An aesthetic counterpart to a flat-screen TV, a soundbar has the advantage of occupying minimal space yet is capable of projecting theater-like sound into the viewing room. It can be wall hung or placed on a tabletop or shelf directly below (or above) the screen. Most come with a separate subwoofer that sits unobtrusively in a corner on the floor. Since the subs on late models increasingly receive their low-frequency effects wirelessly from the soundbar, the only thing to plug in is the power cord. Considering that a soundbar eliminates the need for satellite speakers, all the home theater wiring can stay out of sight behind the TV.
Models in this roundup range in price from as little as $300 to as much as $2,000. They vary in power, number of discrete speaker channels they’re able to simulate and the number and variety of inputs. Some support iPod or iPhone docking.
Since limited source component switching, decoding of Dolby or DTS audio tracks and amplification are built into the system, there’s no need for a dedicated A/V receiver. That means you can save even more space, though often at the expense of the larger jack panel, speaker expandability, networking, tuner and other enhancements only possible with a separate home theater receiver. Soundbars come with connecting cables and usually two power cords (including one for the subwoofer); most come with remotes. The systems are relatively simple to set up. As a category, a soundbar is best described as a "Home Theater in a Long Box."
As you peruse the accompanying chart, you’ll notice that the longest dimension is width. A soundbar doesn’t have to equal the TV width, but it shouldn’t be dramatically wider or narrower either. You don’t want a soundbar that might be mistaken for a center speaker. For 37-inch and smaller sets, consider a 30-incher such as the Power Bar from Energy Speakers or a 31.5-incher like the TVee Model 25 from Boston Acoustics. For sets 42 inches and larger, go for something 40 inches or greater like the Harman Kardon SB 16 Soundbar Home Speaker System or the Polk Audio SurroundBar Speaker System.
While the poundage of most soundbars is typically measured in single digits, more hefty models include the 12-lb Gallery G-42 from Klipsch; 24-lb YSP-5100 from Yamaha; and 25-lb SurroundBar from Polk. None of these heavyweights, however, comes with an external subwoofer. (With the YSP-5100, the sub is optional.)
For thinner models, a subwoofer is physically necessary if you expect the soundbar system to be adroit at reproducing low bass notes, deep rumbles and heart-pounding explosions. A conventional setup has the subwoofer receive the “.1” portion of a multi-channel signal by cable. In this roundup, that’s still the case with the Sony HT-CT150 3.1 Channel Home Theater System, but most models here are wireless. As an alternative to the wireless link, you may still be able to substitute a cable. That’s important if you place the sub out of wireless range. For instance, the Bose® CineMate® 1 SR Home Theater Speaker System links to its subwoofer via Bluetooth, but a 50-foot audio cable is included just in case it’s needed. (See the article, Bose® CineMate® 1 SR Home Theater Speaker System.)
Such source components as a Blu-ray Disc player, DVR and games console can often connect directly to a soundbar. However, in the case of Sony’s HT-CT550W0, the jack panel is on a separate receiver; with its HT-CT150, on the subwoofer.
Several models are iPod- and iPhone-compatible via an included or optional dock. The Yamaha YSP-5100 includes a wireless iPod dock; the YSP-2200 is equipped with a dock port but you’ll need to add the wired YDS-12 iPhone/iPod Dock. For the HW-D450 Crystal Surround Air Track Active Speaker System, Samsung offers the optional HT-WDC10 Wireless iPod/iPhone Dock for digital connectivity. Meanwhile, the Polk Audio SurroundBar doesn’t offer a dock, but thanks to its built-in Bluetooth link, you can wirelessly transmit audio from a compatible Bluetooth device, including iPhones and iPads.
Several systems offer a feature referred to as “HDMI with Audio Return Channel” (ARC). This means that the audio source for the soundbar is the TV itself and is especially convenient if the TV tuner (as opposed to a cable or satellite box) is being used to receive over-the-air or unencrypted cable channels. Your TV must be ARC-compatible, too. Models here that are ARC-capable are the Panasonic SC-HTB520 Sound Bar Home Theater System and Sony HT-CT550W0 and HT-CT150. Where you don’t mind connecting an extra cable, an alternative way to get sound from the TV into the soundbar is usually through an optical audio cable. The Power Bar from Energy Speakers includes the optical digital audio cable in the box.
Every soundbar can be wall mounted, but the mount—specific to the soundbar model—is always sold as an accessory.
|Channels||Peak Power||Soundbar Size||Weight||Sub Wireless||Sub Size||Sub Weight|
|Energy Speakers Power Bar||200W||4.4 x 30 x 4.1"||5 lb||Yes||11.5 x 9.5 x 14"||15 lb|
|Panasonic SC-HTB520||7.1||240W||3.1 x 39.7 x 1.7"||5.5 lb||Yes||16.1 x 7.1 x 12.1"||10.8 lb|
|Sony HT-CT550W0||2.1||400W||37.4 x 3 x 1.6"||5.1 lb||Yes||10.8 x 15.4 x 11.1"||19.4 lb|
|Sony HT-CT150||3.1||300W||31 .5 x 2.6 x 2.4"||2.9 lb||No||7.8 x 17.8 x 16.3"||23.2 lb|
|Samsung HW-D450||2.1||280W||37.7 x 3.6 x 1.8"||5 lb||Yes||6.9 x 13.8 x 11.6"||12 lb|
|Bose® CineMate® 1 SR||4.9 x 36.8 x 2.4"||7.8 lb||Yes||11.1 x 7.6 x 14.7"||13.8 lb|
|Boston Acoustics TVee Model 25||150W||4.4 x 31.5 x 4.4"||5 lb||Yes||9.5 x 10.5 x 11"||11.9 lb|
|Boston Acoustics TVee Model 30||300W||5.8 x 38.1 x 3.2"||6.7 lb||Yes||14.4 x 6.3 x 15.6"||17 lb|
|Harman Kardon SB 16||8 x 40 x 7"||Yes||24.5 x 18.4 x 18.4"|
|JBL SB 300||2.1||240W||3.6 x 45.8 x 3"||5.5 lb||Yes||19 x 14.3x 14.3"||24.5 lb|
|Klipsch Gallery G-42||300W||28.5 x 6.0 x 2.5"||12 lb|
|Polk Audio SurroundBar||42.6 x 4.4 x 5.1"||25 lb|
|Yamaha YSP-2200||7.1||232W||37.1 x 3.1 x 5.8"||9.5 lb||No||13.2 lb|
|Yamaha YSP-5100||7||47.3 x 8.4 x 3.5"||24.2 lb||Optional|