You’ve brought your fancy new 4K ultra-HD TV home and hooked it up to your console or media hub. It looks incredible — but does it sound any good? Chances are, you’ll need a soundbar.
Soundbars have been around for a while now, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’d only just arrived on the consumer tech scene, what with them appearing in so many Black Friday deals and suddenly being available to buy even from bigger supermarkets like Walmart and Tesco.
But why have people suddenly started buying separate speakers for their TVs, and what’s the difference between the myriad models on offer? Let’s find out!
Skip to: Geeknaut’s Soundbar Recommendations
What are soundbars?
Soundbars are essentially just compact speaker arrays that are designed to sit beneath your TV screen. They plug directly into a TV (or stereo unit, if you’re so inclined), enabling the user to pipe an audio signal through it rather than the TV’s integrated speakers. Many come with subwoofer units that can be positioned alongside the soundbar itself or tucked away out of sight. You can also buy pedestal-style soundbars, known as soundbases, that your TV sits on top of, though these are less ubiquitous these days due to the recent trend of mounting screens rather than putting them on stands.
Why do I need one?
The short answer is that, with manufacturers and consumers demanding thinner and thinner displays, there is little room left inside these smart, 4K wünderboxes for decent speakers. The quality of a TV set’s sound will of course vary depending on price, model and make, but it’s fair to say that the majority of today’s super-slender TV sets sound noticeably worse than the TVs of yesteryear. A common complaint about ultra-thin TVs is that, as well as generally lacking bass, dialogue is hard to hear — even after adjusting the TV’s sound settings, speech is still drowned out by music or sound effects. To combat (or perhaps cash in on) this, an increasing number of manufacturers have released plug-in soundbars to accompany high-end displays and give their audio a much-needed kick.
To Woof or Not to Woof
You’ll notice that a lot of soundbars, like the one shown at the top of this page, come with subwoofer units. Dedicated to pumping out low-pitched audio frequencies, these supplemental boxes are the things that provide all the bass in your audio soundtrack (think of the heavy thumps and ominous rumbles you feel in the pit of your stomach at the movie theatre). Whether you should choose a subwoofer-equipped unit or opt for a woofless model will depend entirely on what you want from your soundbar. If you’re hoping to achieve something akin to a home cinema setup, then you’ll definitely want the extra subwoofer blasting out bass. If you’d rather keep the number of boxes beneath your TV to a minimum, or simply want to be able to hear the dialogue on your favourite shows without having to crank the volume up to max, then (provided that you don’t opt for the absolute cheapest model on the market) there’s no reason not to go for a soundbar on its own.
Geeknaut’s Soundbar Recommendations
Those looking for a level of sound quality to match the clarity of their displays have plenty of soundbars to choose from. It’s best to visit a store and ask to try out some of the units on offer before putting your money down, but for a rough idea of the features you should be on the lookout for and how much you should spend, check out our recommendations for budget, mid-range, and premium soundbars.
- Budget: VIZIO SB2920-C6 29-Inch 2.0 Channel Sound Bar (2015 Model)
It lacks a subwoofer, but the VIZIO SB2920-C6 is a stylish model that can be positioned either below your TV or mounted to a wall. It comes with its own mini remote and is also fully Bluetooth-integrated, so you can stream music wirelessly from your mobile devices even with the TV off. It’s not going to give you anything like a home cinema experience, but this soundbar will blow your TV’s speakers out of the water in terms of volume and clarity, and for the asking price (you can pick this up for around $78/£95), you can’t really go wrong.
- Mid-range: Samsung HW-K650 3.1 Channel 340 Watt Wireless Audio Soundbar (2016 Model)
This soundbar from Samsung is a superb all-rounder. Housing six difference speakers and with a powerful wireless subwoofer unit (it looks big in pictures, but in the flesh it’s quite slim), the HW-K650 puts on a terrific performance. It’s sleek, has a stylish, minimal display, and, thanks to a dedicated central speaker, dialogue is as clear as a bell. It’s also expandable, should you decide at a later date to add a couple of rear speakers and transform your TV room into a cinema haven.
- High-end: Bose SoundTouch 300 Wireless Wi-Fi Bluetooth NFC Sound Bar
The final soundbar recommendation is the Bose SoundTouch 300. Featuring a sleek, tempered glass top and cool metallic grille, this premium unit is designed to accompany larger screens (think 50-inches and up), and is an ideal solution for those trying to capture that home cinema feeling. Coming from audio experts Bose, it’s capable of producing some seriously big sound, with very little distortion even at the highest volume setting. You can buy the SoundTouch 300 minus the “virtually invisible” wireless rear speakers shown here, and you’ll still get fabulous sound, but if you’re chasing that home theatre experience you’ll want to drop the extra few hundred and get the whole set.
Have a soundbar recommendation of your own? Share it with your fellow tech-lovers in the comments section below!