A Film Expert Explains Why Your TV Really Needs A Soundbar (And Which Ones To Buy)

Whether you’re going full home theater or just want to hear crisper dialogue, these great-sounding speakers are worth the splurge.
The Sonos Beam and Polk Signa.
The Sonos Beam and Polk Signa.

If you’ve recently purchased a new television, you’re likely loving the intense color and lifelike images. Yet, if your TV set is of the new micro-thin variety that’s becoming increasingly popular, it may leave something to be desired in terms of sound quality. Per Andrew Gormley, a freelance cinematographer, director and podcast producer, this is no coincidence.

“As TVs get thinner and thinner, physics dictates there’s no way they’ll be able to produce BIG sound,” Gormley told HuffPost. “TV speakers simply can’t accommodate modern sound mixes properly. You get muddy sound with little-to-no bass or low frequencies.”

Yet, as Gormley describes it, elevating the audio in your home entertainment space is an easy fix. He recommends purchasing a soundbar or a long speaker pointed directly at you to enhance the sound as you watch your favorite movies and shows.

“I think soundbars, now more than ever, are a pretty crucial part of the home theater experience,” he said. “More often than not, the TV speakers themselves are either downward-firing or rear-firing. The ideal position for a speaker is pointed straight at you!”

Gormley also pointed out that sound bars are compact, singular speakers producing clear surround sound and can take the place of a multiple-speaker setup with wires running all over your house.

He urges people looking for a soundbar to check the channels. “You definitely want to make sure it has at least 3 channels (left, right, center). This is sometimes labeled as ‘3.1,’ with the ‘.1’ being the subwoofer for additional bass,” Gormley said. “Most dialogue is pushed through the center channel, so if you only have a 2.1 system (left, right, woofer), you still might have difficulty understanding softly spoken scenes or dialogue during bombastic action.”

To help you find a sound bar of your own, Gormley shared his five favorite picks.

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A top-of-the-line option from a household-name brand
If you're looking for a trustworthy brand, Gormley recommends anything from Sonos.

"Sonos is one of the premiere names for home theater setup due to both their quality, ease of use and extra features," he said "While not required, you can build out a Sonos system over time with a subwoofer and wireless rear speakers as well!"

If you're just looking to start with a soundbar, Gormley recommends the Sonos Arc.

"The Arc is their flagship soundbar that has support for the latest formats like Dolby Atmos, and has great streaming features built-in accessible through an app or AirPlay," he said.

A long, slim shape and rounded edges make this sound bar surprisingly elegant. It's voice-controlled and works with Alexa as well as the new Sonos app, allowing you to play music, check the news, set alarms and make your grocery list in addition to having impeccable sound.
A smaller-but-similar option at a much more affordable price
Another quality Sonos product for about half of the price, Gormley calls the Beam "the more affordable and compact version of the Arc."

"All the same niceties in a smaller package," he said. "Will still fill most average-sized living rooms with an incredible amount of sound!"

With only two cables, the Beam is praised for its easy setup. Like the Arc, you can run Alexa, Apple Airplay or Google assistant with it for hands-free control, allowing you to listen to your favorite music or podcasts when you're not watching TV.
An under-$300 pick that our expert identified as a great value
Gormley recommends the Polk Signa S4 system as the most bang for your buck.

"You get 3.1 sound with a woofer you can tuck away in a corner to really feel the movie you're watching," he said. "It still supports [Dolby] Atmos which is great, and also has an option to connect to your TV via Bluetooth if that's something you're looking for!"

The Polk Signa S4 comes with a remote to preset different listening options. Enjoy intense sounds during movie night and mellow music while you're making dinner. You can easily mount the bar on a wall or lay it in front of your TV.
Another reasonably-priced option from a beloved electronics brand
If you love your LG OLED television, Gormley said their SN6Y soundbar is an easy and not-super-splurgy addition.

"I love the picture and capabilities of LG's C and G series OLED televisions and their soundbars pair incredibly well with them or any other manufacturer, for that matter," he said.

While this bar doesn't have voice control or Alexa capability, Gormley says it's able to accept a multiple-speaker signal and still deliver some serious volume. Also, it's Bluetooth-compatible to wirelessly connect with your phone or tablet.
A solid, "nice-looking" option that will offer most folks a significant upgrade
"Samsung packed a ton of features into a really good-looking soundbar that also sounds great," Gormley said. "For most folks, this would be a massive improvement over what they're used to and will give you a solid level of control to prioritize what is important to you (dialogue, music, video games, etc)."

Like the LG SN6Y, Gormley says the Samsung HW-B650 may not have all the super-sound-nerd bells and whistles, but it will undoubtedly upgrade your home viewing experience with multi-directional sound and an included subwoofer.

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