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TV audio used to be inevitably muddy and low quality unless you were willing to spend big bucks and plenty of time installing a full stereo system. But these days, you can improve your TV audio quickly and easily by installing a soundbar.
We’ll explain the advantages that a soundbar offers. And we’ll give you tips on how to choose the right soundbar for your needs.
Why Get a Soundbar?
Traditionally, speaker setup for a TV has involved placing five speakers around the viewer in what is called a 5.1 surround sound setup. This was effective but expensive, and only really worked if you sat in the same place to watch TV every time. It also required a lot of cables running across the room.
Now, soundbars offer a better audio experience with less setup and fewer wires. A soundbar contains a number of speakers which send the sound out into the room from the same location as the TV. They are getting better at spreading sound to the sides as well, so you can hear the audio well from anywhere in a room.
Another reason to buy a soundbar is to do with the built-in speakers in TVs. As TVs have become thinner and thinner, there’s less room in the bezels to hide speakers. This means built-in speakers have become weaker and less impressive sounding. Some modern TVs don’t even come with built-in speakers any more. TV manufacturers assume you will buy a soundbar to complete the experience.
How to Choose a Soundbar
If you’re convinced that a soundbar is right for you, move onto choosing the model that fits your needs. Soundbars range in price from budget offerings of $70 or below to high-end options costing $300 or more. How much you spend depends on how picky you are about your audio quality and also on what type of content you like to watch.
Big action movies benefit from soundbars with high volume levels and lots of bass. Dramas benefit from clear audio so you can hear dialogue better. If you can, go to an electronics store to hear some soundbars for yourself before making a decision.
The factors to consider when choosing a soundbar are:
- The inputs, so you can connect your TV to the soundbar. You’ll see options like HDMI, optical, or RCA stereo inputs. Check what outputs your TV has to see what you need.
- Wireless connectivity, such as support for Bluetooth. This means you won’t have messy cables everywhere when you install your soundbar.
- Number of speakers, which affects both the quality and the loudness of the audio produced.
- Whether the bar comes with a subwoofer, which is a separate unit that is usually placed on the floor and gives an extra bass boost.
- Support for audio technologies such as Dolby Atmos, which creates an immersive surround sound experience.
Where to Use a Soundbar
Soundbars are usually placed underneath or just in front of the TV. Sometimes, you may see a soundbar above the TV if there is more room there. Other times, you’ll see soundbars mounted to the wall near the TV, especially if the TV is also wall mounted.
The key when choosing where to place a soundbar is positioning it so that it fills the room with sound as much as possible. You want the sound to come from the same direction as the TV, and you don’t want to block it by placing the soundbar behind books or other objects. You also don’t want the soundbar to block your view of the screen.
If you are placing the soundbar in a cabinet, put it as far forward in the cabinet as you can, so the bar is not blocked from sending sound out to the sides. When using a bar with surround sound features such as Dolby Atmos, try to avoid placing it in a cabinet as it will need vertical space to give you the best effects.
Alternatives to Soundbars
If you’re not sure that a soundbar is right for you, there are a number of alternatives which you could try.
A soundbase is very similar to a soundbar in that it can fill your room with sound from a small format. However, instead of the long, thin soundbar format, a soundbase has similar technology but in a wide, flat format.
If you have a TV or media console with built-in shelves and limited space, then a soundbase can give you all the features you want from a soundbar but in an easier to manage size. It will offer similar inputs like HDMI or optical and most models also have Bluetooth support for wireless connectivity.
Old-fashioned speakers still work just fine for audio in many cases. But you shouldn’t rely on the speakers built into your TV for audio as these usually produce poor quality sound.
Instead, you can add external speakers to your TV. They don’t look as sleek as a soundbar and they take up more room. But the advantage of speakers is that most people have some lying around their house somewhere. They can also be purchased second hand for not much money.
There’s a whole world of information to learn about speakers. You can start off by looking at our advice on how cheap you can go on computer speakers. Most of this advice will apply to TV speakers too.
Another alternative if you want a portable speaker option is to use a Bluetooth speaker for your TV. When you’re not watching TV, you can use the speaker with your computer for playing games. Or you can carry it with you for outdoor events like picnics.
Bluetooth speakers generally don’t offer sound quality which is as good as a soundbar. However, they are certainly an upgrade over using your TV’s built-in speakers. And they are very affordable, so they’re a way to dip your toes into TV audio solutions without breaking the bank.
For some suggestions of great speakers to try with your TV, see our information on the best portable Bluetooth speakers.
Upgrade Your TV Audio With a Soundbar
Purchasing a soundbar is a simple way to upgrade your TV-watching experience with better audio.
To see suggestions for which soundbar is right for you, check out our guide to the best soundbars for audiophiles on a budget.