One thing every person (including myself) will say at some point when discussing audio products is “it sounds good to me” or “it sounds great” or something to that effect. The problem is, unless you put in some effort, it is very easy to fool a person to decide for themselves something sounds good. This extends not just to the layperson, but to people who have listened to dozens of speakers and reviewed them. It extends to myself and it extends to you.
So you’ve got a speaker picked out and its time to get an amplifier. You see the speakers have a wattage number and the amplifiers all have one prominently listed too. How do you know how many watts you need? How do you know if an amplifier will work well with your speakers?
Today the biggest buzz in the world of home theater audio is “object oriented” audio like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro3D and probably some more that I’m forgetting. This is new to most consumers but it isn’t groundbreaking technology. The underlying mathematics have been well understood since the 1870s. The first products that used this kind of technology were phased-array radars in World War II. However, only now is is coming to your living room. The big developments that have led to these technologies entering the consumer market are: improved compression algorithms which allow dozens of streams to exist on a single disc at once and cheap but powerful chips which can compute the required amplitudes and phase delays in real time. That being said, I still think it’s pretty cool. The academic term behind this is “wave field synthesis”.
So you’re an average consumer, and you’ve decided you want some surround sound in your life. After all, that’s whats in movie theaters, and you’d like your movie watching experience at home to be more like the movie theaters. Its not something you care all that much about, enough to spend a few hundred dollars on at most. You look online, or go into an electronics store, and you find it. One box that has everything you need. One swipe of the credit card and your desire will be satisfied. Every marketing person at every electronics firm knows there are a significant number of people who will act this way; people who want better audio in their lives but don’t know where to start. They take advantage by selling something that looks right, without there being any good way for an average consumer to tell whether or not it is a good product. Its not like you’re going to listen to it beforehand, much less make any objective comparison among several samples. They sell convenience in satisfying your consumer urges, not actual audio quality.
No matter what you’re doing this summer, chances are some tunes will make it that much better. The thing is, the places where we want to listen to music in the summer aren’t in our living rooms, home theaters, or our listening rooms. Its on the beach, at a BBQ, on a boat, out at a campsite, or on our deck. I kicked off my summer this year at a rented house over Memorial Day weekend with a group of people. I decided to make use of some speakers I had from an early review and spend a little bit of money to make sure we were never at a loss for some quality audio.
One aspect of sound performance that is often overlooked is the effect directionality has on sound performance for people sitting outside of the “sweet spot”. At your desk, you can make sure your speakers are always pointing at you. In a room with one seat, you can obviously point all of the speakers at the listener. But most of us listening to audio in our homes have rooms with multiple listeners, and that makes directional effects important to understand. Also, directional effects determine the strength of reflections, always a problem for speakers indoors. The topic of directional effects in the propagation of waves is something that has been both an academic and professional interest of mine, I hope this article sheds a bit of light on how this theory applies to home theater.
If you’ve been a reader of this website, you’ll know I haven’t always had kind things to say about soundbars. I have said in the past that compared to a smartly purchased speaker setup, soundbars don’t offer good audio quality for the price. I even wrote an extensive list of alternatives to soundbars to try and steer people towards other products.
After reading those articles, you may be surprised to learn that I actually own a soundbar in my own house. There are lots of good reasons to own a soundbar in the right circumstances. For me, I already have lots of great speakers that dominate several rooms of my house. I’ve got a home theater with 7 speakers; in my library I’ve got a vinyl setup; and at my computer I have studio quality monitors. I really just needed something that would be good for watching TV with my girlfriend in the living room, or as a second TV at Super Bowl parties. I didn’t want to dominate a whole wall of my living room with speakers and a subwoofer. That’s why I bought a soundbar for my living room TV.
Even though I have got this love for great speakers and great sound, sometimes a soundbar is the right choice. Unfortunately, the sound bar I bought is no longer available for purchase, so I am going to give you a list of recommendations based on the things I think are important to a soundbar.
If a soundbar is the right choice for you, I want to make sure you get a good one that you will be happy with for a long time. It can be hard for people to distinguish the good soundbars from the bad ones. You need to be very careful about what kind of soundbar you purchase.
You should not buy a big piece of plastic from a TV manufacturer masquerading as a piece of quality audio equipment. That means don’t buy from: Vizio, LG, Samsung, or Sony. They all make great TV’s. They do not make great speakers. They all also make some of the best-selling soundbars. I would avoid them if possible.
Any of the soundbars I list below should work well for anyone and provide good sound. I made this list of soundbars by using the following criteria:
- Soundbars should be made by a company known for excellent speakers
- Soundbars should be made of medium density fiberboard.
- Soundbars should have sufficient size to use reasonably sized drivers
- Soundbars should not require an external amplifier