Guide to Sound Bars

flat-screen TV with sound bar
A delightful home theater movie-viewing experience wouldn’t be complete without a good sound system that can produce blasting sounds that can keep you at the edge of your seat while watching. Some would like sound systems that are big and can create powerful bass, while others would just like a system that won’t take up a lot of space in their living room or movie room. However, there is now a recently created type of sound system that can give you the best of both worlds, which are the booming volume that large systems can provide and the space-saving benefits of smaller speakers, and this system is called a sound bar.

The sound bar is a wide and short loudspeaker that can be placed in front of the television stand. Since it has a convenient placement, it can save more space in your TV rack as opposed to bigger sound systems that you have to allocate plenty of space at the bottom.

A single sound bar usually consists of multiple speakers in its enclosure to produce a stereo effect. These speakers can also mimic the surround sound that systems with many speakers can provide for your television.

However, most sound bars do not only have a single unit, as there is a separate subwoofer that comes in the package that gives the much-needed bass for the system, as the small speakers in the bars are not enough to produce bass.

Types of Sound Bars

There are two primary types of sound bars that you should know before buying a speaker for your television, and these types are the sound base and the standard sound bar.

Sound bases are broader loudspeakers that are as thin as a regular sound bar. TVs are usually placed on top of the loudspeaker, hence the reason why it is called a “base.” Since they are wider in size compared to the normal sound bar, they typically have bigger speakers that can produce louder sounds. However, the downside to sound bases is that it wouldn’t be able to provide better stereo output than sound bars since its speakers would often be too close to each other, thus creating a mono sound effect.

Most sound bases have a built-in subwoofer, which means that you don’t need to buy a separate subwoofer that needs to be compatible with your speakers. Having a built-in subwoofer for the sound base may be a positive thing for some people, but for those who want a punchier and more responsive bass, then sound bars may be a better loudspeaker for them.

Sound bars, as mentioned before, have a main enclosure that houses several speakers to create a more compact and space-saving sound system on your TV rack. This thin and wide enclosure will not be able to fit a subwoofer sufficient enough to provide bass for the overall sound, which is why most sound bar packages come with a separate subwoofer to fill in the bass missing in the sound bar. These subwoofers are generally placed on the floor near the TV rack to produce better bass.

For this guide, we will be focusing on the standard sound bar, as it is more widely available than sound bases.

Passive or Active?

Besides the two main types of sound bars, there are also two kinds of the standard sound bar that you should be knowledgeable about since these two variations have significant differences over each other.

The first variant is the active sound bar, which has a built-in amplifier, so you don’t need to buy a separate one just to power up your loudspeaker and allow it to produce sounds. The amplifier found in active sound bars also has channel processors that can divide the sounds that your loudspeaker is getting from the TV to the right, left, and central speakers.

The second variant is the passive sound bar, which doesn’t have a built-in amplifier, meaning that you need to buy an external amplifier in order for the bar to create sounds. However, the advantage of having a passive sound bar is that you will be able to customize its sound, as most external amplifiers have equalizer (EQ) bands where you can set the treble, bass, and other frequencies to your liking. Moreover, passive sound bars would often have better speakers than active ones, as manufacturers won’t compromise on the size and quality of the speakers just to fit an amplifier inside the enclosure, which is the case for a number of active sound bars.

Today, active sound bars are becoming more common than passives as they are hassle-free and more convenient to use, as you won’t need any other device for it, and you won’t have to use wires to connect it to these devices as most actives have wireless capabilities.

Speaker Channels

Speaking of speakers, there are different kinds of channels to choose from when looking for sound bars to partner with your television. A channel is a term used for speakers that are connected in one enclosure.

There is the 2-channel that has one speaker to the left of the bar and another speaker to the right, and the 3-channel that has an added central speaker along with the right and left ones. But the most popular and arguably the standard channel for sound bars today is the 5-channel, which has all the speaker placements mentioned in the other channels, but it has two more speakers located at its back.

In addition, there is the recently introduced 7-channel sound bar that is similar to the 5-channel, but with added speakers to the front or rear to create a virtual surround sound for the enclosure. Upgraded versions of the 5-channel and 7-channel with Dolby Atmos also exist, and these sound bars feature two speakers that are blasting sound upwards to create a cinema-like sound experience for viewers. Sound bars with Dolby Atmos usually have the numbers “7.1.2” or “5.1.2” labeled on the package. The first number (7 or 5) represents the number of speakers in the main channel, the second number shows how many subwoofers are included with the sound bar, and the last one indicates the number of upward-firing speakers to provide the Dolby Atmos feature.

Where Should You Place the Sound Bar?

The best location to put the sound bar is, of course, near the television since placing it far from the TV will not create an immersive sound experience for those who are watching on the movie room and living room. However, its placement still depends on whether the TV is standing on top of a rack or mounted on the wall.

If the TV is on the table, then you wouldn’t have any trouble placing your sound bar at the bottom of the TV, as long as there is an extra space at the front of the table.

But if the TV is mounted on the wall, then you might have to mount the sound bar as well. Some sound bars will have built-in mounts in them for easy installation, while a few would require you to buy a wall mount made specifically for the sound bar that you have.

It is recommended that you mount the sound bar below the TV for better sound. You can place it on top of the TV if you don’t have space at the bottom part of the wall, but this placement would make the sound bar produce a slightly more inferior sound quality as the speakers are not leveled to the height of the viewers standing or sitting on the couch.

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
VIZIO SB3821-C6 38-Inch 2.1 Channel Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer
Yamaha YAS-209 Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer, Bluetooth, and Alexa Voice Control Built-in
Denon HEOS HomeCinema HS2 Wireless Soundbar and Subwoofer Black
Sonos Beam - Smart TV Sound Bar with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black
Sonos Sub - The Wireless Subwoofer for Deep Bass - Black
Bose Solo 5 TV Soundbar Sound System with Universal Remote Control, Black - 732522-1110
Bose Bass Module 500

The Best Sound Bars

There are hundreds of sound bars that you can buy online and in appliance stores, but only a few are considered as the best of the best in terms of providing high-quality audio for your television. Here are ten excellent sound bars that you should consider purchasing if you want to enhance your movie experience at home.

VIZIO SB3821-C6

The VIZIO SB3821-C6 is one of the more affordable sound bars in the list, as it only foes for $150, but don’t think that this sound bar is not as good as the others because it is cheaper, as the SB3821-C6 boasts a whopping 100db of loudness level in just a small loudspeaker.

Its subwoofer can be connected wirelessly to the sound bar, and you also don’t need to use wires to connect your smartphone or tablet to the speaker as it already has a built-in Bluetooth functionality. However, if you wish to plug in your smart device into the speaker using a cable, the VIZIO sound bar has an AUX input jack at the back where you can insert one end of the cable conveniently.

The sound bar can produce high-quality audio thanks to Dolby Digital decoding, DTS audio processing, and DTS TruVolume features.

In addition, the VIZIO sound bar can detect and send the audio signal to the subwoofer for up to 60 feet, but it is recommended that you place the subwoofer on the floor near your television for better sound.

Yamaha YAS-209

The Yamaha YAS-209 has two times the price of the VIZIO sound bar at $300, but it also has twice more features compare to the ones you can find in most sound bars.

For starters, the YAS-209 not only has an input jack, but it also has HDMI compatibility, which can give a slightly higher audio quality than AUX or optical inputs. Moreover, the sound bar has a Clear Voice feature that emphasizes dialogue a bit more to make it sound clearer to your ears.

Like the VIZIO sound bar, the YAS-209’s subwoofer can also be connected wirelessly, and you can also connect your smartphone to it using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Interestingly, the sound bar has a built-in Alexa voice control so that you can command it to do certain actions or functions without even touching the remote controller. Functions that the Alexa voice control can do include playing music, setting timers or alarms, and controlling other smart devices at home.

Denon HEOS

The Denon HEOS sound bar has two amplified mid-woofers and two tweeters built inside its main enclosure, and it comes with a subwoofer that can connect to the sound bar wireless like the other bass speakers on this list.

Also, the sound bar can connect to your smart devices via Bluetooth, and it has Apple Airplay compatibility for your Apple device to utilize more wireless features on the speaker. Along with its wireless functions, the Denon HEOS sound bar also comes with a USB input so that you can insert a flash drive, and the sound bar will automatically play the music files found inside the drive. The sound bar supports WMA, MP3, FLAC, ALAC, and WAV audio files.

For a customized sound experience, the sound bar has three modes that offer different sound qualities that are suitable for specific types of audio that you are listening to. These three modes are Music, Movie, and Night. Music mode will bring in a lot more bass for the overall sound, while the Movie mode mimics the surround sound you would often find in bigger sound systems. Night mode is for those who don’t to disturb their neighbors, roommates, or loved ones at home as it produces high-quality audio at a lower volume.

Sonos Beam

Similar to the Yamaha YAS-209, the Sonos Beam has a built-in Alexa voice control so you can have an easier time going through the different features of the sound bar. However, the Sonos Beam is slightly smaller than the YAS-209, making it more compact and more space-saving than almost all the sound bars available on the market.

According to its description, the sound coming from the speakers is tweaked and tuned by experts who have won Oscars for sound design to make dialogue and voices clear and emphasized during scenes where the music may be too loud for audiences to hear what the characters in the movie are saying.

For those who don’t have TV racks, the Sonos Beam can easily be mounted to your wall without needing to buy a wall mount for the speaker. In addition, the Sonos Beam comes in two colors, which are black and white.

The downside to purchasing a Sonos Beam unit is that it doesn’t come with any subwoofer, so you would have to buy it separately. Luckily, Sonos also offers an excellent subwoofer that doesn’t come with other speakers or sound bars, so you won’t have to waste money on buying another sound system.

Bose Solo 5

The Solo 5 by Bose is a small and simple sound bar that has Dialogue mode so you can hear conversations in movie scenes easier, and it also has AUX and optical inputs to make it compatible and flexible to almost all monitors and television sets.

Besides its main enclosure, the sound bar also comes packaged with a universal remote controller that you can use to control other devices like Blu-ray players, monitors, and various sound systems. The universal remote controller also has a BASS button if you want to increase or decrease the bass output of the sound bar.

Speaking of bass, the sound bar doesn’t come with a subwoofer, unfortunately, but it is compatible with many wired or wireless subwoofers. It is best that you pair the sound bar with the Bose Bass Module 500 for the full Bose sound.

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
ZVOX SB500 Aluminum Sound Bar with Built-In Subwoofer, Bluetooth Wireless Streaming, AccuVoice
Q Acoustics M4 Soundbar with Built in Subwoofer (Multi-Award Winning)
Samsung Harman Kardon 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos Soundbar HW-Q90R with Wireless Subwoofer and Rear Speaker Kit, Adaptive Sound, Game Mode, 4K Pass-Through with HDR, Bluetooth & Alexa Compatible
Sony Z9F 3.1ch Sound bar with Dolby Atmos and Wireless Subwoofer (HT-Z9F)
Echo Dot (3rd Gen) - Smart speaker with Alexa - Charcoal
Polk Audio SIGNA S2 Ultra-Slim Universal TV Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer, Bluetooth Enabled Music Streaming, Black

ZVOX SB500

For people who don’t have space for a subwoofer, they ZVOX SB500 is the perfect sound bar for them, as it already has a built-in subwoofer inside its enclosure, so you don’t need to place it separately from the sound bar.

Like the Yamaha YAS-209, it has the AccuVoice feature that is similar to Yamaha’ Clear Voice since it also has the ability to make dialogues, speeches, and conversations clearer for people to hear. There are two built-in subwoofers in the SB500 that can provide sufficient bass sounds for the sound bar, but if you don’t like the sound of the subwoofers, you can plug in an external subwoofer using the subwoofer out input jack.

Moreover, the sound bar has the PhasCue feature that produces virtual surround sound to fill your room with enough audio to make you feel immersed in the movie you are watching.

Q Acoustics M4

Another sound bar with a built-in subwoofer, the Q Acoustics M4 features BMR drive units that are powerful enough to produce high-quality sounds for movies, concerts, or music, and the units also fill the room with audio to make it sound like you are using a true surround sound system.

The sound bar’s peculiar sloped back part allows you to easily access cable inputs or outputs if the speaker is mounted on the wall. Also, the power and volume controls are conveniently placed at the top of the sound bar.

The Q Acoustics M4 is Bluetooth compatible as well, and it uses the aptX lossless technology to prevent the loudspeaker from skipping or missing beats and notes in songs.

Samsung HW-Q90R

The Samsung HW-Q90R is arguably the most expensive sound bar on this list, as it is priced at about $1,700, but this hefty price tag is justified as the sound bar is able to give your movie room a cinema-like viewing experience because of how superior its audio quality is compared to other sound bars.

This sound bar has 17 built-in speakers, with four speakers facing upwards and two placed at each side of the sound system to produce the best room-filling sound. Along with the speakers found inside the sound bar, the system also has two wireless speakers that you can place behind the couch for the optimum surround sound experience.

Of course, the Samsung sound system wouldn’t be complete without its wireless subwoofer, which can blast the loudest bass during tense movie scenes.

Sony Z9F

The Sony Z9F is another expensive sound bar, but its price is less than half of what you are going to be spending for the Samsung HW-Q90R, as it is available for only $700. The Z9F sound bar has 3.1ch Dolby Atmos for high-quality virtual surround sound, and it is also compatible with 4K HDR television sets or monitors.

It has five unique modes to customize the sound you are getting from the system, and these modes are Cinema, Game Studio, Sport, Music, and News. The special Game Studio mode is designed by developers of the Sony PlayStation to enhance your gaming experience and keep you immersed in the game that you are playing.

The bar can also be controlled using the Alexa voice control, but unlike the Yamaha YAS-209, it is not built-in, so you would have to buy an Alexa device separately.

Polk Audio SIGNA S2

From the most expensive sound bars, we’re now going back to another affordable sound bar, which is the Polk Audio SIGNA S2 that you can from $150 to $200.

The SIGNA S2 sound bar has five full-range drivers in its main enclosure, and these drivers are capable of bringing rich and clear sounds to your movie room. The sound system also includes a wireless subwoofer that may not produce bass as powerful as Samsung’s subwoofer, but it is enough for you to feel the tension and rumbling on the floor if you place it in a small room.

Like almost all sound bars, the SIGNA S2 has Bluetooth capabilities so that you can listen to music on your phone or other smart devices wirelessly.

If you have already gone to appliance centers and tested a couple of sound bars, it is possible that the ones you liked may not be on this list. But it all comes down to personal preference as to what you think is the most suitable sound bar for your home, and the sound bars on the list are considered the best by many reviewers and owners who may have different preferences from you. If you are going to purchase a sound bar, make sure that you have tested it at the store first. But if you are going to buy online, then we suggest that you read or watch reviews online first before making a decision.