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How to pick the right sound bar to go with your flat-screen TV

Jon L. Jacobi | Dec. 22, 2014
So your brand-new TV sounds like crap. Don't feel bad, it wasn't your lack of shopping prowess; there's only so much TV manufacturers can do when it comes to projecting audio from the extremely thin form factors of today's flat-panel TVs. (Well, truth be told, they were never much concerned with sound even when those weren't limiting factors. But that's another story.)

So your brand-new TV sounds like crap. Don't feel bad, it wasn't your lack of shopping prowess; there's only so much TV manufacturers can do when it comes to projecting audio from the extremely thin form factors of today's flat-panel TVs. (Well, truth be told, they were never much concerned with sound even when those weren't limiting factors. But that's another story.)

Fortunately, it's easy to add phenomenal sound to your window-into-Hollywood. You don't even have to spend a year skimping and saving for a bona fide multi-channel surround-sound system (unless you want to. Hey, if you've got the cash to completely indulge your passion for cinema sound, we won't talk you out of it.)

But if you don't, or if you just don't want to bother with stringing wires all over the room and hanging lots of boxes on the wall, you should give a careful listen to a sound bar.

A sound bar is a speaker enclosure that's designed to sit in front of (or underneath) your TV. If your TV is a wall-hanger, many sound bars come with mounting kits so you can hang the speaker cabinet right below it. Virtually every audio company — and just about every TV manufacturer — offers one these days.

Despite the "sound bar" name, they actually come in in a variety of shapes, sizes, and types. Prices vary wildly from $100 to the thousands, as do the features they offer: faux surround, real surround, HDMI inputs, digital and analog audio inputs, USB ports, Bluetooth support, subwoofers, and more.

Choosing exactly the right one for your needs isn't a no brainer; but don't worry, we'll explain all the factors you should consider when you go shopping.

Measure, match, mate

Okay, this might seem obvious, but make sure you know how much room you have for your sound bar. This is super important if your TV is in an enclosure; otherwise, it's simply a matter of aesthetics. A sound bar that's narrower than your TV is one thing, but one that sticks out beyond the TV's bezel will look odd.

If you care more about looks than about sound, stick with a sound bar that's made by the same company that built your TV. Samsung's HW-H7500/ZA ($700) sound bar, for example, is designed specifically to match the flow of its curved TVs. This is a good solution if you want your audio solution to be heard and not seen; just bear in mind that TV builders don't always produce the best audio products.

Another option is to buy a pedestal-style sound bar, such as the Zvox Soundbase series (prices range from $180 to $700). These speakers sit on your furniture underneath your TV. Not only do you not need to worry about the height of the cabinet impinging on your view of the screen, the larger volume of air inside the speaker cabinet allows lower frequencies to resonate better.

 

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