pair it with your Roku TV. You can use it to play Dolby Atmos content, and it gets pretty loud, although there are some compression artifacts present at max volume. While it has dual subwoofers integrated into the bar, it lacks low-bass, which can be disappointing for fans of bass-heavy music genres. Fortunately, it offers a few sound customization features, including three EQ presets and bass/treble adjustments.

Our Verdict

6.8 Mixed Usage

The TCL Alto 8i 2.1 is acceptable for mixed usage. Its uneven sound profile may not be ideal for fans of a more neutral sound. It also lacks low-bass, so you don't feel the deep thump and rumble in action-packed movies or bass-heavy music. It supports Dolby Atmos and surrounds content, but it doesn't provide a very immersive listening experience. Fortunately, its balanced mid-range is suitable for vocal-centric content, and there are some sound customization features.

Pros
  • Bass and treble adjustments.
  • Three EQ presets.
Cons
  • Poor Atmos performance.
  • Lacks low-bass.
6.9 Dialogue/TV Shows

The TCL Alto 8i 2.1 is middling for dialogue and TV shows. Its sound profile is boomy, punchy, and somewhat bright, but its balanced mid-range can reproduce dialogue clearly. While it doesn't have a dialogue enhancement feature, the night mode feature can help balance the volume across different programs and commercials. You can stream podcasts and audiobooks from your phone to the bar via Bluetooth, but it doesn't support other wireless playback options.

Pros
  • Bluetooth-compatible.
Cons
  • No dialogue enhancement feature.
  • Doesn't support Wi-Fi, Chromecast built-in, or Apple AirPlay.
7.2 Music

The TCL Alto 8i 2.1 is alright for music. Its boomy, punchy sound profile also sounds a bit bright, and it lacks low-bass, which can be disappointing for fans of bass-heavy music genres. It gets loud, but there are some compression artifacts present when you play it at max volume. It doesn't have a full EQ, but there are some presets and bass and treble adjustments to help you customize its sound.

Pros
  • Bass and treble adjustments.
  • Three EQ presets.
Cons
  • Lacks low-bass.
  • Some compression artifacts at max volume.
6.6 Movies

The TCL Alto 8i 2.1 is passable for movies. Its boomy, punchy sound profile has a balanced mid-range that can reproduce vocals and dialogue clearly. However, it lacks low-bass, so you don't feel the deep rumble in action-packed scenes. It supports Dolby Atmos and surrounds content, though it doesn't provide the most immersive listening experience. While it gets pretty loud, there are some compression artifacts present when you play it at max volume.

Pros
  • Bass and treble adjustments.
  • Three EQ presets.
Cons
  • Poor Atmos performance.
  • Some compression artifacts at max volume.
  • 6.8 Mixed Usage
  • 6.9 Dialogue/TV Shows
  • 7.2 Music
  • 6.6 Movies
  1. Updated Jul 12, 2021: Added more information about latency issues when watching videos.
  2. Updated Mar 29, 2021: Converted to Test Bench 1.0.

Test Results

perceptual testing image
Market Context
Market Context
Market Context

The TCL Alto 8i is a 2.1 soundbar from TCL's 2020 lineup. Like other 2020 TCL soundbars like the TCL Alto 6, it's advertised as "Roku TV Ready", so you should be able to easily connect it to your Roku TV. While it supports Dolby Atmos and Bluetooth streaming, it has dual internal subwoofers instead of a dedicated sub. Its main competitors are the TCL Alto 8+, the Sony HT-X8500, and the TCL Alto 7+.

Design
Design
Style - Bar

The TCL Alto 8i is a simple, sleek soundbar with an all-black design. It's mostly made of plastic. There's a tight fabric wrapped around the bar, which could collect dust and get dirty. The subwoofer is also built-in to the bar.

Design
Style - Subwoofer

This setup doesn't have a dedicated subwoofer. Instead, there are two subs built into the bar.

Design
Style - Satellites

There aren't any satellites in this setup.

Design
Dimensions - Bar
Width 39.0" (99.0 cm)
Height 2.6" (6.5 cm)
Depth 5.2" (13.3 cm)

The TCL Alto 8i 2.1 isn't very wide, so it should fit between the legs of most 55" TV stands. It also isn't very tall, so it shouldn't block your TV screen unless the TV sits flush on the table.

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

This setup doesn't have a dedicated subwoofer.

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

This setup has no satellites.

Design
Back - Bar
Bar Mounting
Universal (holes on underside)

On the back of the bar, there's an opening for the inputs and the power cable. Also, there are universal holes for wall-mounting on the bottom of the bar.

Design
Back - Subwoofer
Enclosure
Integrated

This setup doesn't have a dedicated subwoofer.

Design
Back - Satellites
Mounting
No

This setup has no satellites.

7.0
Design
Build Quality

The TCL Alto 8i 2.1 has a decent build quality. It's mostly made of plastic, which feels quite solid. However, the fabric wrapping around the bar could easily collect dust.

Design
In The Box
HDMI Cable Length
1.5 m (4.9 ft)
Digital Optical Cable Length
1.2 m (3.9 ft)

  • Manuals
  • Mounting template
  • AC power cord
  • Optical cable
  • HDMI cable
  • Remote with batteries (2x AAA)
  • 2x wall-mounting sleeves
  • 2x wall anchors
  • 2x wall-mounting brackets
  • 2x wall-mounting screws

Sound
7.3
Sound
Stereo Frequency Response
Tested Preset
Music
Slope
-1.25
Std. Err.
3.29 dB
Low-Frequency Extension
49.0 Hz
High-Frequency Extension
19.9 kHz

The TCL Alto 8i has a passable stereo frequency response. With its Music EQ, it has a punchy, boomy sound, but it also sounds a bit bright. It's lacking low-bass, so you don't feel the deep thump and rumble in bass-heavy genres like EDM. That said, its balanced mid-range is suitable for dialogue-centric content like podcasts. It comes with three EQ presets so you can customize its sound: Music, Movie, and TV.

7.4
Sound
Stereo Frequency Response With Preliminary Calibration
Suggested Preset
Music
Suggested Bass Setting
-2
Suggested Treble Setting
3
Slope
-0.15
Std. Err.
2.67 dB
Low-Frequency Extension
50.4 Hz
High-Frequency Extension
19.9 kHz
7.0
Sound
Stereo Soundstage
Crosstalk Error
2.82 dB

The stereo soundstage is decent. It sounds wider than our testing table, which is wider than the bar itself. While it sounds a bit overprocessed, it's still pleasing to the ear. However, the focus of the soundstage doesn't make it seem like objects are coming from a more accurate pinpoint location. Instead, sound seems to move in chunks, and it's scattered towards the far edges of the soundstage.

7.3
Sound
Stereo Dynamics
SPL @ Max Volume
95.1 dB SPL
DRC @ Max Volume
3.03 dB

The TCL Alto 8i has satisfactory stereo dynamics. The bar can get loud enough to use in large, crowded parties, but there are some pumping and compression artifacts present when you play it at max volume.

7.2
Sound
Stereo Total Harmonic Distortion
Weighted THD @ 80dB
0.61
Weighted THD @ Max Volume
2.64

The TCL Alto 8i has a decent stereo total harmonic distortion performance. At normal listening volumes, you get a clean and pure sound reproduction. However, there's a small jump in THD across the range when you play it at max volume. This may be difficult to hear with real-life content.

6.2
Sound
Center
Localization
Phantom
Slope
-1.55
Std. Err.
3.96 dB
SPL @ Max Volume
89.3 dB SPL
Weighted THD @ 80dB
0.46
Weighted THD @ Max Volume
2.89

This soundbar has a middling center performance. Due to its 2.1 configuration, it doesn't have a dedicated center speaker, so it uses the left and right speakers to create a sound in the center. Unfortunately, this can sound more diffused and less clear than a discrete center channel.

3.4
Sound
Surround 5.1
Localization
Stereo (Downmix)
Slope
-2.24
Std. Err.
4.75 dB
SPL @ Max Volume
87.1 dB SPL
Weighted THD @ 80dB
0.63
Weighted THD @ Max Volume
2.77
7.1 Rears
No

This soundbar has a terrible surrounds performance. It uses its left and right speakers to downmix this content into stereo, which doesn't result in accurate and clear localization of surround objects in the soundstage. It doesn't get very loud, and its sound profile is quite muddy and boomy.

5.3
Sound
Height (Atmos)
Localization
Phantom (Front Firing, Bar)
Slope
-2.55
Std. Err.
5.08 dB
SPL @ Max Volume
81.5 dB SPL
Weighted THD @ 80dB
1.81
Weighted THD @ Max Volume
0.97

The TCL Alto 8i has a poor height performance. It uses front-firing speakers on the bar to bounce audio off the ceiling and back down to the listener to simulate down-firing speakers, but this doesn't sound as immersive. Also, its sound profile is quite boomy and muddy, which may be overwhelming for some listeners.

3.0
Sound
Sound Enhancement Features
Room Correction
No
Dialogue Enhancement
No
Auto-Volume/Night Mode
Yes
Subwoofer Level Adjustment
No
Bass Adjustment
Yes
Treble Adjustment
Yes
EQ
Presets
Surround Level Adjustment
No
Rear Level Adjustment
No
Height Level Adjustment
No
Virtual Surround
Yes

The TCL Alto 8i has a poor selection of sound enhancement features. It comes with three EQ presets: Music, Movie, and TV, as well as bass and treble adjustments so you can customize its sound profile. There's also a Dolby Virtual Surround mode to enhance your movie-watching experience. However, there isn't a room correction feature, so it may sound a bit different depending on the acoustic characteristics of your room.

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

The TCL Alto 8i has a lot of physical inputs. Thanks to its HDMI ports, you can use it as a hub between your devices, like your TV and your PC. There's also a 3.5mm AUX port for connecting to your phone over a wired connection.

7.4
Connectivity
Audio Format Support - ARC
eARC
No
Dolby Atmos
Yes
Dolby Digital
Yes
Dolby Digital Plus
Yes
DTS
No
DTS:X (eARC only)
No
Dolby TrueHD (eARC only)
No
DTS-HD MA (eARC only)
No
5.1 PCM (eARC only)
No

The TCL Alto 8i supports some of the more common audio formats over its ARC port. It supports Dolby Digital and DTS content, which are commonly found on Blu-ray discs and streaming platforms. It also supports Dolby Atmos content.

8.6
Connectivity
Audio Format Support - Full HDMI In
Dolby Atmos
Yes
DTS:X
No
Dolby Digital
Yes
Dolby Digital Plus
Yes
DTS
No
Dolby TrueHD
No
DTS-HD MA
No
5.1 PCM
Yes

The TCL Alto 8i supports Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos content via its Full HDMI In port, which are commonly found on Blu-ray discs and streaming platforms.

We expected this bar to play Dolby TrueHD content. While audio played from the bar, we couldn't confirm that it was playing the TrueHD file, as the bar displayed Dolby 5.1. We can't confirm if the audio was downmixed.

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

Via its Optical port, the TCL Alto 8i can decode Dolby Digital surround sound, though it has to downmix it to stereo to play it. However, it doesn't support DTS content, which is usually the fallback for the higher quality DTS-HD MA found on many Blu-ray discs but isn't commonly found on its own.

5.4
Connectivity
Latency
ARC
158 ms
Optical
147 ms
Full HDMI In
94 ms

Update 07/12/2021: We confirmed a latency issue reported by a user. When watching YouTube videos via ARC and Optical, there's a small inaudible pause that's quite noticeable, especially when watching dialogue-heavy content without a lot of background noise like speeches.

The TCL Alto 8i has a disappointing latency performance. It has high latency, so you may notice a delay between the audio you hear and the video you see. As a result, it may not be suitable for watching movies and videos over these connections. That said, some TVs and apps compensate for latency differently, so your real-world experience may vary.

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

The TCL Alto 8i only supports Bluetooth. While you can connect your phone or tablet wirelessly to the bar over this connection, it doesn't support Wi-Fi, Chromecast, or Apple AirPlay.

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

This soundbar can passthrough the highest bandwidth signals. Text looks clear and crisp if you plug the soundbar between your PC and your TV.

Connectivity
Connectivity - Subwoofer
Sub Wireless
No

The TCL Alto 8i has two subwoofers built into the bar.

Connectivity
Connectivity - Satellites
Sat Wireless
No

The TCL Alto 8i doesn't have any satellites.

Additional Features
Additional Features
Interface
Display
Yes

The bar has a simple, 5-character LED display. It shows the volume level, EQ, input, and bass and treble adjustments. It also displays the audio format that's detected. Also, there's a solid white dot on the display when the bar is in STANDBY mode. The white dot flashes when the bar is in SLEEP mode.

Additional Features
Bar Controls

On top of the bar, there are physical control buttons. You can use the power button to enter SLEEP mode (short press) or STANDBY mode (long press). Also, you can switch between the bar's input, enter Bluetooth pairing mode, and adjust the volume.

Additional Features
Remote
Universal Remote
No

The TCL Alto 8i comes with a simple remote that lets you control all of the bar's functions. You can change the EQ preset and the input, or adjust the bass and treble. The Night button sets the dim setting on the bar's display, and when you long-press it, it activates the Night Mode sound setting that balances the volume across different programs.

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 companion app.

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

The TCL Alto 8i doesn't automatically turn off. You can manually set it to STANDBY when you long-press power on the remote, and you can set it to SLEEP when you short-press the power button. On the upside, it supports HDMI CEC, so you can control some of the bar's functions using your TV remote.

Differences Between Sizes And Variants

The TCL Alto 8i 2.1 comes in 'Black', and you can see the label for the model we tested here.

If you come across another variant, let us know in the discussions so we can update our review.

Compared To Other Soundbars

The TCL Alto 8i is a 2.1 soundbar with dual built-in subwoofers. Unlike many other 2.1 setups, it supports Dolby Atmos content, though its performance is poor. It's advertised as Roku TV Ready, so you should be able to easily connect it to your Roku TV. However, it lacks a lot of low-bass, and its uneven sound profile may not be suitable for all listeners. See also our recommendations for the best soundbars, the best soundbars under $200, and the best budget soundbars.

TCL Alto 9+

The TCL Alto 9+ is a better soundbar than the TCL Alto 8i. The 9+ is a 3.1 setup that comes with a dedicated subwoofer, and its default sound profile is better-balanced. It also has more wireless playback options and a better center channel performance. However, the 2.1 8i has a better soundstage.

Sony HT-X8500

The Sony HT-X8500 and the TCL Alto 8i are both 2.1 soundbars that support Dolby Atmos, but the Sony has a better performance. The Sony has a more balanced sound profile and its center, surrounds, and height channels perform better. It also comes with a dialogue enhancement feature and supports DTS content, unlike the TCL. However, the TCL has a better soundstage performance.

Vizio M-Series M21d-H8R

The Vizio M-Series M21d-H8R is a better soundbar than the TCL Alto 8i. The Vizio is better-built, and it has a more neutral, balanced sound profile as well as a dialogue enhancement feature. However, the TCL has a lot less compression when you play it at max volume, and it also supports Dolby Atmos content.

TCL Alto 8+

The TCL Alto 8+ and the TCL Alto 8i have similar overall performances, and depending on your listening habits, you may prefer one over the other. The 8+ is better for dialogue-centric content because it has a dialogue enhancement feature. It also offers built-in access to Amazon Fire TV player. However, the 8i is better-built, and it's better for movies because it supports Dolby Atmos content. The 8i also supports 4k passthrough.

TCL Alto 7+

The TCL Alto 7+ and the TCL Alto 8i are very similar-performing 2.1 soundbars, so depending on your listening habits, you may prefer one over the other. The 7+ is better-built and comes with a dedicated subwoofer. Its sound profile is more neutral, though it also lacks low-bass. However, the 8i has a better soundstage. It also supports Dolby Atmos content and supports 4k passthrough thanks to its Full HDMI In port.

Samsung HW-Q70T

The Samsung HW-Q70T is a better soundbar than the TCL Alto 8i. The Samsung is a 3.1.2 setup, unlike the 2.1 TCL, and it comes with a dedicated subwoofer. The Samsung is better-built, and it has a more balanced default sound profile. It's also more customizable thanks to its graphic EQ.

TCL Alto 5+

The TCL Alto 8i is a better soundbar than the TCL Alto 5+. The 8i has a better soundstage, and it supports Dolby Atmos content. Also, it has more physical inputs, including a Full HDMI In port that supports 4k passthrough. However, the 5+ comes with a dedicated sub, and it's better built.

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