TCL Alto 8i Review
Low-budget Dolby Atmos sound?

Gesa

soundbarfindr Editorial

As a cinema fan and self-confessed hobby musician, Gesa is always on the lookout for the best sound experience.

TCL Alto 8i - A decent all-rounder

The Alto 8i from the Chinese manufacturer The Creative Life (TCL for short) is definitely one of the cheaper models from the world of soundbars. Nevertheless, it attracts with Dolby Atmos sound and a strong bass thanks to an integrated dual subwoofer. In practice, however, the virtual 3D sound of the 2.1-channel system was just as unconvincing as the advertised boom, which was simply not present.

At least in terms of dialogue reproduction, however, the budget soundbar cuts a good figure: Its frequency response is quite balanced in the midrange, which makes for a round overall sound. Another advantage are the many connection options, which make the soundbar suitable for different uses. Those looking for an inexpensive speaker that also fits inconspicuously into the living room could thus be quite happy with the Alto 8i.

Pro
  • High volume
  • Slim dimensions
  • Many connection options
  • HDMI 2.1 eARC
  • Bluetooth
Contra
  • Poor surround & 3D sound
  • No smart features
  • Few customization options
  • Hardly any bass
  • No DTS

The TCL Alto 8i: High-quality design looks different

You have to admit that the TCL Alto 8i does not necessarily look particularly high-quality at first glance. Instead, the soundbar is mostly made of plastic, which makes for a comparatively low weight and not much stability. Their front and back are also covered with a black fabric. This offers the two installed speakers and the integrated subwoofer a bit more protection, but also attracts dust and dirt.

The TCL Alto 8i on a table
The Alto 8i comes in a sleek design

This soundbar also fits low TVs

Thanks to its low height of around six and a half centimeters, the Alto 8i doesn’t cover any of the picture even when placed in front of TVs with a low stand. With its width of one meter, it also fits perfectly in front of TVs from 48 inches. There are also five buttons on the top for control. Using them, the 2.1-channel system can be turned on or off, a source can be selected, Bluetooth pairing mode is activated and the volume can be adjusted.

Close-up of the control buttons of the TCL Soundbar
The five buttons of the TCL Soundbar

The scope of delivery leaves nothing to be desired

TCL has thought of just about everything in the Alto 8i’s package: Besides a power cord, the user manual, a remote control with batteries, and a HDMI cable, it also includes a set for wall-mounting the soundbar. The only complaint here is that the power cord with a length of 1.5 meters does not leave too much room for maneuver when placing the soundbar.

The TCL Alto 8i's scope of delivery
The scope of delivery includes the usual components

The TCL Alto 8i can also be controlled via TV remote control

The remote control of the Alto 8i is – like the soundbar itself – quite plain. It is also completely made of plastic, which makes it look a bit cheap. It also has quite a few buttons at first glance, which does not necessarily speak for intuitive operation. Since the soundbar also supports the HDMI CEC standard, you can use the TV remote for the most important control functions like volume control when connected.

Close-Up of the soundbar remote
The remote control of the TCL Alto 8i is richly equipped with buttons

TCL Alto 8i: Many connection options thanks to all kinds of ports

A look at the back reveals that the TCL Alto 8i offers various options for connecting it to a TV or other device. The best option of these is its HDMI output, in fact the Alto 8i is among the soundbars with HDMI 2.1 eARC connector. Moreover, it not only supports Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital Plus, but also ensures compatibility with Dolby Vision. DTS content, on the other hand, is not supported even with this connection type. The soundbar’s optical output offers an alternative for connecting to older TV models without an HDMI interface. It also has a 3.5mm jack connector and a USB interface for playing files. Another HDMI 2.0 input is also installed, which you can connect your console or a BluRay player to.

The connections of the TCL Soundbar on its back side
At the back of the soundbar from The Creative Life you will find a variety of connections

Clear and distinct status indication

The current status of the soundbar can be read on a five-digit LED display on its front. This is easy to read despite the fabric cover over it. You can also choose between an illuminated and a dimmed version of the display via the Alto 8i’s remote control.

The LED display of the soundbar
Despite the fabric cover, the LED display is easy to read

Slim soundbar with a lot of power

With a maximum total power of around 260 watts, the Alto 8i gets quite loud, which we can confirm in our listening test. The volume can be adjusted to a total of fifty levels, but the sound becomes duller in the higher levels and compressions are audible. The integrated dual subwoofer also makes a rather mediocre impression: The soundbar’s bass is quite audible, but of course not nearly as convincing as in soundbars with an external woofer.

A look at our frequency response measurement of the Alto 8i confirms this: There are clear deficiencies in the area of low bass, so the soundbar from TCL cannot serve with sub-basses. The fact that you can still hear the low frequencies in their sound image is probably due to the fact that these are boosted, while high frequencies are attenuated.

The frequency response of the TCL Alto 8i
The graph shows the result of our frequency response measurement for the TCL Alto 8i

In the mids, the frequency response of the TCL Alto 8i is quite balanced, which has a positive effect on the overall sound, since the human ear is particularly sensitive in this frequency range. Furthermore, dialogs are therefore reproduced intelligibly – despite the lack of center speakers or a dialog enhancement.

In turn, the audio sounds partially tinny in the high frequencies. Although the frequencies above 14 000 Hz can only be heard as background noise, the strong emphasis of the trebles determined in our test graph could be an explanation for this metallic coloring of the sound image.

Immersive sound? No chance!

As already mentioned, the TCL Alto 8i also supports the playback of Dolby Atmos content, for which 5.1.2 channels are virtually simulated. That this does not sound particularly immersive from a stereo setup should be expected. In the end, you can still hear from which direction the sounds come – namely from the front of the Alto 8i – in surround as well as in 3D content. Although a spatial expansion of the sound can be heard, one is not really enveloped. The soundbar also lacks a bit more bass in surround mode.

TCL soundbar with few customization options

In order to shape the sound of the Alto 8i to individual taste, its Chinese manufacturer has not implemented too many functions. Only Bass and Treble can be regulated from -5 to +5 each. Otherwise, there are three presets for TV, Music and Movie. Each of these presets amplifies individual frequencies, but we could not hear a clear difference between the three modes in our listening test. Furthermore, the soundbar reacts a bit slow and takes comparatively long to switch between sound modes. Additionally, a night mode for adjusting the volume is on board.

Bass and Treble settings of the Alto 8i
Bass and Treble can be individually boosted or softened

The Alto 8i is not that smart

Unfortunately, you can’t expect much in terms of smart features in the price category of the TCL Alto 8i. Thus, it only has a classic Bluetooth interface. A Wi-Fi connection and gadgets like Airplay or voice assistants are not available here. Pairing via Bluetooth was fast in our test, but short delays and a slight stuttering of the music occurred a few times during streaming from our test laptop. Unfortunately, we could not determine the exact cause.

Bluetooth menu where smartphone and soundbar are paired
A Bluetooth connection with the TCL Alto 8i is quickly established

TCL Alto 8i Review Datasheet

Dimensions Soundbar (WxHxD)1000 x 65 x 130 mm
Weight Soundbar2,9 kg
Internal Subwoofer
Rear speaker
Wall mount incl. bracket
Channels 2.1 (5.1.2 virtual)
Power Output SoundbarN/A
Total Power Output260 watts
Center speaker
HDMI 2.0 In1
HDMI 2.1 In0
HDMI ARC
HDMI eARC
Digital optical1
3.5mm jack1
USB1
Ethernet RJ450
Dolby Atmos
Dolby True HD
Dolby Digital+
Dolby
Dolby Vision
DTS:X
DTS HD Master
DTS
HDR10+
Bluetooth
WLAN
Chromecast
Apple Airplay
Multiroom
Amazon Alexa
Google Assistant
All information without guarantee

The most frequently asked questions about the TCL Alto 8i

For Dolby Atmos playback, the TCL Alto 8i simulates 5.1.2 channels, so the setup is virtually extended.

The TCL Alto 8i supports the audio formats Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus. However, DTS content is not supported by the soundbar.

Basically, the TCL Alto 8i is suitable for TVs of any brand. It can be conveniently coupled with them via HDMI 2.1 eARC. In terms of size, its width of one meter makes it suitable for use with TVs from 48 inches.

* Approximate price incl. VAT, plus shipping costs. Please note that prices shown here may have changed in the meantime.
All data without guarantee. All trademarks, designs and logos displayed are owned by their companies.