It's not just you. TV sound quality really is getting worse. That's because as TVs have become thinner and smaller, so have their built-in speakers. But you don't have to turn on closed captions and endure muffled dialogue. One of the easiest ways to improve TV audio quality is with a soundbar.
But what exactly is a soundbar, and are they worth the investment? In this post, we'll explain how they work and provide you with all the information you need to choose the right one for your home.
What is a soundbar?
A soundbar is a slim, horizontal speaker designed to improve the sound quality of your TV, typically placed on furniture in front of your TV or mounted on the wall. These speakers are ideal for those looking to elevate their viewing experience without the complexity and clutter of traditional home theater setups.
How do soundbars work?
Soundbars work by consolidating multiple audio components into a single speaker. These built-in components include tweeters (which handle high frequency sounds, like a whistle), mid-range drivers (which cover dialogue) and woofers (which deliver deep, resonating bass). When combined, these components create a wider and more immersive soundstage for a more realistic listening experience. Some soundbars also feature advanced audio technology like Dolby Atmos, which can offer a more theater-like experience.
Soundbars vs. speakers
Soundbars and standalone speakers differ significantly in terms of design and functionality. The most notable difference is that soundbars are simply easier to use and take up less space. You can typically connect a soundbar to your TV via an HDMI or optical audio cable, whereas traditional speakers require a separate receiver with more extensive wiring and setup.
Soundbars are particularly appealing for those living in smaller apartments or for those who don’t have enough space for a bulky speaker system. Plus, most soundbars offer WiFi connectivity, which allows you to wirelessly connect your soundbar with other speakers. This is especially appealing if you’re looking to add rear speakers for surround sound or a subwoofer and don’t want to worry about running wires across the room or drilling into the walls and ceiling.
Do soundbars sound better?
Soundbars excel in scenarios where your TV’s built-in speakers fall short. When you’re watching a movie, a soundbar can greatly improve the clarity of dialogue and create a more dynamic soundstage. Similarly, streaming music through your soundbar will make your favorite songs sound clearer, crisper, and more detailed.
Plus, some soundbars incorporate theater-quality features like spatial audio and Dolby Atmos, which create a three-dimensional sound environment. This is what allows you to hear a plane like it’s flying overhead in an intense action film or feel like instruments are coming from different parts of the room while listening to music. These features are especially appealing for audiophiles and movie enthusiasts who want to feel immersed in their content like it’s unfolding right in their living room.
How to choose a soundbar
When it comes to choosing the right soundbar for your home, there are several factors to consider:
While any soundbar should vastly improve the audio quality of your TV, not all soundbars are created equal. Different makes and models will range in power and capabilities.
Most soundbars feature two to four internal speakers (also called drivers), which do a great job at covering what’s known as your “frontstage” — your left, right, and center channels of audio. This will allow you to hear the action move across the screen similar to how it would sound in real life. But more premium soundbars, like Sonos Arc, feature eleven internal speakers, including two upward-firing speakers that add height to your viewing experience. So, not only are you hearing sound from in front of you, but also from the sides, behind, and above.
Both the size of your TV and the size of your room are important to consider when choosing a soundbar. If you’re placing your soundbar in a large room, you’ll want to choose a speaker that’s powerful enough to effectively fill the space with sound. However, a large soundbar may overwhelm your space if you live in a small apartment.
Larger soundbars are best for TVs over 55 inches, whereas a smaller soundbar is best paired with a smaller TV. Here’s a breakdown of which Sonos soundbars work best for different size TVs:
TVs under 55”: Sonos Ray or Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
TVs over 55”: Sonos Beam (Gen 2) or Sonos Arc
TVs over 65”: Sonos Arc
Ultimately, any size soundbar should work for any size room and TV, but you’ll want to make sure it makes sense for your current setup.
Different soundbars come with different connection options, with the most common being optical, HDMI ARC (which stands for “audio return channel”), and HDMI eARC. For newer TVs, HDMI eARC is ideal because it receives all the audio signals and simply passes the video signals to your TV — meaning your speaker can focus on the sound while your TV handles the visuals.
You can determine if your TV is compatible with HDMI eARC by locating the port on the back of the TV (it’s typically next to the headphone input.) If you have an older TV, it may require an adapter for compatibility, although these adapters are generally provided in the box when you purchase your soundbar.
As previously mentioned, some soundbars offer more advanced features like spatial audio and Dolby Atmos, which can deliver a virtual surround sound experience without the need for rear speakers. (You can learn more about virtual surround sound in our Ultimate Guide to Home Theater). This technology expands beyond the traditional stereo soundstage and adds depth and directionality, creating a three-dimensional effect. The listening experience can feel so lifelike you might find yourself checking over your shoulder when you hear footsteps approaching from behind.
If you're looking for a hands-free experience or want your speaker to connect effortlessly with the rest of your smart home devices, many soundbars are compatible with popular voice assistants, like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Additionally, Bluetooth connectivity will let you pair a device to stream music through your soundbar when the TV is off.
Not only is it important to invest in a soundbar with a reputation for durabiIity, but choosing a soundbar that offers ongoing software updates means that your speaker will only get better over time. Sonos incorporates sophisticated processing technology in its products to send regular software updates that can provide new features and improve the sound quality of your speaker, so you can continue to enjoy your soundbar for years to come.
Is a soundbar worth it?
A soundbar is undoubtedly worth the investment if you're looking to upgrade your home entertainment experience. They offer superior audio quality, particularly in scenarios where TV speakers fall short. Whether you're an avid movie watcher, a music enthusiast, or simply want to enjoy more immersive sound while watching TV, a soundbar can help bring all your favorite entertainment to life.