What is a soundbar?

06 August 2020

A soundbar or soundbase is an ideal way to boost your TV’s audio and bring cinematic sound into your home without taking up too much space.



You've splashed out on the expensive flat screen television you've hankered after for ages now - and it looks great.

And after one visit from a technician, a few hours on the internet and more time fiddling with the controls, you've finally achieved a picture that's pretty close to the one that so impressed you in the shop.

But the film you watched on it last night wasn’t quite the experience you expected; if you're honest, the sound was not as good as it used to be with your old television. Modern HDTVs may look stylish and offers superb picture quality but the audio performance usually fails to impress, so many people struggle hearing the TV sound properly.

The problem is, as with slim laptop computers, TVs get thinner, there’s less space in their skinny frames for speakers capable of delivering decent audio. Even worse, on most TVs the speakers either point down or away from you, which results in muffled, tinny sound that delivers a poor listening experience.

You can install a home cinema or surround sound system, but they’re expensive and involve a tangle of wires. The simplest way to boost your TV’s audio is to connect a TV soundbar instead.

What is a soundbar?

A soundbar consists of several speakers in a streamlined bar. 

When connected to your TV, audio bypasses the TV’s internal speakers and plays instead through the soundbar’s speakers. 

Soundbars can hang on the wall next to a wall-mounted flat-panel TV, but most people sit their soundbar on their TV stand directly in front of the TV.

They're cheaper and easier to install than a cable-heavy, multi-speaker surround sound or a home cinema system – and the best soundbars deliver rich, well-balanced audio that make watching films and TV shows a pleasure.

Are soundbars worth it?

With some soundbars retailing at less than £50 there's a soundbar for every price range. If you've splashed out on an expensive TV it makes sense to spend a comparatively small amount on improving the audio, especially if you enjoy watching films or concerts on television where sound design can play such a key role. Many people also struggle to hear the sound from modern TVs because the speakers on thin televisions lack bass and can sometimes sound muffled. If you've found yourself struggling a soundbar could be a good solution.

Saga Home Insurance provides cover that goes beyond what you might expect. For more information and to get a quote click here.


Soundbar buyer's guide

Now you've answered the question 'what is a soundbar?' you might still find yourself a little in the dark when it comes to choosing one for your home.

We've rounded up a few things you might like to think about before you go shopping for your soundbar that will make your purchase perfect.

Price 

Soundbars range in price from £100 to over £1,000 and as with a lot of things, you typically get what you pay for. 

Budget models typically have basic connections while premium soundbars come with various ports and advanced speakers.

Design and size 

Soundbars come in different sizes and shapes. The majority have a long bar-shaped design, while others – known as soundbases – come as a shallow box that sits directly under the TV.

Soundbars can be hung on a wall along with your TV or positioned in front of it on a TV stand. 

Measure the space where your soundbar will sit before you buy. If it sticks out beyond the TV bevel, it may look odd, and tall soundbars can cause problems by blocking the TV's remote-control sensor. 

You can buy a soundbar to match your TV in looks but this may not offer the best audio performance.

Subwoofer 

A subwoofer is a speaker dedicated to playing low frequency audio – known as bass – which gives that cinematic rumbling sensation when watching films. 

Many soundbars have a built-in subwoofer, but with the drive towards ever slimmer and small soundbars, most now come with a small external subwoofer speaker. 

This is connected to the soundbar either by cable or wirelessly via a Bluetooth connection

A wireless subwoofer can be positioned anywhere in a room, even tucked behind furniture, although it will need to be close to a mains socket for power.




Best soundbar features to look for

Bluetooth 

A wireless connectivity feature that uses low-power radio frequencies to connect devices together. Modern soundbars often use Bluetooth to play audio from the TV without the hassle of wires.

Subwoofer 

A small, box-like speaker that provides the bass range of the audio. It often connects wirelessly to the soundbar to ensure sound is synchronised.

HDMI 

A high-definition cable that can transmit audio and video. Soundbars can connect to TVs using HDMI, which ensures audio is always output via the soundbar.

HDMI ARC 

Short for Audio Return Channel, it allows the audio of all connected devices to the TV to play audio through the soundbar.

HDMI CEC 

Short for Consumer Electronics Control, a HDMI CEC connection lets you use a single remote control to operate all connected CEC devices, such as the TV and soundbar, and change volume or switch all devices on and off.

Headphone socket 

Allows headphones to be connected directly to the soundbar, so you can listen to audio in private.

TOSLink or Digital Optical 

A digital audio connection between the TV and the soundbar that carries surround sound and stereo and provides high-quality audio.

USB 

This connection port that allows devices such as music players and laptops to connect and output audio to the soundbar.

Virtual surround sound 

Unlike home cinema systems which have speakers physically placed around you, soundbars project audio directly at you. To compensate for this, they create a ‘fake’ surround sound designed to provide a sense of immersive audio.

LCD display 

A small display on the front of the soundbar that shows you the audio input it is receiving, such as TV or Blu-ray, as well as the volume level.

Tone control 

The ability to adjust the soundbar audio settings. Some soundbars offer switchable audio modes, such as movie or natural, so you can set it to match your preferences.

2.1 

Relates to the number of speakers in a soundbar system – in this case, two stereo speakers and one subwoofer.

What else should I bear in mind when choosing a soundbar?

Brand match

For easy set up and the best compatibility, buy a soundbar that’s the same brand as your TV, such as an LG, Samsung or Sony soundbar. 

This removes any set-up hassles, and they often feature similar styling and case colour for a coordinated look. 

Many soundbars from the same TV brand will automatically be able to be controlled from the TV’s remote control as well.

Premium vs cheap

The best soundbars deliver rich, well-balanced audio that make watching films and TV shows a pleasure, but quite often you get what you pay for. 

Avoid little-known, cheaper soundbar brands as they can deliver poor audio quality.

Easy to use

A soundbar should be straightforward to set up and simple to use. 

You can even use your TV’s remote control to adjust the soundbar’s power, volume, and other features – so long as both are connected via a HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) port, as found on the latest TVs and soundbars.

Good connectivity

Look for a variety of connection options so you can connect your TV and other devices such as DVD players and set-top boxes. Common connections include HDMI, RCA, TOSLink and USB. 

However, if you connect your TV and soundbar using HDMI, then audio from any other devices connected to the TV will automatically play through the soundbar’s speakers. 

Other useful features are Bluetooth, which lets you stream audio from your phone, tablet or computer and a Wi-Fi connection so you can play online music.

Soundbase vs soundbar?

A soundbase is similar to a soundbar but is a much deeper speaker. While a soundbar will be best for TVs hung on a wall, they can sometimes block remote control sensors when placed in front of a TV standing on a unit.

The alternative is a soundbase (or speaker base) which is sturdy enough to take the weight of the television and indeed is designed to do so. Soundbases have a number of plus factors including less cabling clutter, reduced obstruction to additional connections and because of the space available inside them you don’t need an extra sub-woofer speaker to increase the bass.

Usually all you have to do is connect an optical audio cable from the television to the base speaker. A lot of soundbases now have Bluetooth connectivity as well and so can work as additional wireless speakers if needed.

All soundbases should be able to cope with the weight of a 55in television, although they do tend to cost a little more than most soundbars.

Have your say... 

'Mum's audiologist suggested she have a sound bar as her TV volume was really deafening to anyone else. And what a difference it's made to her.

'It was explained to us that modern flat screen TVs don't have room for decent speakers so a sound bar improves the sound quality without having the TV blaring out. Mum has it set to about 8 now and it's not harming our eardrums when we visit her. She's 88 next week and so has lost a lot of her hearing ability.

'We now have a sound bar ourselves and it certainly improves sound quality!' - Hazel, via Facebook.

From carefully chosen partner offers, to entertaining articles, videos and podcasts, Saga Possibilities has something for you. Find out more about Possibilities today.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.