May 17, 2016

Soundbar Explained Simply

Have you ever heard the term soundbar used in the speaker industry?  Are you researching Sonos and have you seen a Playbar, and seen it referred to as a soundbar?  While this term is used a lot of speaker industry insiders and those “in-the-know”, not many casual home audio shoppers have heard this term.

Here is a rundown on what the word really means, what they are used for, what they work well for, and what they don’t.

Soundbar Definition

A soundbar is a speaker device that contains multiple speakers which are all sized into a long narrow box.  The goal of the sound bar is provide a reasonably high quality of sound while also providing the functionality and space saving features of the long rectangle shape.  They are usually used with home theater systems at the front of the system and are often paired with other speakers for a true surround sound experience.

Lots of companies sell soundbars such as Bose, Sony, Samsung, and Sonos.

Soundbars serve as a simple antidote for the rinky-dink speakers that come standard in most TVs. While the general quality of TVs has seen rapid development in the past few decades, it doesn’t come without a cost. High definition video allows us to see television in crisper quality than we’ve ever been able to before, and TVs are more lightweight and thinner than ever. Unfortunately, these developments come at the cost of sound quality. Keeping costs low and limiting the space and weight of a television leaves little space to pack in powerful speakers, and that means that many consumers are looking for third party sources to improve the audio performance of their televisions. While once upon a time this would mean setting up bulky stereo systems with enormous speakers, subs, and amps, soundbars offer a far more effective alternative. Here’s everything you need to know about soundbars.

What is a Soundbar in Plain English?

At its most basic, a soundbar is a standalone, powered speaker that connects simply and directly to your TV. They generally take the form of a simple bar that can rest beneath or in front of your TV or be mounted on the wall behind it. They’re valued for their small size and the versatility of their positioning, but they generally suffer somewhat for their lack of quality. In practical terms, that’s not usually a problem. Unless you’re looking to set up an expansive home theater, a reasonably priced soundbar can usually get the job done, and plenty of companies have begun managing to pack a lot of power into these little devices. At the very least, they’re a significant step up from the pitiful speakers you’ll find in most modern TVs, they require very little technical knowledge to set up, and they don’t clutter your TV stand with a tangle of cords and cables.

What Types of Soundbars Are Available?

Soundbars come in two basic varieties. Traditional soundbars are designed to be mobile, and they can be adjusted to sit in any number of configurations around your television. This allows you to situate them in a way that makes the most of your space and directs the sound to get the best audio quality for the unique shape and acoustics of your room. But if you’re looking to incorporate a soundbar into your TV setup, you should keep in mind that there are some drawbacks. Often these types of speakers don’t come with their own remote control, so you’re going to need to get a universal remote if you want to control them from a distance or set up their sound quality manually at the base. Additionally, despite generally being sleek and compact, they can sometimes block the IR sensor of your TV when placed in front of it, making it difficult to change channels, adjust the volume, or turn your television on or off.

Less popular but also effective are sound bases. Also known as pedestal soundbars, these devices are intended to serve as a platform for your TV. That decreases the space your entertainment system takes up and eliminates the risk of having your TV sensor blocked. But you need to be careful purchasing one until you make sure that your TV is equipped to accommodate it. Many TVs use claw foot legs rather than traditional platforms, so they may not fit comfortably on top of the pedestal, and many TVs, particularly older models, may be too heavy to safely sit on top of a pedestal. Sound bases come with the advantage of being even more compact and unobtrusive than traditional soundbars, but they tend to be less popular, so they’re less often produced, and you may have a more limited selection when looking for a feature-rich alternative to a traditional soundbar.

What Kind of Features Should You Look For?

At their heart, soundbars are pretty basic speakers, designed to accomplish their task with little fuss or hassle, but as technology advances and these devices become more popular, you can expect to find more advanced features. Particularly, steps are being made by many manufacturers to incorporate soundbars into your existing AV infrastructure rather than have them serve as standalone products that need to be operated manually.

On the far end of the spectrum are the recent development of smart soundbars. While these are still a fairly rare product, you can expect to see more and more of them rolling off the assembly line as time rolls on. While there aren’t many in production yet, smart soundbars are almost undoubtedly the future of these devices. These smart soundbars integrate with your entire sound system, offering features like streaming, voice recognition, and all sorts of other bells and whistles that allow you to control your whole TV system directly through them. Leading the pack in this regard is the Sonos Beam. Despite its mid-tier price, the Beam allows you to connect together any speakers in the Sonos catalog, and it lets you stream a wide variety of different music streaming services directly. It also offer compatibility with Alexa, AirPlay 2, and Google Assistant so that you can control the volume and even turn your TV on or off with just your voice. It also coordinates with streaming devices like Amazon Firestick so that you can control your video streaming services like Hulu and Netflix through that same voice functionality. While these types of soundbars aren’t available in abundance and may cost a little more, you may consider investing in one if you plan on keeping your soundbar for a while. This level of integration will only grow as third party devices expand more prominently into the Internet of Things.

If you aren’t looking to invest in a smart soundbar, there are still some things you should look out for. Be sure that your device has a remote included or allows Bluetooth functionality so you won’t have to manually go over to adjust the volume. Also keep an eye out for the types of cords that are required for use. The ideal soundbar makes use of a simple power cord and one port you can use to connect directly to your TV. Ideally, these take the form of an HDMI out or an optical drive, so that you can easily plug them straight in and not have to worry about any depreciation in sound quality. Finally, you’ll want to get a soundbar that’s appropriate to the size off your TV and the size of your room. Most soundbars range in length from 12 to 60 inches, and as a general rule of thumb, you want a soundbar roughly the same length as your TV.

So When Would You Buy A Soundbar

You would buy a soundbar if you are looking to improve your sound quality on your home theater system and you want to buy and all around speaker enclosure that will provide listeners who face it with a reasonable perception of surround sound.

A soundbar is long and narrow, for instance the Sonos Playbar (Sonos’ version of a soundbar) is 3.35 x 35.43 x 5.51 (H x W x D) in inches.  You can see how at only a little over 3 inches high and only 5 1/2 inches in depth it will fit easily into a rack or shelf, or it can be hung on the wall near a television.

Soundbars can also accommodate Dolby digital style sound output, so each speaker does not necessarily play the same sound.  This gives listeners a reasonable facsimile of surround sound even though it is only one speaker unit.  While this is effective, the listeners proximity to the soundbar does matter because listeners far away perceive a smaller effect than listeners who are closer to the source.

Over time the sound quality in a soundbar has improved significantly.  The first soundbars usually would have 3 speakers (left, right, and center) which would all play the exact same sound.  It wasn’t until 1998 that one capable of handling more complex soundscapes hit the market.

How to Improve The Quality of Sound

If you are using a soundbar with a home theater system, you may find that the notes are a bit “tin-y” and they lack depth and quality lower sounds.  This is because the small height and depth of soundbars limit the size of the speakers inside.  Smaller speakers struggle to create rich lower tones so you may notice that a sounbar makes everything sound a little higher in pitch.

While modern technology has certainly improved the sound quality, there still leaves some sound quality to be desired, for some people.  Many people solve this problem by adding additional speakers to the system, especially a subwoofer.  A subwoofer only handles lower notes, and they pair particularly well with soundbars to deliver a more rich experience to the listener.

Even further, some people add additional speakers and subwoofers to give a true surround sound experience.  The additional speakers will usually have better mid-range woofers, which are capable of increasing the depth and richness of the combined sound output even further.  What one does with their soundbar system is entirely up to the user, but modern soundbars do function as adequate stand alone speaker systems.

What We Sell

Here at Sonos Playbar, we sell the Sonos Playbar device as our soundbar.  It also functions as a wireless soundbar, as long as it is hooked up to a home WiFi network.  It also can be attached to a high definition television directly.

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