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A soundbar can be the easiest solution for upgrading your TV sound. You can go from thin, dull sound where you cannot hear the dialogue over the music to crystal clear voices and DSP surround sound modes. One thing some people don’t consider is using a soundbar as a sound system and have it not tethered to a TV at all.

Soundbars are less wires, less setup, and generally cheaper than a surround sound system. While they might not sound better than a multi-speaker system, but they certainly sound better than most flat screen TVs. In a bid to make slimmer screens, TV manufacturers skimp on the sound quality by installing smaller sized speakers. While TV images are becoming brighter, sharper and more colourful. An amazing picture demands amazing sound. The latest soundbars now feature virtual surround modes, dialogue boosters, deep bass (from a wireless subwoofer) and wireless music options. A few considerations should be made before taking the plunge.

Connections

All soundbars have an optical intput. It is almost guaranteed that Smart TVs have a digital audio output. The type of cable used in this situation is commonly called an optical or toslink cable. A lesser common connection is the HDMI, because some TVs don’t utilise ARC (audio return channel). When HDMI is a connection on a soundbar it has several HDMI inputs for sources such as a Blu-ray player or a satellite box. You will need to go through the settings on your TV to make sure your TV is outputting the correct audio signal. It can either be Bitstream or PCM. Bitstream is the non-decoded audio signal. This means, if your soundbar or AV receiver is surround capable with Dolby or DTS functionality it will do the decoding instead of the TV. You can set your TV to PCM if your soundbar doesn’t support Dolby or DTS sound. PCM is basically going to output a stereo (2 channel) signal to the soundbar. The best way to know what settings to use on your TV is by looking through the soundbar’s manual. An extra connection that you may want is Bluetooth to play music from your phone to the soundbar.

Rapallo | Digital audio out on a TV

Rapallo | Digital audio out on a TV

Hard of hearing?

A notable feature on some soundbars is the dialogue booster. This applies a sound equaliser to boost the mid-range and treble to make voices more audible through the audio mix. We get a lot of customers complaining about their TV sound being too loud in the action scenes that they can’t hear the dialogue. Or they are constantly adjusting the volume to hear the voices, and when the action scenes come on the speakers blast their socks off. Getting a soundbar with a dialogue feature will solve this issue. Yamaha call their setting “Clear voice” and users can simply switch it on with the press of a button. You will hear a notable difference when it is engaged.

Rapallo | Yamaha's Clear Voice function

Rapallo | Yamaha’s Clear Voice function

Wireless music

Some soundbars come with wireless audio options in the form of their multi-room ecosystems. Most Yamaha soundbars have MusicCast (not all). Getting a soundbar with Yamaha’s MusicCast will allow your soundbar to be completely controlled using a smartphone. It will also become Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay enabled. The beauty of Spotify Connect is that the soundbar talks directly to the WiFi rather than being tethered to a phone’s Bluetooth resulting in better sound quality. AirPlay also uses WiFi resulting in better sound quality and audio sample rates. Yamaha soundbars are a great option if you are looking to purchase wireless speakers for other living areas. MusicCast will allow you to play music throughout the house seamlessly and in-sync.

Size and placement

You’ll need to consider where you want to place the soundbar. Usually they are placed on the TV cabinet in front of the TV. You should consider the length of the soundbar and how it may sit on the cabinet. If the cabinet is small the soundbar will extend over the edge which won’t look good. A lot of soundbars have build-in picture hook holes so you can hang them on the wall above or below a mounted TV. In some cases where you have a pivoting TV bracket, you can purchase a universal soundbar bracket add-on. This gadget clips in between the mount and the TV allowing a soundbar to pivot/swing with the TV.

Be aware not all soundbars have the ability to be wall mounted. Some are quite deep and heavy and are designed to be placed on a cabinet. Yamaha do sell a strong wall mount for the heavy YSP-2700. Some soundbars come with a wireless subwoofer, you may need to think about where that will be placed within the room.

Rapallo | Q Acoustics M4

Rapallo | Q Acoustics M4

Premium extras

A few extra bells and whistle have already been mentioned earlier. The multi-room options in the Yamaha soundbars are great for linking other components placed around the house such as AV Receivers, Stereo amplifiers, and Powered Speakers.

Wireless Subwoofer: The higher end soundbars come with wireless subwoofers for deeper bass extension. Since bass frequencies are so low you cannot hear their direction, you are able to place the subwoofer anywhere in the listening room.

Voice assistant: If you are into the Amazon Alexa or Google home systems you can control any of the Yamaha MusicCast products. Using commands like “Turn the volume up”, “Play Jazz on the soundbar”.

Dolby/DTS: Mentioned earlier, some soundbars come with a surround sound function. This used sound reflection technology to give the listener a sense of surround sound. Yamaha’s YSP-5600 was one of the first soundbars to have Dolby Atmos featuring 44 precisely calculated beam drivers.

Wireless Surrounds: The only soundbar available that allows for wireless surrounds at Rapallo is the MusicCast Bar 400. With this soundbar you are able to purchase two MusicCast 20‘s or the bigger MusicCast 50 to act as the wireless surround speakers. Just place them behind the seating position and the surround sound will work over the WiFi.

Rapallo | Yamaha MusiCast 20

Rapallo | Yamaha MusiCast 20 Wireless Surrounds

Rapallo’s Recommendations

Yamaha YAS-108 : A great affordable soundbar that comes packed with DTS Virtual:X surround. It sounds great, plugs straight into your TV and has Bluetooth for music. It has a HDMI input and output. The only negative is that is doesn’t come with MusicCast connectivity.

Cambridge Audio TVB2: A quality sounding speaker for the price. Great finish and built quality, which is what you expect from Cambridge Audio. It has NFC and Bluetooth, meaning great for parties.

Q Acoustics M4 Soundbar: This is quite a lot deeper than the average soundbar, because it features a built-in subwoofer near the rear (it can be wall mounted though). If you do not have the space for a subwoofer in your room this is a great sounding system with Bluetooth. The M4 performs exceptionally well for music.

Yamaha MusicCast BAR 400: Yamaha’s latest MusicCast soundbar allows you to connect wireless surround speakers. It comes with an excellent wireless subwoofer. It is one of the best sounding soundbars we have had in the showroom and it is also really good for music.

Sources: Yamaha, Q Acoustics, Cnet, digitaltrends

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