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Buying a Sound Bar? Listen Up First

If you’ve spent a fortune on a new high-definition LCD, LED or Plasma television and want a home cinema experience without all the hassle of a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system, then buying a Sound bar could be the right move for you.

Designed to be discrete and stylish without all the mess of wires trailing everywhere, Sound bars can replicate surround sound without having to place two speakers at the front of your room, two at the rear and one in the centre under the TV.

Want to know more? Then read on as we clear up any confusion over Sound bars with our Buying Guide. You can also find out more about other vision and home cinema purchases with the links to more of our Buying Guides at the end of this article.

So what exactly is a Sound bar?

Well, as the name suggests, a Sound bar is a long bar speaker that pumps out the sound from your TV, Blu-ray player or games console.

It is used instead of a full surround sound system and can either be wall-mounted underneath your television or placed horizontally on a TV stand below.

A Sound bar replicates the home cinema experience you would achieve without having separate front and rear speakers and a centre speaker.

But does it really sound the same as a surround system?

A Sound bar will generally have a lower total watts output (RMS) for its audio level than those bigger systems because there are less speakers.

Although it is really a 2.1 stereo system, it compensates for this with clever technology to bounce sound around the room.

This will throw the audio off the ceiling and walls to make it feel as if the audio effects are coming from behind you.

Models such as the Panasonic SC-HTB520EB-K use a process called Dolby Virtual Speaker Technology to mimic the effect of full surround sound.

But while it will not have the exact same effect as a 5.1 or 7.1 system, the differences are becoming less and less, making it a worthy and often cheaper option.

Sound bars generally cost from £199 to around £400 for models from the likes of Samsung and Panasonic.

What else is good about a Sound bar?

If you don’t have a room big enough for a complete 5.1 or 7.1 surround setup, a Sound bar is the perfect way to enhance the audio from your high-definition TV.

Plus, if you have a smaller room and therefore don’t want a speaker system that means compromising on space, then a sound bar provides a perfect option. This gives a significant boost in sound quality, coupled with a discrete and stylish design.

If you can’t hide these cables in the wall or under the floor, it can often look very messy and be dangerous if people were to trip on the wires.

But while they are stylish and discrete, Sound bars are also very long. Make sure you have enough space for it before you buy and it is important to purchase one designed for the size of TV you own to gain the best sound effects and experience.

What about the bass?

If you want to experience deeper sounds and rumbles from your home cinema, then like with any audio system, you will need a separate subwoofer.

Some Sound bars – but not all – will come with a matching subwoofer that is wireless turning it from a 2.1 to a 3.1 system. This subwoofer can be placed anywhere in the room and connected to the main unit without any fuss.

You could also buy a separate subwoofer to enhance your sounds but it may need to be plugged in via a cable, limiting the options on where it can be sited.

Anything else I should know?

Sound bars are very easy to set up. You simply plug them directly into the TV rather than needing the separate box you have between your surround sound speakers and TV.

Some will have one or two HDMI connections to make it easy to plug in items such as a Blu-ray player or computer game console like the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.

They come in a variety of finishes such as black, silver or mirrored to suit all tastes.

And if you own an iPod, there are also models featuring a wired or wireless iPod dock allowing you to play your music directly through the Sound bar – making it perfect for a party.

What about 3D?

Not all Sound bars will be optimised for 3D television technology so if you are planning on using one with a 3D TV, it’s worth checking online or in-store to see which sound bars are compatible.

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