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Updated December 2, 2022

Soundbar Buying Guide - Updated Oct 2022

Author Chrystal S
Published on October 18, 2022
by Chrystal S

If you love movies, TV shows, and games, you definitely want the best sound experience that includes booming bass, crisp highs, crystal clear dialogue — and everything else in between. Soundbars bring more clarity and power to your sound system at home. There are tons of options out there. Here is everything you need to know before you buy your own soundbar.

Why You Need a Soundbar

If you want to build a home theater, or your TV has terrible speakers but you don’t have the space for multiple speakers, or the budget for a full surround sound system, then a soundbar may be just what you need.

Here are the benefits of using a soundbar:

Improved Audio Quality

You can get superior sound with a soundbar compared to what you would get from your TV alone. Some TV speakers have poor audio quality, making it impossible to hear the dialogue or even the bass. Sometimes it just isn't loud enough. In contrast, a soundbar will often provide better bass and a larger soundstage, improving dialogue clarity and allowing you to hear and appreciate every sound.

Immersive Viewing Experience

Soundbars are made to provide an immersive listening experience. The enhanced audio enables you to never miss out on key plot points in your favorite movies since you can hear every word uttered clearly. Most soundbars also create a surround sound effect that lets you feel as if you're in the middle of the action. Hear every car door slam, thunderstorm, animals, and really appreciate the soundtrack.

Cheap & Easy to Install

Compared to speakers, soundbars can save you a lot of time and money. Most soundbars are plug-and-play and will cost anywhere from $150 to $1000. Meanwhile, surround sound speakers will require multiple units that need to be wired individually to an A/V receiver and then connected to your TV. A good pair starts at $300 and can go upwards of $2,500.

Features to Look For

Size: What Best Fits Your Space?

Soundbars come in all kinds of sizes. To make sure your new soundbar won't stick out like a sore thumb, keep your television's dimensions in mind when shopping. Aesthetically, it should be around the same length as your TV. For example, for a 55-inch TV, a 40- to 55-inch soundboard is perfect.

Recommended Soundbar Sizes With TV Sizes

Speaker LengthTV Screen Size
12 inAny
38-45 in42-50 in
50 in55-65 in
60 in70 in and above

Bigger soundbars are also more powerful than smaller ones. It’s recommended to match the size of your soundbar to the size of your TV. That way, the sound will seem to be coming from the sides of the TV for a surround-sound effect.

Soundbar Connections: Which One Do You Need?

HDMI

This is the easiest way to connect a soundbar to your TV. Most soundbars come with HDMI ARC support which will allow you to connect the two devices with a single cable. Older TVs may not have ARC, so you may need to purchase a soundbar with an optical connection.

Just bear in mind that you will have one less HDMI port available on your TV for other devices. If you’re running low on HDMI ports, you could purchase an HDMI switch, which converts a single HDMI port to two or more. Or, you could get a soundbar with several HDMI inputs.

Optical

Most TVs offer optical output and HDMI connections, but if yours is older, an optical soundbar may be your only option. Optical connections are simple and reliable, but if you have the option, we recommend going with an HDMI connection because it supports more audio formats.

Wireless Connectivity

If you want to use your soundbar for more than just your TV, you might consider buying a Bluetooth-enabled one.  Many new models have Bluetooth built-in, making it easy to stream music from your computer, smartphone, tablet, and other devices.

Other soundbars are also Wi-Fi enabled, which allows you to stream music and audio from anywhere on the internet such as Spotify or iTunes. Some may even be controlled with Alexa or Google Assistant.

Sound Features: Channels and Dolby Atmos

Have you noticed numbers in product descriptions? The number before the period indicates the number of channels while the number after the period is always "1" if there’s a subwoofer and "0" if there isn't.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet on soundbar channels:

  • 2.1 - The soundbar has two channels (left and right) and a subwoofer
  • 3.1 - The soundbar has three channels (left, center, and right) and a subwoofer
  • 5.1 - This provides a surround-sound effect since it comes with 5 channels (center, right, left, and two rear) and 1 subwoofer. If the number is written 5.1.2 then this means the soundbar has Dolby Atmos

A good soundbar should have at least 3.1 channels because the center channel is where dialogue is most often placed. If you want dialogue to be loud and clear, don't settle for anything less than 3.1 channels.

Dolby Atmos

To get the best surround sound experience, you'll want to consider Dolby Atmos. It's a surround sound technology created by Dolby Laboratories that adds height channels (and hence 3D sound) to your home theater. It creates a three-dimensional sound that moves around objects making sound effects more realistic. For instance, the sound of a crashing car may be perceived as coming from the left or behind the head.

Mounting: Where Will You Put It?

The sound bar's mounting options are important to consider when deciding which one to buy. Most sound bars can be mounted in one of three ways: wall mount, stand, or table mount. However, you'll need to go with the option that is best for your space and aesthetic preferences.

For example, if you have enough space on your TV stand and would like your sound bar to blend in seamlessly with the rest of your media setup, then you could place it directly below. But if you're short on space, then perhaps a wall mount would work better for you.

Whether you put a soundbar above or below the TV is up to your discretion. Most will put it below just because it’s more aesthetically pleasing. If placed at eye level or a bit below, it could also help the sound travel faster to you. Furthermore, some TV ports are also located at the bottom, so placing the soundbar below makes more sense.

Top Soundbar Brands

The following brands are widely recognized as leaders in the audio industry:

  • Sony
  • Bose
  • Sonos
  • Klipsch
  • Yamaha
  • LG
  • Vizio
  • TCL
  • JBL

FAQ

1.   How can I tell if a sound bar is compatible with my TV?

Soundbars work with most TVs, but you should verify before buying. Most manufacturers offer this information on product pages or on their websites.

2.   Can you add speakers to a sound bar?

Yes, and no. Adding extra speakers can increase immersion, but it depends on your soundbar and its compatibility.

3.   Can you add a subwoofer to a sound bar?

Yes. Many soundbars come with a compatible subwoofer or ports to accommodate one. Check with the manufacturer for compatibility.

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