You've got that gorgeous flat-screen TV up on the wall, and now it's time to ensure you put the best sound technology you can afford into place. The great thing is that there are more options than ever, from tiny decorative speakers that don't look like speakers to the traditional surround-sound two-feet tall speakers that can also serve as a mini table for other room décor.
Now, you've been intrigued by the soundbars, or playbars, that are increasingly crowding onto shelves and into marketing and advertising programs. They're cool-looking, sleek and perfect just sitting contently underneath that high-def TV.
Yet it's still not an easy decision as there are more playbars and soundbars than ever to choose from, with some vendors offering nearly a half dozen product options. So it's time to create a "must have" and a "nice to have" checklist of features and determine a budget line as speaker technology, like any digital technology offering (think TVs, cameras, mobile devices) can range from about $100 to the thousands.
One of the most appealing aspects of a soundbar is the lack of wires. One of the most non-appealing is that looks don't really play into acoustics and that big-screen viewing experience we all love and want in the home entertainment setting.
Let's take a look at some of the latest and hottest soundbars in play, keeping in mind the features and functionality you may want and those you may like to have but can live without. How many USB ports do you really need? Do you want or need Bluetooth? Is surround or real surround what you need to enjoy that Friday night family movie?
Yamaha YSP-1400 (Yamaha Sound Projector)
Average price point: $450 to $1900
Nice selling feature: Integrated subwoofer, highly regarded for music playback and features such as a rear-mounted IR blaster. Surround sound provided through an eight-speaker setup with two subwoofers. There's a free controller mobile app users can tap for speaker tweaking. Supports Bluetooth as well as Dolby Digital and DTS decoding.
Samsung HW-J355 2.1
Average price point: $200
Nice selling feature: Design melds perfectly with its portfolio of curved TVs, can tap audio streams from mobile devices using Bluetooth and comes with a subwoofer. Offers Android app for those not remote friendly. Clear crisp sound.
Zvox Soundbase 555
Average Price Point: $299 to 4399
Nice selling feature: Good bass despite not having a subwoofer; good powerful sound option designed to fit under a TV stand design (it's just 28 inches wide) and fits HDTVs between 37 and 55 inches. Remote is simple and small. Upfront about limitations, revealing that simulated surround sound via Zvox's PhaseCue II virtual surround feature.
Average Price Point: $699 to $1700
Nice selling feature: It can be linked to other wireless Sonos speakers described as "premium sound at a premium price." Soundbar excels at music as well as dialogue and sound effects. There is a speech enhancement setting in the app that boosts the mid-range volume and enhances dialogue clarity. Rated as top soundbar for music needs. But is it worth hundreds more than less versatile soundbars?
Pioneer SP-SB03/-SB3W Speaker Bar
Average Price Point: $200 to $350
Nice selling feature: Amplifier for each speaker, offers up 28 watts of power and there are six amplifiers. Keep in mind the SB03 is a large pedestal speaker coming in at a high-end cost. Described by CNET as having all the features needed at the price, including Dolby Digital support. Built like a tank, stated one reviewer.
Average Price Point: $300
Nice selling feature: Huge speaker that's tall and deep. This speaker boasts the Vizio's largest soundbar at an affordable price, especially features that range from HDMI in and out, two analog inputs, digital coaxial in and optical in, as well as Bluetooth. It doesn't come with a subwoofer, opting instead for passive internal bass radiators for the low end, but this Vizio does have a subwoofer output, in case you want to connect one for a more bass-intensive experience.
Average Price Point: $200
Nice selling point: Low price for big results. Works well with small to mid-size TV. While sound bar doesn't come with a subwoofer, there is a virtual surround sound feature and built-in 60-watt ampflier. It taps HARMAN display surround; made for TVs that are 27-inches or larger.