What Is A Soundbar ?
A soundbar is a slender long loudspeaker with multiple drivers lined up one next to the other. It is a single-unit sound system shaped like a bar. A typical soundbar consists of three types of drivers: tweeter, midrange and woofer. Each of these drivers processes a specific band of frequency. The tweeter handles high frequencies, the woofer low frequencies and the midrange the frequencies in between.
A soundbar is an audio enhancement. It upgrades the sound of TVs and computers. It makes the original audio richer, louder and fuller. Whether it’s a movie or a rock concert, a soundbar makes everything more realistic and fun.
Let us dive deeper to know – What is a Soundbar ? :
Why do you need a soundbar ?
Better sound :
Flat-screen TVs have amazing picture quality. But it comes at a cost – sound. TVs and PCs with wafer-thin screens often have weak low-capacity speakers. The thinness of the screen pushes manufacturers to look for alternatives to full-range drivers and amplifiers. They have to make do with diminutive speakers as these are easy to accommodate inside the slim frame. This creates a mismatch between the video and the audio quality, with the sound barely managing to do justice to the ultra high definition picture. The result – excellent video, poor audio.
To bridge this gap, brands have come up with the soundbar, a revolutionary product that offers big sound from a compact package. A soundbar is the best solution to your TV’s tinny sound. It takes over the feeble TV drivers and pumps out loud and intelligible audio with rich bass. Every word, every dialogue, every lyric of every song, is elevated to a whole new level of clarity. Musical instruments are more pronounced, special effects more impactful. The crack of a whip lash, the snap of a twig underfoot, the explosion of a bomb, the whoosh of air through an open window, everything just becomes more life-like and natural on a soundbar.
Wider soundstage :
The drivers in your TV not just lack in power, they are sometimes wrongly positioned. They project sound sideways or downwards, dispersing it here and there, wasting its potential. This throws the sweet spot off target and the viewer misses out on a lot of the action. A sweet spot is an area where the sound is at its best. It is located in front on the screen and the quality of the audio gradually deteriorates as you move away from it.
A soundbar solves the problem of the off-target sweet spot. The drivers inside the sound bar fire sound in such a manner and at such an angle that it creates a much larger sweet spot. The sound waves retain their efficacy and freshness over a wider area and every spot in the room feels like a sweet spot.
Let us know – Different Types Of Soundbar depending on their usage / Technicalities :
Active and passive sound bar :
Soundbars come in various makes and shapes. Some are active and some are passive. Active soundbars have built-in amplifiers while passive soundbars don’t. An amplifier is an audio equipment that increases the power of an audio signal so that it can move the cone(s) of the driver(s) in a speaker system. The resulting sound post amplification is much louder and more intense than the original audio of the head unit.
Most soundbars today come with pre-installed amplification. It makes the soundbar more comprehensive and you don’t need to add a separate amplifier. An active soundbar has a simple plug-and-play functionality. It needs fewer cables, and hence, makes for a neat set up. In gigs and pubs, an active speaker can directly be plugged into the mixing board. It serves as a compact and portable PA system.
A passive soundbar on the other hand needs to be connected to an outboard amplifier or receiver. It involves more wires, and hence, might feel a little messy. But the upside is it has ultra-crisp sound and you get more options for crossover settings.
Indoor and outdoor sound bar :
An indoor soundbar is designed for home, office and store use. It is not water-resistant and dust-proof. It needs an enclosed area to produce hard-hitting and distinct audio. In an open air setting, it might lose its effectiveness due to ambient noise. Most TV soundbars are indoor devices. They are not portable and need to be installed in a fixed position, preferably in front of the TV.
Outdoor soundbars are built to take on the rigors of nature. They are portable all-terrain and all-weather gadgets. They have tough water-resistant enclosures that keep the internal drivers safe. Marine soundbars additionally have UV protection and anti-corrosion coatings. Off-road soundbars have waterproof, shockproof and mudproof frames. Floating soundbars have advanced waterproofing ratings of IPX6, IPX7 and IPX8 to make them 100% water-tight.
Additional Accessories – Subwoofer :
What is a sound bar without bass ? The audio might be good, but it will be devoid of any oomph. Brands get this and are increasingly clubbing their soundbars with an external subwoofer. A subwoofer is a dedicated driver that processes low frequencies. It can be wired or wireless, and is available in various shapes and sizes. A sub makes low rumbling sounds like thunder and bomb explosions more impactful. Movies with a lot of special effects are a delight to watch with subwoofers. So if you love the whump-whump of bass, you should opt for a soundbar with a subwoofer.
An extra subwoofer however can take up a bit of space. If your apartment has space constraints, you might want to look for a smaller and slimmer sub with wireless connectivity. That way you can place it anywhere you want and still enjoy resounding bass. You can have the sub under your TV, on a shelf or stand it on the floor next to the soundbar.
Channels of a Soundbar :
Soundbars state their number of channels in the form of digits. You may have noticed that some are 2.1 channel, some are 3.1 channels, some 5.1, so on and so forth. These numbers tell you how many channels the soundbar has and whether or not it is accompanied by a separate subwoofer. The first numeral before the period indicates the number of channels while the digit after the period indicates the number of subs. If a soundbar has 2 channels it means it has 2 drivers for the left and right stereo sound. If it has 3 channels, it has 3 drivers – left, right and centre. If it has 5 channels it has the 3 drivers plus 2 additional rear drivers for surround sound.
Some top soundbar models may have 7.1 and 9.2 channels. It means they have extra satellite speakers (and subs). These may be wired or wireless. They may need direct power from a wall socket or run on rechargeable batteries.
If you notice a third digit like in ‘5.1.4 channel’ it means the soundbar is compatible with Dolby Atmos Surround Sound. The last number signifies the number of drivers pointing upwards to bounce sound waves off of the ceiling to create an immersive surround sound effect.
Dolby Atmos is at the very frontier of surround sound technology. It puts the viewer bang in the centre of all the action. Sound moves around them in three-dimensional space in sync with the events playing out on screen. If a horse gallops from the right side of the screen to the left, the sound also moves from right to left in tandem with the horse. If a helicopter hovers overhead, the sound of the whirring blades appears to be coming from above. Dolby Atmos brings the picture to life. It lends it a character unseen and unheard of before, marrying audio with video for the most surreal audio-visual experience.
Installation of a Soundbar :
Soundbars are designed for flexible mounting. They have vents at the back for mounting them on vertical surfaces like walls. They also have stands or feet for installing them on flat surfaces.
The ideal place for a soundbar is directly in front of the TV, just below the screen. It offers the best TV watching experience as the audio emanates from the same direction as the video. A soundbar should be placed in an open area without any barriers. It should have at least a meter of empty space on either side and ample breathing room on top. This vacant space helps the device disperse sound evenly across the room.
It is advisable not to place a soundbar inside a cabinet or on a cluttered shelf. It might muffle and stifle the sound. If your soundbar has Dolby Atmos, look for setting up instructions laid out in the manual. You might have to rearrange your room a little to get the most out of the upward-firing speakers of the bar.
If the TV is on a table, make sure there is enough space for you control the TV via remote from your sitting position on the couch. Some flat-screen TVs have shallow bases. There is very little space between the bottom of the screen and the tip of the stand/feet holding up the TV. If you place the soundbar on the same table as the TV, it might obscure the IR remote sensor of the TV. As a result, you might have to stand up and point the remote control at the sensor to get the remote to work. To avoid these complications, select a soundbar that is not very high and which will maintain the line of sight between the remote control and the TV sensor. Alternatively, you may elevate the TV by a few inches to maintain the path of the remote. Also, some soundbars have IR repeaters which relay the command to the TV’s sensors through the soundbar. So if you can get a soundbar that has an IR repeater, nothing like it.
If the soundbar has a sub, the latter can be stood on the floor next to it facing the viewers. If there are satellite speakers, they can be hoisted anywhere around the room as far as the wires allow. If the speakers have Bluetooth, you can place them anywhere within the wireless range. If the speakers and sub need a power source, you will have to place them near a wall socket or an extension point.
A soundbar has plenty of options for connecting with a TV via cable. Most soundbars have one or more digital connectors which include coaxial, optical and HDMI. Digital coaxial and digital optical are the most common types of connections. They transmit high-quality stereo signals with minimum interference. However, they are not built for surround sound. This is where HDMI steps in. It is the most advanced form of TV-soundbar connection. It can generate multi-channel HD surround sound, and handle more data and audio formats than optical and coaxial connections. For instance, an optical cable supports stereo, Dolby Digital and DTS formats, whereas an HDMI cable supports all the above plus DTS:X, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby Atmos.
HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) is the latest protocol among soundbars that have HDMI. It simplifies transmission of signals between the TV and the soundbar. Using a single HDMI ARC cable you can send video signals from a device to the TV and direct audio from the TV to the device. In other words, it facilitates a two-way traffic between the TV and the soundbar. For instance, you can connect a Blu-ray player to the soundbar using an HDMI ARC cable and transmit to the TV using the same cable. HDMI ARC lets you control your soundbar with the TV remote and you need fewer cables to connect the system. HDMI ARC also lets your TV’s onboard tuner send output directly to the soundbar. No extra wires are needed nor do you need to change the soundbar’s inputs.
Before you buy a soundbar, check which connections your TV supports. For you to be able to use HDMI, both your TV and soundbar will have to have the facility. If any one of them does not, you will have to make do with either a digital coaxial or digital optical connection. Most modern TVs have either one or both of these digital connection options. Some older TVs have analogue and RCA connectors. So make sure your soundbar is able to support these.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi :
In addition to wired connectivity, soundbars nowadays have wireless ability. They have Bluetooth for cable-free pairing with a wide range of media sources like TV, computer, smart phone, tablet and iPod. You can directly stream music on apps like Spotify and Pandora on your phone and enjoy them through the sound bar’s superior speakers. Some soundbars also have inbuilt Wi-Fi. It allows them to network with other speakers and be part of multi-speaker and/or multi-room sound systems.
Voice, app and remote control :
High-end soundbars are smart AI-friendly devices. They respond to Alexa and Google Home voice commands. It is a great way to get your soundbar to do what you want. You can turn it on, increase and decrease the volume, and have it play any song of your choice from the cloud, all from the comfort of your couch.
A lot of soundbars can also be controlled via app. It is a hassle-free way to remotely manage and monitor the functions of the device.
Most soundbars come with a remote control. If your TV and sound bar support HDMI ARC, you can control the volume of the bar with the TV remote. It makes things easier and you will be spared the hassle of working two remotes. But it has a flipside. While setting up the soundbar, you will be asked to disable the TV’s internal speakers so that you don’t get sound from the bar and the TV simultaneously. Now when you use the TV remote to change the volume of the soundbar, the soundbar will respond fine, but the TV screen will flash an error message saying it cannot carry out the command as the built-in speakers have been deactivated. While it is not a very big issue, it is still annoying to see the box pop up every time you use the remote to adjust the volume. And although not every TV has this discrepancy, a good many of them still do. So if you see this message when you deactivate the TV speakers, the only solution is to get a soundbar with an included remote.
Front-panel display of a Soundbar :
Nowadays soundbars increasingly carry a display screen on the front panel. It shows important information like input selection, volume and mode. Visual feedback from the soundbar simplifies usability. For instance, the volume bars on the display will tell you if you can increase the volume any further or if you are maxed out. Simple details like these make the gadget easier to use and control.
Size and shape of the Soundbar :
Soundbars come in various lengths. Some are just a foot wide while some go up to 5 feet. The size of your soundbar will depend on the size of your room and the size of your TV. Ideally, the bar should match the size of your TV screen. It should not be wider than the screen although it can be a few inches shorter.
Before you buy a soundbar, be sure to measure the length, breadth and height of the space you plan to install it in. There should be enough room for the bar and it must not feel cramped. The device should not obstruct the screen or stick out of the media console. It must also not block the IR remote sensor of the TV (although this can be sorted if the soundbar has an IR repeater).
Soundbars can be straight or curved. Bar-shaped straight soundbars complement flat-screen TVs while curved soundbars match curved-screen TVs. Some soundbars are shorter and more compact. These are meant for desktops and laptops. Some computer soundbars have flexible installation and come with mounts and clips for vertical and horizontal mounting.
Stereo Sound and Surround Sound :
All soundbars produce stereo sound. Stereo sound is the basic sound that reproduces the left and right channels of the TV programme. It is most suitable for watching TV and is the default sound setting in all soundbars. Some soundbars have 3 channels for left, right and centre sounds. They use Dolby Digital processing to step up the audio beyond stereo. The voices appear to be coming from the TV screen while the other sounds emanate from different directions according to the events on screen.
Soundbars that have 5.1 or 7.1 channels attempt to create a virtual surround sound experience. They try to mimic a multi-speaker home theatre system by creating an illusion of sound coming from different speakers. They use Dolby Atmos and rear satellite speakers to create a moving 3D sound space.
In all fairness, although they do manage to emulate surround sound to some extent, they fail to exactly replicate it. They come close, but not close enough. This is principally because all their drivers in a sound bar are housed inside a single cabinet and with such a set up it is not possible to produce true surround sound. Instead, what you get is just wider stereo. A soundbar merely stretches the coverage area of the sound. You get a more spacious and immersive audio, but it is still stereo.
Only a home cinema system with multiple satellite speakers can produce genuine surround sound. This is because they have the necessary hardware to engulf you with sound from all directions. A soundbar is just a single unit with an array of speakers fitted inside it. It might have a separate sub, maybe a pair of rear speakers too, but that’s about it. A single speaker bar with a sub and a couple of rear speakers is hardly enough to generate legit surround sound. For that, you need high-power speakers installed in different parts of the room for the sound to come at you from different directions.
Soundbar, Sound Base and Home Theatre System – A Brief Outline :
A soundbar is a compact sound device that enhances your TV’s audio. It is space-saving in nature and has a sleek unobtrusive design. It sits pertly in front of the TV and offers a clutter-free solution for your home entertainment. A soundbar offers high-quality stereo sound with clearly demarcated left and right channels. It may be accompanied by a subwoofer and stand-alone rear speakers.
Sound Base :
A sound base is a lot like a sound bar except it is larger, flatter and thicker than the latter. It serves as a pedestal for the TV and has a sturdy enclosure to support the weight of the TV. A sound base offers big sound from an all-in-one cabinet. It has more space for larger drivers and amplifiers. It also has room for an integrated subwoofer. If you do not want an outboard sub, you can go for a sound base. It offers the same sound as a soundbar without the extra sub. A sound base is more suitable for small-screen TVs. Its sound quality is similar to that of a soundbar. It produces stereo sound with highly articulate and pronounced vocals and instruments.
Before you invest in a sound base, measure the width of the TV’s stand, or if it has feet, measure the distance between the feet. It will give you a fair idea as to how wide, long and deep your sound base has to be to be able to support the TV properly.
Home theatre system :
A home cinema system is a collection of high-wattage speakers and subwoofers. They are arranged around a room in tactical spots to create an immersive multi-channel surround sound effect. A home theatre is a space-consuming contraption and you might have to rearrange your furniture to make room for it. It has an elaborate set-up process and is normally costlier than a soundbar. A home theatre can be wired or wireless. A wired system might be a tad cluttered with all the cables hanging out. A Bluetooth system has a neater and more organized look.
Understanding your requirement :
A sound bar is a long-term investment. It needs to be well thought out. Take time to understand your needs. A soundbar’s performance depends on a number of factors. The size of the room, the size of your TV, the space you are planning to install it in, the layout of the room, the connections your TV supports. All of these things are going to have a bearing on your soundbar’s output. Ultimately, the soundbar is not a separate entity acting singly. It is a part of an acoustic ecosystem and all the aforementioned factors play a role.
So study your surroundings well. Consult an expert if you can. Visit a showroom and compare different models. Read up on the internet as you are doing now. Newer technologies are being launched every quarter and you don’t want to be left out.
Your personal preferences matter too. If you want a bass-heavy sound, you might do well with a soundbar with an included sub. If you want virtual surround sound, you might have to shell out some extra bucks for the top-end model. It all depends on what you want. So figure out what that is and then go in for a buy.
We hope this article helped answer some of the questions you had regarding soundbars. We tried to make it as comprehensive and insightful as possible. Our aim is to educate the reader and help them make informed decisions. Let us know your thoughts in the below comment section.
Read our recommendation on most value for money sound bars.