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How to Shop for a Sound Bar

All sound bars are not created equal.

You’ve finally decided to improve the sound coming from your TV – or you know someone who’d really appreciate better sound too – and you’ve decided that a new sound bar will make the perfect gift for them… or for yourself.

But which one to get? Here’s a quick overview of the key factors and features you should consider when buying a sound bar.

Surround Sound Capability

Despite their small form factor, sound bars can create virtual and true 3D surround sound. Digital sound projector sound bars do this by bouncing discrete beams of audio off the walls and ceiling of your room to create sound that comes from all around you. This method works well for rooms that have solid walls on all sides, but not as well for rooms that are more open.

Virtual surround sound and true 7.1.2-channel surround sound visualization.

Signal processing creates simulated virtual surround sound, while digital sound projector sound bars can create true 7.1.2-channel surround sound for Dolby Atmos® and DTS:X™ content.

Other types of sound bars use signal processing to simulate side and rear effects for virtual 7.1-channel surround sound. These sound bars work well in all rooms, but aren’t as effective as a digital sound projector sound bar in a room with four solid walls. So start by asking yourself the question: How is your room (or your friend’s room) configured?

Will It Fit?

Decide where you want to put the sound bar, and check the dimensions to make sure it will fit there. Keep in mind that some sound bars can be mounted on a wall (normally below the TV), and some are meant to sit on a tabletop below the TV. If the sound bar will be sitting on a surface, make sure it is not tall enough to block the TV.

Two images showing sound bar mounted on a wall and placed on a tabletop.

Sound bars can be mounted on a wall or placed on a tabletop.

What Can I Connect To It?

Consider what devices you want to connect to the sound bar. If the TV supports Audio Return Channel (ARC), you can connect it to the sound bar with an HDMI® cable.

HDMI Connection instructions.

Use an HDMI cable to connect a TV that supports ARC.

If the TV does not support ARC, you will need to use an optical cable to connect it to the sound bar.

HDMI optical connection instructions.

Use an optical cable to connect a TV that doesn’t support ARC.

If you will also be connecting a game console, Blu-ray Disc™ player or a streaming media player (like an Apple® TV) to the sound bar, you will need more HDMI inputs on the sound bar, or you will need to connect the devices to the TV instead of the sound bar.

Connectivity

A sound bar is more than a speaker for a TV – it can be an entertainment source. Many come equipped with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth® or even AirPlay 2®, so you can play music from a phone or computer and listen to streaming services and internet radio through the sound bar. If enjoying music through your sound bar is key, check for connectivity options like these:

The logos of eight streaming services.

Subwoofer: Built-in or Stand-alone?

A subwoofer is a speaker that reproduces only the lowest bass frequencies. In other words, it puts the oomph in explosions and those low rumbles you can feel in your chest. It’s an integral part of any home theater system.

Some sound bars have subwoofers built in, while others come with separate subwoofers. Stand-alone subwoofers are often more powerful and effective than the built-in variety, but if there isn’t a lot of floor space where the sound bar is going to be positioned, you might want to go with one that has a built-in subwoofer. Built-in subwoofers can still sound great!

Built-in subwoofer in sound bar.

Sound bars can use built-in subwoofers or external stand-alone subwoofers.

Voice Control

In this era of the smart home, remote controls are so yesterday. Voice control is becoming more and more standard with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri® (via AirPlay 2) able to control many sound bars and speakers. Some sound bars like the Yamaha YAS-209 and YAS-109 have Alexa built-in, meaning that you don’t need an external Alexa device to control them — you can talk directly to a YAS-209 or YAS-109 and ask Alexa to turn up the volume or play music from a streaming service.

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.App Control

If you’re not comfortable with voice control, but you don’t like looking between the couch cushions for your remote control, many sound bars can be controlled with an app from your smartphone or tablet. Apps are especially handy if you’re playing music from a streaming service through your sound bar and scrolling through your playlists. For example, with the Yamaha MusicCast Controller app, you can link MusicCast wireless speakers, sound bars and receivers in other rooms and control playback throughout your home from your smartphone or tablet.

Warranty

You hope you never have to use it, but it’s good to know how the manufacturer stands behind its product. The most common warranty period is one year, with premium brands like Yamaha offering two years.

Extras

You should also determine if there are other special audio and video features or compatibility that sets one sound bar apart from another. As an example, since the Yamaha YAS-209 has Alexa built-in, you can control an Amazon Fire TV Stick directly from the sound bar, asking it to play your favorite TV show or Amazon Prime movie.

Amazon Fire startup screen on Television with sound bar underneath.

How / Where / Features

The main thing to consider when shopping for a sound bar is how and where it will be used. In addition, when doing your research and reading reviews, identify the features that are most important to you. These are the factors that will enable you to choose the sound bar that is the best fit.

 

Click here for more information about Yamaha sound bars.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joy Frye
Joy Frye has spent her entire career learning and sharing knowledge with others. As a writer in the high tech industry, she specialized in demystifying technology and showing customers how to use products to make their lives easier and better. Now, in the consumer audio industry, where products are more interesting than routers and switches, she enjoys taking readers on a journey of discovery - exploring Yamaha products and amplifying passion for music.

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