back to article Sonic BOOM: 10 blast-tastic soundbars

As much as we love our flatscreens, there’s no getting away from the fact that 99 per cent of them sound atrocious. The good news is there are plenty of ways to liven up living room TV audio, from soundbars with wireless subwoofers to pedestal-style soundbases. We've had a good look and listen to what's out there and the prices …

  1. Jim Lewis

    The TV manufacturers really have taken us for chumps

    How has it come to pass that when spending hundreds on a new TV we have accepted that the sound will be atrocious and require us to make a further purchase of a decent soundbar?

    We really have been taken to the cleaners on this.

    My £500 plus TV should allow me to hear speech as standard, not strain to distinguish it.

    I certainly won't be splashing several more hundred quid on a sound bar. I have an FM transmitter in the headphone socket and tune my stereo into that.

    Full stereo sound on hifi speakers, but it is a faff and a fiddle to deliver basic functionality the TV should have included.

    1. Callam McMillan

      Re: The TV manufacturers really have taken us for chumps

      I think the whole sound is attrocious thing is overdone. I have a 40 inch Samsung in an average sized living room running the onboard speakers, and it is perfectly audible at a wide range of volumes as well as going more than loud enough for watching any kind of TV programming.

      BUT. While the sound is perfectly competent, it's nothing spectacular. You should look at it in the way that some people decide to remove the perfectly ok stereo from their car and spend a small fortune to make it louder etc. They didn't need to, but they wanted to do so because it's what they like. What you wouldn't say is that the car companies are taking them to the cleaners.

      Oh, and I'm planning to install a 5.1 surround sound setup at some point!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      WTF?

      Re: The TV manufacturers really have taken us for chumps

      You can't cram decent speakers into a 10mm thick enclosure, it's that simple.

    3. Bassey

      Re: The TV manufacturers really have taken us for chumps

      "The TV manufacturers really have taken us for chumps"

      This isn't true. There ARE LCD TVs with decent sound out there. Samsung do an excellent 40" TV with superb picture and sound for about £400. But it is thick and has a large frame. It doesn't have 3D and doesn't have Smarts. So, the public choose the fancy, slim, 3D, smart versions that cost a couple of hundred pounds more and look pretty.

      So who are the chumps?

    4. Mike Bell

      Re: The TV manufacturers really have taken us for chumps

      I plumped for separates right from the off. Before they pulled out of the business I got myself a lovely Pioneer Kuro plasma monitor. All inputs routed through an AV receiver, and audio sent to a set of 5.1 M&K speakers. It's served me well for many years. Logically, it's a straightforward setup. TV speakers don't interest me in the slightest.

  2. FartingHippo
    Megaphone

    "Dialogue can be a little sharp, but the soundstage is expansive"

    I have no idea what that means. Can anyone enlighten me? Should I care?

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: "Dialogue can be a little sharp, but the soundstage is expansive"

      It means the mid range is too loud, and they've screwed around with the audio signal phase to make it seem like the TV is wider than it really is.

      1. Wilseus

        Re: "Dialogue can be a little sharp, but the soundstage is expansive"

        It means the mid range is too loud, and they've screwed around with the audio signal phase to make it seem like the TV is wider than it really is.

        I do wish people wouldn't come on forums like this one and take the piss out of things they clearly don't understand.

        Some stereo speakers driven from a bog-standard CD player and stereo amplifier will sound "wider" than others due to the dispersion characteristics of the drivers used amongst many other factors. The sound from the stereo speakers in my living room appears considerably wider than the distance between them, without any "screwing around with the phase" as you put it. I'm not saying that sound bar manufacturers don't use techniques such as this, often they do, but it's not necessarily the case here.

        Pretty much the same goes for the dialogue sounding "sharp." Many cheaper tweeters have this characteristic, metal and ceramic domes are particularly prone to it. It has nothing to do with anything being too loud and it does not necessarily mean that anyone has equalised the signal to boost the midrange.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    £800 for a SOUNDBAR!

    Why? really WHY would you spend that money on effectively a MONO device (when you have 50cm of separation, it really is just a mono device pretending to be stereo.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: £800 for a SOUNDBAR!

      That's more than I spent on the telly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: £800 for a SOUNDBAR!

        I know right. And a 'sub' with 3.9 inch drivers? Might as well try to play the bass from my mobile phone... :P

        1. silent_count

          Re: £800 for a SOUNDBAR!

          You jest, AC but I've wondered if that could be a plausible strategy - to use a bunch of phones as a speaker system.

          Place your guests' phones at various points around the room. They automagically work out their position relative to the room's 'main' screen. And from there the phones act as a speaker system or as a supplement to the one which is already there.

          Aside from getting phones from different manufacturers to cooperate, which isn't insurmountable, the problem would be that current phones can't determine their position that accurately. Perhaps each phone emits a short beep and the other phones compare notes to determine their relatve position in the room according to how loudly they 'heard' each beep.

          Even if this would only provides the audience with a small improvement in their evening, it'd be worthwhile because it costs nothing - it's using what they already have.

    2. picturethis

      Re: £800 for a SOUNDBAR!

      I agree. Too much money for what these are.

      There are basic physics at work here... Speaker technology hasn't changed much in over 100 years.. With the exception of some minor tweaks like ribbon and transmission line-based transducers. Better materials have improved things, but basically sound requires movement and lower frequencies require more surface area -> i.e. bigger is better.

      If someone wants the sound from their TV to match its visual quality, then standalone speakers will remain the answer for a while more I think. If someone is more concerned about visual aesthetics than sound, then sound bars are a choice, I guess..

      I've been using an outboard audio system since my teens. Infinity RS-3A's, Hafler Amp/Preamp with an external 5.1 system. It works, continues to work and delivers for movies, don't need a subwoofer with this system. When I upgrade TV's (been through several), I could care less about the audio..

      The price for these sound bars is absolutely ridiculous IMO. At these prices can a Monster(TM)-branded sound bar be far behind? One with gold-plated voice coils and vacuum-enclosed transducers that just sound better ;)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: £800 for a SOUNDBAR!

        You are forgetting the (IMHO) revolution in speaker tech that is more than 50 years old.

        I'm talking about electro statics.

        I feed signal from my TV to a 30W/Chan Class A amp that drives a pair of Quad ElectroStatics I bought in the 1970's.

        Great Sound and wonderful stereo separation.

        It is a shame that more use isn't made of this tech.

        1. David Given

          Re: £800 for a SOUNDBAR!

          Possibly the explosions, screaming , fires and general mayhem when little Bobby pushes a knitting needle through the grille?

          I agree they sounded good though - mainly due to being huge and flat and simple, not needing clever trickery to pack them small.

  4. Cuddles Silver badge

    Am I missing something?

    A decent surround sound system can be had for well under £100. Spend £300 or so and you're up to extremely high quality and face-melting power levels. Sure, the point of these "soundbars" (is there a reason we're not just calling them speakers?) is to not take up much space, but exactly the same effect can be achieved by just sticking a couple of regular speakers next to the TV. Hell, given the difference in price you could just get a surround system and bin half the speakers. Audiophiles are well known for being idiots, but at least that's usually because they actually believe something magic is happening, not because they're willing to pay hundreds of pounds extra to make their speakers look like a rectangle instead of speaker-shaped.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Am I missing something?

      I'm pretty sympathetic with your point of view here, but surely "a couple of speakers next to the tv" does take up more space than (e.g.) one of those sound stage things which just raises the tv a bit without taking extra width, or a bar which sits in front of the stand & under the screen.

      As for "under £100" I couldn't agree more - why not some budget soundbar options along the lines off - "if you can't spend more than £100, I suggest you try these..."

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Am I missing something?

        " but surely "a couple of speakers next to the tv" does take up more space than (e.g.) one of those sound "

        Funnily enough that space is taken up with my 'Hi-Fi' speakers which I can plug the telly into so next door can hear what I'm watching.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Am I missing something?

      It's strange. £350 buys a nice little Denon CD player with decent bookshelf speakers that has digital and analogue radio a USB socket for iPods, 'Droids and thumbdrives. Plus digital audio in for your telly. £450 then gets you a 50" LED. That's £800. The telly's dumb as a brick, but smart TVs all seem to suck anyway, so that's no loss. It's Christmas, I've seen offers to take the telly down to £400, and that remaining £50 gets you a Chromecast, Amazon TV, Now TV or Apple TV box to round out the package.

      All for the same price as that bloody sound bar. Or half if you go for the ludicrously over-priced subwoofer too. That kind of money just spent on audio gets you kitted out with Sonos for the telly, that you can then move around and split up for parties, or a pretty decent HiFi set-up. Lunacy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Am I missing something?

        I was looking to uncomplicate my TV audio situation and was considering the Denon a couple years ago.

        But it's still a "3 box" system (amp/receiver + 2 speakers) that would have required extra furniture (speaker stands to place the bookshelf speakers alongside the TV) and ended up taking more space than a sound bar and would have been unable to produce as much bass as one of the soundbars with an external subwoofer.

        Ultimately I ended up getting a soundbar with an external sub. It is simpler and more compact and delivers more bass. I'm pretty happy with it but I might start a separate thread about the disadvantage of small speakers + a big sub, which isn't ideal.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Am I missing something?

          I don't want the extra bass. Firstly because I'm not a big fan of sub woofers, as they always seem to end up sounding like the bass has been tacked on as an afterthought. Although great for shotguns and explosions while gaming, obviously.

          I'm also no fan of ludicrous amounts of bass in general, I'm forever turning the bass down, to try and counteract the damage done by idiot music producers/engineers.

          Finally, I live in a flat. And my neighbours are nice. I already worry about the amount of bass the Denon produces. Especially in films, or when the bloody adverts come on. They seem to whack up the bass as well as the volume, the bastards.

          As you say, in the end I'd rather have bigger speakers. Then again I prioritised music sound quality, and assumed the thing would make the telly sound OK. And was pleased by how well it worked out.

      2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

        Re: Am I missing something?

        Depends what you want. When I was looking at improving the sound for my Samsung LED TV (40 inch "smart" one with no 3D), I considered going for a small Hi Fi like you describe.

        In the long run, I went for a Samsung sound bar. Could just under £200 in a sale and had the advantage that it turns itself on and off as needed. I didn't need to faff around with turning it on, changing modes etc. In fact, beyond changing the volume and cleaning it, I don't need to touch it day to day.

        OK, so the small HiFi would probably have sounded better (even with the sub in use), but try finding various remotes, turning everything on and ensuring it's in the right mode quickly when you have a grumpy 2 year old you are trying to keep quiet. Gets a little stressful.

        Edit: Yes, I know it's a good idea to keep all the remotes in one place, and have tried to implement this several times, but my housemates (as well as the aforementioned two year old) do have a habit of wandering around the house with remotes.

  5. Gordon 10 Silver badge
    WTF?

    FAD - WTF is the point

    Of having an ultra flat telly mounted to the wall if you have to have some lumpen mass of a soundbar under it?

    Only about 2 of those were actually slim enough for wall mounting.

    Talk about a Fad market segment - apart from the technology advances like Bluetooth and lots of HDMI ports how is this materially better than my 8 year old Sony 5.1 DAV-IS 10 all-in one tucked in a cabinet with tiny micro speakers and a monster sub tucked out of the way. ( it was the WhatHiFi 5* model of the time - all for £500.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FAD - WTF is the point

      I've been considering the purchase of a soundbar for mounting on the back of the headboard of the bed so my wife can use the bt on her phone instead of wearing headphones to bed (she breaks an awful lot of them). The sub can go under the bed (she loves tall beds) and imaging isn't a big deal for her. It would also eliminate a shiny plastic box from the top of the dresser.

  6. Bassey

    Maxwell Cheapy

    If the Maxwell is as good as the review suggests and such a bargain at £230, it is currently on at eBauyer for £140! That sounds (geddit?) like a bit of a steal.

  7. Ragefire

    The 'Mrs' factor

    For me, tis the 'Mrs' factor. Started off years ago with Mordant Short Genie 5.1, which went down like a lead balloon (huge sub), as did the migration to a pair of B&W 685's on stands. Moved into a new build house, and it was clear the Mrs was going with a minimalist theme (well, in comparison to what we squeezed into the living room previously), and I didn't even attempt to raise the question of speakers. So I managed to talk her into the DM75 to cover both music, and to raise the audio quality of a Sony 55" W8.

    Sits under the TV and is hardly noticeable, sounds amazing, and once you've spent 5 mins training the Sony remote, springs to life whenever you take the TV out of standby.

    Wife happy, and the audiophile wannabe in me smiles. Win. Especially as the 685's are now in the study, and the Genie's will be installed in the garage come spring. Everyone needs 5.1 in the garage don't they?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just go to Richer Sounds and listen to the various soundbars

    The day after we got the flat TV we went to Richer Sounds ( either that or get the old TV back SWMBO said ) and ended up with a Wharfedale Soundbar

  9. Richard 81

    Austerity, we've heard of it.

    Only two of these were less than £200; in fact they were £1 less than £200.

    I would like to get better speakers for my TV, so a list of options around £100 would be very useful.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do it PROPERLY!

    PLEASE just go and get some real speakers and a real amplifier.

    There's a reason why speaker cabinets are quite larger, they have to enclose a driver that pushes air!!!

    This dumbing down of every aspect of our lives is driving me mad. Soundbars sound CRAP.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Do it PROPERLY!

      Sound bars are to real speakers/amplifiers what laptops are to desktops. Each has their place but you're likely to pay a premium for compactness, which for some people, is the primary requirement.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Uninformed comments

    There are several comments on this thread along the lines of "I'm not idiotic enough to spend any more as my TV sounds perfect as it is".

    Suggest those people actually go and hear the difference before jumping to that particular conclusion.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Uninformed comments

      How very patronizing... Ain't you uninformed about the TV they actually have or how important the sound is in their TV experience?

      "as my TV sounds perfect to me as it is". There, I fixed it for you.

    2. Lamont Cranston

      Re: Uninformed comments

      Since getting rid of the previous 5.1 setup, I realised that my TV sounds sufficient, as it is.

  12. Lallabalalla

    Cheap option

    Any halfway decent computer speaker system - with or without a subwoofer - can be a massive improvement over stock. Just plug it into the headphone socket. From Creative to Hardman Kardon: Expect to pay under a hundred for Creative GigaWorks T40 Series II or Creative A550 (5.1) systems...

    Compared to a standard telly they sound great, though I find subwoofers a bit overpowering personally.

  13. Stevie

    Bah!

    Having forayed into flatscreen territory this Christmas I decided to tear out the old Panasonic DVD/Reciever/Dolby Pro Logic system and replace it with a soundbar. No the sound won't be as good but I live in a small house and the room I view in is tiny enough that I won't notice a big difference.

    Besides, the DVD carousel had developed a "won't stay open" fault that the intarwebs think is impossible to fix in-house, and the sound connections would mean yet another remote control in play.

    So I paired my Sony Bravia with a Vizio 48" 5.1 "wireless" soundbar and, once I had figured out how to dial down the factory preset "subwoofer awesome" it actually sounded very nice indeed. Good surround sound panorama and all that.

    And I managed to keep the costs to under a thousand dollars American. Not bad for a platform ents tech upgrade.

    I *did* have to upgrade some crappy 1950s just-so-good-and-no-further no earth wiring, but that's an ongoing project from hell.

  14. James Macey

    waste of time reading this article

    prices are out of date - lots of decent and reasonably priced options missing. I find this article poorly researched and I don't believe the author spent much time with any of these devices (if at all).

    I have 4 round the house, two of which are in this list (numbers 2 and 3, the Canton and Maxell) and I don't really agree with much said about either (apart from the Maxell being a bargain)

    Where is the Cambridge TV2 for example? Where are the lower priced Yamaha kits?

    The Maxell SB-3000 can be had for well under £200 inc delivery and is far better than this review suggests. It is really wide though and won't sit on most peoples tv stands (mine sits on a long sideboard) and not suitable for those who put their TV in the "corner".

  15. stu 4

    speakers should be seen AND heard

    Never seen the point of sound bars for main tv.

    I mean most folk now will buy a 2k LED tv which promising amazing picture quality and then either not get any external sound system or burden it with a shitey sound bar - and they are ALL shitey.

    onyo amp : 100 quid

    4 x floor standing missions (rears on pedestals) : 200 quid.

    powered sub: 100 quid.

    400 quid, and sound that will shit all over any soundbar out there.

    sound in a movie is as, if not more important than the picture. they've spent millions putting 5.1 DTS together then folk spew it through a sound bar.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: speakers should be seen AND heard @ stu 4 (exactly, whats the point of a soundbar?)

      I've a 46" Samsung LED LCD, Yamaha RX773 reciever, Samsung BluRay/DVD/CD player and a complete 7.1 setup of Polk Monitor 70 & 35 speakers with two powered subwoofers (Right & Left). I could go 7.2 but am bi-amping the front speakers which uses those amp circuits..

      There isn't a soundbar in the world that could compare and music is just magnificent on this setup.

      The reciever has a network port, Airplay, BlueTooth, Internet Radio, and Pandora.

      Everything ties together with HDMI cables only (audio pass though and 4K video support) and even the DLNA works with my computer. Futureproof for the forseeable future.

      Why would you limit your sound with just a soundbar? As mentioned earlier, there is almost no stereo separation so it might as well be mono, the SNR sucks & I won't ask what the THD is.

      Call it misogynistic but, Audio/Video choices should not be left up to the woman in the home or all you'll get is a soundbar. Form should ALWAYS be second to function.

    2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: speakers should be seen AND heard

      The problem is with a full surround sound system is not cost. As you note, you can get quite a decent one for about £400.

      One of the problems is space. Do you, or your other half really want speakers all around the room, together with the relevant cabling (even wireless speakers need power)?

      Another problem is, as I mention above, cabling. Do you want to have to bury your cable in the walls, or floor, or tack it to the walls? Do you want it trailing across the floor, or hidden behind furniture? If you have it trailling across the floor, it's a trip hazard. If you bury in in the floor, walls or behind furniture, or secure it to the walls, it still takes time and effort.

      With a sound bar, you need one mains cable, one cable from the TV/STB and one for the subwoofer (which can be anywhere in the room as human hearing cannot accurately pinpoint the direction of bass sounds). Then there is also ease of use. With a surround sound system, you have to turn on the system and set it to the correct mode and turn on the TV and any STBs..

      With a soundbar (or with mine, anyway), you turn the TV and the STB. The sound bar comes on when it detects an audio signal, and switches off about half an hour after the signal finishes.

      You are paying (IMO) for a fairly decent sound system, but you are also paying for convenience. When I got my sound bar home, it was properly installed and working 5 minutes after I got it out of the box. I can also pretty much forget about it day to day. It does not sound as good as a surround sound system, but I don't need it to. I just need something that sounds better than TV speakers and works.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Disadvantage of small speakers and big subwoofer

    I bought a sound bar + external sub which I'm fairly happy with but I'm not sure I'd buy it again.

    The problem is that sound bars have small speakers to cover the midrange. I bought my own sound bar specifically because it has relatively large (3 inch) speakers but that's still significantly smaller than the drivers in typical bookshelf speakers and they can't produce a meaningful amount of sound below ~130Hz.

    Meanwhile, the subwoofer has a big output peak around 80Hz which is not atypical of these products.

    So what often happens with male speech is that the very bottom end is boomed out of the subwoofer, you can barely hear the middle bit, and the higher frequencies are at "regular" volume. It sounds pretty unnatural and distorted to me and it explains why a lot of these sound bars have a "dialogue" mode which basically just turns off the subwoofer.

    If I were to do it again, I would buy two floor-standing speakers (which don't necessarily cost much more than bookshelf speakers, deliver better bass, and don't require extra furniture, i.e., speaker stands) and an amp... ultimately such a 3-box solution wouldn't be that much more complicated than my 2-box soundbar solution.

  17. BiffoTheBorg

    Not sure if the devices reviewed are dedicated to use with the TV or can be used as more general purpose sound delivery devices.

    I use a SONOS Playbar, SUB, and a pair of Play 3s and I am very happy with the sound for films and general TV. Very immersive for watching football. Also, jolly handy for playing music and listening to the radio when the TV is off. I used to have big speakers but my wife didn't like the "clutter".

    Many of us these days seem content to trade a bit of quality for a lot of convenience.

    1. Slions

      I was looking to upgrade my 13 years old Yamaha stereo HiFi to 5.1 surround. Tried a Teufel Cubycon® 2 Digital HD. Their DecoderStation 7 emitted an annoying high pitch noise so I had it replaced, same issue, sent the whole kit back. Went to the local Mediamarkt where I first found out about Sonos and their product range. At first I was not impressed and thought that's just the new fashionable gadget. After some research I ended up getting PLAYBAR, SUB and PLAY:3s. It's an awesome set of networked speakers.

      One thing though I wish the PLAYBAR could drive a pair of front left and right speakers too. It does a descent job as it is but as mentioned in earlier comments the sound bar form factor and proximity of left and right speakers is somewhat limiting.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The main problem with sound bars ...

    ... is that people can't spend £100s on "interconnect".

    So what's the point of that!?

    I suppose they can swap out the 13AMP plug fuse for a nice £50 one that'll improve the audio no end!

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Simply buy a B&O 7-40 or Avant, and you get the sound bar, great sound and picture quality and superb aesthetics in one austerity-busting package. And a nice man comes to plug it all in for you. It's worked well in all my properties across the world.

  20. Bailey

    Philips HTL5140

    If anyone's interested, I'm extremely happy with my HTL5140. I did a lot of research and it kept coming up as the very best sub-£300 soundbar. Had to get a grey import from Amazon Europe, as Philips can't seem to sort their supply chain out, but overall an excellent soundbar. Looks great and sounds the business - a million miles better than the previous 2.1 PC speaker setup I was using before.

  21. MJI Silver badge

    Prefer speakers

    Normal TV, the TV speakers are good enough.

    Films and games, I have a 5.0 system for that.

    (Floor standing fronts rather than sub)

    And my centre uses a microwave bracket as speaker brackets were too flimsy.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021