As we have been spending more time at home recently, many of us are looking to make the most of our home entertainment systems. One of the key components in making our viewing experiences more immersive and enjoyable is by adding a home audio system. A sound bar is one of the most convenient and affordable ways to do this.
What is a sound bar?
A sound bar is an all-in-one speaker system that provides premium quality audio without requiring the space or the expense of a traditional surround sound speaker system. It’s easier to set up because there are models that connect to your television via a single HDMI cable and others that connect wirelessly over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. These connections allow the TV program’s audio signal to be transmitted via the sound bar rather than the inferior speakers in the TV itself.
Depending on the sound bar and its connections, you will likely be able to wirelessly stream music from a mobile device (via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi) or connect a wired audio player. If you have extra equipment like a cable box, streaming device, game console, or DVD player, you’ll need to be aware of inputs and outputs.
Why do you need a sound bar?
Advancements in technology mean that our consumer electronics are becoming leaner and lighter. This of course comes with some compromises. Now that we have thinner TVs, the compromise is in the built-in speakers. A stunning 65 inch 4K screen that is easily mounted to a wall simply isn’t capable of providing audio that even comes close to complementing the visual of the screen. With the addition of a sound bar, you have dramatically upgraded your audio and will now be able to lose yourself in your favourite movies and TV shows.
How to install a sound bar
A sound bar is bar shaped. It is long, not very tall, and its small rectangular (or circular) footprint allows for multiple installation options. Depending on the model, you can often install attached to the bottom of the TV, to the wall directly under the TV, or even just by placing the sound bar on the stand under the TV.
The most important thing to remember is that sound is directional, so you need to have the sound bar centered on the TV. It should be sized appropriately so that it doesn’t extend past the edges of the screen.
The good news is that no matter the décor in your home’s media space, there is almost certainly a sound bar that will enhance your design setup as well as your audio quality. Whether you are watching content from a cable provider, 4K UHD disc, or one of the streaming platforms, the audio produced by a sound bar will create the feeling that the sound is occurring all around you.
Features to consider when looking for a sound bar
Sound bars are available as systems with 2 channel sound (Left & Right audio signals) all the way to 9.1.4 channel Dolby Atmos multi-dimensional surround sound. When shopping for a sound bar, speaker channels are a crucial feature to understand before purchasing.
Take a look at a 2.1 channel sound bar. The 2 refers to the speaker connections, while .1 references the inclusion of a separate bass subwoofer. A sound bar without a separate subwoofer can still list itself as a .1 system as long as the sound bar contains a low-frequency driver. So when looking at an x.1 sound bar, make sure whether you are getting a dedicated subwoofer or not.
How many speakers do I need?
While there are still 2.0 sound bars available, and they are much better than your TV’s speakers, if you want any semblance of an immersive sound experience you need at least 3 channels. 3 channels mean there is also a centre channel of audio whereas 5 channel sound includes rear speaker audio (wired or wireless).
7 channel sound adds 2 more speakers on the side and Atmos 9.1 channel sound adds two more front-height channels creating a true cinema experience. If there is a third number, for example 9.1.2, the 2 indicates there are 2 dedicated drivers that direct audio to the ceiling in order to bounce back down and create that immersive soundscape. To confuse this even more, a sound bar does not have to actually always have 5, 7, or 9 speakers in order to claim Atmos ability because technology can virtually simulate these effects. Some do an incredibly convincing job of it too. Ultimately, the size of your media space may be the deciding factor here.
Subwoofers are a separate speaker whose purpose is reproducing low frequency audio. When you are watching an action movie and an explosion rumbles and shakes the room, that is courtesy of the subwoofer. The inclusion of a subwoofer with your sound bar, and many connect wirelessly, adds heft to the audio and gives it a fuller feeling for both movies and music.
A sound bar for “whole home audio”
Newer sound bars also do more than just provide better audio for your television. Sound bars can now function as the centre of a “whole home audio” setup. This means that the sound bar also streams audio (music or podcasts for example) from your computer or mobile device. You may also be able to use voice control technologies like Google Home or Amazon Echo over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to operate your sound bar.
Wireless sound bars
There are several forms of wireless technology, but the ones that matter most when discussing sound bars are Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. With a wireless sound bar, both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can transfer the digital audio signal from the TV to the sound bar where it is sent to the speakers as sound.
When using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to connect, you first need to pair your device to your TV. Even if your TV doesn’t have Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, I would still consider getting it with my sound bar so that you have for the future.
Even though the sound bar is marketed and sold as “wireless”, it will almost certainly still allow you to connect to your television with wires should you so choose. Why would you choose wires over wireless? The biggest factor is reliability. Connecting with an HDMI cable is stable compared to wireless connections which can encounter interference or be interrupted by all of our other connected devices fighting for space in our environment.
You’ll need to keep in mind that with Bluetooth you have limited bandwidth and the audio must first be compressed. Wi-Fi is compressed as well, but not to the extent that Bluetooth is. As such, Wi-Fi currently allows for the best sound reproduction.
With each new iteration of Bluetooth technology, however, the bandwidth capacity grows so this may not be the case much longer. New versions of Bluetooth are also capable of traveling over a longer distance as well and ensuring a clear line of sight is no longer an issue.
Choosing the right sound bar for you
Now that you know how sound bars work and the different types, there are a few important things to remember when choosing a sound bar for your home.
You’ll want to map out the size of the room your sound bar will be in. That will help you determine how many speakers you need. You’ll want to decide how you’ll mount the sound bar and whether you want (or need) a subwoofer. You’ll also need to decide whether you’d like your sound bar to be wired or not, how many ports you require for your devices, and whether or not you’d like voice control.
With those questions generally answered you are well on the way to determining which sound bar will work best for you. You can shop online at bestbuy.ca or stop by your local Best Buy and check out all of the options that are available.