You bought that new TV, but the sound seems a bit lacking. With today’s technology, TV manufacturers are attempting to pay more attention in cramming video quality into a paper thin piece of equipment, which tends to not leave room for quality speakers. A sound bar could be the answer to enhance your audio with rich, bold sound and big base. Quality sound bars can pack a big punch in a relatively small package. Sound bars generally range in length from 12″ to 36″, heights from approximately 2-1/2″ to 6″ and depths from 3″ to 6″.
If you simply want to enhance your TV sound, a sound bar with 2.1 channels (two front channels and a separate subwoofer) could be enough. If you want true surround sound, buy a sound bar with a subwoofer and rear speakers—preferably wireless—for multi-channel sound. Some new models may include Dolby Atmos, a newer immersive sound technology that adds the element of height to speaker systems. With sound bar speaker systems, this is usually accomplished by having upfiring drivers in the main enclosure.
If you’ll be placing the sound bar on a TV stand, make sure there’s enough room in front of the set, and check to see that the sound bar isn’t so tall that it will block the remote control’s line of sight to the TV. If your TV is mounted on the wall, you may consider doing the same with a sound bar. This creates an aesthetically appealing look plus offers better sound distribution within the room.
If you’re using the sound bar only for listening to your TV, you can go for a low-priced, no-frills model that has at least Good sound quality in our ratings. It will be a step up from almost any TV’s built-in sound. But if you want to use the sound bar for music as well as TV, we recommend a model with Very Good or Excellent sound quality.
Most manufacturers provide 12 months of coverage, but check before you buy.
You’ll need a variety of inputs for connecting various audio and video sources, so make sure the inputs on the sound bar or sound base match the outputs on the source components. Additional options allow you to stream content wirelessly.
HDMI: Some sound bars have one or more HDMI inputs and may include an HDMI output to the TV, allowing you to use the sound bar to switch between video source components. Many HDMI connections now support the audio return channel (ARC) feature, which lets a TV send audio back to the sound base or sound bar. This allows a single connection from the sound bar to the TV if your source component, such as a cable box, is connected directly to the TV. If you intend to connect a Blu-ray player or an Ultra HD Blu-ray player with either 3D or 4K video capability, make sure the sound bar has a pass-through feature to send these signals to your TV.
Bluetooth: More sound bars now support Bluetooth, which allows you to send music from mobile devices (tablets, phones, or computers) wirelessly to the sound bar speaker. Some support near field communication (NFC), which is quick way to make an initial Bluetooth connection. Some have two-way Bluetooth, which will let you send music from the sound bar to Bluetooth-enabled speakers or headphones.
WiFi: Models with built-in WiFi let you access online music services such as Pandora and Spotify directly from the sound bar. Some models may include an Ethernet jack for a wired connection to your home network.
Digital audio inputs: Most sound bars have at least one digital audio input (optical or coaxial), as well as analog stereo RCA (red and white) or mini-jack inputs, for connecting cable boxes, TVs, disc players, portable music players, and other gear. In recent years, optical digital audio inputs and outputs have become the more common of the two types of connections. But increasingly, newer equipment—such as cable boxes and Blu-ray players—send digital audio signals over an HDMI cable.
Streaming: Some sound bars offer access to streaming movies or TV shows from services such as Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix; internet radio stations such as Napster/Rhapsody, Pandora, and Slacker; and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. This is a plus if your TV doesn’t have this capability built-in and you don’t own a media player such as a Roku or an Apple TV.
Other Considerations Before You Shop
Do you want to use your sound bar to switch between sources?
If so, make sure it has at least two HDMI inputs, plus an optical input for a component that lacks HDMI. If you’ve moved up to a 4K TV with HDR, make sure the sound bar has a pass-through feature that sends 4K HDR video signals to a 4K TV.
Are new immersive audio formats, such as Dolby Atmos, important?
Many sound bars offer multi-channel audio, but a few newer models now also support Dolby Atmos and/or DTS: X, the two newest surround-sound formats. Both are “object-based” audio technologies, where sound engineers are able to place sounds almost anywhere in a listener’s environment during the recording and mixing process.
Both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X try to map sound effects, or “objects,” in a three-dimensional space. Dolby Atmos, which was initially developed for movie theaters, does this by adding the element of height to a surround-sound setup. In sound bars, this is achieved by using upfiring speakers that bounce sound off the ceiling toward your listening position. This can create overhead sound effects, such as a plane flying above you and then disappearing in the distance.
DTS:X is a bit different, in that it doesn’t require special “height” speakers, though it will work with them. Instead, it will remap the sound effects based on the number of channels and you have in your system.
Sound bars and other components that support Dolby Atmos use three sets of numbers to describe the system instead of just two. For example, in a regular 5.1-channel system, the first number indicates the number of channels and speakers, while the second shows if it has one or more subwoofers. But a Dolby Atmos setup has three sets of numbers (5.1.2), the last one indicating the number of upfiring (or ceiling-mounted) height speakers.
DTS:X tends to use the more conventional naming system, though you may see a higher number, such as 11.1, which indicates additional channels and speakers, such as height speakers.
With Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the content has to be encoded to support the format. Dolby Atmos is currently more widely available, on some Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray discs, as well as on some titles offered by streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix, and Vudu. DTS:X is playing catch-up, and it’s available on a few dozen Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray discs but so far not from any streaming services. Most new A/V receivers now support both formats.
Since Consumer Reports performed a very detailed review recently, I have included the link below to assist you with your decision making prior to your purchase. Be sure to return to northamericanecommerce.com to shop and save.