Sound bars are an easy audio solution for your home theater
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 of the best sound bars also include a separately powered subwoofer to provide better bass. Some even add wireless rear-channel speakers to create a true surround-sound system. For most situations, the best sound bars will have all the necessary electronics built in. Passive sound bars that include only the speakers are also available, but those need to be used with a separate home-theater receiver or amplifier, just like a more traditional speaker system, and are not covered in this report.
Experts agree that sound bars deliver better sound than what is available from even the best TVs, but they also agree that even the best 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 soundstage. 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 thumps, 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 shopping for the best sound bar, but there are other considerations as well. Does the sound bar have a subwoofer or rear speakers? Is it wireless? What types of audio inputs does the sound bar have? Perhaps most important, is the price-to-performance ratio satisfactory? We kept all of those questions in mind as we sifted through numerous professional and user sound bar reviews to identify the best choices.