We’ve talked about the different options for improving TV sound which includes a sound bar (or “soundbar”). Unfortunately the term can mean different things.
Usually when someone talks about a sound bar for a TV, they mean a device that has speakers and an amplifier built together in ‘bar’. The device is designed to mount below a wall-mounted TV or sit at the base of a TV. Either way, its meant to improve the sound experience without greatly impacting your living space. Sound bars like the ones from Sony or Samsung may also include a wired or wireless sub woofer to improve low frequency sounds. They can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to thousands depending on how good they are at emulating a full sounding, surround sound experience.
This probably makes sense to most people so far, but there is a curve ball. Brands like Triad and Episode use the same term to describe a bar that looks pretty much the same, but is just speakers. You need to use a separate amplifier or AV receiver with them. These types of speaker bars have one, two or three speakers built in depending on the model and need. You might think that these are inferior, but they are just another way of improving a media room’s sound. Often these are used as an alternative in higher-end solutions where larger front speakers would impact aesthetics. For example, a sound bar with three speakers can be used for the front left, centre and front right in a true surround-sound system. Then other speakers, such as ceiling speakers, can make up the side or back speakers to make a great surround-sound system. Its just too bad that they don’t use a different term – perhaps something like “speaker bar” – to at least help differentiate these.
Either type can be the right solution depending on goals and budgets. The first type may fit for lower budgets or limited space, but the trade off is not a true surround sound. The second type requires a bit more budget and space for other equipment (e.g. AV amplifier, speakers, etc.), and the benefit is improved sound. Hopefully this helps clear up some confusion and gives some ideas on what might work for your media room.