If you’ve looked at buying a new TV sometime in the last five years, there’s a good chance that the sales rep tried to upsell you into pairing it with a brand new soundbar. Home Hi-Fi isn’t what it used to be. Here’s everything you need to know about soundbars, whether they’re worth it and which ones are gonna give you best bang for your buck.
What is a soundbar?
A soundbar is a rectangular-shaped speaker accessory that’s specifically designed to complement the TV in your home theatre setup.
The accessory has come into prominence as a popular solution to an often overlooked problem. Most of the time, the speakers that come built into modern TV sets suck. Sometimes they’re stuck on the back of the display and forced to bounce sound off the walls behind or around the screen. Almost-always, they’re competing with other components for space.
Much like the multi-lens camera systems found on the back of modern smartphones, most speakers are only as good as the space they have to work with. Having to work within the limitations of a flat-screen form-factor makes it harder for TV speakers to sound good.
So much of why speakers sound the way they do is due to their shape. More than just looks, the design of a speaker informs and enables different kinds of spatial acoustics.
Soundbars get around this problem by dedicating themselves to it. They’re not integrated into the TV. Instead, they sit in front of it and independently work to achieve the high-quality surround sound experience that most TVs can’t deliver.
Why should I want one?
Once you’ve gotten used to it, it’s pretty easy to live with the audio experience that a TV alone can produce. However, investing in a soundbar can make for a much more cinematic and enjoyable home entertainment experience.
Since a soundbar is a dedicated speaker, it’s a lot better at handling both ends of the volume spectrum. You’re less likely to miss out on things like softly spoken dialogue and you’re more likely to get the full breadth of the more dynamic soundscapes found in modern blockbusters.
While the speakers in your TV are doing the best they can with what they have, msot soundbars are engineered to do better from the get-go.
How much do soundbars usually cost?
Like many categories of consumer tech, it’s absolutely possible to drop a couple hundred dollars on a cheap soundbar and call it a day. In some ways, this will solve part of the issue that comes with where TV speakers are placed but, at the same time, you’re gonna get what you pay for. You might get sound that’s a step above your TV speakers but you won’t get any extras like Dolby Atmos. You might not even get a bundled-in wireless subwoofer.
Though the best soundbars can cost well beyond AU$1000, the sweet spot for soundbars is around AU$800. At $800, there are plenty of great options to choose from and the gulf between what you’re getting and best-in-class products isn’t as wide as you might expect.
Who makes soundbars?
These days, many of the same brands who make your TVs manufacture and sell soundbars to go with them.
The two products are often designed with one another in mind, meaning that keeping your home entertainment kit within the same brand can often have benefits. They might be a little easier to set up together. In the case of Samsung’s more pricey soundbars, they’re actually built to collaborate with the speakers inside their latest QLED TVs.
Of course, there are reasons to look beyond the branding on your TV when you’re soundbar shopping. Audio-centric brands like Sonos are also worth looking at. While you won’t see much cross-product integration here, you will generally find higher-spec outputs and more audiophile-centric features - which can be good if you’re looking to play music on your soundbar.
Are soundbars worth it?
In short, yes.
These days, so much of what sells you on whatever you’re looking at on your TV is the sound and most TV manufacturers these days tend to settle for good enough because they expect (or want) you to buy a soundbar. Preferably from them.
On some level, this might seem a little manipulative but, on the other hand, it does make some sense.
The world where we reinvent and redesign modern TVs to accommodate better acoustics is probably one that costs consumers more upfront than the one where manufacturers focus on getting the display side of things and offer an optional accessory that makes the experience that much more cinematic for those who do want superior audio.
If you’re convinced, check out a few soundbar recommendations below:
Yamaha YAS108B Soundbar Speaker
While Samsung, LG and Panasonic all offer their own bespoke soundbar solutions these days, there’s still something appealing about the notion of throwing your lot in with a traditional sound brand like Yamaha - especially when the price isn’t as dear as you might think.
Yamaha’s YAS108B soundbar supports virtual 3D sound and packs in a set of built-in subwoofers. If you’re looking for a smart upgrade on the tin-sounding speakers in your cheap TV, it’s a fast, easy and smart way to go.
Pioneer SBX-101 Bluetooth Soundbar and Subwoofer
If you’ve got the room for a separate subwoofer and fancy something a little more dedicated, Pioneer’s SBX-101 is an inexpensive alternative.
Soundbars don’t get much cheaper than this without significant compromises and while the SBS-101 dowesn’t come with things like HDMI-Arc or Airplay support, it’ll absolutely make for a solid improvement on the foundations of your next home movie experience.
Sonos’ miniature soundbar isn’t quite as capable as the more expensive Sonos Arc but if you own any other wireless speakers from the brand and are looking to invest in a good First Soundbar, it’s hard to beat.
In our review, we said that “Sure, if you’re an AV fanatic, the Sonos Beam might not live up to your expectations - but that’s kind-of by design. Conforming to the usual Sonos tenets and verses, the Beam is very much a soundbar that “just works” for everyone else. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it does package the soundbar experience in a way that’s fresh, modern-looking, extremely easy-to-use, and more affordable than before.”
You can buy the Sonos Beam here.
Samsung Q70 Soundbar
In our hands-on, we said that “Samsung Q70 soundbar is hard to fault. Like, I literally don’t know where I’d begin when it comes to ways in which it could be better. It was pretty intuitive to mess with it and find exactly the sound signature or output you’re looking for. And if I didn’t want to do that, the Automatic AI-powered optimisation made up the difference in strong form.”
You can buy the Samsung Q70 Soundbar here.