Soundbars for Holiday 2015

When I look around at audio products for sale, its difficult to figure out what products are actually good and which are just being marketed well.

And I say that as someone with a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, and six years of professional audio experience.

If you’re not paying close attention to technology, you’re going to fall for marketing hype. Blogs like CNET, Gizmodo, The Verge, etc, are all just repeating corporate marketing to you.

I decided to focus my attention on understanding the soundbar market; applying my skills as an engineer to help me understand what was going on.

The first thing I did was applied my knowledge of the complex science of sound and speakers, and told my readers, “If You Care About Audio Quality, Reconsider Buying a Soundbar” . It sounds harsh, but its true. A sound bar is something you buy for simplicity and its small frame; its not something you buy for great sound.

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For $120, these speakers and amp beat any soundbar below $400

I offered up some affordable soundbar alternatives, that let you get a better sounding experience for the same price or less than a soundbar. However, all of these require a bit more work than a soundbar to put together and set up.

Finally, I took a look at the soundbars available and I made a set of recommendations for soundbars that are made by companies with good reputations, and build their soundbars using best practices for speaker design.

If you find yourself with any questions, feel free to contact me via email at: brad@affordablehomeaudio.com, or via Twitter

Recommendations

RCA RTS7110-B – $68


RCA makes cheap electronics that do a basic job. If you want something cheap and easy and you won’t know any better, this is a cheap choice to get started.

Pioneer SP-SB23W Andrew Jones Soundbar System – $300

Its not surprising that Pioneer extended its Andrew Jones line to included soundbars. These are always well designed pieces of audio gear for the price. The woofers are smaller than on the bookshelves and the subwoofer is undersized, just 6.5″, but it should do a pretty good job. The fact that a $400 soundbar has smaller woofers than a pair of $130 speakers and a $90 subwoofer manufactured in the same product line speaks volumes to how soundbars are priced.

MartinLogan Motion Vision – $1150

Martin Logan is known for making crazy electrostatic speakers, but they make lots of good speakers in the mid-range as well.  This soundbar gives you their well-known tweeters, and a well designed ported cabinet to stretch the bass as far as possible.

Paradigm SHIFT Series Soundscape -$1500

Paradigm is known for its line of luxury speakers, and its soundbar, while using conventional technology throughout is extremely well regarded as the best performance you can get out of a soundbar. Once you are at this point, you are at the limits of what a soundbar can do, as constrained by physics.