Comparing reviews of sound bars
Sound bars are one way to bridge the gap between built-in TV audio and what's produced by a surround-sound system with five to seven (or more) speakers plus a subwoofer. Sound bars are one-piece, home-theater speaker systems that are sleekly styled and can be hung on a wall underneath a flat-panel TV or placed on an entertainment center for TVs that are stand-mounted. They typically contain the center channel and left and right surround speakers, and use sonic trickery -- with varying degrees of success -- to produce a surround-sound field.
The price range for sound bars ranges from as little as $100 to as much as $2,000 depending on the features and audio quality you need or want. Some sound bars include a Blu-ray Disc player to create a complete home-theater-in-a-box solution. Many also include a separately powered subwoofer to provide better bass. Some even add wireless rear-channel speakers to create a true surround-sound system. Though most have all the necessary electronics built in, others are passive and need to be used with a separate home-theater receiver or amplifier, just like a more traditional speaker system.
Every expert agrees that sound bars deliver better sound than is available from even the best TVs, but they also agree that most sound bars are a compromise. Sound bars are easier to hook up than a traditional surround-sound system, and, in the right setting, many can sound excellent and even produce a reasonably expansive sound stage. Most of the time, however, sound bars can't deliver the full surround-sound experience of more traditional solutions. Sound effects might be inaccurately placed, or the thunks, bangs and explosions in blockbuster movies could lack the oomph produced by a more robust surround-sound system.
Audio performance is one big concern when considering which sound bar to buy, but there are other considerations as well. Does it have a subwoofer or rear speakers? Is it wireless? What types of audio inputs does the sound bar have? Perhaps most importantly, is the price-to-performance ratio satisfactory? We kept those questions in mind as we sifted through numerous professional and user reviews to identify the best sound bars available today.