How to buy a soundbar: from size to subwoofers, which is the best for you?

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Let’s look it: TV speakers are ne'er going to beryllium arsenic bully arsenic we’d for illustration them to be. Even though TV brands person made immoderate efforts to heighten nan wide audio experience, TVs still can’t battalion nan aforesaid magnitude of punch arsenic a stereo setup, a surround system, aliases nan attraction of today’s piece, a soundbar. 

Soundbars person been astir for a minute, and we’ve sewage a guideline to immoderate of the champion soundbars you tin buy. But for illustration astir user tech items, buying a soundbar tin beryllium a daunting endeavor, mostly because location are truthful galore options.

So what are immoderate important considerations you should beryllium making erstwhile considering a soundbar? Other than nan basal measurements you’ll want to return to make judge your caller audio instrumentality will fresh cozily beneath your TV (if it’s being placed connected a stand), we’ve put together this guideline that touches connected immoderate of nan astir salient soundbar criteria you should beryllium addressing.

Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Mini successful beforehand of a 65-inch TV.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

 What size soundbar do I need?

Since soundbars travel successful a assortment of shapes and sizes, you request to find nan champion size for your TV. Some group for illustration that their soundbar is nan aforesaid width arsenic their television, while others are connected nan hunt for bigger. And while it’s a individual penchant successful nan end, nan size of a soundbar is mostly wished by really galore drivers and/or channels location are successful immoderate fixed soundbar — nan much drivers location are, nan bigger it tin be, but not ever (it’s complicated).

We get into this successful much item below, but it’s up to you to make judge that immoderate soundbar you bargain has nan champion equilibrium betwixt nan number of drivers for nan features you want, and that will fresh nether your TV, either mounted connected nan wall aliases connected your media console.

Do I request a subwoofer?

Regardless of which soundbar you choose, it’ll beryllium a awesome betterment complete nan soul speakers of conscionable astir immoderate television. Still, location are decisions to beryllium made, and 1 of them is other important: Should you get a soundbar pinch a subwoofer, aliases without one?

TCL Alto wireless soundbar and subwoofer woody walmartTCL

Subwoofers are speaker drivers dedicated to nan reproduction of low-frequency audio — deliberation rumbling bass, exploding bombs, nan whump-whump of a helicopter’s blades. A soundbar pinch a subwoofer will adhd punch and rumble to TV shows and movies, creating a fuller sound and much efficaciously projecting audio passim nan room. If you scheme connected watching tons of action movies or movies pinch epic music, you’ll apt want a subwoofer.

Some soundbars travel pinch dedicated subwoofers (most link wirelessly, though immoderate require a direct-wired connection), but successful immoderate cases, you’re amended disconnected purchasing them separately. Make judge to do immoderate investigation — our subwoofers buying guide is 1 resource. If you determine to bargain a third-party dedicated subwoofer, make judge your soundbar supports it — not each soundbars person a dedicated subwoofer output.

In different cases, for illustration the Sony HT-S2000, nan subwoofers contained successful nan soundbar itself are powerful capable to present each but nan astir sofa-shaking debased frequencies. Even nan Sonos Arc and Bose Soundbar 700 are arguably tin of holding their ain sans-subwoofer.

Connections

For nan astir part, you’ll request conscionable 1 cablegram to link a soundbar pinch your TV. Some soundbars trust connected optical cables, which activity fine. Still, HDMI is preferred. The HDMI interface supports much audio formats than nan optical, which efficaciously intends you’ll get higher value sound that’s much immersive pinch HDMI. Here’s a basal floor plan for what audio formats are supported by Optical, HDMI ARC, and HDMI eARC.

Optical

HDMI (ARC)

HDMI (eARC)

Stereo Stereo Stereo
 Dolby Digital

Dolby Digital

Dolby Digital

DTS DTS DTS
DTS:X DTS:X
Dolby Digital Plus DTS-HD Master Audio
Dolby Atmos Dolby Digital Plus
Dolby Atmos
Dolby True HD

But HDMI connections aren’t each equal, particularly erstwhile it comes to soundbars. To link a soundbar to a TV complete HDMI, your TV needs to support HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) aliases HDMI eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) — immoderate older TVs don’t person this feature. If your TV doesn’t person it, you’ll request to instrumentality pinch an optical connection.

Keep successful mind, if you link your soundbar via HDMI, you’ve now sewage 1 little HDMI larboard connected your TV for devices for illustration streaming media players, Blu-ray players, aliases cablegram boxes. To compensate, immoderate soundbars connection an HDMI input, and immoderate connection much than one, which efficaciously turns them into mini A/V receivers. But immoderate soundbars, for illustration nan Sonos Arc, don’t person immoderate HDMI inputs. If you’re already moving debased connected HDMI ports, that’s thing to support successful mind.

The only solution (other than buying a soundbar pinch aggregate HDMI inputs) is to bargain an HDMI switcher, which tin move 1 HDMI larboard into two, three, four, aliases much — but this increases nan complexity of your setup, thing which a soundbar is meant to prevent.

Check retired our guideline connected how to link your soundbar to a TV for a elaborate look astatine each of your options.

Mounting options

Amazon Fire TV Soundbar wall-mount eyehole.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

One of nan champion parts astir owning a modern TV is nan expertise to equine it connected nan wall. And conjecture what? You’ll beryllium capable to equine your soundbar connected nan wall too, but location are a fewer important things you should deliberation astir earlier doing so. 

First and foremost, it’s a bully thought to cognize what benignant of wall equine you’re going to bargain for your TV, aliases what type of equine an existing wall-mounted group is using. This is because level wall mounts (the type that spot your TV arsenic adjacent to nan wall arsenic possible) and tilting wall mounts (the benignant that fto you tilt your TV up and down a fewer degrees) are not going to propulsion disconnected nan wall. So if you determine you’d for illustration to usage nan manufacturer-supplied mounting hardware to equine your soundbar correct beneath your TV, you’ll conscionable want to make judge you’re centering it beneath your TV.

And if you’re a stickler for wire-free aesthetics (we wholly get it), you whitethorn want to put successful a ligament cover to hide nan HDMI aliases optical relationship that runs from nan soundbar to your TV. 

Now. if you’re going to beryllium utilizing a full-motion wall mount (the benignant that propulsion disconnected nan wall, move near and right, and tilt up and down), it mightiness beryllium a amended thought to bargain a soundbar mounting kit, alternatively of mounting straight to nan wall.

Soundbar mounting kits really connect to your TV’s wall-mounting hardware, truthful erstwhile you determine you’d for illustration to move your TV to look a different portion of your surviving room (or different room entirely), your soundbar will move pinch it. This isn’t to opportunity that you have to usage a soundbar mounting kit if you’re utilizing a afloat mobility wall-mount for your TV. Even if your TV is faced distant from your emblematic viewing area, astir soundbars are tin of delivering audio to an full room, alternatively of conscionable a dead-on listening space.

Channels and Dolby Atmos

LG's 2023 SC9 Dolby Atmos soundbar.LG / LG

When shopping for soundbars for your location theater, you’ll astir apt travel crossed immoderate confusing numbers. Labels for illustration “2.0,” “3.1,” aliases “5.1” are location to fto you cognize A) really galore channels a soundbar has and B) whether aliases not it has a subwoofer.

The first number (before nan period) refers to nan number of channels, and nan number aft nan play tells you whether there’s a subwoofer (1) aliases not (0). If a soundbar has only 2 channels, that intends a near and a correct channel. If it has 3 channels, nan 3rd is simply a halfway channel, which improves dialog clarity. Five adds channels for rear aliases situation sound speakers.

Often, a soundbar strategy will travel pinch a wireless subwoofer aliases abstracted subwoofer and, successful immoderate cases, moreover wireless outer speakers. These don’t request to link physically pinch nan soundbar itself, but they’ll request a powerfulness source, truthful you’ll person to position them adjacent wall outlets (or get creative).

But here’s wherever it tin get a small tricky: A soundbar tin declare to beryllium 2.1, 3.1. aliases moreover 5.1  — moreover if it doesn’t travel pinch a subwoofer. As agelong arsenic nan soundbar has dedicated low-frequency drivers (like nan Beosound Stage), it tin still declare “.1” status.

If there’s a 3rd number — i.e., 5.1.4 — that intends nan soundbar supports Dolby Atmos situation sound and/or DTS:X. The last number refers to nan number of dedicated drivers that occurrence upwards astatine nan ceiling, bouncing sound down to create an enveloping effect. Early Dolby Atmos models were reasonably effective astatine simulating dedicated height-channel speakers, but the newest Atmos soundbars are incredible. Atmos is nan astir celebrated surround sound technology, tin of processing 128 chopped objects successful a fixed scene.

But wait, why do I spot immoderate soundbars claiming to connection Dolby Atmos sound, yet pinch arsenic fewer arsenic 2 channels? This is nan funny point astir Dolby Atmos. It tin beryllium reproduced utilizing dedicated drivers wrong a azygous speaker (e.g., Sonos Arc), aliases it tin beryllium reproduced utilizing abstracted speakers (e.g., Vizio M-Series Elevate), aliases it tin beryllium reproduced “virtually” utilizing arsenic fewer arsenic 2 channels successful a azygous speaker.

Naturally, there’s a wide scope of value successful these situations. We’d reason that if you’re a Dolby Atmos fanatic, there’s simply nary substitute for dedicated speakers placed correctly astir your room. However, it’s singular conscionable really bully virtualized Atmos tin be.

Whole-home audio and Bluetooth

Soundbars are progressively being utilized for listening to euphony arsenic overmuch arsenic for listening to your TV. This is particularly existent successful smaller houses aliases condos. Most caller soundbars support Bluetooth connectivity and streaming from your smartphone, tablet, aliases computer, making it super-simple to perceive your Spotify or different euphony connected a bigger speaker. However, much blase options exist.

Sonos, Bluesound, Bose, Yamaha, and galore others connection soundbars that tin beryllium linked to whole-home wireless euphony systems complete Wi-Fi. If you deliberation you whitethorn want to grow into a larger wireless euphony strategy successful nan early (or if you already ain different Wi-Fi audio components from these brands), it makes consciousness to see 1 of these models earlier you buy.

Smart soundbars

Amazon Fire TV Soundbar correct broadside view.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Soundbars are nary longer each astir sound. The latest models from Amazon and Roku now see smart software, specified arsenic Roku OS, and moreover sound assistants for illustration Google Assistant and Alexa. These are a bully action for those who want to springiness their aging TVs nan latest successful streaming services and location automation, without complicating their setup pinch further streaming devices and cables. These smart soundbars are very convenient but don’t forget: your main ngo should beryllium to get yourself amended sound. It’s not worthy buying a smart soundbar that doesn’t meet your expectations for sound quality.

IR sensors and placement

Amazon Fire TV Soundbar successful beforehand of TV.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Assuming you want to power your TV (you do), you’ll request to beryllium observant pinch wherever you spot a soundbar. Typically, soundbars beryllium straight beneath your TV — moreover mounted connected nan wall, if that’s wherever nan TV is. But if you’re utilizing an intermezo stand, you don’t want nan soundbar sitting connected it blocking your TV’s infrared (IR) sensor, which is wherever nan distant power sends its signal.

Some soundbars travel pinch IR repeaters; these walk nan awesome done nan soundbar itself to nan TV’s sensor. If yours has one, awesome — conscionable make judge nan soundbar isn’t obscuring nan screen. Generally speaking, you want a soundbar that’s astir nan aforesaid width arsenic your TV; soundbar proportions are mostly an artistic factor, though, and shouldn’t beryllium a deal-breaker.

When talking astir placement, it is besides important to statement if you want a soundbar pinch a front-panel display. While this is simply a bully feature, it isn’t needfully a must-have. Not galore soundbars person a existent beforehand display, truthful you don’t get overmuch successful nan measurement of ocular feedback erstwhile you are turning up nan volume.

Dialogue clarity

Polk Signa S4 Dolby Atmos 3.1.2 soundbar.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

One of nan astir communal issues group person pinch nan built-in speakers connected TVs is nan deficiency of crisp, clear dialogue. The usage of complex, multichannel situation sound is making quality reside progressively much difficult to hear. Unfortunately, immoderate soundbars make this worse, not better.

There’s been an expanding inclination lately toward smaller soundbars and soundbar-format speakers that attraction connected making reside much intelligible, specified arsenic nan Polk Signa S4. Even speakers without nan Signa S4’s aggregate speech-enhancement modes, for illustration nan Sonos Beam aliases nan Roku Streambar, tin thief make speech clearer simply by directing much higher-frequency sounds straight toward your viewing spot.

If you request improved speech clarity for everyone successful nan room, these TV speakers tin do nan trick. But if you’re looking for much personalization, you’ll want soundbars for illustration nan Bose soundbar 300, 500, and 700 speakers that let relationship to a group of Bluetooth headphones. Whether you usage nan headphones successful tandem pinch nan speaker aliases connected their own, it’s incredibly effective.

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