Soundbar Buyer’s Guide
Design and Build
How many channels does your soundbar have? There are very basic designs that have 2.0 channels, but our team has seen soundbars that have 5.1, which is the baseline to create surround sound.
You want the soundbar to accommodate your space, so more channels are generally needed for a larger room. Look for sturdy soundbars, and maybe even ones that have an IP rating if you plan on having it outdoors. Soundbars with glass tops, like the ones from Bose look luxurious and are easy to wipe clean.
Our audio engineers also suggest looking for ones that have a digital display, it’s much more convenient than having to look at your TV when adjusting the soundbar settings. A simple control panel on the side or top will give you a secondary measure of control in case you lose or break the remote.
The soundbar is all about audio quality, which is why extra features such as sound modes and brand-specific tech will make all the difference. Sound modes will allow your device to customize the settings for the best playback for the content. Common sound modes include movie, music, news, game, and sports modes.
Brand specific technology, something like LG Meridian, gives wider coverage and more expansive sound. The cones of the drivers also impact the sound quality. For example, if a brand takes the time to design upfiring drivers, it could create a more surround sound.
Speaking of surround sound, other than having a soundbar with more channels, the audio profiles also matter. Dolby Digital and Atmos will make a big difference in the sound quality. Some soundbars even have automatic tuning features that will detect your entertainment room layout and utilize the acoustics to create the best experience.
Our team has mentioned the channels multiple times, but what does it mean? A channel is usually the same as a driver or speaker, basically where sound comes out or is “channeled”. The most basic design will have 2, but our experts suggest at least 3. 2 channels means you have a left and right speaker in your soundbar, which creates the most basic stereo-like sound.
The addition of a third channel, which is the center channel, will make a big difference in speech clarity. You will no longer have to strain your ears just to decipher certain words. A 5-channel setup is even better because you have 2 additional satellite speakers that will create a true surround sound experience.
The channels are depicted with numbers like 2.0, 3.1, 5.0, 5.1, and so on. The number in front of the decimal is how many channels the soundbar has, and the one behind it is for the subwoofer.
Following that thought, the subwoofer is responsible for the low notes in a soundbar. If you have a 2.0 VS a 2.1 system, it means the 2.1 has an additional subwoofer that isn’t present in its competitor. This also means that you will have better rumbles and low vibrations than the 2.0.
Do you necessarily need a subwoofer in your soundbar? No, not if you have a separate unit, but having an additional one will only bring benefits. There are plenty of subwoofer and soundbar combos that fit the 2.1, 3.1, and 5.1 configurations but are two separate units. If you have to choose, our experts suggest a separate sub as they are more powerful than the ones built in.
Your soundbar should go at the front of the room, either mounted over or placed on your TV, or mounted under or placed on your entertainment stand. Make sure the size of the soundbar you get is suitable for your TV. In general, you want it to be as streamlined as possible, but having a soundbar 1 to 5 inches smaller is fine. If you go smaller than that, the audio quality from the soundbar won’t be much better than your TV default speakers.
A soundbar connects to external devices with a cable or wirelessly. If you go for a wired option, make sure the connections match or you won’t be able to use the soundbar with the chosen device. If it’s wireless, then make sure your connections are stable.
A remote is optional, but it is a very handy bonus feature. You can find soundbars that work with universal remotes, so you can control it with the same one as your TV, but a remote is very convenient. Our audio team also likes soundbars that have compatible apps, because you can also control it via your phone.
Price and Warranty
Soundbars can be very affordable or quite expensive; it all depends on the features. Think about the size, technologies, channels, and qualities we outlined above to find the best one for you. Make sure your purchase is protected by a 1-year warranty at the very least.