If you're looking to upgrade your TV's sound, a soundbar is a way to go. Whether you want one for your home theater or just to improve the audio on a small TV in your bedroom, these devices can make a big difference. In this guide, we'll look at how to buy a new soundbar so that you get the best one possible for your needs and budget—and we'll also take a look at some of our favorite models from recent years.
What Should You Look For in a Soundbar?
When looking for a soundbar, you should consider the following features:
- Sound Quality: The most important feature of any soundbar is obviously the quality of its sound. While it may seem like you can get away with having a budget model, the truth is that a cheap-out will only disappoint you down the road when your media content isn't being properly conveyed by your TV's speakers. Look for one with real-time room correction technology or Dolby Digital surround processing to ensure that you're getting high-quality audio no matter what video or music you're listening to.
- Number of Channels: A 2.1-channel model provides left and right channels while an additional subwoofer reproduces bass frequencies in movies and games (although this depends on whether it has USB/optical input support). However, if you're after maximum audio performance, then go for a 5+1 channel system that offers both left and right channels along with rear speakers for immersive effects as well as a dedicated center speaker handling dialogues (if desired).
- DTS or Dolby Digital Support: If possible, look out for products that offer both digital decoders (Dolby Digital) as well as analog ones (DTS). Dolby Digital and DTS can both produce amazing surround sound experiences.
How many channels do you need?
- The format of channels is "x.y.z," in which:
"x" is the number of channels or speakers at or near ear level, while "y" is the number of channels or speakers dedicated to low bass reproduction.
"z" represents the number of overhead channels or speakers.
- 1.0 - this is a monophonic sound system with just one speaker reproducing all of the sounds.
- 2.0 - this is a standard "stereo system" - it has two speakers to reproduce a stereo sound field.
- 2.1 - this represents a standard stereo system, but it adds a dedicated speaker for low bass reproduction (a woofer or subwoofer).
- 3.0 - this is similar to a stereo system, but it adds a dedicated center speaker between the front left and right speakers. This can help in reproducing movie dialog and commentary clearly.
- 3.1 - as above, but with a dedicated bass speaker (subwoofer).
- 3.1.2 - a 3.1-channel system with two additional upfiring speakers. You can experience the sound difference to conventional TV sound.
- 4.0 - A typical 4.0-channel system uses two speakers in the front and two in the rear or side to reproduce surround sound. But a system with 3 speakers in the front (left, center, right) and one in the rear of the room could also qualify as 4.0.
- 4.1 - as above, but with a dedicated bass speaker.
- 5.0 - this is typically used to describe a traditional surround sound system with three speakers across the front (front left, center, and front right) and two speakers on the sides or in the rear to generate surround sound.
- 5.1 - as above, but with a dedicated bass channel or subwoofer.
- 5.1.2 - this is a "standard" 5.1-channel surround sound system, with the addition of two height channels or speakers that generate sound from above the listener.
- 5.1.4 - as above but with 4 height channels or speakers to generate sound above the listener.
- 7.0 - this type of system has three speakers in the front, 2 on the side (side surround), and 2 in the rear (rear surround).
- 7.1 - as above, but with a dedicated bass channel or speaker.
- 7.1.2 - a standard 7.1-channel system with two additional speakers dedicated to reproducing sound above the listener.
- 7.1.4 - as above, but with 4 height channels or speakers.
5.1 and 5.1.2 soundbars are the most common. 2.1, 2.2 and 3.1 channel soundbars are good for smaller rooms. 7.1.4 soundbar is more immersive and realistic, but also more expensive.
How will it connect to my TV?
There are two main types of connections for soundbars: wired and wireless. Wired connections will always be superior in quality over wireless ones because they don't have any lag time or interference from other devices on your Wi-Fi network. If you're going with a wired connection, you'll need an HDMI cable (or similar) that has all three audio channels (left/right/center) running through it; this allows you to get full surround sound from your TV without having multiple speakers installed around your room.
If you want Bluetooth connectivity as well as HDMI input options, then look for a system with both wired and wireless connectivity options—just be sure not to lose sight of what matters most when buying your new home theatre system: how much of an upgrade will it really give me?
Do you need a subwoofer?
If you're looking for a high-quality soundbar that delivers crisp, clear audio and deep bass, then you need a subwoofer.
A subwoofer will add more depth to your music and make it sound more life-like. It will also help fill your room with sound so that you don't have to crank up the volume on your TV just to hear it over background noise.
There are two options. The first is that the sub can be separate from the soundbar—you'll have to pick up a separate wireless bass module and connect an RCA cable from your TV's audio out to the subwoofer. The second option is buying a soundbar with its own built-in subwoofer and amplifier. TCL offers 2.1CH Dolby Atmos Sound Bar with Integrated Subwoofers.
Subwoofers come in two varieties: wireless models that connect via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi; and wired ones connected via RCA cables) that need to be plugged into your TV's headphone jack or digital optical audio output jacks.
Best Soundbars for Movie Lovers
If you want to be able to hear every word of the movie and experience that great bass, then there are a few things you’ll need to look out for in your soundbar.
- Should have a good subwoofer. The built-in subwoofer is what gives your soundbar its bass response, so it’s important that it’s powerful enough for your needs.
- Should be able to connect directly to your TV via HDMI cable (for older models). Most TVs today don’t have any provision for connecting external speakers through analog connections anymore, so if yours does not have an HDMI input then you will either need an adapter or a new TV!
- Should have good sound quality overall—especially the dialogue from movies and TV shows without blasting out all other sounds as well; this makes following conversations much easier!
- You may also want one with surround sound technology which can really help immerse you in whatever movie or show you are watching on Netflix this weekend.
Best Budget Soundbars
With so many options on the market, it’s important to find a soundbar that fits your lifestyle and budget. If you’re looking for an affordable option that won’t break the bank but still delivers good audio quality, get one of these budget soundbars.
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