If you’ve purchased a TV recently, you may have been suggested to buy a soundbar, too. Or if you’re looking to make significant improvements to your home entertainment audio experience, you’ve probably heard of soundbars also.

Sometimes called speaker bars, soundbars are essentially a wide encasement of speakers (ranging from 2 to 7) that integrate devices, such as a TV or Blu-ray player.

Because their sole role is to project sound (unlike TVs or laptops, which perform many other tasks), soundbars make the most of their space to deliver the best sound their internal components and physical volume allow.

The problem with traditional TVs or laptop sound is that they are asked to deliver the entire audio spectrum with just one or two small speakers. And often, the space available inside the device does not even allow them to face you.

A soundbar eliminates both of these problems. Firstly, it assigns the right speaker to deliver the right portion of the audio spectrum. Secondly, its design allows the sound to face you without touching other components that could create unwanted resonance.

Soundbars are slim, inconspicuous, easy to set up, and will improve your TV sound. If you go for one of the best soundbars on the market, you can easily get sound output similar to a full-featured surround sound system. And you can achieve this sound at a reasonable price.

But, before deciding which soundbar is best for your needs, it may be important to understand how soundbars work. This guide will take you through some of the functions of a soundbar and help you make an informed choice.

Can You Use Any Soundbar on Any TV?

When matching a soundbar with a TV, one of the most important things to consider are the audio connections each device offers. You’ll need devices that are compatible. Newer devices are generally designed to work with newer technology, such as soundbars. But it’s worth double-checking what connections your devices are using.

HDMI-ARC is probably the most common connection between TVs and external audio devices. ARC (audio return cable) simply means the audio signal can travel both ways, input, and output.

If you want to connect a soundbar to an older TV model, you’ll need to verify they share the same connection capabilities. Beyond that, it is not necessary to match your TV and soundbar brands. Though, there are some benefits to this approach:

  • Single remote syncing – your TV remote may work with the soundbar as well as the TV.
  • Autopower Link – power up the soundbar automatically when you turn on the TV.
  • Design compatibility – eliminate many interfacing or connection glitches. Syncing the features between the two devices is seamless.

If the idea of a single remote operating the two devices appeals to you, matching the brands is a good solution. However, it is also possible to set up a universal remote.

These benefits may also be available with different manufacturers and do not mean that you cannot use a soundbar on a TV from a different manufacturer. In fact, some of the best soundbar brands are not affiliated with any TV brands. But do keep in mind the setup might not be as simple as a setup with matching manufacturers.

What Makes a Soundbar Sound so Good?

Soundbars are made up of several speakers inside a single box. The speakers are placed in the bar in positions to help isolate the different frequencies. Smaller speakers take on the sole responsibilities of the higher frequencies, for example. This largely improves the sound quality, notably in speech: dialogues and music vocals. It can also create a surround sound effect.

The speaker arrangement also incorporates psychoacoustics. This is how our mind perceives what we hear. For example, it would be unnatural for us to hear the same source deliver TV shows as it would our favorite jazz album. By dividing the frequency range into different sources, soundbars eliminate this unnatural phenomenon in your home theater.

The placement of the soundbar will also affect the quality of the sound. Normally, you should put the soundbar below your television, in close proximity to the visual or where you perceive the sound to be coming from.

Additionally, by isolating the speaker range, soundbars avoid unwanted resonance that might affect the sound. The audio waves are not adulterated by vibrating with other components of the TV, such as the glass of the screen or the internal wires.

What is the Difference Between a 2.1, 5.1, 7.1 Ch Soundbar?

A 2.1 channel soundbar has a minimum of two speakers. The two channels are left and right. The soundbar normally comes with a subwoofer for the lower bass frequencies.

A 5.1 channel soundbar has 5 speakers and will produce a more enriched listening experience. The channels in a 5.1 soundbar are front left, front right, front center, surround right, surround left. It also has a stand-alone subwoofer.

The 2.1 sound system won’t have as powerful an impact on your listening experience as a 5.1 sound system. It will increase the level of your sound but that will probably be the only noticeable difference. Even the ‘stereo’ and ‘surround sound’ settings will sound nearly identical to the untrained ear.

With the 5.1 sound system, in some instances, all five of the channels are fitted into one bar, and the additional two channels act as the surround channels. In other variations, the front three speakers are fitted into the soundbar then there are two separate surround sound speakers.

Lastly, the most advanced soundbar system feature seven channels and are known as 7.1 Ch systems. Some even feature the latest development in surround sound such as Dolby Atmos. The technology uses sound reflection from the ceiling to add volume and surround to the overall experience. Picking the best soundbar with Dolby Atmos technology can be tricky, but we have recently reviewed some of the most notable examples on the market.

You should remember that more does not necessarily mean better when it comes to sound. Dolby Atmos is a surround sound format available in many soundbars. 2.1 soundbars can be fitted with high-quality speakers that produce quality audio while a 5.1 soundbar could be fitted with poor quality speakers. Each system has the potential to deliver a surround sound feel.

Bottom line

One important factor in the quality of your audio experience is the quality of speaker drivers and the soundbar casing. More does not always equate to better.

Soundbars, by their design, will greatly enhance your listening and viewing experience. Among the various models, make sure you choose the option that fits your needs and, of course, your budget and that you don’t pay for the features you don’t need.