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Mableton Moose Lodge Group

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Luke Thomas
Luke Thomas

Best Buy Sound Bar System WORK

Soundbars are slim, often rectangular, speaker systems with drivers positioned side by side that are designed to slot underneath your TV or to be fitted neatly to the wall. With front-facing drivers, even basic, budget soundbars typically offer more direct and clear audio than a TV.

best buy sound bar system

There are a few options to improve your TV sound that range from the budget to the expensive, but a soundbar is one of the simplest ways as they are typically compact and require minimal cabling. They often also have added benefits, such as wireless streaming over Bluetooth or WiFi.

Almost every soundbar and TV, no matter its age, will have an optical connection, while ARC and particularly eARC, which was first introduced with HDMI 2.1 in 2017, and has recently become more common. Before you decide how to connect your equipment to your TV, you should be aware of the pros and cons of each and also check that the cable you need is included in the box with your soundbar.

The key thing to know about optical is that it's restricted in bandwidth compared to ARC/eARC. So if you have the choice between the two and opt for optical, you might not be making the most of the audio decoding built into your soundbar. The most advanced immersive formats optical can handle are compressed Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 surround sound, so that means no Dolby Atmos or DTS:X.

ARC/eARC also allows your main TV remote to control the basic volume and power functions of your soundbar via HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). Some soundbars come with their own remotes and/or have app control, but if your connection to your TV uses an optical cable, you may still be able to use your regular controller. Certain models, such as the Sonos Ray and B&W Panorama 3, can 'learn' to recognise the commands of both IR and RF remotes, but the set-up will depend on your TV manufacturer.

Unfortunately, ARC/eARC can sometimes introduce a slight audio lag resulting in lipsynching issues that can vary depending on your TV-soundbar combo. However, many brands include controls to adjust the delay on a soundbar's app, and sometimes there's also an option to modify it on a TV's settings.

If you are using ARC/eARC to connect to a Dolby Atmos soundbar, check whether you are actually receiving Atmos. Most soundbar apps will give you confirmation of the type of audio format that you are currently listening to on the Now Playing page or occasionally on the soundbar's display (if it has one). So if what you are playing should be in Dolby Atmos, but the app says otherwise (likely 'PCM', '5.1' or '2.0'), then it's time to delve into the settings of your TV and Blu-ray player.

To receive Dolby Atmos, any source device must be set to output bitstream audio. You can find this option in the audio settings of TVs, Blu-ray players and streaming sticks. In PCM, you will hear the audio only in stereo, but sending bitstream means your soundbar will be able to receive those lovely Dolby formats, including Atmos.

While automated optimisation is great, your own ears are even better. If your soundbar also has options to alter individual channel levels, don't be timid with tweaking things to suit your taste/needs. Every room is different, and hearing is subjective, so what sounds great to one person may not to another. The great thing about a soundbar is that it is generally straightforward to make adjustments and swap back if you change your mind.

Some soundbars will come with pre-programmed modes for different types of content. In our experience, soundbars with cinematic modes often use 'spatial' processing that can introduce high-frequency artefacts. In contrast, 'music' modes will usually have a bass and treble-heavy EQ that can sound a little brash. We tend to favour a flat standard mode, if one is available, that we manually adjust to our liking. But there is no one size fits all approach that will work for every room and listener.

There is little more frustrating than not being able to hear dialogue when watching a TV show or movie, but inevitably, varying levels of speech clarity combined with how busy the soundscape is and the overall style of the mix can mean that whispery, mumbly vocals hinder even a top-quality, room-tuned soundbar.

Fortunately, most soundbars have speech enhancement feature settings that will typically raise the volume of the centre channel and crispen up the EQ to help improve dialogue audibility. Not every brand implements this with sophistication, and sometimes these modes can sound thin and harsh, but once again, it's always worth experimenting to find what works for you and your space.

To be fair to manufacturers, this is often at least partly due to the space limitations inherent to the slim designs of modern TVs. The problem is particularly acute when dealing with smaller sets, where the space limitations are even more problematic, but even with large TVs, all too often we find in our testing that the audio is passable at best.

Delivering Dolby Atmos from a small chassis is no mean feat, but the 2022 What Hi-Fi? award-winning Sonos Beam Gen 2 achieves a convincing, immersive performance without so much as a vertical speaker in sight. Instead, when watching Atmos content, two of the soundbar's five front-facing arrays are dedicated to reproducing overhead and surround sounds. With its hefty processing power, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 uses psychoacoustic HRTF (head-related transfer function) technology to give the impression of height without needing to get vertical.

While genuine overhead sounds are perhaps a stretch too far for this petite performer, its virtual delivery of the Atmos format outstrips any similarly priced soundbar and even a few that are more expensive. The Beam Gen 2 offers an enveloping, spatial soundscape with rich, detailed audio as well as tangible motion and depth.

Soundbars for TV aren't new territory for Sonos, but the 2022 What Hi-Fi? award-winning Arc is the only soundbar from the brand to deliver Dolby Atmos with verticle speakers. It sits above the Beam (Gen 2) in terms of pricing and is suited to 55in TVs and above, with optional wall mounting fixings available for 79 ($79/AU$99) .

The Sonos Arc uses 11 drivers to create your soundfield, several of which are upfiring and angled into your room to bounce sound off your walls and ceiling. It all adds up to one of the most convincing Atmos performances you can get from a soundbar.

You're transported to the heart of the action. Surround effects are expertly placed, and there's great dynamism and good weight to the sound too. Tonally, it's nicely balanced if you just want to listen to music, although it could sound a tiny bit more direct. But, there's no doubt this is a hugely impressive TV soundbar for the money.

To get the full Dolby Atmos effect, you'll need to wall mount or position the soundbar on the top shelf of your rack so the upward-firing speakers aren't obstructed. It's well worth the effort, though.

For those who want convincing 3D sound without the speakers, this is the best soundbar with a premium price tag that we've ever tested, which is why it retained its title once again at the 2022 What Hi-Fi? Awards.

It may not be the warmest or most cinematic sounding speaker, but the Sonos Ray is very capable and, most importantly, is an accessible way to boost your TV audio, competently addressing the biggest concern most users have: dialogue intelligibility. It is a talented budget soundbar and delivers clear, punchy sound without the frills.

The Sony HT-A5000 has a lot to offer, with a powerful broad soundstage, robust low-end and excellent connectivity. However, its slightly boxy voices and underwhelming height drivers leave it lagging in direct comparison with the class-leading Sonos Arc.

Produced by hi-fi brand Devialet, the Dione is a premium one-box Dolby Atmos soundbar with no options to add an external sub or rear speakers, instead relying on eight long-throw mid-woofers to deliver an impressively extended bass performance and two side-firing drivers for surround effects.

With Dolby Atmos content, the Dione has a firm grip and very capable low-end but isn't particularly immersive. Occasionally it over embellishes quieter sounds, but it's quick and responsive, with impressive tonal transparency and minimal distortion across the frequency spectrum, marking it out as a particularly musical soundbar.

If you're looking for a simple, constructive step up in sound from your TV's in-built speakers, Sony's SF150 offers a significant sonic enhancement for little outlay. Indeed there's almost no other competition worth considering for under 100 ($100, AU$200).

The SF150 also features Sony's S-Force Front Surround technology, which applies processing to give the acoustic impression of a more encompassing sound stage. While there is no replacement for surround sound, it adds a dramatic sense of weight and separation.

The main soundbar contains ten drivers, with left and right channels handled by two 20mm silk dome tweeters and two 52 x 99mm woofers. A pair of 50mm drivers on either end of the soundbar deliver surround side effects, while two 63mm units on the top surface supply height effects for immersive sound formats.

LG is as ever generous with the connectivity options on its flagship soundbars. The S95QR offers Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2 and Chromecast onboard. You can control your streaming service, adjust the volume and change sound modes with your voice, thanks to Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa support. There are eARC, optical and USB inputs for hardwired connections and two additional HDMI passthrough ports that support gaming features such as (VRR) and (ALLM). However, 4K HDR signals are only handled at up to 60Hz.

Sonically this 3.1.2 package also punches above its weight with a broad, vibrant soundstage that can easily match the cinematic scale of larger screens. It can also be easily upgraded to 5.1.2 by the addition of the SPK8 2.0 surround kit for around 130 ($180, AU$249).

There are better performers in terms of height available, like the Sonos Arc, and the low end is a little loose and undefined but for those looking for a reasonably priced Dolby Atmos soundbar with a high tech spec and a detailed, room-filling sound, the SP8YA is worth considering. 041b061a72


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