Best Sound Bar for Theater Quality Sound
Sound bars are by far the easiest way to add volume and clarity to any TV or home theater system. Most TVs come with small downward or rear firing speakers that have especially poor bass response, and often unsatisfactory volume. This generally makes for terrible sound quality, and most don’t reach below 300 Hz or above 10,000; human hearing extends between 20-20,000 Hz, meaning that over half the spectrum is missing!
The output from built-in speakers is certainly usable, especially in smaller rooms, but let’s face it: everyone wants their TV to sound more like a movie theater. The good news is that it's possible to move closer to this ideal with a minimal investment. Around $100-200 will net you a unit that can drastically improve sound quality over built-in speakers, lowering bass response down past 100hz to put some good thump in your music and movies, and offering a much more spacious, realistic presentation that will leave you wondering how you ever got by with the bare minimum. Check out our list of the best sound bars in 2021.
Yamaha SR-C20A Compact Sound Bar
Sonos Playbar Sound Bar
Compare The Best Sound Bars Of 2021
The basic concept behind a sound bar is to provide a noticeable upgrade to your HDTV's sound without the hassle or inconvenience of setting up a receiver box and a cluster of satellite speakers. Yamaha's YAS-108 fits this description perfectly, packaging ample sound quality into a compact, user-friendly case designed to be easy on the eyes. The cloth-covered front face houses the woofers, tweeters, and built-in subwoofers, eliminating the need to install a separate box for full functionality. There's a small glossy panel for status and volume lights; these can be set to dim or turn off completely if you find them too distracting in a dark room. Yamaha states the YAS-108 includes a built-in gyroscope to support both flat-laying and wall-mounted installation options, and the YAS-108 sounds great either way.
Easily the best aspect of the YAS-108 is its sound quality - overall performance belies its small size and integrated subwoofers. Midrange and treble performance is strong without getting shrill, and the relatively small 3-inch ported subwoofers are capable of adding a decent amount of punch in a way built-in TV speakers simply can't. The YAS-108 offers multiple listening modes designed to accommodate various content: Stereo is designed to work best with audio tracks while Surround pairs better with multimedia content. 3D Surround is best suited for watching movies, and allows the YAS-108 to project frequencies throughout the room to create a more distinct movie theater-style sound stage. Further customization is available via the "Clear Voice" and "Bass Extension" functions; the former boosts higher frequencies to make spoken dialogue easier to understand, while the latter fills out lower frequencies to add more of an impact to action scenes. While it won't challenge a dedicated audio system, the YAS-108 performs admirably and will have most listeners second-guessing the expense and complexity of a multi-speaker system. If you're still not convinced, the YAS-108 offers a coaxial subwoofer output to use with any number of powered external subwoofers.
Aside from the mandatory digital optical audio input and 3.5mm audio jack, the Yamaha YAS-108 is one of the few budget-friendly sound bars to offer an HDMI input and output. Both HDMI CEC and ARC are supported and can simplify installation with HDTVs that support these features, and allow your TV's remote to control the sound bar directly. The cable cutout for the ports can get somewhat crowded if every single connector is utilized, but most users will find that the YAS-108 works best when the HDMI ports are prioritized in order to keep things simple. Bluetooth connectivity on the YAS-108 is capable of supporting two devices at the same time, and pairing is as simple as putting the unit in discoverable mode and linking to it from the desired device.
All things considered, it's astounding that the YAS-108 can typically be found for well under $200. At that price, it's practically a no-brainer and is an easy way to expand your home theater setup with very little commitment. Even if your future plans involve further expansion, the subwoofer output port found on the YAS-108 makes it extremely easy to boost bass levels without spending thousands on a dedicated setup. We recommend it without reservation; the Yamaha YAS-108 is just that good as an all-around package.
Note: The Yamaha YAS-108 is also sold as the Yamaha ATS-1080 at several warehouse/outlet stores.
Sonos has become a household name in recent years, especially in the premium-yet-accessible niche that the company has carefully carved out for itself. The Playbar relies on a simple concept: instill Sonos's trademark sound quality in a reasonably-sized package, and make sure it works with the Sonos ecosystem - other speakers, subwoofers, apps and all.
The Playbar fits in with Sonos's minimalist motif, and somehow manages to simultaneously disappear into your entertainment system while standing out with its rich appearance. The buttoned-down appearance comes via making several deliberate design choices (more on that later), leaving users to focus on other aspects instead. The main draw of any Sonos speaker product is its sound quality - after all, the company makes no secret that it employs award-winning sound engineers and acoustics experts to painstakingly dial in true-to-life audio playback. The Playbar certainly lives up to Sonos's claims; compared to other soundbars with a similar format, the Playbar manages to sound "fuller" and catches small details that lesser equipment simply muddles.
While any true one-piece soundbar is inherently limited by its physical configuration, the Playbar overcomes its own speaker placement through the combination of driver aiming and particularly effective sound processing. Between its various output modes, the Playbar works well for all types of sound from casual music playback to action sequences in movies. Speech Enhancement Mode can boost the volume of dialogue when it's needed, and Night Mode reins in frequencies that are likely to carry through walls and annoy neighbors or family members who would otherwise involuntarily participate in your concert or movie.
Aside from the sound quality, the Playbar is defined by its simplicity and ease of use. Whereas other sound bars offer HDMI connectivity and Bluetooth audio, the Playbar's rear panel contains just a single optical audio input, power supply connection, and, puzzlingly, a pair of 10/100 Mbps Ethernet ports. One of those Ethernet ports can be used to hard-wire the Playbar to your network, and the other can be used to turn the Playbar into a network extender or hub. Wireless connectivity is limited to WiFi; Sonos clearly shows no interest in utilizing what they describe as dropout-prone Bluetooth. Of course, the Playbar is fully compatible with Sonos's other speakers and subwoofers. It can connect via WiFi to other Sonos speakers for true left/right separation or surround sound, and the Sonos Sub can be added if you want to augment the Playbar's bass capabilities.
Sonos famously goes to great lengths to ensure minimalism, and the Playbar is no exception. In fact, the Playbar ships without a remote control. The idea is to mute your TV's internal speakers and connect it to the Playbar using the digital audio cable (TOSLINK). During setup, the Playbar will detect your TV remote's frequencies for volume up/down/mute commands. This eliminates the clutter from adding another remote control to your system, but there's a potentially annoying drawback: many TVs display an error message when adjusting volume after changing the output settings to an external device. The Sonos App provides suggestions for getting around the messages, but we've seen mixed feedback about whether they're effective or not. A built-in sensor detects how the Playbar is oriented; it'll sound the same whether you lay the Playbar flat in front of your TV or choose to mount it to the wall.
With the Sonos design and Sonos performance, it should come as no surprise that the Playbar demands a Sonos price tag. At this price, it's certainly possible to build a home theater system with separate speakers and a subwoofer, but that's missing the point. You'd still need to add an A/V receiver to drive those speakers, and then invest hours (or pay an expert) to perform a calibration. The Playbar offers no such hassle - simply connect it to your TV and program it with the remote commands, and it's ready to fill your room with premium sound pretty much out of the box. It's the execution of streamlined simplicity paired with superb quality and performance that earns it our nomination for Best Soundbar.
People often say everything comes at a price. Super slim and sleek televisions and laptops are the vogue of this era and the costly price for these are poor audio systems. It is not so hard to guess why; insufficient space for massive sound engines. An at once popular solution for this is huge full surround sound systems taking a lot of room space. Soundbars take little to no space and are a more affordable and better solution and alternative.
Sound bar fact: did you know sound bars were invented in 1998 by Altec Lancing?
What are Sound Bars?
A sound bar is a compacted loudspeaker designed with multiple speakers fitted into an enclosure. Sound bars are often about 40 inches or longer. For acoustic reasons, sound bars are designed slim and long. They are also designed like that so they can fit into users’ desired spaces.
Sound Bars or Sound Bases?
While people often use these interchangeably, few notable differences exist between them. Sound bases are designed to be placed directly under TVs, that is your TV sits directly on a sound base and sound bases often come with inbuilt subwoofers. Sound bars need external subwoofers and extra considerations is taken as regards their placements.
What Things Should I Consider Before Buying a Sound Bar?
Different sound bars come with different features. Before spending on a sound bar, there are features and factors to consider. It is necessary to ascertain what purpose it would be used for and also consider the amount you are willing to spend.
Without further ado, let us dive deep.
Length and Placement
Sound bars vary in size; especially in how long they are. Depending on where or what you would like to mount a sound bar on, you consider its length and, additionally, its weight too. While some people place their sound bars away from the television, some other people place it on the TV or fit it within the TV’s stands. If you would like any of the latter, make sure the length of the sound bar is few inches smaller than the screen of your television so it will fit.
A sound bar could be wired or wireless, several factors may influence the choice you make. The most important factor is making sure the sound bar you will get matches the output of the audio’s source. Then, for all-round utility, you could get one that has multiple inputs or connectivity modes.
Wired connectivity modes available for sound bars include: HDMI which uses either ARC or eARC audio return channels, eARC returns more highly defined audio; audio input cables, these include analog stereo RCA, coaxial or optical digital inputs, or minijack inputs. Sound bars that offer wireless connectivity support Bluetooth and WiFi connections.
Some can now stream directly from streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Spotify, Youtube and many other internet platforms.
How Many Sound Channels Are Appropriate for a Sound Bar?
This depends on your reason for wanting a sound bar. If you are just interested in upscaling the sound of your television, a minimal channel set of 2.1 is enough for you. 2.1 channel means two front channels (speakers) and an external subwoofer. But if you desire a highly defined and immersive sound, a sound bar comprising both front channels and rear channels plus a subwoofer is advised.
To complement and improve speaker systems, a new sound technology called Dolby Atmos was created. Dolby Atmos adds height and depth to sounds. Some recent models of sound bars have this technology. The Dolby Atmos effect is often accomplished in sounds bars by adding upfiring drivers in the main enclosure.
Smart Sound Bars or Basic Sound Bars?
Sound bars are primarily for audio outputs but some are designed with some smart technological features and offer some nuanced functions. Smart sound bars come with inbuilt voice control systems. The popular voice systems used include Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. Smart sound bars respond to several voice commands like controlling the TV, increasing or decreasing volume and changing input. Some could be connected with other smart home devices and be used to control them.
How Much do Sound Bars Cost?
Sound bars come in different sizes and types and also offer different features. Basic sound bars cost ranges between $100 - $200 while smart sound bars with specialized functions could cost more than $1000. Never forget to consider for what purpose you are buying so you do not overbuy.
What Brands Make the Best Sound Bars?
Generally, it is always advisable to get a sound bar made by a company that makes other sound systems. Going by common users’ choices, the brands common amongst users include: Sony, Samsung, LG, Bose, Yamaha, Sonos, Edifier, Polk Audio, Roku, Zvox, Insignia and Vizio.
Sound Bars FAQs
Q: What does a sound bar do?
A: Sound bars improve the audio outputs of your TVs, laptops or sound-producing devices by delivering high defined sounds.
Q: Where is it best to put my sound bar?
A: Really, placement isn’t a big issue with sound bars. You can place them anywhere, even out of sight, and you will still get the best. It is not necessary to place them under or over a TV.
Q: Is subwoofers necessary for Sound bars?
A: The Simple answer is no. Sound bars work with or without subwoofers. Subwoofers are added to enhance their outputs and there are some sound bars made with inbuilt subwoofers.
Q: Can a sound bar be used without a TV?
A: Yes, a sound bar could be used without a TV given that it has multiple inputs and it can connect to other audio producing devices. Also, sound bars designed to be able to use streaming platforms can be used without TVs.
Q: Are sound bars worth buying?
A: Sound bars produces immersive audio yet do not take any noticeable space and some offer specialized functionalities and features. Sound bars are definitely worth buying.