Flat panel TV’s keep getting more incredible. Clearer pictures with Ultra HD 4K, and bigger screens that keep getting thinner and thinner. While the picture keeps getting better, the sound isn’t improving much because it is next to impossible to put decent speakers in a very thin panel. This is why sound bars have become extremely popular. They are very easy to set up, they look good, are non-obtrusive, and very cost effective. But are they really worth the investment? Like so many things – it depends!
Before I explain my qualifier: “it depends,” let me first describe all the attributes of a sound bar that make them worth considering.
Setting up a decent sound system used to mean connecting several speakers to an amp with a lot of ugly and cumbersome wires that you need to figure out how to best hide. Today, sound bars can connect by one short wire that is easy to hide behind the TV. The higher-end units are even totally wireless and simple to connect up using your home WiFi network. Also, adding a subwoofer to the sound bar (which I highly recommend) is also pretty painless., either using another simple short wire or a wireless connection. You don’t even have to get a real high end sound bar to find wireless subwoofers – consider the LG NB3730A Soundbar with Wireless Sub or the Polk Audio SurroundBar 4000IHT with Wireless Sub (pictured at right).
Setting up a new sound bar can be a 5 minute operation with little or no wires.
Another great feature of sound bars is how little space they require and in fact they can easily blend into your décor. Unlike typical sound systems with massive speakers, multiple components, and complicated remotes – sound bars are smaller and designed to be placed neatly under your TV so they look like they are part of the TV. Even though they are smaller, their speakers are a lot bigger than those in your flat panel, and can produce very good sound. Combined with carefully engineered electronics, and designs that aim various speakers in different directions the bar can even emulate a surround sound effect.
Sound bars will produce a much richer and more powerful sound than you will ever get out of your flat panel, which will greatly enhance your entertainment experience. Typically, the more you move up in price the better the sound, but I would recommend have a listen before you buy as sound quality is generally a very personal thing.
Many sound bars have wireless capabilities that will let you play music or radio stations on them when not watching TV. Bluetooth, Air Play, and WiFi are all options that you will find in various sound bars that don’t add a lot of cost but are very worthwhile for the additional versatility. Additional wireless features that many come with are downloadable apps that not only fully control the sound bar, but allow you to stream music from popular streaming services or Internet radio stations, so they now literally become a radio as well.
Sound bars are priced very reasonably, especially when compared to decent full sound systems, which could easily cost in the thousands. If you have spent a little coin on a fantastic big screen TV, the additional cost of greatly improving the sound experience can be relatively small. There are lots of options to choose from in every budget from very reputable brands, such as the Sony Sound Bar with Subwoofer (HTCT60) or the Yamaha Sound Bar with Subwoofer (YAS-101) – pictured at right.
The only reason I have this caveat on sound bars is that if you are looking for a true surround sound experience, a sound bar won’t do nearly as good as a 5.1 (or higher) surround sound system. Being able to feel and hear a helicopter or jet come flying through your family room can be an awesome experience so if you have the budget and the desire and can handle the challenge of setting it up—then go for it!
But if you want a simple to set up, clean looking, unobtrusive sound system that doesn’t take up much space, can give you wireless freedom, music streaming, all at a very reasonable price—a sound bar is a great solution that can be worth every penny.