Soundbars are certainly not a new addition to home theatre, but with more performance developments in this space, the unobtrusive soundbar is fast becoming the perfect audio solution for many households.
What is a soundbar?
In short, a soundbar is a tube or a box that contains a series of speakers and is designed to either sit under your television or be wall-mounted. While TV screens are increasing in size, the units themselves are getting thinner and thinner. Consequently, in-built TV speakers are reducing in size and this is where the humble soundbar comes into play. They are easy to install, simple to connect and offer an extensive range of choices for all budgets.
Why would I need one?
While we all appreciate a banging audio accompaniment to our favourite movies or games, setting up a convoluted surround sound system may not be practical for the space you live in and buying multiple speakers can be an expensive exercise. Soundbars are inconspicuous, will fit in most home spaces, and produce great sound.
OK, I’m in. What’s next?
Consider the size of your room. This will dictate your purchase. If you intend to set up your soundbar in a large room, opt for one with more grunt. Conversely, if you’re pitching it for a bedroom, you won’t want to blow the door off! Soundbars are often complemented with a subwoofer as part of a package. These subwoofers – a speaker that delivers low end so all the punch and rumble in a film reverberate through your sternum – are generally wireless so can be positioned anywhere around the house.
How do they connect?
It’s easy. If the TV you’re connecting to is an older model without a HDMI port, then you can connect via an optical cable (generally supplied). TVs with HDMI ports will get better sound quality, but even better, if the TV has HDMI ARC or even HDMI eARC, an improved version found on new TVs, you’ll be able to control the volume using your remote.
In the channels
You would’ve heard of 3.1, 5.1 and even 7.1. Confused? Think of channels as individual speakers, so a 5.1 would be a right and left front speaker, a right and left rear speaker, a centre speaker making the 5, and a subwoofer which is represented by the 1. For the best sound, you’ll want to look for a soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos or DTS-X, audio formats that are quite new in this space. These provide upward facing speakers that bounce the sound off the ceiling giving full, enveloping audio. Thus if you see Dolby Atmos/DTS:X 5.1.2, the final number refers to the quantity of upward speakers.
Soundbars can provide a great alternative to a dedicated Bluetooth movie player, too.
Yes, some soundbars support voice control for Google Assistant and Alexa.
We highlight four top soundbars for you to consider.
Compensating for consumer preference for larger TVs in 2020, the brand new Arc is a longer soundbar at 55 inches and comes with voice control for Google Assistant, Alexa and AirPlay 2, for seamless integration into your smart home ecosystem of choice. A stylish, curved design, the Arc can be wall-mounted or sit beneath a TV. Support for high bandwidth sees the company introducing Dolby Atmos for the first time, and with Arc’s whopping 11 high performance drivers for upwards, forwards and sideways audio, the true cinema sonic experience here is astounding. ARC/eARC, a port most TVs now ship with as standard, allows the Arc to talk directly to the TV, eliminating the need for multiple remotes, but if you have an older TV, Sonos include an optical cable. Connect a Sonos One and add a Sonos Sub for the complete surround sound set-up that’s at the top of its class.
Polk Magnifi Mini
Good things come in little packages, and this indeed applies to the Polk Magnifi Mini, a perfect solution for an apartment or bedroom set-up (just warn your neighbours). The sturdy soundbar comes with a wirelessly connected subwoofer, a remote and features three connection options: AUX, optical for older TVs, or HDMI ARC for newer TVs so you can control the volume from your TV remote. For the soundbar, Polk has squeezed in six drivers here and the results are impressive. Despite its size, Magnifi Mini puts out a lot of noise, ably assisted by the sub. A broad balanced sound, the soundbar has a Night Mode that lowers the bass to stop waking the house and also has a feature called VoiceAdjust that allows users to raise the dialogue in a film or TV show. If you’re searching for a budget level soundbar that punches well above its weight class, this one has to be on the list.
The Q800T has been engineered to adapt to your living space, with Samsung’s Acoustic Beam technology making use of the ceiling and room surfaces to create effects previously impossible to achieve from a soundbar. A wireless subwoofer adds to the convenience, as does built-in voice assistance, and Bluetooth connectivity for two devices. The Q800T can work with any pre-existing devices you have, although to get the best out of the impressive onboard technology such as Q-Symphony, level up with a compatible QLED from Samsung such as their flagship Q905T 8K. Normally when a soundbar is in use, the TV speakers become secondary at best. However, Q-Symphony enables seamless working between compatible QLED speakers and the Q800T soundbar to deliver a deeper sound immersion. Add to this compatibility with Samsung’s SmartThings App and you have your smart home entertainment covered.
Fresh out of the factory, the stylish HT-G700 comes complete with a wireless subwoofer that can be positioned anywhere within the room. On the back there’s an HDMI in, HDMI ARC/eARC out, and the option for optical connection – the unit has three speakers. Utilising Sony’s Vertical Surround Engine wizardry, the soundbar decodes Dolby Atmos and DTS:X to accurately simulate height and surround sound with excellent effect. On the petite remote included with the package there are a number of presets that work exceptionally well. Cinema mode switches the soundbar into impressive, punchy room-filling sound that best accompanies a movie or a TV show, while the music setting is optimised for streaming tunes. An adjustable voice mode will lift or decrease dialogue while a night setting provides sound that is still easy to hear, but lacks the bass. The HT-G700 is the complete all-in-one package that performs remarkably well.