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How to buy a soundbar in 2019

For many people, sound bars are the best way to get better audio quality from a TV. They are easy to install, without all the speakers and frustrating wires that come with a surround sound system. Although most soundbars don't sound as good as individual speakers – especially with music – they are still enormously better than the built-in speakers of your TV.

So which soundbar should you buy? A good place to start is CNET & # 39; s list of best soundbars, but if you just want a quick recommendation, go here. All three are the best we tested at the end of 201

9 at their price.

Sarah Tew / CNET

If you want the maximum number of performances for a minimal release, the Vizio SB3621n-E8 is CNET & # 39; s Editor & # 39; s Editor & # 39; s Choice in the budget category. It offers Bluetooth connectivity and a wireless subwoofer. It sounds great and doesn't look too poor.

Read CNET & # 39; s review.

Sarah Tew / CNET

In a competitive field, it is the Yamaha YAS-209 that emerges as the best soundbar with Amazon Alexa on board. The Yamaha offers excellent sound quality and sufficient connectivity for most users.

Read our Yamaha YAS-209 review.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Although there are more expensive, better sounding Atmos soundbars, the excellent Vizio SB36512-F6 offers the best value in this category. It brings refined atmospheric effects to a compact soundbar with rear speakers and a sub – all for a very affordable price.

Read our VIZIO SB36512-F6 review.

Want to know more? Here is a brief introduction about which functions are most important to your needs and other things you need to know.

What size soundbar do I need?

  sony sound bar

Sound bars are sometimes designed to fit the width of certain TV's.


Soundbars come in all shapes and sizes: from under a foot long to wider than a large TV. Although the larger sound bars sometimes offer more drivers & therefore a larger sound, there are others where you only pay for a longer box.

Note that because televisions are measured diagonally, the length of a soundbar does not directly match the screen size of your TV. Of course, the soundbar does not necessarily have to match the width of your TV, even if they are both from the same manufacturer. There are two options, the first is to check the width of your TV compared to the screen size, try this handy chart, or rather, you can check the width of both models in the manufacturer's specifications before you purchase.

If It is not that important that the dimensions match exactly. Try the following guide:

Soundbar length for TV screen sizes

Speaker size (in inches) Recommended TV screen size
12 Elke
38 to 45
42-inch to 50-inch
55-inch to 65-inch
60 70-inch and larger

Which connections do I want?

Many manufacturers still expect you to use your TV to switch between devices. For a long time this meant the use of an optical output between the TV and the speaker, but the increasing prevalence of HDMI sound bars means that you know you have a choice between the two input types. The idea is that you connect all your home cinema devices directly to the TV and then connect the HDMI ARC (audio return channel) or optical output of your TV to the soundbar. It is a simple overall design because you only have to switch between inputs with your TV remote control. (For more information read our manual for using your TV as a switcher .)

  Panasonic UT50 rear panel "data-original =" https://cnet4.cbsistatic.com/img/x1TgxtJzuEbn4bM3rw5elR3Cc8U= /2019/02/04/f6bc9337-eeed-45a8-975f-7dbc27755ee0/27-tcl-s325-s425-series.jpg cialis19659034 completPanasonic UT50 rear panel

Most TVs now have both optical audio output as HDMI ARC. Sarah Tew / CNET

Given the ease of use, for most people it is the best way to use the TV as a switcher. However, there are some drawbacks to this configuration. First, you are limited by the number of inputs that your TV has. If your TV has only three inputs, you can only connect three devices. You can work around this with an HDMI switcher, but then you start adding complexity that you probably wanted to avoid by getting a soundbar in the first place. Another problem is that most TV & # 39; s downgrade incoming audio to stereo, instead of a true surround sound signal. Most bars are stereo only, but surround compatible bars work best with a surround input.

Many newer soundbars, usually at $ 200 and higher, contain multiple HDMI inputs, which you need if you want to connect AV devices directly to the soundbar (instead of routing them through the TV). Look for at least three inputs in the future and try to ensure that these can transmit 4K and HDR signals – especially if you already have a 4K TV.

If the soundbar only has an HDMI ARC input, please note that you cannot connect a source directly to it. First connect your set-top devices to the TV and then connect a cable between the HDMI ARC port of the TV and the soundbar.

Do I need Bluetooth or Wi-Fi music?

  sonos-beam "data-original =" https://cnet3.cbsistatic.com/img/Q4U8Hevbfvsu8yC-gnjWn0j_AV4=/2018/06/06/6d762e2a-c37f-4fcd-ad8b-1926e15a28a1/sonos-beam.jpg

The Sonos Beam is a soundbar with support for wireless music and multiple voice assistants

Juan Garzon / CNET

Although many functions are superfluous when it comes to sound bars, there is an important exception: wireless streaming. This can take one of two main forms: Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Wireless streaming allows you to play music from various sources – such as Spotify on your phone or iTunes on your computer – via your soundbar.

Bluetooth is the easiest way to wirelessly stream audio from your phone or tablet. It works with the music stored on your device and any music app (for example, Pandora or Spotify), plus it's platform-agnostic – virtually all iOS, Android, and Windows phones and tablets have built-in Bluetooth. Similarly, almost every soundbar on the market has Bluetooth, and if this is not the case, you can purchase an adapter such as Belkin or Logitech .

Wi-Fi offers various upgrades to Bluetooth, including the ability to listen in multiple rooms and even operate it with Google Assistant or Alexa. There are several competing "open" standards, including Play-Fi, AirPlay and Chromecast – not to mention brand manufacturers such as Sonos – so it's worth it to first get the Wi-Fi investigate music options .

The most cost-effective system at the moment is the Google Chromecast, which allows you to play and operate in multiple rooms with the Google Assistant.

Do I need Alexa or Google Assistant built-in?

  19-polk-command-bar "data-original =" https://cnet4.cbsistatic.com/img/vsajDb7DcZliMKZcBSgN5Utt_Ww=/2018/07/19/08daf532-2e18-4311-9a28-ce099b850a02/19-polk -command-bar.jpg

The Polk Command Bar has an echo-like lighting ring

Sarah Tew / CNET

In 2019, many soundbars offer built-in voice assistants from Amazon, Google or both (in the case of the Sonos Beam ). The argument is as follows: why buy a Nest Mini and a soundbar if you can combine the two into one device? It saves space and looks better, especially if you mount the speaker on the wall.

Buying a speaker assistant speaker depends on how comfortable you are with a microphone that you always have on in your living room. If you already have an Echo Dot speaker or two, this makes perfect sense and models such as the Polk Command Bar also allow you to operate the soundbar's functions yourself. You can also do fun things, such as turning off the lights or asking about the weather.

If you feel uncomfortable with the idea, see it as a web browser: the assistant is just waiting for you to say the wake word and then responds (the vocal equivalent of a search on the internet). With the speech assistant apps you can even read everything it records if you are concerned about privacy. However, if this is too much, you can easily choose a model without the function.

It is also worth mentioning that with the Amazon Echo Link you can add Alexa functionality to any soundbar with an analogue input (most have them), but you have to go to that input for the responses ( and music).

Do I need surround sound or Dolby Atmos?

  004-samsung-hw-q70r "data-original =" https://cnet4.cbsistatic.com/img/xAVVEjAhY3cLAN1OxXASlz0rDeA=/2019/09/25/53905037-0912-4965-9abb-17eb41cee95e/004-samsung -hw-q70r.jpg

The Samsung HW-Q70R is an Atmos-ready soundbar. Sarah Tew / CNET

In the past, two-channel soundbars did not usually sound much different between stereo and surround modes, but the advent of technologies such as Dolby Virtual: X and wall-bouncing speakers have really improved the immersion of some bars. We were impressed by the sound of two specific models in 2019: the Samsung HW-Q70R and the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar . Both were able to produce almost surround sound without the use of rear speakers.

Adding optional surrounds helps most bars achieve a better surround. For example, the Sonos Playbar combined with the Ikea Synfonisks, gets a huge sense of immersion when playing movies. This ability to add surround speakers to existing & # 39; bars is now supported by many midrange sound bars at various brands such as Polk, LG and Samsung. They usually use Wi-Fi to connect to stand-alone wireless speakers, but since this can add $ 300 to $ 400 to the cost, it can be an expensive option.

In recent years we have seen an explosion in the number of Atmos soundbars released, with the price eventually under $ 500 in 2019. While Netflix and other streaming services now offer movies and TV shows with Atmos soundtracks the number of titles is still overshadowed by the number of titles with surround audio. Although it is worth considering an Atmos bar for future-proofing, it is still not an essential purchase.

What is the difference between a soundbar and a soundbase?

The most common design for sound bars is literally a bar : it is a long, thin speaker that is often combined with a wireless subwoofer. The subwoofer can make a big difference, and if you have a choice between an "onboard" or a separate sub, choose the discrete version. The soundbar can be mounted on the wall or, most of the time, placed on the TV stand. It is largely a trouble-free design, although there may be some disadvantages
including the option to block your TV's remote control sensor. ]] The Sonos Playbase ($ 699, £ 649, AU $ 995) is the favorite sound base of CNET

Sarah Tew / CNET

Sound bases are even slimmer than the more traditional bar design: they act as a base for your TV and therefore never block the TV's remote control sensor. Zvox was the pioneer of this design and despite excellent models such as the Sonos Playbase but this style has unfortunately fallen out of fashion. The main reason is that televisions have distanced themselves from centralized pillars in favor of feet at each end – usually for safety reasons. This usually makes compact "bases" useless for large TVs, while smaller 40-inch TVs must still fit on it. Apart from limited availability, the other potential disadvantage of the pedestal design is bass, or lack thereof. Sound bases usually lack a separate subwoofer and have difficulty producing the same kind of deep bass as traditional sound bars with subwoofers.

Do I have to use the remote control that comes with the soundbar?

Although most soundbars contain a remote control, they are pretty boring in terms of quality and with most manufacturers you can use the remote control of your TV instead.

In theory, it is not a bad idea: nobody wants another remote control to use. In practice it is sometimes more problematic. After turning off your TV's internal speakers, some televisions may display an annoying status message when they receive remote volume commands, which happens when you use your TV's remote control to control your soundbar. The simplest solution to this problem is to use the remote control of your cable box with a volume control or to purchase a universal remote control .

Do I need a soundbar with a display on the front panel?

  Zvox Z-Base 420 front panel display "data-original =" https://cnet4.cbsistatic.com/img/--dIE1qfxExpJNZdu-blIdAoQuU=/2012/11/12/da264261-fdc7-11e2-8c7c -d4ae52e62bcc / Zvox_Z-Base_420_35536645_08.jpg

A legitimate display on the front panel is nice, but not a must-have. Sarah Tew / CNET

A surprising number of soundbars do not have a real display on the front panel, so you do not get much (or any) visual feedback about how loud the volume is or where you are located.

A display on the front panel is certainly nice – especially if it is well hidden, such as on the Zvox SB500 – but we don't think they are essential. Generally, you just turn the volume up to a comfortable level and it doesn't really matter if you're at "20" or "30". Some soundbars, and here we are thinking of Vizio models, have a bewildering array of LEDs that are supposed to correspond to the input you're on, but that are almost worse than no display at all.

What else do I need to know?

That roughly covers it. For more in-depth information, visit our latest reviews of the best sound bars and go inside.

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