Somewhere in the early-to-mid 2000’s, these strange black bars started showing up at electronics shows and in retailers around the world. In 2005, the Yamaha YSP-1 earned “Best of Show” at the Consumer Electronics Show, officially announcing the era of the sound bar.
Here at Electronic House we’ve tabbed the sound bar as something to watch for in 2013 and one of 2012’s biggest tech hits. The just-concluded CES featured sound bars from multiple manufacturers, including the first-ever vacuum tube sound bar from Samsung.
But opinions of this wide-eyed speaker can be mixed. Home theater purists will argue it’s impossible to replicate a 5.1 setup with just one speaker (many soundbars are confugured for LCR setups with separate surrounds and subwoofers). Others will tell you that speakers need separation for good stereo reproduction of music, and that can’t be done when the sound bar is only the width of your flat panel TV.
For others, however, the sound bar is a savior. A rescue from the tinny, soft, and generally terrible built in speakers in today’s ever-slimming HDTVs. The bedroom TV watcher welcomes with open arms the quality upgrade a sound bar brings over the 10-watt speakers in their TV.
Chris Henry, owner of Ann Arbor, Mich., Theater and Electronic Solutions, says he’s seeing sound bar use expand in his designs.
“Originally we saw sound bars used as secondary devices in bedrooms or dens,” Henry said. “Now, the only place we really aren’t seeing them is the dedicated theater room. The quality range has really expanded. High-end sound bars can sound as good as traditional speakers in many cases.”
A sound bar isn’t going to fill a 15×20 room with sound the way a 7.1 setup will. However, sound bars can be amazing upgrades in places where full speaker systems aren’t possible or cost-prohibitive.
“They have their downsides,” Henry said. “You don’t get the ideal location you’d get or the left-right separation of freestanding or in-wall speakers. But as prices come down, we’re able to use more moderate priced ones in places where years ago it would be either in-wall or just the TV speakers. The options have really grown.”
Here we present a primer on when and where sound bars will fill the void created by the continuing lack of attention paid to built-in speakers on today’s HDTVs.
Bedrooms: This could be the perfect room for a sound bar. The bedroom TV tends to be a secondary screen, used for late-night viewing or only when the main TV is already in use. In most cases it simply doesn’t make sense to go through the expense and installation of a full surround setup for this kind of light viewing.
Kids Playroom: Let’s face it, in most cases kids could care less about the directionality or spatial awareness of the soundtrack from the latest Sponge Bob episode. And since the onboard audio for many newer TV sets is equal to that of a tin can on a string, the sound bar fits in perfect here.
Game room/den: Whether it’s pool, foosball, or a poker room, don’t let your buddies show up to watch the game and not be able to hear it. Many sound bars can be hung right below a flat panel TV, making it easy to enhance your audio without adding any additional setup work.
The impossible living room: Concrete slab, plaster walls, hardwood floors. Perhaps you just don’t have the home improvement skills needed to install a surround system or your building owner won’t allow in-walls. There are numerous reasons someone might not want to add a full surround system to their living room. If that’s you, the sound bar is your friend. And while it might not replicate the full immersion of a 7.1 system, newer sound bars do a much better job of adding some dimension to your room. For even better results, be sure to buy one with a wireless subwoofer to add some oomph to your viewing.
Deck/Patio: Assuming you’ve solved the whole issue of electronics in the outdoors (you know, water, electricity, that whole thing) a sound bar would be a great compliment to an outdoor TV setup.
Check out the slideshow for some great soundbar options.