sound bar buying guide

If you’ve ever thought your TV isn’t loud enough or you want to experience movies and sports like you would in the theatre or stadium, a sound bar is the fastest and easiest way to upgrade your TV’s audio. You can set up a sound bar in less than 10 minutes, they don’t take up a lot of space, and they amplify the audio from your TV so you’ll feel as though you’ve just set up your own home theatre.

There are a lot of options in the world of sound bars, so here’s a look at how to choose the best sound bar for you.

Sound Bar Buying Guide Quick Reference Handout

Table of contents

    1. What is a sound bar?
    2. Why add a sound bar to your TV
    3. Questions to ask before choosing a sound bar
    4. Technology and features on sound bars

What is a sound bar?

what is a sound bar?

A sound bar is a thin, long all-in-one speaker system that plugs into power and connects via an HDMI, optical out cable, or USB. They are designed to be compact, and they sit under your TV on your entertainment stand or can be mounted on a bracket directly under a TV that’s mounted on the wall.

Reasons to add a sound bar to your TV

People add sound bars to their TV because they are easy to install and will instantly improve audio quality for movies, sports, TV programs, gaming, and more. If you’d like to read about the difference between home theatre speaker setups and sound bars, take a look at this buying guide.

1. TVs are thinner and have smaller speakers

As TVs have become thinner the size of TV speakers has become smaller. With thin-panel TVs, speakers are placed under the TV or on the back of the panel. That placement doesn’t always produce loud audio.

Even if your TV uses digital audio enhancements to boost sound, it can’t produce the same cinematic sound quality that replicates a movie theatre experience. With a sound bar to amplify your TV’s audio, you’ll enjoy enhanced dialogue, clear, loud audio, and in some cases, surround sound effects. They can also level sound so you don’t have to turn up the volume to hear people speaking and then turn it down when a loud action sequence begins.

2. Sound bars create an instant home theatre

Sound bars are known for how easy they are to install. To install most sound bars it only takes one cable plugged into the HDMI port or optical out and one cable plugged into power. They pair easily with most TVs and can pair with your TV’s remote control so you can control your TV and your sound bar together.

Questions to ask before choosing a sound bar

There are quite a few different kinds of sound bars. You can narrow down your selection by asking yourself these questions.

1. How many channels would you like your sound bar to have?

9 channel sound barSound bars contain two, three, or more speakers within the speaker cabinet. These speakers are called channels, and the channels inside of a sound bar produce treble, bass, and height.

Some sound bars are also packaged with a subwoofer or extra wired or wireless speakers. The subwoofer will be noted by the addition of the number 1 after the number indicating how many channels the sound bar has. Any additional speakers included will be indicated by a third number.

For example, a 7.1.4 channel sound bar has 7 speakers in the sound bar, 1 external subwoofer, and 4 extra speakers you can place near your TV.

Types of sound bar channels

There are a few main types of sound bar. Keep in mind that you’ll need a minimum of a 3 channel soundbar to produce surround sound. A 3 channel sound bar has a left, centre, and right speaker, with the centre speaker handling dialogue and the left and right speakers amplifying audio and creating an atmosphere of surround sound.

  • 2 channel sound bar – This type of sound bar has one left and one right speaker
  • 3 channel sound bar – A sound bar with a left speaker, centre speaker, and right speaker
  • 3.1 channel sound bar – A sound bar with a left speaker, centre speaker, and right speaker plus one subwoofer
  • 5.1 sound bar – A 5.1 channel sound bar has five speakers in the speaker cabinet and one subwoofer. The speakers include centre, right, left, and two rear speakers
  • 7.1 sound bar – Has 7 speakers in the speaker cabinet and a single subwoofer. The speakers are centre, right, and left, and the rear speakers are split into 4 channels
  • 9.1 channel sound bar – Has 9 speakers in the cabinet and one subwoofer

You’ll want to keep in mind that 5, 7, and 9 channel sound bars may be wider and longer than 2 or 3 channel sound bar, so a sound bar with more channels may have a longer cabinet that takes up more space under your TV.

2. Do you want extra speakers to connect to your sound bar?

If you want a sound bar that functions like home theatre speakers would, you can choose a sound bar with extra speakers that connect via a wire or wirelessly to the sound bar and subwoofer.

For example, a 5.1.2 channel sound bar has 5 speakers in the speaker cabinet, 1 subwoofer, and 2 height speakers you can place away from your TV. This type of sound bar is a great choice for rooms that are larger or if you’d like to have extra speakers to amplify sound in the room.

3. Do you want a passive vs active sound bar?

One of the choices when selecting a sound bar is whether you’d like a passive soundbar or an active sound bar. A passive sound bar does not have a built-in amplifier, and if you choose a passive model you’ll need to own a receiver or purchase a receiver or amplifier to use it.

An active sound bar has a built-in amplifier, so it’s a stand-alone speaker system that doesn’t require any other components to work. If you plan on using your sound bar as part of a home theatre speaker system with an outside amplifier or receiver, you may want to choose a passive sound bar. If you just want your sound bar to work out of the box without extra speakers or devices, an active sound bar may be for you.

4. Where will you place your sound bar?

what is a sound bar?

There are two main sound bar styles – bar sound bars and pedestal sound bars.

  • A bar sound bar is the most common style. It’s long, thin, and sits directly under your TV or can be mounted on the wall below a wall-mounted TV
  • A pedestal-style sound bar is a pedestal your TV sits directly on top of. It’s usually square in shape

Both types can have similar sound quality, so you may choose one or the other based on what style you prefer.

Technology and features you’ll find on sound bars

Sound bars have a lot of unique features and technology. Here are a few features you’ll want to look for when choosing the best sound bar for your TV.

sound bar virtual surround sound

1. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound bars

Some sound bars have support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are both types of object-based surround sound technology. The main difference between the two is that Dolby Atmos requires a sound bar to use height channels while DTS:X does not.

When you watch Dolby Atmos content and DTS:X content on a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X powered sound bar you’ll experience the best in 3D audio. Sound will track across the sound bar, so if someone is running from gunfire or there is a helicopter flying overhead, you’ll hear the sound move along the length of the sound bar.

2. Virtual surround sound technology

A sound bar with virtual surround sound, also known as beam technology, can make you feel as though you are surrounded by audio. A sound bar with this technology and Dolby Atmos support will push audio outward and away from the TV, amplifying it so it feels as though it’s beside you and above you. A sound bar like this creates a surround sound experience without the need for extra speakers.

3. Room tuning technology

A sound bar with room tuning technology can calibrate your audio specifically for the room it’s placed in. This type of sound bar will walk you through a setup process to determine the acoustics in your room. Some types will use an app to calibrate the sound bar, while others will use a tuning device that’s included with your purchase.

4. Sound bar modes

Some sound bars offer different sound modes. These sound modes will have names like ‘surround sound,’ ‘adaptive,’ ‘sports’ or ‘game mode.’  For example, you can choose adaptive sound if you’d like your sound to be the same decibel level overall. When in adaptive mode your sound bar will adjust audio levels so dialogue and sound effects all sound like they are at the same volume level. Game mode is used to enhance audio when playing on gaming consoles, and surround sound will virtually project audio throughout your room to mimic the output of multiple speakers.

5. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on sound bars

Many models of sound bar have integrated Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or Google Cast connections so you can stream audio from your phone or tablet. This type of sound bar will connect to a compatible app you can use to control the sound bar, adjust your settings, or stream music from apps like Spotify or Apple Music.

6. Night sound

Some sound bars offer a mode called Night sound. This mode will let you keep your volume low but enhances dialogue so you can hear clearly without waking anyone up due to loud sound effects or loud dialogue.

7. Remote control

Most types of sound bar include a remote control. Some also let you pair your sound bar with your TV’s remote control or will pair easily with a universal remote. You can add your sound bar to your TV and volume, channel, and streaming control will be from one central remote. Some types of sound bar also offer an app so you can control your audio from your phone or tablet.

8. Voice control

Some sound bars are compatible with your favourite voice assistant. You can connect it to Google Assistant or Alexa and control it with voice commands. Other types of sound bars have a virtual assistant built-in, so you can use voice commands and your sound bar will respond.

Which sound bar is best for your home?

As you can see, there are a lot of choices when picking a sound bar for your TV. Whether you choose a 3.1 channel sound bar or a 9.1.5 channel sound bar with extra speakers, you’ll love how your new system upgrades the audio of your TV.


Take the next step

virtual surround sound on sound barTake the next step to finding the best sound bar for you by shopping at Best Buy.

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