The sound systems included with large LCD TVs, and older systems are never that impressive. Ultimately, the TV manufacturers pay attention to creating a great picture, but not necessarily an impressive cinematic sound to accompany it. Lovers of movie scores and people who simply enjoy feeling the rumble of the engine in a Fast and Furious movie or the sound of a real scream in a horror flick want to really feel it.
To better satisfy these types of consumers, soundbars were created. These are long (some as long as 29-inches) and thin speakers which lay at the bottom of the TV display area to create an improved sound experience. These types of products are best suited to TVs that have displays which are 32-inches and larger so that the speaker doesn’t dwarf the dimensions of the TV set in the living room, den, or bedroom.
The speakers themselves can have a couple or even nine separate speakers contained in the single soundbar. Sometimes there is also a separate super woofer speaker for deeper thundering bass sounds too.
With a single soundbar, these qualify as 2.0 whereas, with the additional subwoofer, the sound is 2.1. These numbers refer to the number of channels that is separated and played by a different speaker. Some systems are designed to use surround sound technologies too.
Some soundbars include DTS TruVolume, which is a Dedicated to Sound technology to normalize the volume in the playback to avoid the need to keep adjusting the sound level up and down during playback of a series of music videos or TV episodes. DTS is often included with 2.0 and 2.1 systems which have become somewhat standardized across the home entertainment industry. The sound tends to be crystal clear on quality products with minimal harmonic distortion noticeable. DTS TruSurround is another technology that uses virtualization to create the impression of surround sound from a 2.0 / 2.1 audio system and is included with some soundbar models.
Actual 5.0 and 7.0 audio systems require separate speakers that are positioned around the seating area to provide an immersive listening experience with the noise of an actor’s footsteps heard behind the seating area. These types of systems are available, but they’re considerably more expensive, require individual speaker stands too, and need more space in the room; not every living space can devote this much floor area to a surround sound set up.
A few soundbars double as Wi-Fi connected intelligent systems for HDTV, streaming music, and movies across the Internet using a mobile app to control what’s heard through the system. The Smart TV concept is brought to soundbars even if the TV isn’t as smart as the speaker system. An excellent cost saving there without needing to upgrade the whole entertainment center.
Bluetooth is often included to let users connect with their smartphone or tablet and beam over content like YouTube clips, music and movies from their preferred streaming media provider.
Almost all soundbars come with a convenient remote control to make fine adjustments to the settings. However, these units often also include physical buttons to turn the power on/off, select Bluetooth mode, and adjust the volume up/down.
The sound output level of 2.0 channel speakers is around 80-100 decibels. Loud enough to be truly immersive without shaking the glass in the windows.
What’s Included with The Best Soundbars
A soundbar comes pre-assembled and self-contained. Any Bluetooth receiver is internally fitted. A power cord connects the system to the electricity, an optical cable port, and there is sometimes an option to plug-in an Ethernet cable for direct internet access from the router or a USB port.
An instruction manual describes where to place the speaker for the best sound quality, how to plug in the system, set it up, and connect to it.
What to Know Before Making a Purchase
The number of watts or decibels is important to homeowners with larger rooms set aside for entertainment. In most cases, though, around 90+ decibels are more than sufficient.
Some buyers may prefer to look for a 2.1 soundbar that has a sub-woofer speaker to deliver more bass sound. The cost for a 2.1 system is not prohibitively more than a 2.0 soundbar one.
Soundbars are perfect for dens and bedrooms where a second TV set is often hung on the wall to avoid taking up floor space. The modest size of a soundbar delivers quality sound without needing a full, cumbersome 5.0 surround sound system to enjoy the latest movie or TV episode.
Samsung is a South Korean electronics company. It is a leader in mobiles, tablets, and has a market presence in sound systems too.
Bose, based in Massachusetts, has a well-earned reputation for audio quality with their range of speakers, headphones, and earbud equipment.
Vizio, founded in 2002 in California, makes flat screen TVs and sound systems for a complete cinematic experience in the home.
Sonos, started in 2002, has a central focus on wireless devices, mobile apps for connecting to their devices, and their trueplay system.
What Consumers Say
Taking a look at consumers’ reviews, these are a few of the opinions most often voiced by buyers:
2.0 channels: For homeowners wanting improved sound without too many speakers cluttering up the floor, a 2.0 soundbar system is an excellent option.
DTS TruSurround: For movie lovers who want to feel a surround sound experience at a lower cost, look for the TruSound product feature to enjoy a more immersive experience.
Optical: Soundbars typically come with an optical connection and sometimes an optical cable.
No space for Home Theater system: Soundbars are an excellent alternative to a full Home Theater surround sound system with multiple speakers.
Digital audio: With improved digital speakers, it is easier than ever to understand all the speakers in a filmed production or recorded radio play; even those people speaking with a thick accent who are difficult to understand what they are saying are better understood with a soundbar.
Wall mountable: Few soundbars are wall mountable and only usually the larger, more expensive models.
USB: A few soundbars offer direct USB connections. Most rely on Bluetooth for homeowners to connect their streaming media for playback.