Sound Bar Review

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Why use sound bars?

Simple to set up and generally less expensive than their traditional multi-speaker counterparts, sound bars are a popular option for those wanting deeper, richer sound than their integrated television speakers can provide.

As movie ticket prices continue to soar, an increasing number of movie enthusiasts with minimal space are turning to sound bars. A sound bar is a home theater speaker system housed in a single cabinet that simulates surround sound. Sound bar speakers are ideally suited for individuals living in apartments or other relatively small living environments, where traditional multi-speaker setups are simply not practical. Additionally, they are more cost effective (if less robust) than bona fide surround sound systems. While sound bars technically aren't brand new technology, they are somewhat undiscovered. If you'd like to learn more, check out our additional articles on sound bars.

Before we continue, it is important to note that the sound bars featured in our review, like the Sony CT-150, the LG NB3520A and the Samsung HW-D450ZA, do not technically produce true surround sound. Authentic surround sound requires audio channels from speakers that surround the listener, producing 360-degrees of sound. The sound bars featured in our review simulate surround sound by tricking your ears into believing you are actually hearing audio from multiple directions. This is accomplished by manipulating specific psychoacoustic auditory cues like volume level, sound reflections and time delay. In other words, these units allow you to perceive surround sound effects as if they were coming from all sides, instead of only from in front of you.

While sound bars come in various types, our review focuses on sound bars that include an integrated amplifier – called active sound bars. The great advantage of an active sound bar is that it doesn't require a hefty amplifier to mimic the front channels of surround sound. This results in an easy and clean flat panel TV installation, with minimal wiring.

Sound Bars: What to Look For

Performance
In evaluating a sound bar's performance, there are varying criteria that come into play. Here are a few of the most important:

Virtual Surround Sound
Sound bars use an assortment of trickery to convince you that you are listening to surround sound. Most sound bars produce small beams of sound that ricochet off your walls and ceilings. The key is you only hear these sounds after they have ricocheted. This tricks your mind into believing you are hearing noises from various places in the room.

A few sound bars use what is known as Head-Related Transfer Function (HRTF) to give the illusion of surround sound. These sound bars use digital filtering to create noises that we associate with different sound locations. This will, for example, lead you to believe that a sound is coming from behind you even when it's not. HRTF sound bars don't rely so much on the surfaces of your room, which can lead to a superior surround sound experience.

Watts
Watts are used to describe an amplifier's output. While increased wattage does provide louder sound, it affects the amplifier's ability to handle dynamic range, which is critical for accurate sound reproduction. Increased wattage also results in a deeper, more enriching sound field.

Subwoofer
Purchasing a sound bar with an included subwoofer will add a more substantial sonic low end, which greatly enhances certain types of movies – including action packed blockbusters. Some subwoofers require wiring, while others are wireless. It is also worth noting that subwoofers come in varying weights, with some weighing as much as twenty pounds. Others fall below 10 pounds. Not all subwoofers are external. A few manufacturers integrate the subwoofer into the sound bar itself, though this can result in diminished bass response.

Frequency Response
Measured in hertz, this specification describes the range of frequencies a speaker can reproduce. Human's can detect sound from 20 hertz (low bass tones) through 20 kilohertz (highest treble). While a broad frequency range is ideal, be aware that the lower frequencies are where you'll hear explosions, gun fire and other high octane excitement.

Digital Signal Processor (DSP)
A DSP aids in creating the illusion of rear and side surround sound. Sound bars equipped with a DSP do a better job of creating convincing simulated surround sound.

Connectivity
Selecting a sound bar with a wide assortment of inputs is essential. While some sound bars come armed to the hilt with connections, you'll want to make sure you at least have the desirable inputs, including optical, coaxial digital and HDMI. Digital connections like these are superior to traditional RCA inputs, and they allow you to connect Blu-ray players, video game consoles, digital video recorders a host of other components. Some sound bars come with 3.5mm audio inputs, which allow for headphone, microphone and iPod connections.

Help & Support
Although sound bars are relatively simple to set up and operate, there may come a time when you need some sort of help or technical support. Every manufacturer should provide easy-to-find email and telephone support information on their website, along with a thorough and well-illustrated user manual. While live chat is not crucial, it is a feature that allows customer service representatives to answer your questions in just a matter of minutes. Finally, all sound bars should come with at least a one-year warranty.

While sound bars produce superior sound to that of your television speakers, they are not designed as a substitute for traditional multi-speaker arrangements, which provide true surround sound. Instead, sound bars are an ideal solution for anyone living in small living quarters seeking an affordable and relatively small unit capable of reproducing simulated surround sound.

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Rank #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10
10-9  Excellent
8-6    Good
5-4    Average
3-2    Poor
1-0    Bad
Sony HT-CT150 LG NB3520A Panasonic SC-HTB350 Boston Acoustics TVEee 25 Vizio VSB210WS Polk SurroundBar 3000 Yamaha YAS-101 Sharp HT-SL70 ZVOX 420 Energy Power Bar
Sony HT-CT150 LG NB3520A Panasonic SC-HTB350 Boston Acoustics TVEee 25 Vizio VSB210WS Polk SurroundBar 3000 Yamaha YAS-101 Sharp HT-SL70 ZVOX 420 Energy Power Bar
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Lowest Price
Visit Sony HT-CT150
$225.00
Visit LG NB3520A
$239.99
Visit Panasonic SC-HTB350
$216.89
Visit Boston Acoustics TVEee 25
$184.99
Visit Vizio VSB210WS
$227.29
Visit Polk SurroundBar 3000
$232.99
Visit Yamaha YAS-101
$249.95
Visit Sharp HT-SL70
$119.99
Visit ZVOX 420
$299.00
Visit Energy Power Bar
$265.00
Ratings
9.18
8.68
7.53
7.40
7.13
6.83
6.53
5.65
5.53
4.50
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
8.38
9.63
9.38
10.00
10.00
8.75
8.75
8.75
7.50
10.00
8.75
8.50
4.38
7.50
10.00
8.13
9.13
4.38
7.50
8.75
9.38
9.25
3.13
2.50
10.00
8.13
8.75
4.38
2.50
8.75
9.00
5.00
3.75
7.50
8.75
5.00
8.13
5.00
2.50
7.50
6.25
3.13
7.50
2.50
8.75
4.63
6.25
2.50
2.50
8.75
 
Features
Subwoofer wired wireless wireless wireless wireless wireless integrated wired integrated wireless
Channels 3.1 2.1 2.1 2.1 2.1 2.1 7.1 2.1 2 2.1
Self Amplified
Table Top Mounting
Wall Mounting
 
Simulated Surround Sound
 
 
Remote Control Operation
 
Equalizer
        
Energy Star Qualified
 
 
  
  
Front Panel Controls  
 
Magnetic Shielding  
 
   
Automatic Volume Control   
 
 
 
Performance
Sound Bar Watts 255 160 120 150 100 140 60 100 45 100
Subwoofer Watts 85 140 120 N/A 120 120 60 100 N/A 100
Minimum Frequency Response (In hertz) 40 30 120 40 80 40 150 N/A 45 50
Maximum Frequency Response (In kilohertz) 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20
Number of Sound Bar Drivers 3 6 2 2 6 2 2 4 6 2
Driver Shape cone cone cone oval dome cone cone cone cone dome
Digital Signal Processor (DSP)
 
  
Connectivity
Optical Inputs
 
iPod/MP3 Input
 
 
 
 
3.5mm Jack
 
 
 
 
RCA Inputs
  
Bluetooth  
       
HDMI Input
      
  
Coaxial Inputs
     
 
 
USB  
        
Audio Processing
Dolby Digital
  
   
DTS
   
   
PCM
 
 
Dolby Pro Logic II
 
  
   
Dimensions
Sound Bar Width (inches) 31.5 39.4 12.21 31.5 39.95 35 35 40.18 27.6 30
Sound Bar Height (inches) 2.4 3.2 1.71 4.43 4.82 3.75 4.25 1.03 3.5 4.4
Sound Bar Depth (inches) 2.6 2.2 7.687 4.43 4.33 2 4.75 1.96 14.5 4.1
Sound Bar Weight (pounds) 2.9 5.1 2.4 5 7.8 4.75 9.3 2.09 17 5
Subwoofer Width (inches) 7.1 7.7 6.9 10.5 11.18 10.25 integrated 4.5 integrated 9.5
Subwoofer Height (inches) 16.1 15.4 15.93 9.5 12.77 11 integrated 16.62 integrated 11.5
Subwoofer Depth (inches) 17.7 12.5 11.93 11 11.84 12 integrated 12.06 integrated 14
Subwoofer Weight (pounds) 23.3 15.2 11.47 11.9 15.5 10 integreated 9.92 integrated 15
Help & Support
Warranty In Years 1 1 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1
Telephone
Email
FAQs
Live Chat