What is A Soundbar? The Complete Guide to these Sleek TV Audio Upgrades

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Do you feel your flatscreen TV audio leaves action scenes sounding puny and muddled dialogue frustrating?

A soundbar may be the sleek solution.

This guide explores what a soundbar is, its components, connectivity, types available, key features, and reasons to choose one to combat anemic native television sound.

Let’s dive in to unlocking the immersive entertainment oasis a premium soundbar delivers…

What is a Soundbar?

A soundbar is an all-in-one speaker solution designed to dramatically enhance the audio experience from a television system.

Constructed in an elongated, narrow box shape proportioned to fit conveniently on a media console underneath the latest widescreen flat panel displays, a soundbar packs full-range stereo sound and integrated amplification into a single minimalist cabinet.

This unified construction contrasts with the small, tinny built-in speakers included in slim LED and LCD televisions that fail to reproduce media soundtracks with proper depth and clarity.

Instead of relegating viewers to deficient native audio from modern displays, the self-contained soundbar provides everything needed for immersive sound in one slim package.

Multiple specialized drive units handle various frequency ranges from crystal clear dialogue to deep resounding bass while high-tech sound decoders extract surround information from two-channel mixes.

Connecting to displays via HDMI, contemporary soundbars seamlessly become a television’s external sound system without requiring multiple wired speakers strewn about the room.

Their expansive, detailed sonic performance belies the clean, compact external design.

In addition to resurrecting robust audio quality from media consumed through a television, the minimalist soundbar profile spares living spaces and home theaters from domination by elaborate speakers and components.

The singular elongated cabinet sits discreetly yet prominently beneath the video display, achieving superior acoustic reproduction compared to a TV’s integrated drivers without cluttering the area or obstructing the screen.

For design-conscious media rooms and apartments where floor space comes at a premium, soundbars deliver audiophile-level immersion from an elegantly understated footprint.

What a Soundbar Does

As an alternative to lackluster native television audio or intricate surround speaker arrays, the defining purpose of a soundbar is enhancing media enjoyment by producing clean, powerful sound from a slender horizontal form factor.

While the width may rival screens nearing 60 inches diagonally, contemporary soundbar construction measures under 3 inches tall to avoid blocking screen visibility.

Despite such compact proportions relative to tower speakers or bookshelf models, innovative driver positioning and sound wave projection allow premium soundbars to fill spaces with room-shaking volume and sparkling fidelity.

Many soundbars utilize integrated surround sound processing to engulf viewers with audio coming from more directions than a TV’s basic left and right channels.

This technology manipulates signals to simulate the sound bouncing off walls and ceilings to place rear effects behind and beside the central listening position.

Brand name decoding from Dolby and DTS analyzes incoming content to construct a 3D spherical soundstage that creates supreme immersion rivaling a full surround speaker layout without running cables to the back of the room.

Paired with booming bass courtesy of wireless subwoofer modules, cinematic and musical recordings thrive with added nuance and thrilling dynamics.

Even without artificial effects, stereo content gains enhanced channel separation compared to compact TV speakers placed too closely together for proper left/right imaging.

Altogether as a consolidated solution, the soundbar fixes the modern dilemma of ultra-thin displays with compromised integrated audio in a simple, elegant form deserving of both auditory and visual prominence.

Soundbar Design and Components

The slender horizontal orientation common to all soundbars permits installation directly below wall-mounted televisions or atop media consoles supporting larger screen sizes measured diagonally.

Contemporary proportions approximate 40 to 60+ inch displays, ranging from compact models under two feet wide to elongated giants over five feet accommodating the grandest flat panels in widescreen cinematic formats.

Depth remains constant between 2 to 5 inches dictated by components inside such as multiple mid-woofers for vocal clarity down to dual opposed subwoofers generating heart-pounding bass gusto.

Premium soundbars angle these precision drivers toward the central listening position while strategic housing perforations allow audio to reflect off surrounding surfaces for an immersive sphere of sound.

Wireless integration enables convenient placement of bundled subwoofers around the room hidden out of sight.

Integrated inner workings grant premium connectivity and decoding for lossless surround sound support in exacting home theater applications.

Soundbars utilize HDMI ports with ARC compatibility to transport video signals from external players and gaming consoles while simplifying cabling by outputting television audio over the same cable.

This avoids running multiple wires just for audio purposes as seen in traditional configurations.

Bluetooth antennas additionally enable streaming music directly from smartphones and tablets.

Processing brains leveraging Dolby Atmos and DTS:X protocols analyze incoming signals to construct enveloping 360-degree audio imaging projecting effects to precise pinpoint locations in three-dimensional space.

Additional driver arrays facilitate overhead and surround channel delineation while custom tuning presets allow users to tailor frequency response and bass to taste.

Together these bleeding edge components allow the streamlined soundbar chassis to achieve true high-fidelity immersion rivaling dedicated surround systems.

Soundbar Connectivity

Due to the ongoing transition from analog to digital home theaters, contemporary soundbars offer both legacy media inputs and next-generation high-speed connectivity for lossless audio integration.

Most models feature at least one HDMI port compatible with the Audio Return Channel (ARC) specification for simplified cabling to modern television displays.

This single interface transports uncompressed video signals up to 4K/60fps for devices like Blu-ray players and game consoles while carrying multichannel audio from the TV back to the soundbar.

Units with multiple HDMI inputs switch seamlessly between entertainment sources.

WiFi and Bluetooth antennas additionally enable wireless streaming from mobile media devices as well as external wireless speakers and subwoofers included in certain premium packages.

Analog and optical digital audio connections still accommodate legacy components like older cable boxes lacking HDMI functionality.

Together these diverse inputs grant compatibility with anything from streaming sticks to disc-based movie players.

On the output side, soundbars transmit audio channels to external devices including wireless surround speakers and subwoofers along with traditional AV receivers for integration into elaborate home theater arrays.

This expandability ensures a soundbar purchased as a standalone upgrade still integrates into more exotic configurations.

Altogether the modern connectivity standard equips this compact audio form factor for anchoring both simple and sophisticated entertainment systems alike.

Types of Soundbars

The soundbar category covers a wide performance spectrum spanning simple stereo TV audio enhancement to object-based Dolby Atmos reproduction rivaling dedicated surround systems.

Entry-level models offer boosted volume and bass over anemic television speakers thanks to integrated amplification and larger driver arrays.

Step-up options add a dedicated center channel for enhanced vocal clarity critical to programming like news and sports broadcasts.

Surround-enabled bars processing directional audio effects create an immersive hemisphere of sound courtesy of side-firing drivers and digital signal manipulation directing audio throughout the room.

Wireless subwoofer connectivity provides thunderous low-end absent from slim, minimalist television chassis to satisfy home theater sound dynamics.

Architectural differences also come into play with sound plate bases that position audio components inside a wider cabinet designed to support display weight as a media console itself.

Flagship soundbars unlock the zenith of spatial realism through premium Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding that places effects at pinpoint locations including heights to replicate a state-of-the-art cinema.

Expanded wireless connectivity enables synchronization with multi-channel speaker systems while integrated smart assistants allow hands-free control.

Of course heightened immersion and functionality result in a higher cost tier, hence consumers should carefully balance features against budget based on performance needs.

But everyone from casual viewers to discerning home theater enthusiasts will discover a tailor-made single-cabinet audio solution on the diverse soundbar spectrum.

Key Soundbar Features

Entry-level soundbars may only offer basic wired connectivity and limited drivers for understated stereo enhancement over native television sound.

Moving up the quality scale unlocks additional technologies to elevate the listening experience across music, movies, streaming content and more.

Surround sound decoding greatly expands the three-dimensional soundstage using psychoacoustic processing to localize audio effects at virtual rear and side locations where no actual speakers exist.

This wide hemisphere adds realism along with bleed-proof distinction between simultaneous effects.

Wireless connectivity untethers external subwoofers along with adding integrated streaming platforms via WiFi and Bluetooth antennas.

Voice assistants grant hands-free control over volume plus music selection through integrated far-field microphones.

Premium codec support ensures lossless reproduction from Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio tracks while integrated equalization modes fine-tune frequency response tailored to movies or music playback.

Other welcome features that improve daily usability include adjustable dialogue enhancement to clarify character lines and exposition against loud explosions and score crescendos along with night listening modes to prevent unwanted loudness jumps.

Modern bars even allow custom profile creation via smartphone apps to achieve the ideal tonal balance and surround presence preferred by discerning listeners.

Altogether these amenities transform the streamlined soundbar into an indispensable entertainment conduit at home.

Why Choose a Soundbar?

There exist several compelling reasons why consumers seek out soundbars compared to simply relying on native television audio or installing intricate surround systems with speakers and cables running everywhere.

First and foremost, upgraded sound quality ranks chief among motivations with content gaining added bass impact, louder clarity, and immersive directionality through premium soundbars.

Movies and music benefit equally from the full range reproduction, creating a lush sonic landscape pulling listeners into the experience.

Spatial realism also jumps dramatically from the compressed left/right soundstage of television speakers when advanced Dolby Atmos and DTS:X processing creates the illusion of effects originating overhead alongside the bed layer.

This spherical immersion places viewers at the center of exciting cinema soundtracks or concert recordings for thrilling engagement.

Of course integrated subwoofers also lend suitable weight with action films and electronic dance tracks.

Listeners planning to stream a lot of music will appreciate soundbars tailored specifically to hi-fi playback with lossless codec support, customized genre-based equalization modes, and wireless smartphone connectivity.

Even stereo television audio gains proper left/right separation compared to screens with underwhelming closely spaced drivers.

And easy operation often carried over from television remotes keeps everyone in the household happy navigating volumes and inputs.

Visually conscious interior design devotees understand how soundbars prevent living rooms and home theaters from becoming eyesores with exposed speakers, running wires, and bulky components on display.

The slender unified construction tucks neatly beneath wall-mounted displays without obstructing the gorgeous picture.

Premium materials like brushed aluminum, wood veneer, and fabric grilles ensure the bar looks as good as it sounds.

For small spaces and anyone valuing seamless audio integration over techy clutter, the soundbar checks every box both visually and sonically.

Additional Soundbar Considerations

While improved sonic fidelity and seamless visual integration make a great case for upgrading flatscreen audio with a specialized soundbar, additional considerations around physical positioning, performance expectations, and potential expansion help guide the perfect purchase.

Foremost among soundbar planning is seating location relative to display and speaker placement.

Bars project an anchored center soundstage so aim to install the unit directly below video screens with both elements centered on seats.

Experiment during initial positioning to discover optimal audio immersion effects based on room dynamics before securing everything in place.

Potential buyers also must balance desired features and functionality against real-world budget limitations when comparison shopping.

Determine exactly which capabilities prove essential like simulated surround sound versus ancillary perks like integrated streaming apps.

Remember heightened channels numbers, exotic codec support, additional wireless speakers, and premium construction materials increase costs considerably.

But cheaper does not necessarily mean unsatisfying so focus on intended usage scenarios when making any shortlists.

Finally those bitten by the upgrade bug should consider future expansion potential before locking into a specific soundbar ecosystem.

Some bars allow addition of wireless surrounds or beefy standalone subwoofers bringing thunderous low end.

Others offer analog inputs to incorporate into traditional multi-channel home theater systems centered around an AV receiver.

Whatever the desired end-goal system, ensure seamless forward compatibility or risk having to start fresh down the road when upgrading.

A bit of planning around the soundbar purchase prevents regrettable redundancy while protecting that initial investment in enhanced television audio.


Ultimately, soundbars offer a compelling middle ground between lackluster native television audio and elaborate surround sound systems.

Their slender unified profile discreetly elevates multimedia enjoyment via powerful drivers, bass-thumping subwoofers, and immersive audio decoding.

Contemporary connectivity like HDMI and wireless streaming grants broad compatibility while integrated voice assistants simplify operation.

From subtle stereo boosting to cinema-rivaling sphere of sound, bars match diverse acoustic ambitions and environments.

Factor desired features against budget plus future expansion goals when selecting the right model to transform television watching and music listening alike through heightened spatial realism, thunderous dynamics, and sparkling clarity worthy of modern ultra-thin displays.

If clearer, bigger sound ranks atop your entertainment wish list without over-complicating matters, discovering the soundbar suited to usage needs makes that audio oasis attainable.


Dominic is the chief editor of the Burton Acoustix blog which writes about acoustics and soundproofing to help readers with their queries and questions they might have with regard to improving any sound or noise issues that they faced in their life.