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Building a better sound bar: TV manufacturers take on speaker builders

Christopher Null | Feb. 18, 2015
You've heard folks crow to the heavens about the awesome contrast and incredible response time of their new HDTV. When was the last time you heard a compliment about a television's audio quality?

You've heard folks crow to the heavens about the awesome contrast and incredible response time of their new HDTV. When was the last time you heard a compliment about a television's audio quality?

It's no secret that television research today is heavily focused on picture quality and screen size, with audio being left by the wayside. With screens today measuring just a few millimeters thick, it's arguable that built-in speakers are getting worse, not better. There's just no room for quality speakers in a modern flat panel television.

Solutions are available, thankfully. The best way to get high-fidelity audio in your living room is to install a receiver and a 5.1 (or higher) surround-sound speaker configuration. But that's expensive, complicated, and involves a complex tangle of wiring that will mar the aesthetic you've carefully nurtured.

Option number two, increasingly popular in recent years, has been to add a sound bar to the mix. By typically connecting a single wire to your entertainment system, you'll dramatically upgrade your home theater's audio quality. No, it's not as good as a phalanx of speakers, but it's a huge improvement over the TV by itself. And it's far less expensive than an AV receiver, too.

While brand decisions are always at top of mind for any electronics buyers, what consumers often don't consider during this buying decision is the bigger picture. That is: Should you simply buy a sound bar made by the same company that made your TV? Or should you step out and buy a more audio-centric system made by a company that focuses on high-end speakers?

Making the call

Both options have compelling reasoning behind them. First, let's look at the logic behind sticking with your TV manufacturer's brand. Naturally there's the question of aesthetics. A sound bar made by the same company that built your TV will naturally fit in more closely with that TV's overall design. If having a similar look and feel to the gear in your entertainment system is important to you, this isn't a trivial issue.

Control is another big question to consider. When multiple components from the same electronics brand are installed, they have a much better chance of working together more seamlessly. If having a single remote to control everything in your entertainment console is important — or if you simply value simplicity — it can make sense to keep everything in the family.

On the other side of the equation is quality. It's logical that audio companies make better audio products, right? If you're investing money in audio gear, it makes sense that you'll want to get the best bang for your buck.

But is that really the case? Does siding with a specialty company really mean you'll get higher quality audio for your investment? We put six brands — three from TV-centric organizations and three from audio-only companies — to the test to find out.

 

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