Soundbar Roundup

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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    

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I have scanning the web just to find out what size sound bar I should by for my 52" HDTV, what length is best?

how do you rank energy elite sound bar bar vs yamaha ysp2200 for a 60'' tv screen and 15' by 18' room.

***** Victor -

To my hearing and listening tastes,  I felt that the Yamaha YSP-2200 Digital Sound Projector, with its superior design, soundstaging, DSP processing, and ease of set-up, offers the best overall value and listening experience. The YSP-2200BL applies this sophisticated Digital Sound Projector technology to precisely control the orientation of the sound by focusing it through multiple beams. The center channel sound is heard directly, while sounds from other channels are heard after reflecting off walls. The result is true multi-channel surround sound that sounds just like a multi-speaker system - but without the need for extra speakers. Yamaha's exclusive IntelliBeam Automated System Calibration ensures optimum multi-channel sound reproduction with accurate image location. By monitoring and analyzing the sound with the microphone included with the YSP-2200BL, IntelliBeam automatically sets the best beam angles, while optimizing the level and frequency response of each beam. This makes initial setup both extremely simple and acoustically perfect. UNIVOLUME made possible by Yamaha-developed technology, maintains a consistent volume level between different channels, programs, commercials and input sources. It can be switched on and off.  The YSP-2200BL achieves true surround sound by directing sound beams off the walls to reach the listener from various angles. The main mode is 5 BeamPlus2 for 7-channel sources.  11 CINEMA DSP Programs: 3 Movie, 3 Music, 5 Entertainment including improved Game program.  When music is encoded into a digitally compressed format like MP3, the frequency response suffers. This function restores what was lost, so your music always sounds the way it should.  These and many more features make Yamaha one of the very best choices in this product segment.  Sit back, relax and  enjoy the ride.  Leave the driving to Yamaha!