How to Choose Soundbars

How To Choose Sound Bars

13/07/2021 Off By killiadmin

About soundbars. And fixing the one thing your TV fails at the sound.

Here’s the deal: a wafer-thin TV only has room for a wafer-thin speaker inside. And maybe a small speaker is fine for a cell phone or tablet, but if you’re watching “Wonder Woman” on one of today’s amazing 4K HDR TVs with breathtaking picture technology, you’re going to want some serious audio to go along… because Wonder Woman should sound like Wonder Woman, not Minnie Mouse. And a good soundbar will take care of that. After all, it’s a full-time job: making your TV sound awesome, particularly with respect to dialogue.

There are tons of soundbars on the market right now, and though some are excellent, others aren’t worthy of the bubble wrap they come in. And as for features, every soundbar is different — and some features you need to pay attention to. Are there enough HDMI inputs to handle all your devices? What about Bluetooth for streaming music? Yes, there are a lot of options. And yes, we are here to help. We wrote this soundbar buying guide to help you pick the right one for you, your TV, and your room — so let’s do it.

6 details to consider when buying a soundbar:

  1. Where will it live?
  2. What size should you get?
  3. Active vs. Passive
  4. Soundbar channels
  5. What connections do you need?
  6. How will you control the soundbar?

Sound Bar Buying Guide Cheat Sheet

If you read anything, read this.

In a hurry? Here are the most important things to know (or do) before buying a soundbar, in the bitesize form:

  • Choose a soundbar with 3 or more channels – at a minimum. There are still 2-channel soundbars out there, and they’re no more than glorified mini-stereos. With 3 or more channels, you can simulate surround sound for a more immersive experience.
  • Go with an active soundbar. Active soundbars come with built-in amplifiers (passive soundbars do not). We say it’s worth it, especially if you’re trying to save space or want a 2-for-1 solution.
  • Consider where you want to place your soundbar. Are you hanging it on a wall or laying it on a table? Aesthetically speaking, your new soundbar shouldn’t be any wider than your TV. And in a perfect world, whether hanging on a wall or sitting on a shelf, the perfect spot for your soundbar: centred beneath or above your TV. Just make sure you have enough space!
  • Pay attention to connectivity. Most soundbars come to Wi-Fi and / or Bluetooth-enabled, so you can easily stream music from any computer, phone, or tablet – making your soundbar a stereo, too. And check for HDMI-switching, which makes it easy to switch audio sources without having to re-route HDMI cables.

Wait, time-out: Are soundbars worth it?

Most folks buy soundbars because they just don’t have the space necessary for real home theatre surround sound. Soundbars are slim, low-profile space-savers. Real home theatre sound comes in many variations, but typically, home theatre sound requires a separate amplifier and at least 5 speakers (one centre, one left, one right, two rear) and a subwoofer. (All of which typically costs more than a soundbar alone).

The point? If you have space and a budget, you might want to consider authentic home theatre sound because it’s amazing in so many ways. Put it this way: If a good soundbar improves your TV audio 100-fold, then a real home theatre improves your TV audio — and the overall experience — 10,000-fold. But if you’re just looking for a simple solution, a soundbar will be a definite upgrade from your TV’s audio.

The two types: Sound Bars and Sound Bases.

Yes, this is a soundbar buying guide, but there are technically two types that get the job done: soundbars and sound bases. Both come with speakers inside and serve the same purpose: make your TV’s audio distinctly better, as in clearer dialogue (especially if it has a Voice Enhancement feature), richer sound, crisper details, more immersive, more cinematic, all of that. The net effect: crickets at night sound like crickets at night, and not like someone left the faucet running. And in big moments, like The Hulk having a major temper tantrum, you will be diving for cover.

But there are some differences:

What’s a soundbar?

A soundbar is a long, thin rectangular-shaped bar filled with speakers and a lot of technical wizardries. A good soundbar does for the spoken word what a good pair of glasses does for making things crystal clear. The result: voices come through crisp and distinct — and so much so, even whispered dialogue can be heard clearly. (No more turning on subtitles or raising the volume to hear what’s being said.) And since soundbars are wider than sound bases, they throw sound further afield (left and right) and to a degree (albeit a very small degree) get closer to a real home theatre effect.

As for where they go, soundbars either A) mount to the wall under your TV, B) sit in front of your TV if your TV is on a table, or C) sit on a shelf below or above your TV if your TV is in a shelving system. Many soundbars these days come packaged with a separate wireless subwoofer, and the extra thumpa-thumpa kick really does round out the experience.

 

Sound Bars

 

What’s a sound base?

The purpose of a sound base is exactly the same as a soundbar (make your TV sound amazing), but they differ in size and power. Sound bases are deeper (front to back) than soundbars but generally shorter in width (side to side)… and they are principally designed to sit under the TV or on a shelf directly below the TV. Sound bases typically have more room inside than soundbars, and as a result, they come with better built-in amplification and bigger bass drivers, lessening the need for a subwoofer — though it’s tough to beat a good standalone subwoofer. And bigger is better when it comes to anything audio. Sound bases are harder to come by these days and advancements in soundbar technology, the versatility they offer, and the fact that they’re well represented from some of the best brands out there, usually have us recommending a soundbar before a sound base.

 

Sonos PLAYBASE

 

Tips from our experts

  • Sound bases don’t do stereo as well as soundbars. (Soundbars do a better job with stereo channel separation because the speakers are further apart).
  • Soundbars are getting skinnier and skinnier just like TVs. And though skinny makes for a great look, skinny isn’t good when it comes to audio quality. You really should consider incorporating the subwoofer to get the best audio from your soundbar.
  • Depending on your setup and how you arrange things, a soundbar can block the signal from your remote to your TV. (There are workarounds, like this universal IR extender from Salamander.) Best pay attention to how things will fit so your new soundbar doesn’t block your TV’s IR receptor (where you point your remote).

Next: What to consider when buying a soundbar.

The 6 most important details to keep on your radar.

Should you get a passive soundbar or an active soundbar? A 3-channel soundbar or a 5-channel soundbar? And are they hard to connect? Here are the questions we hear most:

1. Where will it live?

Where you put your TV and how much space you have around your TV may dictate which type (soundbar or sound base) will work best for you — and the type will influence where you place it. Soundbars are more versatile when it comes to installation – they’re made to hang on the wall or sit under (and in front of) your TV. Also true for all soundbars: set up is easy. If your TV if is on a table or credenza, just place the soundbar on the same table, directly below the screen. (Just make sure you have enough space between the bottom of the TV and table – check the soundbar specs and measure the area before buying.) If your TV is wall-mounted, mount your soundbar to the wall directly below it. Some soundbars even come with mounting kits to make DIY installation a cinch.

Sound bases, on the other hand, are built to live beneath your TV (which is why they’re so heavy), on top of a table or shelf.

 

Sound Bar Placement

On top of a credenza or media cabinet

Sound Bar Placement

Mounted on the wall

 

Tips from our experts

  • We’re often asked if you can put a soundbar above a TV. Our take? Yes, you can if that’s the only place you have available… but it won’t sound quite as good. Still, it will be better than your TV’s built-in speakers.
  • Putting a sound base under your TV (where it belongs) will raise your TV a few inches. Maybe that’s trivial, but it’s better you know that now so you can measure the space you have available.
  • Some soundbars are pretty sharp-looking, some are very understated to better blend in, and some are purposely made for specific TVs so they pair together beautifully. If you want to go that route, check to see if your TV’s manufacturer builds soundbars designed for the model you have. Some Sony 4K TVs, for example, look gorgeous with their super low-profile soundbars.

 

Sony HT-ST5000 Sound Bar

 

2. What size soundbar should you get?

Aesthetically speaking, your new soundbar shouldn’t be any wider than your TV — and in a perfect world, both are the same exact same width for an even look. However, you can technically pair a soundbar with just about any size TV. So when it comes to size, use your discretion. Just make sure your TV has the right connectivity to hook up your new soundbar, especially if your TV is 8 years or older.

3. What are active or passive soundbars, and why is that important?

Passive means the soundbar does not have a built-in power amp, and thus requires a receiver or amplifier to work. They do, however, have better speakers — and better speakers mean better sound. As a result, a passive soundbar will cost you a little more, and you’ll have to connect more components together.

Active means the soundbar comes with built-in amplifiers that power everything, as well as channel processors that separate left, right and centre speakers in the soundbar. So, no extra receiver to plug into (or buy), plus fewer wires with an all-inclusive device.

Our recommendation: If you’re looking to simply upgrade your TV’s audio, go with an active soundbar. Passive soundbars are better suited for custom installations (e.g., if you want your soundbar to disappear as part of the TV, or want a full-blown Dolby Atmos system).

4. What are soundbar “channels” and how many do I need?

Think of channels as sound sources or individual speakers. Most shows and movies these days offer 5 different audio channels (and in some cases, more for surround sound) embedded digitally: centre, left, right, plus two in the rear (left rear and right rear). What makes a soundbar different from a typical home theatre setup: all channels/speakers are contained in one unit. So the logic follows:

2-channel soundbar: 2 speakers: left and right.

3-channel soundbar: 3 speakers: centre, right and left.

5-channel soundbar: all 5 speakers mentioned above: centre, right, left, and two rear speakers. (5-channel systems have been the home theatre standard for close to 20 years now.)

7-channel soundbar: 7 speakers. Essentially, 7-channels is the same as 5-channels with a bonus: By splitting surround and rear channel information in 4 channels, you get 7 total. (The newest and best standard.)

Dolby Atmos soundbar: This is the “Holy Cow” version of 5- or 7-channel soundbar. What makes it different: upward-firing speakers located in the soundbar, which reflects sound above you for a heightened, three-dimensional soundstage. So when you see channel numbers like 5.1.2 or 7.1.2, the third represents Dolby Atmos upward-firing speakers (the first is for a number of traditional channels and the second is for a subwoofer). This soundbar works best in rooms with flat ceilings up to 11 feet high that are made of hard, reflective material.

Bottom line: So to the question “how many channels do you need?” The more, the merrier… and the better and more immersive the experience.

5. What connections do I need?

Today’s newest soundbars come with a variety of connectivity options — and more than one way of doing things. Some key connections to keep an eye out for:

HDMI ARC

So easy. Just connect your soundbar to your TV’s audio return channel (ARC) input with an HDMI cable, and you’re all set. HDMI is especially good for multi-channel soundbars.

Wireless Connectivity

Want the ability to stream audio directly from your soundbar or via your phone or tablet? Here’s what to look for:

  • Bluetooth: Many soundbars today come with Bluetooth built-in, making it easy to stream music from your computer, smartphone, and tablet.
  • Wi-Fi: There are wireless soundbars, which come with Wi-Fi so they can hop on your home’s Internet network and stream pretty much anything from anywhere (Spotify, TIDAL, Pandora, you name it).

Optical Port

An optical patch cord gives you a solid, best-case scenario connection between your TV and the soundbar. It’s also one of the easiest, simplest and most reliable connections available. However, it does not have the bandwidth to carry over a 5.1 signal.

USB Inputs

Normally, USB inputs are only included for firmware updates. But most soundbar updates today are done through software updates. We say you don’t need this — unless you’re looking to plug in a thumb drive with your songs on it.

Tip from our experts

  • A good wireless soundbar can pull double duty as a stereo (like the Sonos Arc or Beam). Just stream music directly to it from your computer, phone, or tablet, and go from the TV room to Party City.

6. How will I control the soundbar?

Does a new device mean you have to use yet another remote control? Yes and no. Meaning, yes, your new device will come with its own remote control, but you can usually program your existing TV remote to also work with your soundbar. (A cocktail table full of remotes? We all hate that. We can show you how to simplify with just one remote that controls everything.)

P.S. Some soundbars also come with a free mobile app, so you can operate your device via your phone or tablet.

A few final thoughts: Soundbar frequently asked questions.

Our customers’ most common questions, answered all in one place.

Can you add speakers to a soundbar?

Some yes and some no. In fact, some of the newer soundbars come with additional speakers as part of the system which gets you much closer to real home theatre sound. The only other way you can add wireless rear speakers: if the soundbar is multi-room capable. And that’s a great option if you have (or want to set up) a multi-room audio system throughout your home.

Can you add a subwoofer to a soundbar?

Many wireless soundbars ship with a wireless subwoofer. And the ones that don’t usually incorporate a woofer port so you can add your own if you want to. (And you will want to if you want an even more immersive experience.)

Do you need a receiver if you have a soundbar?

No, if you buy an active soundbar, yes if you buy a passive soundbar. Scroll up to “what to consider” for details.

What are Dolby Atmos soundbars?

Some newer soundbars come with Dolby Atmos technology, which bounces audio off ceilings to simulate a surround sound effect. It’s quite good, but it’s still not the real thing.

What is “Cinema Sound”?

Most soundbars have a feature called “cinema sound” or “movieplex sound” (or just “virtual surround sound”), which they say mimics actual home theatre sound. Reality: All that does is add a little digital delay, sort of like a fractional echo (think reverb). This doesn’t equal authentic home theatre sound, but it does make it sound like you’re in a bigger room. Admittedly, some are amazing, but you have to pay extra.

Can a soundbar be used as a centre speaker?

Some can, some can’t — but we don’t recommend it. Technically speaking, though a passive soundbar could potentially be used as a centre channel speaker, it’s not designed for that purpose. It’s like asking a baseball pitcher to also catch and play second base, instead of sticking to the one position he’s stellar at.