Our surprising conclusion
We began this comparison with a simple question: Can TV manufacturers compete with audio companies when it comes to building sound bars? The answer is a resounding yes — at least in the $500 price range. Not only did all of the TV manufacturers turn out well-crafted sound bars, we generally got more for our money from them — more power, more input choices, and better quality audio. The conventional wisdom that TV makers just don't know how to build an audio gear seems to be little more than a myth.
Why is this? Part of the reason is that audio companies tend to have a broader range of products, with sub-$500 gear typically hitting the low end of their offerings. Some of the audio companies we contacted didn't even market a product in this price range. It just wasn't worth their trouble to try to compete where the profit margins aren't nice and thick.
For a company like Yamaha, the YAS-203 is its cheapest sound bar product with a subwoofer. Its top-end sound bar, the YSP-4300, runs a whopping $1900. On the other hand, Sharp's $400 HT-SB602 — our top pick — is second from the top of its product line. While we can't make a definitive ruling that all TV manufacturer sound bars are better buys than all audio company sound bars, at this price level, there really seems to be no contest.
As always, sound is a subjective thing, and every listening environment is different. Whenever possible, test out products firsthand, with the type of source material (movies, music, games) that you listen to the most, and take advantage of often generous return and exchange policies if an audio product fails to meet your needs.
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