Solid audio performance: The limited
nature of sound bars limits them from sounding as full as a true 5.1-channel
home-theater system, but the best sound bars still deliver clear audio with a
decent bass punch, though many include a separate subwoofer in order to hit the
really low notes.
Decent simulated surround sound: Again, sound
bars can't compare to the full sonic landscape of a 5.1-channel surround-sound
system, but a good sound bar should deliver a fairly convincing simulated
surround sound if you're sitting directly in front of it whether the bar uses
virtual sonic trickery or highly focused internal drivers. Some cheaper models
only offer stereo sound.
Features you need: If you plan on connecting a Blu-ray player directly to the sound bar, you'll need a
sound bar capable of decoding Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD
Master Audio natively, or you'll need a sound bar with a rear IR emitter if
it's going to block your TV's sensor. Others have satellite radio or iPod
Know before you go
Sound bars don't sound
as good as a full 5.1-channel home theater system. That being said,
they're a big step up from integrated HDTV speakers, and they're an excellent
choice if you want a single sleek package but don't want a room full of wires
and speakers -- and don't mind giving up the fully believable surround sound of
a 5.1-channel system. Adding a subwoofer to a sound bar can create a better
sonic low end, which is crucial for enjoying some types of entertainment --
including high-octane movies. Because of that, some sound bars are offered with
separate wired or wireless subwoofers.
Is your room fairly
sound bars use sonic trickery to fool the mind into thinking that sound coming
from small speakers in the front is emanating instead from spots all around the
listener. The effectiveness of the techniques used to pull this off varies and
can be greatly affected by things like seating positions and room geometry.
Active or passive sound
sound bars are "active" sound bars and contain the amplifier and
signal processors necessary for stand-alone operation. However, there are also
some "passive" sound bars that rely on a separate A/V receiver or
amplifier to handle those tasks. If you don't have a receiver or amplifier, shy
away from passive sound bars. All of the sound bars profiled in this report are
of the active variety.
Does the design meet
your needs? A functional design isn't all about connection, although you definitely want to
ensure that your sound bar has the necessary ports to talk to your other
electronics. You also have room considerations to think about. Will the sound
bar fit in the space you have available? Consider the size and shape of the
sound bar itself as well as whether or not there is a discrete subwoofer -- and
whether or not that subwoofer is wired or wireless.
manufacturer's policy regarding authorized dealers before buying online. Some manufacturers
have strict policies regarding authorized dealers. For example, Boston
Acoustics will not honor its warranty if you buy its sound bars from an unauthorized
dealer. Some dealers will offer a substitute warranty, but whether that's a
suitable alternative is something you should consider before buying.
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