Soundbars are a popular item right now. When I’m traveling to product shows and conventions, every company seems to be making and displaying their soundbars. Next time I go through a drive through to get my salad and yogurt (yeah, right), I will not be terribly surprised if someone asks me through the scratchy speaker “Want a soundbar with that?”
DO I? Do I want a sound bar? More importantly, do you want a so soundbar or would you like to know more about them?
Let’s explore the wide world of soundbars, and whether a soundbar is something you should consider for your home.
What is a soundbar?
Sonos playbar and subwoofer.
A soundbar is a speaker system enclosed in a rectangular-ish box designed to work with your television. Today’s TVs are so thin there is not much room for speakers inside. The sound quality tends to be uninspiring. If you cut open a sound bar – which would be silly – you would see lots of stuff packed into the chassis including speakers, digital amplifiers, crossovers and other signal processing wizardry…and some tiny little people who live inside soundbars. You may not see the wee soundbar people, but trust me they are in there. Late at night, they speak to me – but let’s keep that between us for now please.
Soundbars have a wide variety of designs and performance levels. For instance, the number of audio channels may range from two channels (left and right) to many more. Three channels are common (left, center, and right), but much of the simulated surround sound relates to the digital signal processing (DSP) capabilities of the soundbar. Even if more channels are part of a particular soundbar’s specs, all of the sound is still generated from the single soundbar unit, although most soundbars are designed to provide the best results when used in conjunction with a separate subwoofer.
Another important differentiator is whether the sound bar is active or passive. This does not mean an active subwoofer needs to be walked like a new puppy. When a speaker is active it means that it provides its own power (amplification), whereas a passive speaker requires external amplification. Whether you should consider an active or passive soundbar really depends on the application, and what you expect from your soundbar.
Should I use a soundbar?
The most important thing to consider before answering this question is the location of your TV and the design of your system. For example, imagine you want better sound for your master bedroom TV. In this instance, you could consider a powered soundbar from a quality company such as Bose or Sonos, and I certainly suggest using the subwoofer designed for those products. As a side note, don’t just think explosions and crashes when you think of a subwoofer. There is a lot going on in the low frequencies of programming and music, and your soundbar will sound much better when paired with a subwoofer. So yes, for smaller to average-sized rooms a soundbar can be a good idea. In this example, the soundbar would most likely be active, as would the sub.
Another way we frequently deploy sound bars is by specifying a “LCR” bar as part of a larger system. LCR refers to left, center, and right audio channels, not political leanings. In this type of system, imagine a TV over a fireplace in a multi-purpose family room. We would mount a soundbar directly under the TV, and use rear surround speakers along with a subwoofer to create a true surround sound system. This style soundbar is passive, and would rely on a separate amplifier and signal processing, either from an integrated Audio-Visual Receiver (AVR) or separate components. In this type of design, there is usually a compromise because of design and space considerations and the LCR bar fits the bill nicely. We can even order a custom soundbar so it is the exact length of your TV in order to get the best appearance.
Samsung TV and custom sound bar from Leon recently installed at a client’s Wellesley, MA home by Elite Media Solutions.
This photo shows one of our recent installations in Wellesley with a Samsung display and a low-profile custom soundbar from Leon. Note how the soundbar almost appears as part of the TV to keep a sleek appearance. Not shown are the ceiling mounted surround speakers and a subwoofer. This sound bar provides the left, center, and right audio channels.
When using a soundbar (with or without a subwoofer) with a TV in a stand-alone system, your source devices (like a blue-ray player or Apple TV) will connect to your TV through an HDMI cable, and then the digital audio return from the TV connects to the soundbar, normally with a digital optical cable. The bad news is that most TVs down convert the incoming surround sound signal back to stereo. This is where the soundbar’s signal processing circuitry comes back into the mix; to take the stereo signal and simulate a surround-sound effect. Some manufacturers are better at this than others. There are some sound bars that also have HDMI inputs, and will decode Dolby and DTS audio formats properly.
A soundbar can get mounted on the wall, usually below the TV. Although this isn’t really difficult, nobody wants to see the wires, so it is best to have a professional handle the install. Another option is to place the soundbar on a cabinet. Some soundbars have side-firing speakers, so avoid placing those soundbars inside cabinet for best performance.
What to Remember
Soundbars certainly have a place in today’s homes, whether as part of your main system or in a secondary location such as a bedroom, playroom, or vacation home. A big consideration is where the TV and soundbar will be located, and your performance expectations. A compact soundbar is not going to give you the same immersive experience as larger separate speakers, whether those speakers are built-in or floor-standing. Make sure you get advice from a home electronics expert because you may feel overwhelmed by all of the soundbar options on the market! Click here for a short video from Bose about their Lifestyle 135 soundbar and subwoofer combo. This is one of my favorite soundbars with great sound processing, something that Bose does extremely well. Give us a call at (781) 237-2929 to schedule a demo for yourself in our Wellesley, MA showroom.
Elite Media Solutions provides quality audio, video, home theater, lighting control, motorized shades, home automation, and more to clients in the Boston, Brookline, Newton, Wellesley, Dover, Sherborn, Medfield, Weston, Wayland, Westwood, Walpole, Norfolk and surrounding areas. Bose dealer, Sonos dealer in the Boston area.