Yamaha YSP-2200 soundbar speaker Televisions

Get Better TV Sound with a Soundbar

As televisions get flatter and flatter, so do the speakers. And do you know what flat speakers sound like? They sound bad. They sound flat. They have very little fidelity and they can’t fill a room with sound anywhere near that which was mastered for that 60 million dollar feature film you’re watching. They’re also mounted on the back of the television…pointed at the wall. You can get better TV sound with a soundbar.

That’s right, that $999 television has about $0.50 worth of parts in the speakers and it can’t raise the volume loud enough to fill your 10 ft x 12 ft bedroom. So what do you do? Well, you might want to install a full-blown home theater system, but we think that’s overkill for any room besides the main living area. No, that’s why soundbars were created. They bridge the gap and allow you to maintain your room’s nice aesthetics while still ramping up your sound quality to something that at least approaches the sound you want to hear for your movies and television shows.

Have you heard Dr. Who’s Tardis on 2″ razor thin speakers firing into the wall behind the TV? It’s pathetic.

The Many Faces of Soundbars

When you say “soundbars” it’s not like there’s only one kind. I won’t go into the different connection requirements for a soundbar, you can read about that in our other article. But I will tell you that you need to decide whether you simply want to feed an optical digital cable from your television into the soundbar or if you need something a bit more fancy—perhaps something to support a Blu-ray player. In either case, this article deals mostly with the way a soundbar improves your television viewing experience and why you may want to consider one.

But I do want to talk about the different types of soundbars. When you talk about ways to get better TV sound with a soundbar, there isn’t just one solution. There are essentially three soundbar types, and they have different strengths and weaknesses. In no particular order, you have the speaker-only soundbar, the soundbar with wireless subwoofer and the soundbar with surround expansion option. Let’s go through all of them quickly.

Speaker-only Soundbars

These soundbars are exactly what you’d expect. They sit underneath your television and put out sound—far better sound than any TV speaker you are likely to hear. They may even have a subwoofer output, but it will require a separate subwoofer and that subwoofer will be—in all likelihood—wired. These are still excellent choices, particularly if get one that can be upgraded down the road with a wireless subwoofer add-on. If not, you didn’t spend much and you just initiated a massive upgrade in the quality of sound emanating from your television.

Soundbars with Wireless Subwoofers

These are the bomb. Having a wireless sub means that you get that extra low-frequency information you were lacking, but you still maintain that beautifully aesthetically-simple look in the room. A wireless sub can be placed almost anywhere. There are no wires; you just need to be able to plug it in. These systems won’t give you earth-shaking bass, but they will give you enough punch and boom in the low end to make you really enjoy your movies. (Unless, of course, you’re watching Twilight—the best theater in the world can’t make that film any better.) What’s been really amazing of late has been the value you get with these systems. To include a wireless subwoofer and a soundbar in a package as inexpensive as these are priced means that consumers are getting a tremendous bang for your buck.

Soundbar with Surround Expansion Option

Some soundbars allow for an actual 5.1 surround sound experience. That means that the soundbar handles the front three channels (left, center, right) and you can utilize (or sometimes purchase separately) small surround speakers. Fair warning, however—these surround speakers need to be hardwired to the subwoofer, so the subwoofer ends up being the wireless tie-in to the rest of the system. That means the sub needs to be located at the back of the room where the surrounds will be located. Still, that’s pretty cool and it makes for a very inexpensive and cool way to get 5.1 sound without purchasing an AV receiver and lots of gear. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more systems like this coming to market.

Other Features to Get Better TV Sound with a Soundbar

Blu-ray Playback

Besides the wireless sub or integrated surround speakers, there are a select few soundbars on the market that feature an integrated Blu-ray Disc player. Speaking from experience, these aren’t the most reliable players on the market (they tend to stop working reliably after a while—perhaps due to their vertical orientation) but they do offer you the ability to play a BD without having to incur the cost (and space requirements) of a separate Blu-ray player.

Bluetooth Streaming

The ability to stream music instantly to your soundbar may be a consideration, or it may not be. In either case, there are plenty of models on the market that have this feature. You may, in fact, not be able to easily avoid it.

HDMI Inputs

Without getting into too much detail, you will need to figure out if you want or need HDMI inputs, or whether the soundbar will simply receive audio from your television’s optical digital output. One good argument for HDMI is the new ARC feature which transmits video to the TV, while retrieving audio from the TV and sending it back through the HDMI input at the same time.


If there is one certainty in the world of flat panel televisions, it’s that you will get better TV sound with a soundbar. A soundbar will make your television sound light years better than the default speakers. Some people go for the soundbar as an aesthetic choice. Others use it as a “gateway” device to win their significant other to the world of surround sound and home theater, Whatever the reason, a surroundbar speaker can be a great addition to any television and we know it’s an area that is constantly evolving with new features and capabilities.

Have any other thoughts about soundbars? Do you already own one? Let us know on Facebook or comment below and join in the discussion.

9 Comments on Get Better TV Sound with a Soundbar

    • Yes, by using the analogue or digital audio output from your TV but keeping the speakers on (sometimes the digital TV audio out will mute the speakers, but rarely). I would suggest, however, that more is not better. I would leave the TV speakers off and turn up the soundbar if you want more output.

  1. GH

    Hello Clint,
    I have a Vizio 42″ soundbar with rear wireless sub and satellite speakers. 5.1
    The soundbar does not have a HDMI port but it does have optical which I have connected to the TV.
    From my understanding I won’t be getting a true 5.1 experience due to the fact the TV is still doing the processing, (coding? my knowledge is limited).
    Is there a way to set up this system and have an actual 5.1 sound?
    I really want to go forward with the Vizio because they have had great reviews and it solves a lot of awkward speaker placement problems, front speakers as well as rear, having the soundbar (Left Center Right channels) sitting on the TV stand is very neat the rear wireless channels are great to but can be obtained with most systems.

  2. Marty Shea

    I am building a 22 inch deep by 65 inch wide corner cabinet for my TV and audio equipment. The cabinet has a space for a soundbar between the equipment section and the top. Should the soundbar space be left open to the back of the cabinet, or should I close the soundbar space to “bounce” the sound toward the front?

  3. Roberta

    I am tired of not being able to understand dialog from movies on my 60″ flatscreen. I have Dish and added a soundbar (cheap) and all it does is make it louder. I have been told that if I had a home theater system I could make the middle? louder so that the dialog would be understandable. Is this true and will it work with Dish? I have had my ears checked so I’m pretty sure that isn’t the prob

    • DISH should have nothing to do with whether or not it will work. What people are referring to is the fact that, if you are decoding a Dolby 5.1 signal, you’ll have a center channel signal that can go to a dedicated center channel speaker. That’s where your dialogue will be. Many soundbars (especially cheap ones) don’t have a dedicated center channel speaker. That’s likely why you’re still hearing louder “mush”. A full 5.1 system with an AV receiver will give you better control over sound quality, but it’s a more involved solution. Also, you get what you pay for, so it’s likely that a better quality soundbar will help as well.

  4. Deana Martinez

    We have a non smart tv Panasonic viera connected to Samsung blu ray to allow us to watch Netflix but once we connected the blu ray we lost lot of the sound. We then got an RCA sound bar and tried connecting the sound bar to the tv with optical cord since the blu ray does not have any connections other than hdmi to tv. Is there any other way to get louder sound. Thank you.

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