- Author Kashfia Kabir
- Published April 24, 2014
How to buy a soundbar
As flatscreen (and curved) TVs become thinner and thinner, so does the sound coming out of said TV. But that can be rectified quickly and easily by boosting the audio with a soundbar.
When a full 5.1-channel surround-speaker package isn’t viable, a soundbar is the simplest solution to adding oomph and pizzazz to your TV’s sound. With its array of speakers encased in a single bar, easy set-up and generated surround-sound effects – you’ll finally be enjoying the full blast of a blockbuster soundtrack that matches up with your TV’s stunning picture quality.
They come in all shapes and sizes and with extra features to boot, but picking the right soundbar to take home can be easy – if you know what to look for.
Two types of soundbars
Soundbars come in two forms: a single-unit bar, or a bar with a wireless subwoofer. So which one do you choose? On one hand, you have one bar that conveniently houses all the components into a single, if rather chunky, package. No extra units, just a simple plug-and-play format. It couldn’t be easier.
On the other hand, the type with the external subwoofer allows the main unit to be a slim and sleek bar, sitting discreetly in front of your TV. It looks good. And since the sub connects wirelessly, you don’t have to worry about dangling wires or about placing it close to the soundbar – it can be nudged into any old corner of your room.
Where should you put the soundbar? Ideally, you want the bar sitting directly in front of, or just under, the TV. Treat it like the centre speaker of a surround-sound package – you want the dialogue and action on screen to sound like it’s coming straight from the TV, not a few feet under or beside it. You can place the soundbar on the shelf under your TV if you need the space, but make sure it’s not too far, otherwise voices can sound displaced.
Stand or wall-mount?
Size, as always, is important. If your TV is on a stand, make sure the soundbar isn’t so bulky or tall that it obstructs the bottom-half of your screen. If it’s too large, it might not fit neatly in front of the TV, either.
But what if your TV is wall-mounted? Never fear – most soundbars can be mounted on the wall, too. The slim bars tend to look best under a slim TV, so keep your eyes peeled for aesthetics as well as practicality.
The connections you’ll use to hook the soundbar up to your TV are crucial, as soundbars don’t always come with a full complement of the usual inputs. Not all, for example, come with HDMI inputs. But it’s not a setback by any means, as the alternatives range from digital optical (the most widespread input) and coaxial inputs, to analogue phono inputs. If your soundbar does have an HDMI input, make sure it supports ARC (Audio Return Channel) to feed the sound from your TV.
There are plenty of extra features that are packed into a soundbar, and it’s worth checking them all out on the demo floor before you commit. Does it, have Bluetooth, for example? If so, you can turn the soundbar into a music system by streaming music wirelessly from your smartphone or tablet.
Other inputs, such as a handy 3.5mm jack or a USB port for charging, are always welcome.
And why not demo all the surround effects or sound modes that are built into the soundbar? You might find that you prefer a particular style over others, and that could clinch the deal in finding the perfect soundbar for your TV.
Kashfia Kabir is Multimedia Journalist for What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision magazine.