TVs don’t tend to sound great. That’s one of their disadvantages: as they get slimmer and more beautiful, there’s less room for proper speakers. The result is usually something that looks very nice but sounds a bit weak. Whether you have top-end 4K TV, a HDTV or something more basic, the problem is the same. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution.
Sound bars – and the closely related sound bases – offer a simple, sleek way to improve your TV’s audio without all the fuss and wires of a surround sound system.
These days, options are galore. Whether it’s cheap, no-fuss sound bars, sound bars with a subwoofer, sound bars with clever, virtual surround sound technology, or sound bases that your TV sits on. There’s an option for every taste.
So, which one should you choose?
Sound bars come in many shapes and sizes, and range in price from under $500 to over well over $3,000. Cheaper models have basic connections (usually including a digital optical socket), more expensive ones throw in superior HDMI inputs, wireless audio streaming (e.g. Bluetooth and AirPlay), better power, more refined speaker drivers, and decoding of Blu-ray sound formats.
It’s also important to think about where your new sound bar is going to live. How big is the room? How big is the TV you’re pairing it with? Big rooms and big TVs call for big sound bars. Compact models are great for smaller rooms and TVs, of course.
Will your sound bar also be your primary speaker for music? Look for a bar with high-grade speaker components and powerful amplification.
To start off with, it’s good to remember that a sound bar is essentially a slim speaker system, not that different from any other speaker design. All the rules that apply to a good ‘normal’ speaker, also apply good sound bar.
Slick design of a sound bar for many people is a pretty important deciding factor, with some models able to sit in front of your TV on a stand while others may need a separate shelf, or to be wall mounted.
Most run of the mill sound bars are 2.1 channel sound setups. That means you’ll get two speakers hidden in the sound bar and a separate subwoofer. There are, of course, a few exceptions that bundle subwoofer and even more speakers all into one device.
Some of the biggest improvements to the sound bar market is the additions of virtual surround sound bars. This is achieved by adding additional drivers, making the sound bar wider and bouncing sound off the walls. The fanciest ones are claiming to deliver Dolby Atmos or DTX:X in a 7.1.2 channel surround sound set up. We told you things are getting fancy…
A sound base, may not look as trendy because is a much bulkier unit that’s designed to sit below the TV on a cabinet or stand. But there is a definite bonus to that design: they will typically include more bass drivers than a sound bar, meaning most won’t need a separate subwoofer.
Because of the extra space, they will often have better audio processing than sound bars.
You will find that sound bases are often rated by the weight of the TV they can support. No need to explain why you should pay attention to that.
Most people buying a sound bar/sound base are looking for easy set-up and a clean look. This explains why most sound bars are ‘active’: they house everything you need in one box: speakers, amplification and signal processing. You simply connect your sources directly to the sound bar, and you’re good to go. Unless stated differently, you can assume a sound bar or sound base is active.
You will however also find the odd ‘passive’ sound bar: They are similar to a traditional speaker in that you need to power it with an external amplifier or AV receiver, and it does not include any digital signal processing or inputs (beyond traditional speaker-wire connectors). In other words: you can choose your own receiver/amplifier, connect more (and more types of) sources, decode more audio formats, and experiment with different crossover settings to find the best blend between subwoofer and sound bar. The trade-off for that flexibility is a more complicated setup process that requires some basic knowledge of home theatre principles.
Both sound bars and sound bases sometimes offer extra’s like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to stream content from smartphones, tablets and computers. Physical connections can include USB ports to plug in external hard drives, HDMI inputs and outputs to support Full HD and 3D TV playback.
Since our latest blog on sound bars, many of the models have changed and been replaced, so we thought we would give you an update.
There are plenty of excellent models out there to choose from and we want to help you find the sound bar, or sound base that’s best for you. So, if space is at a premium, and you’re ready to break free from snaking cables, read on.
Our favourites and bestsellers lined up:
This stunningly stylish and compact sound bar from British brand Orbitsound uses side-firing speakers to create a sense of width and eliminate the stereo ‘sweet spot’ (‘airSound Technology’).
Despite its small size, the A70 manages to fill the room with taut, punchy bass, crisp detail, and life-like dialogue. The airSound tech isn’t ideal for music, but movie soundtracks are certainly enhanced with an immersive surround-like effect when the scene demands it. The inclusion of Bluetooth, a new front-panel control system, and a wireless subwoofer surely add to the A70’s appeal.
Another great option for the avid movie watcher is the Yamaha YSP-2700, availble at our demo room. Traditionally, sound bars were no match for a proper surround sound system with 5.1 or 7.1 speakers. The Yamaha YSP-2700 definitely makes an attempt to challenge that notion.
It has clever Soundbeam technology, which takes into account your surroundings and uses no less than 16 drivers to bounce sound around, very convincingly creating a proper cinematic sound experience. For high-quality audio without the hassle of a discrete system, this sound bar is the next best thing.
Unless of course you want to step it up to its even bigger brother the YSP-5600, boasting a remarkable 44 beam drivers and 2 woofers to score the honour of being the World’s-first sound bar with 7.1.2-channel multi-dimensional sound. Yes, you may read that again…
Add HDMI® inputs with 4K Ultra HD pass-through and HDCP 2.2, the MusicCast wireless multi-room audio system and versatile connectivity – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth®, AirPlay® and Spotify Connect.
Safe to say this one’s the bee’s knees.
If surround sound is of less importance to you, the Q Acoustics Media 4 is an excellent choice at a very affordable price.
The fit is perfect for any TVs 40inch or larger. What makes it stand out are the solid built, the great dispersion of sound and the base.
We have it at our demo room for you to come and check out.
Those looking for serious power and multi-room versatility in a tiny package, this one is for you!
Measuring just under 2-inches tall and 3-inches thick and true to Definitive Technologies expertise, the Micro far exceeds expectations of a bar its size, offering thunderous sound with a smooth and supple touch that delivers the finest details with ease.
The W Studio is part of Definitive Technology’s Wireless Collection which is an all-encompassing solution for distributing audiophile-grade music anywhere or everywhere in your home.
The free Definitive Technology App allows you to mix-and-match speakers with the open PlayFi™ Technology standard. That in itself is a big tick in the box as far as we are concerned.
We’ve pointed out some excellent sound bars for movies. This one is a sound bar that’s perfect for quality music playback without breaking the bank.
Does the name Andrew Jones ring a bell? Before he moved on to Elac to design the highly regarded Debut and the Uni-Fi speakers, former Chief Design Engineer Andrew Jones collaborated with Pioneer to design is this potent and musical sound bar. The SP-SB23W is founded on a six pack of individually amplified drivers and a very capable wireless subwoofer. The cabinet helps the system integrate beautifully with a host of content, producing a smooth and natural sound signature built on creamy mids, musical bass, and richly-drawn dialog.
The system sets up in minutes, including analog, digital optical, and Bluetooth connection, and though the tall design might get in the way of your TV’s IR sensor, the overall performance and shoestring price justify a bit of furniture rearrangement.
ZVOX offers excellent sound base options at a very affordable price. They have been extremely popular as an audio solutions for hearing impaired individuals.
The bad news: ZVOX is no longer imported in New Zealand. The good news: there are still a few ZVOX sound bases available. Other sound bases like the Energy Power Base are excellent alternatives at a similar price point.
There is no doubt in our minds that things will keep improving in this popular product range. We are quite eager to find out what Klipsch is working on for instance. In the meantime, the above tips and suggestions should put you on your way.
Sources: Trusted Review, Digital Trends, Tech Radar, Klipsch, Orbitsound, Yamaha, Defintive Technology