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  • Soundbar Shopping Guide

The soundbar is becoming a smaller alternative to a complete home theater system. Soundbars are compact, nicely designed, and come packed with comparable sound. Shopping for a soundbar is confusing, though. Since so many manufacturers have jumped on the soundbar bandwagon, there are far too many bars to choose from. If you’re feeling perplexed, this shopping guide will help.

Some Soundbars Don’t Come With Extras

You might assume that all soundbars come with remotes. But, this isn’t always the case. More often than not, inexpensive soundbars do not come with a remote in-box. You can purchase a remote for an extra price in most cases, though that’s not the issue here. The problem is that using your current TV remote to adjust your new soundbar’s settings will cause an error message to appear. You simply can’t cut the sound from your TV while sending your TV sound signals. It just doesn’t work. So, look for a soundbar that comes with a remote, or purchase one separately.

Consider Soundbar Placement

If you aren’t planning on mounting your soundbar below your wall-hanging TV, you might want to think about blockage. What kind of blockage? A soundbar that’s placed directly in front of a TV on a stand, for example, may block the TV’s signal. So, you’ll end up with a slick soundbar that doesn’t let you control your TV. Think about purchasing a soundbar that can be easily placed on a wall.

All Kinds of Sound Sells

Manufacturers love to sell consumers using buzzwords. When it comes to soundbars, the buzzword you’ll see is “virtual surround.” Manufacturers use this term to refer to wider stereo sound, but claim that virtual surround will replace the need for back speakers. Don’t fall prey to this claim. Virtual surround may make your soundbar louder, but it’s not a good reason to purchase (or not purchase) a particular model.

Some Top Soundbar Brands

Lastly, there are some great soundbars on the market and some that are not so great. At the top of the soundbar list is the Sonos Playbar ($700), followed by the Harman/Kardon SB 16 ($530), and the JBL SB 300 ($300). There are lots of new soundbars coming out too, so watch for those. You’ll want a soundbar that has a display, can fit on a wall, comes with a remote, and is easy to connect.

Keep in mind too that sound bars are better for listening to films, and some bars are meant for music. If you can find one that combines both, you will be quite happy with your new purchase. It will also pay to compare the price of a complete home theater setup with the price of a soundbar.

If you are going to pay more than $700 for a bar, you may be able to purchase a better sounding speaker system for less than that price. The best way to compare soundbars is to visit a home stereo store that has a number of samples. Try to listen to each bar individually. You should be able to hear the difference between a mediocre soundbar and one that will really knock your socks off.