How to Choose the Right Sound Bar
Sound bars are a great way to get better sound if you don't have the room or the money for a multi-speaker setup
Jared Norman | May 20, 2013
With movie theater prices going up and the cost of home theater equipment going down more and more people are opting to recreate the home theater experience in the comfort of their own home. Until recently, home theaters were restricted to people with the budget and the room to invest in multiple speaker setups. Sound bars allow those with limited space or budgets to greatly improve their sound quality.
What is a Sound Bar?
A sound bar is basically a miniature multi-speaker setup that has been compressed into a single streamlined package. Some sound bars are designed to give expanded stereo sound, which basically would work the same as your built in TV speakers, but with better quality and enhanced sound. Many sound bars, however, process the 5.1 surround sound signals and create virtual surround sound using different pitch, delay, and placement algorithms. While virtual surround sound obviously doesn’t work as well as a multiple speaker setup, some sound bars are able to do it pretty well, which makes the sound bar a great option for small spaces and limited budgets.
What to Look for in a Sound Bar
Virtual Surround Sound
Sound bars use various tricks to make it seem like you are listening to surround sound. Most sound bars work by reflecting sound waves off your walls and ceilings. It’s done so that you only hear the sounds after it ricochets. This method can give a passable impersonation of surround sound. However, this kind of setup is dependent upon reflecting the sound off the walls, so it might work better in some rooms than in others.
A few sound bars utilize HRTF (Head-Related Transfer Function) to imitate surround sound. These sound bars use digital filtering to create noises our brain usually associates with different sound locations. These sound bars don’t rely so much on your walls to imitate surround sound, so they are probably a better bet for people with oddly shaped rooms.
DSP (Digital Signal Processor) uses special algorithms to help create the illusion of side and rear sound and make the virtual surround sound of your speaker bar much more convincing.
While some sound bars have internal subwoofers, an external subwoofer greatly enhances sound quality and doesn’t require much space. If you’re worried about wires, some sound bars have wireless subwoofers. There are various types and weights depending on the level of bass that you want.
The frequency of a speaker describes the range of sounds a speaker can reproduce. While a broad frequency range is best, low frequencies are better for action movies.
Watts describe amplifier output. Increased wattage means louder sound and a better sound field. While this can be important, high wattage doesn’t automatically mean better speakers. After you’ve narrowed down your options, go and listen to those soundbars to find which ones have the best sound for you.
There are two ways that sound bars handle amplification. Some require a separate amplifier, while others have an internal one. While sound bars with internal amplifiers are more expensive, they also have everything you need included with them, cutting down on the number of wires and equipment you need to worry about.
You want to make sure you have enough ports for all of your devices. However, if you don’t have enough ports on your sound bar you can use a switcher to add more devices. You also want to make sure you can install it the way you want it. Sound bars need to be close to your TV for the best sound experience. The problem is that your sound bar could get in the way of the IR sensor for your remote or even block your screen. If your sound bar has mounting screws you can easily install it using a soundbar bracket, which allows the sound bar to be securely placed directly above or below your TV. That way your sound bar can be secure and out of the way.
While sound bars do create a passable imitation to surround sound, and they definitely are better than your TV speakers, they were never designed to replace multi-speaker systems. That said, sound bars are a great solution for people who don’t have the room or the budget for multiple speakers, but still want better sound than their built in TV speakers.