Not many of the TVs sound great. If you have a TV with a weak sound, you might be looking to buy a new sound system for your TV. You might be interested in soundbars. What if I say, for the same price you can buy a proper speaker system? There is a reason why you shouldn’t go for a soundbar unless you have no other options. For the question, is the soundbar a good option? the answer is, it depends. Read on to know more.
What is a soundbar?
You’re highly likely to have seen it before. At least on paper. A soundbar is a long bar that has speakers or an array of speakers inside. They have specially designed speakers to counteract the negatives of small speakers. Yes, they have tiny speakers inside it. As the soundbar grows thinner each year, the speaker size also reduces correspondingly. A soundbar does not only have front-firing speakers these days but drivers on top to give an immersive experience.
Why a soundbar?
So, why you should buy a soundbar or equivalents anyway? It is because the TV speakers suck. Yeah, that’s simple. It sucks. Except for a few TVs, the speakers are positioned not facing the ears of humans. Either the speakers are in the back of the TV or they are under the TV.
Well, Is it really important?
It is. In fact, It is very important. Sound works in a peculiar way. The lower the frequency less directional it is. Is it confusing you? let me explain. Bass frequencies can travel well even if you keep the speakers on a corner. Surprisingly, you cannot detect the direction of sound (where it is coming from) under 80Hz. High frequencies are quite the opposite. You can distinctly pinpoint the location of the treble frequencies. Mid frequencies fall right in the middle of both bass and trebles.
Unfortunately, high-frequency drivers must be positioned facing the ear. High frequencies above 2.5 kHz make the sound crisp, rich, and airy and add a lot of character in terms of definition. Treble frequencies cannot travel around an object as bass frequencies do. Treble frequencies can be hidden just like that. The drivers in the TV that are responsible for reproducing bass, mids, and higher frequencies are the same.
Adding insult to the injury, they are either backfiring or down-firing. This means, sound (read Treble) is masked and you don’t get that much definition from the speakers. Even if you think it is already sounding nice, it doesn’t. Cannot bend the laws of physics, can we?
Hence external speakers and soundbars have come to the rescue. They have speakers positioned directly to the ears and therefore you can enjoy HiFi sound.
Now it leads to the original question,
Is soundbar a good option?
Read on to know more.
Like the TV speakers, the soundbar is full of compromises. Yes, it came to rescue the tv sound but it is not a good replacement. It is far better than a pair of TV speakers but can never come close to dedicated speakers. Let me explain
When you look at the soundbar, you will see a lengthy bar filled with speakers. The companies that make them are trying to make it sleek and elegant to look at. This, mostly takes away the good characters of the sound. The speakers used in it is smallest from 2 inches to 3 inches. And that too in the shape of rectangle or oval. It is far from actual round speakers. If you think, only driver size is the compromise, it’s the tip of the iceberg.
In stereo terms, when a piece of music is played in between two speakers, it creates a soundstage where every instrument is placed while playing the music and the singer sings from an imaginary center called the phantom center. It just recreates a live stage performance. To get a proper sound stage, the distance between the speakers is very important. Wider the better until they are 45 degrees from the center with respect to our listening position. You might have guessed it already.
Yeah, soundbars are not so wide and the stereo image created by it is often narrow. Too narrow that you cannot get the instrument and vocal separations. This is the major disadvantage of a soundbar. In the case of a home theatre system, you get to choose where to keep the speakers. Unfortunately, with soundbars, you cannot.
No true atmos
Dolby Atmos is a multichannel sound setup where there are sound sources above the head. This is achieved by placing the speakers above the head. The experience is extraordinary. Now, some soundbars claim they can do atmos decoding. This is achieved by throwing the sound up in the ceiling to make them reflect off the ceiling before it reaches the ears. This gives you imaginary height speakers. It works to an extent, especially for music. But for movies, it’s more of a gimmick. A Dolby Atmos home theatre will run circles around the soundbars with Dolby Atmos’ support.
Loudness and distortion.
The soundbars usually cannot go loud as home theatre speakers would go. If at all they are loud, they distort. Premium soundbars can offer excellent sound quality but at an exorbitant price. For the same price, you will be better off with a home theatre system.
So what can you go with?
You can go with anything with discrete speakers for each channel. This can be a soundbar with removable speaker cabinets or a speaker system with 5 speakers and a subwoofer like Logitech Z 906.
Better still is a home theatre system with an AVR like Onkyo HT-S3910 if you’re into movies.
Also read: best amplifiers under $500
Also read: Best speakers for pop music
It is true that for a TV sound replacement, the soundbar is a great upgrade. Unfortunately, Soundbar is NOT a good option. For the love of music, one can get a proper system, like we have seen already, which is much better than the soundbar for the price. End of the day, the purpose of music is enjoyment and it is far more enjoyable on a system made for music than an all in one compromised system. Thanks for reading.
Aju Vignesh Sathiaraj Padma is a mechanical and audio engineer. He is a person who loves technology and things. He is also an audiophile and loves to listen to audio gears. He is an avid writer and loves to blog.