Remember in the 90s and early 2000s when everyone started getting a home theatre system? Big screens, sometimes even a projector, and lots and lots of surround sound speakers — in the ceiling, in the walls, perched on stands in the corner of the lounge room – you name it and we did it.
But in the ensuing years, you may have noticed a ‘less is more’ approach when it comes to getting the best sound out of your TV. And one of the key players to have entered the market is the soundbar — that long, rectangular speaker sitting in front of many flat screen TVs. But what do they do? And why would you bother getting one? The answers are all below…
What is the point of a soundbar and why do you need one for your TV?
A soundbar isn’t just a speaker, it’s actually a box that holds several speakers (the number will depend on the size and brand of the soundbar) that has been designed specifically to work with a TV. A soundbar acts as an enhanced version of your TV sound, coming from the same direction as the picture. They’re designed specifically to deliver high quality sound for home viewing purposes.
As TVs have evolved from being big, heavy boxes into sleek, compact devices, the space for speakers within the TVs themselves have, of course, diminished. So even though television technology has progressed a lot over the years, in some ways, the in-built speakers haven’t matched the pace.
It’s just not possible for these small speakers to deliver the depth, realism and sound quality, including bass, of a bigger speaker. Don’t be mistaken, they will do the job in the sense that you’ll be able to hear whatever TV show you’re watching, but if you’re looking for an easy and better-quality listening experience, additional help may be required.
Does a soundbar improve a TV’s sound?
This is a common question and has a very simple answer — yes. If you want to understand the technicalities of how and why, read on to find out more!
Will a soundbar be sufficient for a small home theatre setup?
Okay, so here’s where we get to the how and why. As we previously mentioned, a soundbar is made up of several speakers and all of those speakers have what is known as a channel. The channels are normally split by different layers of sound, eg; dialogue, music, ambient noise etc.
Each channel has its own frequency and can isolate and then direct these different frequencies through different speakers, giving the illusion of the sound coming from all around the room — clever right?
If you’ve ever had a surround sound system, this might be a familiar setup to you, except instead of needing a separate and individual speaker per channel, the soundbar has it all in one. In other words, a soundbar can literally replace your surround sound system!
However, if you do want to take it to that next level, some soundbars will come with an extra subwoofer speaker. If you have the space and want an even fuller sound, then this is a great way to enhance the sound further. Other soundbars will work as part of a Smart Home system such as Amazon Alexa, so if you already utilise one of these, it’s worth investigating how a soundbar can join your existing setup.
What are the best soundbars on the market? And what are the differences between them?
There are many popular and reputable brands of soundbars including the Sonos ray soundbar, Samsung soundbars or the Sony soundbar with Bluetooth — to name a few. The main difference between each make and model is quality and in this case, bigger IS actually generally better. The bigger the soundbar, the more channels/speakers it has, which in turn leads to better quality surround sound.
Most soundbars will have a number on it, which indicates how many channels it has. If it comes with a subwoofer, then it’ll have a second number on it and there may even be a third number, that indicates it has what is called ‘upward firing’ speakers, which simply means it contains speakers that will simulate the feeling of sound coming from above.
As an example: 5.1.3 would indicate your soundbar has five channels to enhance your TV’s normal sound, a subwoofer and then three upward firing channels.
If that’s too much detail for you to remember, the key thing is to look at that first number — the higher it is, the higher quality and more like traditional surround sound it will be.
Soundbars have completely revolutionised the way home theatre systems and TV sound works. With more and more people living in smaller apartments or wanting to declutter living spaces, minimising the number of speakers, without compromising on sound quality, makes total sense. After all, if we’ve managed to make TVs more compact, the last thing we want is to fill that space with extra speakers instead.