New for 2017, this soundbar appears to be a replacement for the well-regarded Insignia NS-SB316 model as it is virtually the same size, sells for the same price, and has two drivers with the same stated frequency response of 150-15,000 hz.
Setup is simple and many will find the included quick start guide unnecessary. The remote remains the same credit-card style remote found with previous Insignia soundbars and it will even function with them for power and volume. However selecting the source input will not work on older Insignia soundbars. While the remote is entirely usable, I do wish Insignia would switch to a design that used standard AAA batteries instead of the pricier, harder to find button cell.
Styling has been significantly improved over the previous model. Gone are the plasticky curved sides and front-facing Insignia logo, resulting in a more rectangular, minimalist appearance that is more in line with the looks of higher-end soundbars. The array of buttons on the top have been moved to the right side. Indicator lights remain at the top center, but are smaller and are now covered by the front grill cloth. As the top also inclines downward toward the back, the indicator lights now face slightly away from the viewer as well. In addition, there are less of them. For example, when powered, the NS-SB316 always has three green lights to denote power, source input, and sound mode. The new NS-HSB318 has just one blue light indicating the source input, which also doubles as the power indicator, while sound mode is left for your ears to determine. All this results in a much improved viewing experience when watching TV in a dark room.
Sound quality of the main drivers is virtually identical to the older NS-SB316. As with the previous model, highs fade significantly around 15 khz while bass drops off rapidly below 150 hz and is no longer audible past about 80 hz. Mid bass is slightly exaggerated, but is pleasingly clean for a speaker in this price range. This does mean the audio lacks the high extension or lower bass of Vizio's similarly priced SB2820n-E0. However, the frequency range the NS-HSB318 can produce is warmer and fuller, resulting in audio that I personally find to be both more pleasing and more engaging. I would prefer highs that extended further like the Vizio offers. But I prefer the Insignia's fuller midrange and lack of bass rumble to the audio produced by the Vizio. Unlike the older NS-SB316 2.1 channel soundbar, the NS-HSB318 2.0 channel so unbar no longer has one. This does not change the frequency response much, but while it does reduce some of the muddiness in the mid bass frequencies, it also reduces the punch in the bass.
Those who desire to wall mount this soundbar will find it a bit more difficult than the previous version. While the older NS-SB316 had metal bracket mounts, this soundbar simply has mounting holes in the plastic back and does not come with a helpful mounting template like the one included with the NS-SB316.
The NS-HSB318 adds a USB port to the available RCA, digital optical (TOSLINK) and standard 3.5mm minijack inputs to provide audio playback through USB. Unfortunately, Insignia has removed the subwoofer out port. This, combined with the loss of the built-in subwoofer driver, means there is no ability to extend the bass response available. Deeper underlying tones in the growling of monsters, machinery or explosions will simply be absent for movie watchers.
The NS-HSB318 is a stylish, speaker that's easy to set up and simple to operate. It produces full-bodied, engaging audio that is a pleasure to listen to for long periods of making it a compelling consideration for casual viewers wishing to dramatically improve the built-in audio of their TVs for as little money as possible. However, the limited high-end response makes it less appealing for music fans with discerning ears and the inability to enhance the bass performance limits the speaker's ability to engage movie viewers. At the list price of $100, this soundbar won't be an easy choice. But when it goes on sale at nearly half-price, it could keep Insignia among one of the best choices available. That said, the older NS-HSB318 will continue to be the better option for many while it remains available.