So, you purchased a new flat LED TV but its audio is not as impressive as its picture quality? No, you did not make a wrong buying decision and neither your friends, nor the family members recommended the wrong model to you. The reality is, as the form factor of televisions has gotten thinner, there is not much that the manufacturers can do about the television audio.
Fortunately, there is an excellent way to pump up the audio of your television. And no, we are not talking about any fancy surround-sound system for which you need to shell thousands of dollars or installing multiple boxes with dangling wires on your wall. What we are talking about is a Soundbar.
What is a Soundbar?
A soundbar can be simply defined as a speaker enclosure that neatly sits underneath or in front of your television. For televisions that are hanged on the wall, there are sound bars that come with wall mounts which you can use to hang the audio accessory right below the television. Almost every TV manufacturer and audio company has their own soundbars lined up in the market.
While they are named as ‘’soundbars’’, they are actually available in many different sizes, types and shapes. Their prices wildly vary from $80 to $1000 and even more. Apart from the price range, soundbars also vary in the features they offer.
There are real surround, faux surround, analog and digital audio inputs, HDMI inputs, Bluetooth support, USB ports, subwoofers, and a lot more.
Purchasing a new Soundbar?
Purchasing a new soundbar is a win-win situation for the buyers: First, you don’t need to appease yourself with the built-in speakers of your TV, which are known to be mediocre; Secondly, you get to enjoy high-quality audio without the cost or hassles of a surround sound system.
However, when it comes to buying a soundbar, the number of options with respect to their shape, size, features and cost, are in abundance. The soundbars on the lower end of the price scale offer basic connections, whereas, the costlier ones have advanced features like HDMI input, better speaker drivers, better power, decoding or multiple audio formats, and wireless streaming.
The design of the soundbar is also an important factor that you need to consider. While there are models that can easily sit underneath or in front of your TV, there are others that need to be mounted on walls or require additional shelf space. So, the kind of space you have in your room will help you understand the type of soundbar you should buy.
But no matter what your budget or needs are, soundbars are excellent audio accessories that can give your TV, the sound that it rightly deserves. To make things easier for the buyers, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best of soundbars along with their detailed reviews to allow you to know the good and bad about the models.
Best Soundbar Under $100
With an impressive output of 95Db and harmonic distortion of less than 1%, the VIZIO SB2920 is one of the best companions for your high-end 32”+ television sets. The 29” soundbar features two full-range speakers to fill the room with high-quality audio that will enhance your TV-viewing experience.
It uses DTS Studio SoundTM, DTS TruSurroundTM and DTS Tru VolumeTM audio technologies to offer an immersive audio quality. It has built-in Bluetooth which allows you to wirelessly stream audio from your mobile, smartphones, laptops and desktop computers with a touch of a button. While the soundbar doesn’t have features, like HDMI input and subwoofer, with a price tag of less than $100, it is still an amazing product.
With a simple plug-and-play design, this 2.0 channel soundbar from VIZIO is one of the easiest ways to enhance the audio of your TV. Moreover, its streamlined built with minimal accents, allows it to easily blend with any TV set and room.
Just like the one mentioned above, majority of the reviews on the internet agree that VIZIO SB2920-C6 is extremely easy to install and is an excellent value-for-money product.
Best Soundbar Under $200
The SB3821-C6 from VIZIO challenges the idea of good sound being only produced by high-end audio accessories. With a price tag of a little over $150, the soundbar surely packs a lot of punch and can give a tough competition to many of the high-end models.
The soundbar can emit up to 100dB of crystal clear sound and less than 1% of harmonic distortion with the help of Dolby Digital decoding and DTS audio technologies. For a thumping bass, it comes with a clutter-free wireless subwoofer which has a range of about 60-feet when it is in clear line of sight from the audio accessory.
The soundbar also has a built-in Bluetooth which you can use to wirelessly stream music from mobile, tablets and Bluetooth-enabled laptops and PCs. Its sleek, minimalist built with clean black body which is held together with the help of its silver sides, makes it look classy. Moreover, to easily blend in with the decor of your room, the soundbar can be placed within a shelf below the TV, directly below the TV on top of a table, and can also be mounted on the wall.
Very good surround sound for the money! It was easy to hook up to the TV with one cable, and the wireless subwoofer was easy to pair with the sound bar. In total it probably took 20 minutes to unpack, and hook it up.
While majority of the reviews are highly positive, some of them focus on a few drawbacks as well. For instance, a user suggests that the placement of buttons on soundbar makes it very inconvenient to use them when the soundbar is mounted on the wall. All in all, the VIZIO SB3821-C6 with its easy installation, high-quality audio output and wireless subwoofer, is still a cost-efficient and efficient companion for your 42”+ TV sets.
Best Soundbar Under $300
Samsung is a brand that is known for its high-quality innovative products and this HW-J450 from the electronics giant doesn’t fail to impress. The 2.1 channel soundbar comes with a wireless subwoofer which receives 140 watts from the total 300 watts of the soundbar to provide you with an immersive audio experience. Moreover, the soundbar uses a unique Surround Sound Expansion technology which further enhances the depth of the audio.
It also features an HDMI input, which a lot of users complain about due to its tight recess. It also has built-in Bluetooth which you can use to wirelessly stream audio from your smartphone, tablets, etc. Moreover, it also has a USB port which allows you to connect flash drives for playing your favourite music. The soundbar can also be controlled through Samsung Audio Remote App which is available for Android and iOS phones.
However, a major drawback of this soundbar is that it is only compatible with MP3 and WMA format, while majority of the soundbars in this price range and even cheaper ones are compatible with WAV, AAC and FLAC formats. So, if you like experimenting with multiple audio formats then it is better to look for another model.
Bose Solo 5 TV sound System
Bose is famous for its audio-accessories and this Solo 5 TV Sound System is just another feather in their cap. With a price tag of about $250, it is an affordable, yet powerful soundbar that can add the required high-quality sound to your TV programs. The single-piece soundbar measures only 548mm and is one of the smallest soundbars available in the market.
While there are no buttons on the soundbar itself, it comes with a universal remote control which you can use to control a number of other devices along with the soundbar. It also has a unique Auto-Wake function which automatically turns on the soundbar whenever it detects sound source to eliminate the need to manually switch on the soundbar along with the TV. It also has an automatic power down feature, but it only turns off after 60 minutes of inactivity, which according to a lot of users, is a long duration.
While the soundbar has built-in Bluetooth, it doesn’t support NFC, which is a feature that is increasingly found in soundbars that cost around $250. Also, the soundbar has a Dialogue Mode, which improves the quality of speech to provide you with an enhanced listening experience.
Overall, the Solo 5 is a standard soundbar that comes with a number of basic features. While its sound quality is not highly impressive, with a brand name like Bose, it is still one of the most affordable and powerful soundbars available in the market and majority of the reviews on the internet suggest the same.
I purchased this for my parents who complained that they couldn't hear the dialogue on their shows. This was super easy to hook up and we had it all set up in about ten minutes. The sound difference was amazing and for the price point you can't beat it. Love that it is Bluetooth enabled and you can stream your music as well.
Best Soundbar Under $500
Sony HT CT7770
If you are prepared to spend more than $300 on a soundbar, then HT-CT770 from Sony can be an excellent choice. The 2.1 channel soundbar is ideal for 46”+ TV sets and comes with a number of features that can completely transform your TV-viewing experience. The 41” long soundbar is sleek and unobtrusively fits with home theater systems. You can simply place it below or in front of your TV or can also prop it up with the help of the accompanied foot stands.
It comes with a wireless, downward-firing subwoofer which consumes 120 watts of the soundbars total power of 330 watts to deliver a monstrous volume which is not just loud, but crystal clear as well. For enhanced convenience, the soundbar comes with a separate remote control for the sub-woofer. You can connect various audio sources with the help of its HDMI, standard 3.5mm, and optical ports. The HDMI ports of the unit are HDMI 2.0, making them compatible with 4K and 3D videos.
Moreover, it also has NFC compatibility and built-in Bluetooth or wireless streaming from Bluetooth-enabled devices. The soundbar is compatible with DTS/Dolby Digital, DTS HD/Dolby Digital + and LPCM formats and doesn’t support DTS HD-Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD which are supported by Blu-ray players.
If we talk about the reviews, a large number of users suggest that the performance of this soundbar is not that impressive, especially while playing lower mids and ends. On the other hand, it does offer a wide-range of connectivity options.
Best Soundbar Under $1000
SONOS Playbar TV Soundbar
If the cost of a soundbar is not something you are concerned about, then the Sonos Playbar with a price tag of more than $600 is surely an impressive option. While Sonos is known for its superlative multi-room audio systems, with this Playbar, they have tried to enhance home cinema for the users. The 3.0 channel soundbar comes with right, center and left speakers and you can also use other Sonos speakers to convert this soundbar into a 3.1 or 5.1 system, making it one of the most flexible soundbars available in the market.
While connecting your TV with the soundbar is simple and only requires a single cable, a lot of users feel limited with reference to the connectivity options and believe there should have been much more in a soundbar that costs more than $600. Moreover, while optical outputs are common on modern TVs, many models do not have one. So, make sure that you check the output of your TV before buying this soundbar. Another major flaw in this soundbar is that it is only compatible with DTS audio format.
There is also a Sonos App for smartphones which allows user to stream their favourite music from multiple streaming services, like Apple Music, Prime Music, etc. Moreover, you can also stream from more than 100,000 internet radio stations. However, some users have found a number of problems with the Sonos App.
If we talk about the looks, this Sonos Playbar impresses the buyers on that front as well. It has a sleek lozenge built with minimal detailing done with aluminium and black speaker mesh, which combine together to provide this soundbar with an exclusive appeal. So, while the Playbar does have some minor drawbacks, it is still an excellent option if you are looking for a high-end option.
How To Select Right Soundbar?
So to help you make a decision among all the different types of soundbars with their varied features, we’ve created a list of some important features that you should consider before buying a soundbar.
1. Active or Passive Soundbar
The most important thing is to decide between an active and a passive soundbar. Active-type of soundbars house everything, like speakers, signal processing and amplification, in a single box. All you need to do is to connect the soundbar to the audio source and you are ready to go.
They don’t require any other accessories (except for subwoofers if you need them) in order to work. Moreover, there are also many modern models that come with a subwoofer. The main advantage of an active soundbar is its clean, single-box look and easy installation.
Passive soundbars on the other hand are just like traditional speakers. You will be required to power it through an AC receiver or amplifier, and they don’t even have any inputs or digital signal processing other than the traditional wire connectors.
This type of soundbar is recommended for people who need flexibility with respect to amplifier/receiver they want to use, number of audio sources they want to connect, experiment with crossover settings and decode multiple audio formats.
The installation process of passive soundbar is more complex than active soundbars and will require you to have basic knowledge about home theater installation. Moreover, you will not get the sleek and all-in-one look of an active soundbar. Also, passive soundbars are more expensive than active soundbars.
2. Number of Channels
Do you want a soundbar that can reproduce multichannel experience or you are ok with stereo audio across all the audio sources? This selection is very important as the number of channels you want will affect the cost of the soundbar.
The cheapest soundbar will generally come with 2-channels that can work as an alternative to your TV speakers. This type of soundbar might provide you with the ability to listen to DTS/Dolby Digital multichannel audio, but the audio will be stereo or maximum in virtual surround mode.
The next in line is a 3-channel soundbar. They will have separate right, center and left channels, generally with an option to connect an additional surround sound speaker. A 3-channel soundbar is generally a passive soundbar, but there are some active 3-channel models as well.
Then there are 5 or 7-channel soundbars that reproduce soundtracks through multiple channels. They generally use room boundaries, DSP, or a combination of both, to offer a better surround sound experience as compared to 2 or 3-channel soundbar.
The next big decision is whether you want a subwoofer in your soundbar or not. It is generally recommended that you should go for a soundbar with a subwoofer. This is because, while the flatter and smaller design of the soundbar makes them look aesthetically appealing, this form factor makes it impossible for them to generate bass and lower midrange frequencies.
Many of the active soundbars have subwoofers whereas, just like everything else, you will also be required to buy a subwoofer if you want a passive soundbar. Moreover, there are also soundbars that do not feature a subwoofer but are compatible with them. If you buy such a soundbar, there are many amazing subwoofers available in the market.
4. Number of Audio Sources
This is an important factor if you are planning to buy an active soundbar with which you will directly connect the audio sources. Before you finalize a model, it is not just important to decide the number of audio sources you will be connecting, but it is also essential to determine the exact type of connectors your audio sources have.
The soundbars on the lower end of the price scale generally accept two audio sources, but the types can be different. You can get one optical and one coaxial, two coaxial or two optical inputs. There is no use of buying a soundbar which only features coaxial inputs if your DVD player and cable box feature optical output. Or else, you will be required to use an analog connection or a convertor box.
It is difficult to find a soundbar at lower price point with an HDMI connection. The presence of HDMI not only provides you with an additional audio source but also enables video pass-through from the TV. If you have a HD satellite box or cable, gaming console, or a Blu-Ray player, then there is a major possibility that you might be using HDMI for sensing video and audio to your TV. Moreover, there are also many streaming players that only feature HDMI output. So, it is generally recommended that you should go for a soundbar that features HDMI connection.
Important Features To Consider
Size of TV and Placement of Soundbar
Needless to say, you need to make sure how much space you have for a soundbar before choosing one. This becomes very important if you have a TV that is fitted inside an enclosure, other than that it’s all about the aesthetics. You can go for a soundbar that is much narrower than your TV, but a soundbar that protrudes out of the bezel of your TV will definitely look awkward.
If it’s the aesthetics that you are more concerned about then it is better to go for a soundbar that is manufactured by your TV manufacturer. There are many soundbars that are manufactured by TV companies, like Samsung, Sony, etc. just for a particular range of televisions.
Another great option is to pick a pedestal-type soundbar. These soundbars are placed on the furniture below your TV. Moreover, they have greater amount of air in them and this allows the speakers to better resonate the lower frequencies. They produce more bass and can eliminate the need for an additional subwoofer. However, if you are planning to buy a pedestal-type soundbar, make sure that its width is able to accommodate the stand of your TV and is sturdy enough to bear the weight of your TV.
Wired Vs. Wireless
If you are planning to buy a soundbar that comes with a subwoofer, you will be welcomed with wired as well as wireless models. Between the two, it is better to go for a wireless model as it will enable you to keep the subwoofer at multiple places within the range. However, the wireless models are a lot more expensive than the wired models.
Price of Soundbar
The most important factor for most of us while buying a soundbar is its price. While an amazing audio experience is priceless, the accessory that is allowing you to immerse into this priceless experience shouldn’t burn a hole in your pocket. As mentioned above, you can buy a soundbar for as little as $80 to a high-end model that can cost $1000 and even more.
While choosing a soundbar, don’t just assume that the more money you’ll spend, the better will be the outcome. There are a number of soundbars below $100 that work like a charm and then are also many expensive models that will fail to provide you the desired output. So, it is better to fix a budget first before starting to look for a soundbar as some great models are available at every price range.
Majority of the soundbar models now feature built-in Bluetooth that allows you stream your favourite audio from your tablet, smartphone or a Bluetooth-enabled laptop or computer. Moreover, there are also models with Wi-Fi compatibility to allow you to stream music directly from an online platform.
Many models also feature USB slots which you can use to connect external storage devices, like a pendrive or external hard drives to listen to your favourite music.
Sound Specification: Decibels, Watts, Hertz
If it’s your first time buying an audio accessory, then it is better to educate yourself about some units of sound measurements. They are-
If you’ll have a look at any standard speaker, it will have some numbers, like 100W or 200W mentioned on its side panel. This is Watts (W), a measurement unit which indicates the conversion of electrical power into energy.
It is very important to buy an audio accessory which is compatible with the electrical wattage of your home as connecting an audio accessory to an incompatible power source can damage the audio accessory.
The next important measurement unit is Decibel (dB). This is the unit which indicates the loudness of the audio output. It can range from a weak 0dB to the loudest 194 dB. The higher the decibel of the soundbar, the louder will be the sound.
Another important unit is Hertz (Hz). This unit is the measurement of wave frequencies, which we commonly know as pitch. In short, the higher the Hz, the more will be the frequency. This unit is important while choosing a soundbar as it can aid in selecting the kind of soundbar you should buy.
Different Driver Types: Squawkers, Tweeters, Woofers and Subwoofers
The drivers are the units in the soundbar that are responsible for delivering sound. There are a few different types of drivers that are found in soundbars. They are-
Tweeters work on frequencies ranging from 2000 Hz to 20,000 Hz. They are known to deliver sounds that have the highest frequencies.
Squawkers deliver middle-range sounds that range between 200 to 5000 Hz.
For low frequencies, woofers are used. Their frequencies range between 40 and 1000 Hz.
Subwoofers are used for delivering very low frequencies ranging between 20 to 200 Hz.