Soundbars

What to Consider When Buying a Soundbar

If you want an authentic home cinema experience, you need great home cinema sound. While built-in TV speakers keep getting better, they simply don’t provide the volume and dynamic range to bring your content to life. If you want to improve your audio, you can either purchase a full home cinema audio system or go with a less complicated and less expensive soundbar. The technology packed into these devices is revolutionary, creating a massive amount of sound in a small form factor. There are fewer wires to deal with and fewer components to clutter your space. If you decide to go the soundbar route, how do you decide which is the right one for you?

Budget

Let’s start with the factor that is most important for many consumers, price. You can pick up an inexpensive soundbar for under £100, while high-end models can top £2,000. Even if cost isn’t the most critical part of your decision, it is good to think about how much money you are willing to part with to find the perfect device for you.

Size

There are a couple of things to think about in terms of size. The first question is, “How big is your TV?” Aesthetically speaking, a soundbar looks best when it is the same width as the TV. If mounted directly under the set, it can look like an integrated part of your display. That leads to the second question, “Where are you going to put it?” If you are mounting it to the wall under your TV, getting the size right is mostly about the look. If your TV is sitting on a console or cabinet, you may plan to set it in front of the TV. Make sure the soundbar is small enough that it doesn’t block your view of the picture.

How Many Components?

With the simplest soundbars, everything you need is included in one component that can go under your TV. More advanced units include external speakers like sub-woofers and surround speakers to be placed in other locations in the room to recreate the cinema experience. There are also some units that simulate the effect of having multiple speaker locations while enclosing everything in a single piece.

Active or Passive?

When most people think of a soundbar, they think of the active type. This means that the amplifier is a part of the unit itself and it doesn’t need an external receiver. Passive soundbars are designed to be a part of a home entertainment system.

Stereo, Surround, or Atmos?

For those who just want to make general improvements, a simple two-channel stereo soundbar may do the trick. It will be an improved version of what is already in your TV. You could also step up and add a centre channel and a sub-woofer. The next step is surround sound. These soundbars usually include a sub-woofer, plus at least two rear surround speakers that can either be hardwired or wireless. The latest addition to the family is the Dolby Atmos soundbar. Atmos adds the dimension of height to your audio bringing you even deeper into the action. On a soundbar, it does this through built-in up-firing speakers.

Connections

The simplest way to connect a soundbar to your TV is by using your TV’s audio return channel (ARC) over an HDMI cable. Soon, the new eARC standard, available over HDMI 2.1, will provide even higher sound quality over an HDMI cable. If your set or soundbar doesn’t offer HDMI connections for audio, the next best bet is using an optical link. Simple 2-channel stereo sound bars can be connected via traditional RCA cables. Many soundbars can also double as speakers for your computer, phone, or tablet with built-in Bluetooth connections.

Whatever soundbar you choose, you will notice a significant improvement over what you were hearing through your TV’s speakers. If you get the right one, you will find yourself submerged in a real home cinema audio experience.

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