soundbar resting on TV stand

Your guide to finding a soundbar for your TV

Published 23rd January 2023
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Your television might give you excellent picture quality, with beautiful definition and deep contrast ratio, but all that visual wizardry can be easily spoiled by horrible sound quality. Unfortunately, the light, thin designs of modern flat screen TVs means that their speakers are often weak and tinny.

But we have the perfect solution for you: Soundbars! These small but powerful speakers will bring amazing sound quality and immersion to your home, and this guide will help you find the right one! We’ll cover the different types of soundbar, audio quality, and connectivity options so you can pick the best soundbar for your needs.

Types of soundbar

A soundbar is a type of speaker system that is designed to enhance the audio quality of your TV. It's a long and narrow device that can be placed in front of or beneath your TV, or even mounted on a wall. It typically includes multiple speakers and an amplifier in a single body. These high quality speakers can produce a wider range of sound and a more immersive listening experience than your TV's built-in speakers can.

One of the main advantages of a soundbar is that it takes up less space than a traditional home theatre system, which can be bulky and difficult to fit into a small living room or apartment.

Types of soundbar

There are three main types of soundbars: passive, active, and surround sound. Let’s take a look at each one in more detail.

Active soundbars

Active soundbars, also known as powered soundbars, are the all-in-one solution for your audio needs. They come with built-in amplifiers, which means they have their own power source and can drive the speakers without the need for an external amplifier. They also have their own processing and tuning capabilities built-in, which means they can adjust the sound to suit your preferences and the environment.

The advantage of buying an active soundbar is that they're very easy to set up and use, and since everything you need for great sound is in the box, there aren't any hidden costs to worry about. However, active soundbars don't sound as good as passive soundbars in the same price range. They are also harder to maintain: If something goes wrong, you might have to replace the soundbar entirely.

Passive soundbars

Passive soundbars are the traditional way of doing things, and they require an external amplifier to power the speakers, like a pair of traditional bookshelf speakers. The biggest advantage of passive soundbars is that they have a richer, more detailed sound than active soundbars.

Generally, it's more simple to add extra speakers to a passive soundbar setup than an active one, because they can all run from the same amplifier. Also, passive speakers are often easier to repair than active models because many brands let you open the casings with a screwdriver to repair or replace individual components. But it's important to note that they require more technical knowledge and additional equipment to set up and use.

Surround sound soundbars

If you want maximum immersion for your favourite TV shows, some sort of surround sound system is the way to go. They create a 360° listening experience, so sound effects, dialogue and even score sounds like it's coming from the direction that's represented on the screen.

Traditionally, you needed 5 or more speakers positioned around your room to create a surround sound, but with surround sound soundbars it's much more simple. They bounce audio off walls and other surfaces in the room to create the surround effect.

So what's the downside? The first is that soundbars with this surround sound are more expensive than those without it. The other is that the 360° effect isn't quite as good without the extra speakers. More advanced models might have small, wireless speakers running off rechargeable batteries to improve the surround sound effect.

How to find soundbars with great audio quality

No matter what type of soundbar you choose, audio quality should be at the top of your list when shopping around - after all, what's the point in buying a system if it doesn't deliver on its promise?

When you're trying to find out if the soundbar will sound good, look out for a couple of key features. One of these is 'listening angles', which is how far away from the speaker you can move before the audio quality is affected.

Think of it like a cone of sound, with the speaker at the tip and the clear sound radiating outwards. The wider the cone, the wider the listening angle, and the more people in the room can hear the sound without having to be right in front of the speaker.

You should also be on the lookout for THX certification. THX is the American company that makes the massive, high-end speakers used by cinemas for their audio. Soundbars with THX certification have passed a series of tests from the company's engineers, including making sure that your speaker's audio is the same whether it's sat on a table or mounted on a wall.

If you want to buy a surround sound soundbar, make sure you check what type of surround sound system it uses. The two leaders are Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. They're both excellent systems, but they have slightly different priorities. DTS:X has higher bitrate audio codecs (a fancy way of saying their audio is slightly more detailed) and you can control different types of sound manually. So, for example you can turn up the volume of your film's dialogue while leaving the score and sound effects at a lower level.

Dolby Atmos soundbars have a speaker built along the top of the bar that projects sound upwards towards the ceiling. This bounces back down towards you, making it seem like certain sounds are coming from directly above you - it's shockingly impressive for flyovers from planes and superheroes.

Soundbar brands

Another brilliant way to guarantee your soundbar will sound great is to buy from a reputable brand. Here are a few of the most popular audio and tech brands making soundbars:

How to make sure your soundbar is compatible with your TV

It would be pretty disastrous to open up your brand new soundbar only to find out it won't work with your TV. Here are a few tips to make sure that a soundbar you're looking at is compatible with your television.

First you want to check for audio outputs. Most TVs and soundbars have digital coaxial cable connectors, but they don't support DTS:X or Dolby Atmos. Another option is HDMI, which provides the best quality connection and supports both DTS:X and Dolby Atmos, but you need to make sure your TV has a 'HDMI-ARC (Audio Return Channel)' port, otherwise it won't send any audio out to the soundbar.

Another way to connect a soundbar to your TV is wirelessly via Wi-Fi. You can do this if you have a smart TV with a Wi-Fi aerial and the ability to transmit audio wirelessly to speakers.

Something else to look out for is whether the TV supports DTS:X or Dolby Atmos. We've already mentioned that certain cable connections won't let you use advanced surround sound, but some TVs don't support these standards at all. You'll still be able to listen to audio in stereo, but you might want to avoid surround sound sound bars in that case.

So there we have it - our ultimate guide to buying a new soundbar! Follow our advice and you'll be able to find the perfect model for your home cinema set-up. If you'd like more information about how to find the perfect TV to accompany your new soundbar, then be sure to read our TV buying guide. We also have a buyer's guide to projectors if you dream of re-creating the silver screen in your home.

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