…And The Elusive Music Bar
Have you noticed how thin TV’s have gotten? When it comes to picture, the future is now! The unexpected side effect is that sound hasn’t been able to stick to the diet. Skinny TV’s created a need for sleek Soundbars.
That big ol’ tube TV had plenty of space for speakers to hide. Even the first generation of LCD and LED TV’s were a few inches thick. Sound quality slipped a little, but we almost didn’t notice. Now we are down to a few millimetres of glass. The manufacturers try to add a few small speakers, but you can’t cheat physics, and the result is a brand new market for Soundbars.
A traditional Soundbar is simply a set of speakers specifically designed to work with your sleek new TV. From the most basic examples that simply replace the TV’s speakers, to the most advanced that use premium components and incorporate wireless subwoofers; Soundbars are fundamentally giving you back quality stereo sound, often adding a centre channel for enhanced vocals.
Soundbars come in two main varieties: Powered models are the most common. A powered Soundbar incorporates its own amplifier, and usually a few preprogrammed EQ settings to tune it to your listening preferences. They are easy to setup; needing only to be plugged-in and a signal connection to the TV. Most Soundbars work best through your TV’s ‘optical out’.
The second type of Soundbar is ‘Passive’ these are usually an array of premium speakers contained in a single cabinet. Passive Soundbars do not include their own amplifiers and must be connected to a receiver which must in turn be connected to power and then to your TV. They are much more complicated to setup, but also provide the best possible sound in the category.
Sound Projectors are similar to a Soundbar only in a shape. Instead of directly replacing the speakers in your TV, they use an advanced array of drivers and special software to simulate surround sound. This category is currently dominated by Yamaha’s YSP line; the flagship of which has an unprecedented 44 speaker array contained in a single bar. A sound projector works by bouncing sound off your walls and roof to trick your ears into hearing full surround sound. The effect is impressive, but results vary heavily based on the shape of your room. The sweet-spot is often only big enough for one or two viewers. Sound projectors are perfect for apartment living, but not ideal for sharing the experience with friends.
Finally we come to a subcategory of Soundbar; what I call a Musicbar. Companies like Sonos and Paradigm have crafted Soundbars with music in mind. These upscale Musicbars are more adept at streaming your favourite stations and reproducing the subtleties of music. Music Bars trade brute force for the subtleties of song, though they are generally less punchy with movie sound effects.
There are no wrong choices when it comes to Soundbars, Projectors, and Music Bars. Almost anything will sound better than the built-in TV speakers. Just remember to always audition audio equipment before you buy… Trust your heart, only you will know which one your ears like best!