Sound bars have become the most popular way to improve your entertainment sound experience because they are reasonably inexpensive, simple to setup, and don’t take up much room. TV speakers are small and flat so they just can’t cut it, so a sound bar is a great way to get better sound. The good news is that there are a lot of bars to choose from, but how do you choose? Here are the factors that I think you should be considering in your purchase.

Bar or Pedestal

In addition to the more typical long and skinny sound “bar” you can also get a pedestal-style sound bar that is designed to have the TV literally sit right on top of it. To decide between the two styles, think about the space you have for your TV and what aesthetics you find more appealing.

If you have a wall mounted TV you might like the look of a “bar” design better because it can be wall mounted as well and sit neatly directly under your TV. What you will want to do is make sure the sound bar isn’t too short or too long for the TV. I would suggest getting one that is about 80-90% of the width of your TV.

If your TV sits on a stand on a cabinet or shelf, then both a “bar” or pedestal style can work well. The pedestal style, like the LG Sound Plate (pictured at right), is typically a bit slimmer and sleeker in design than conventional sound bars and will be less obvious that it is even there. Another difference with pedestals is that they don’t come paired with a subwoofer and because the thinner design can be a bit lacking in bass.  Sound bars are most often paired with a subwoofer so they can bring excellent bass.

Subwoofer

If you do opt for a traditional sound bar, then I would highly recommend one that is either paired with a subwoofer or at least one that can be added. The subwoofer sits on the floor so make sure you have the right space for it. In order to keep the setup really simple and clean then get a sound bar with a wireless subwoofer, so there aren’t messy wires to worry about.  The Polk Audio SurroundBar 4000IHT (pictured at left) is a good choice but there are several good ones to choose from.

Bluetooth

Not all sound bars come with built-in Bluetooth, but it is an excellent feature that is well worth it. It will allow you to wirelessly stream music from your Smartphone or tablet. This gives you more flexibility in using your sound bar when the TV is off and you want to play music. Most new sound bars in every price range have this feature so it shouldn’t be hard to find.

Remote Control

Most sound bars come with a remote control, but not all. If you have a universal remote like Logitech’s Ultimate One, not having a remote will be fine. If you don’t have a universal remote, then you may be relying on programming the TV remote to the sound bar, if that is possible. Doing that may still create some problems with the TV programming so I would tend to be on the safe side and make sure the sound bar comes with a remote.

Virtual Surround

Most sound bars market some sort of virtual surround mode, but the reality is that sound bars or pedestals can’t create that really immersive surround experience as if speakers were scattered throughout the room. You need to like the sound of your bar so make sure you listen to different ones, but don’t expect true “surround” sound. What I would look for are different sound modes with the sound bar – many come with 3 or more. Modes like cinema, music hall, and others will enhance the sound depending on the different types of movies or TV shows you might be watching. They are nice, but not necessary, features as the most important thing is to have a bar that you like the sound of.

Summary

Sound bars should be easy to shop for as they aren’t too complicated, but there are a number of factors to consider. The most important is making sure you like the sound quality so make sure you listen to a few, get the right aesthetic look for your space, and consider the features like Bluetooth, multiple sound modes, subwoofers, and remotes. There is a lot of selection out there so it should be easy to find something in your budget.  As with most things, you will typically get better sound as you spend a little bit more. They are a great way to really improve your entertainment experience!

I love to try new technologies and I have a practical approach to techie stuff - it has to be easy to use and make my life better. I have my house fully wired, with a surround sound system in my family room for music and TV viewing, but also drive music throughout the house as well as outdoors. I Internet stream content on all my devices at home, which provides a huge variety of entertainment to enjoy.