As televisions get flatter and flatter, so do the speakers. And do you know what flat speakers sound like? They sound bad. They sound flat. They have very little fidelity and they can’t fill a room with sound anywhere near that which was mastered for that 60 million dollar feature film you’re watching. They’re also mounted on the back of the television…pointed at the wall. You can get better TV sound with a soundbar.
That’s right, that $999 television has about $0.50 worth of parts in the speakers and it can’t raise the volume loud enough to fill your 10 ft x 12 ft bedroom. So what do you do? Well you might want to install a full-blown home theater system, but we think that’s overkill for any rom besides the main living area. No, that’s why soundbars were created. They bridge the gap and allow you to maintain your room’s nice aesthetics while still ramping up your sound quality to something that at least approaches the sound you want to hear for your movies and television shows.
Have you heard Dr. Who’s Tardis on 2″ razor thin speakers firing into the wall behind the TV? It’s pathetic.
The Many Faces of Soundbars
When you say “soundbars” it’s not like there’s only one kind. I won’t go into the different connection requirements for a soundbar, you can read about that in our other article. But I will tell you that you need to decide whether you simply want to feed an optical digital cable from your television into the soundbar or if you need something a bit more fancy—perhaps something to support a Blu-ray player. In either case, this article deals mostly with the way a soundbar improves your television viewing experience and why you may want to consider one.
But I do want to talk about the different types of soundbars. When you talk about ways to get better TV sound with a soundbar, there isn’t just one solution. There are essentially three soundbar types, and they have different strengths and weaknesses. In no particular order, you have the speaker-only soundbar, the soundbar with wireless subwoofer and the soundbar with surround expansion option. Let’s go through all of them quickly.
These soundbars are exactly what you’d expect. They sit underneath your television and put out sound—far better sound than any TV speaker you are likely to hear. They may even have a subwoofer output, but it will require a separate subwoofer and that subwoofer will be—in all likelihood—wired. These are still excellent choices, particularly if get one that can be upgraded down the road with a wireless subwoofer add-on. If not, you didn’t spend much and you just initiated a massive upgrade in the quality of sound emanating from your television.
Soundbars with Wireless Subwoofers
These are the bomb. Having a wireless sub means that you get that extra low frequency information you were lacking, but you still maintain that beautifully aesthetically-simple look in the room. A wireless sub can be placed almost anywhere. There are no wires; you just need to be able to plug it in. These systems won’t give you earth-shaking bass, but they will give you enough punch and boom in the low end to make you really enjoy your movies. (Unless, of course, you’re watching Twilight—the best theater in the world can’t make that film any better.) What’s been really amazing of late has been the value you get with these systems. To include a wireless subwoofer and a soundbar in a package as inexpensive as these are priced means that consumers are getting a tremendous bang for your buck.
Soundbar with Surround Expansion Option
Some soundbars allow for an actual 5.1 surround sound experience. That means that the soundbar handles the front three channels (left, center, right) and you can utilize (or sometimes purchase separately) small surround speakers. Fair warning, however—these surround speakers need to be hardwired to the subwoofer, so the subwoofer ends up being the wireless tie-in to the rest of the system. That means the sub needs to be located at the back of the room where the surrounds will be located. Still, that’s pretty cool and it makes for a very inexpensive and cool way to get 5.1 sound without purchasing an AV receiver and lots of gear. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more systems like this coming to market.
Other Features to Get Better TV Sound with a Soundbar
Besides the wireless sub or integrated surround speakers, there are a select few soundbars on the market that feature an integrated Blu-ray Disc player. Speaking from experience, these aren’t the most reliable players on the market (they tend to stop working reliably after a while—perhaps due to their vertical orientation) but they do offer you the ability to play a BD without having to incur the cost (and space requirements) of a separate Blu-ray player.
The ability to stream music instantly to your soundbar may be a consideration, or it may not be. In either case, there are plenty of models on the market that have this feature. You may, in fact, not be able to easily avoid it.
Without getting into too much detail, you will need to figure out if you want or need HDMI inputs, or whether the soundbar will simply receive audio from your television’s optical digital output. One good argument for HDMI is the new ARC feature which transmits video to the TV, while retrieving audio from the TV and sending it back through the HDMI input at the same time.
If there is one certainty in the world of flat panel televisions, it’s that you will get better TV sound with a soundbar. A soundbar will make your television sound light years better than the default speakers. Some people go for the soundbar as an aesthetic choice. Others use it as a “gateway” device to win their significant other to the world of surround sound and home theater, Whatever the reason, a surroundbar speaker can be a great addition to any television and we know it’s an area that is constantly evolving with new features and capabilities.
Have any other thoughts about soundbars? Do you already own one? Let us know on Facebook or comment below and join in the discussion.