Buying a new TV is a great feeling. Your new TV looks great whether it's mounted on a wall or sitting on a home entertainment unit, and whether it's switched on and displaying beautiful video or switched off and looking all fashionable. But does it sound good? Perhaps. But it can sound a lot better if you hook it up to a sound system — whether it's a compact soundbar or a larger surround sound home theatre setup.
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Soundbars: Compact, Surprisingly Powerful
Soundbars give you a simple, one-piece boost to your TV's integrated stereo speakers. As a single bar that runs the width of your television — and you can get them in different sizes, too, to suit smaller and larger TV screen sizes — you get a bunch of small but powerful speakers, arranged in a side-to-side array that fires outwards to create a much larger soundstage with noticeable stereo separation. You can buy "surround" soundbars, too, with sideward- and upward-firing speakers that create a sense of wrap-around sound without you having to place speakers anywhere other than above your TV.
You can also buy a soundbar with a subwoofer to give your audio extra low-frequency oomph. If you want to spend a little bit more than just on a basic one-piece soundbar, you can buy two-piece soundbar setups that also include a standalone powered, wired or unwired subwoofer box. That subwoofer contains a large speaker driver optimised for low frequency sounds like the bass of music and the explosions of blockbuster movies. If you want your soundbar to be a significant improvement over your TV's built-in speakers, then a bundled subwoofer is an almost mandatory inclusion.
Home Theatre Speakers: For Serious Cinema Sound
Home-theatre-in-a-box systems can give a cheap but noticeable boost over TV speakers or a soundbar. Because there are more speakers in a proper surround-sound home theatre system, and they're arranged over a larger area than a soundbar that's just under your TV, you're simply able to push them to higher volumes and get more immersive, more powerful sound. The big boost in sound quality will come when you compare your TV's small, thin built-in speakers to your new home theatre system. The difference between a soundbar and home theatre in a box is comparatively much small, but still noticeable if you're really looking for cinema-quality sound.
Setting up a full home theatre requires serious space and serious effort, but it pays off. You'll need to find room in your den, living room or whatever space you intend to devote to your new home theatre, but know that you'll be running cables under rugs and around the edges of your walls and that can be a frustrating task. Add to the challenge the fact that you'll need to calibrate your speakers using the integrated calibration microphone bundled with any decent home theatre speaker setup, and it's more annoying again, but the payoff of having surround sound during a good Blu-ray movie disc is worth it.
Wireless Speakers, Surround Versus Stereo, And More
Wireless home theatre setups are super-convenient, but they also have their pitfalls. Setup, for one, is more confusing than just plugging the speakers in, especially if they're the kind that you also have to connect to your home's Wi-Fi network to access through your smartphone or tablet. On the upside, setting up a wireless system that way means you can play audio through a soundbar or home theatre setup without it having to come through the TV first. There are a huge range of different wireless setups on offer — some just connect rear speakers to a wired front setup, some work entirely wirelessly, and some connect to traditional Wi-Fi to operate — so make sure you figure out which kind you like the look of the most.
Surround sound is great for movies, but not perfect for TV or music all of the time. Make sure that your surround setup includes a simple stereo option that simply pipes all sound to the front two speakers — because it's this setup that will invariably sound the best when you just want to listen to the radio or play a good track off Spotify. True surround sound only occurs with a home theatre setup when it's configured correctly and when it's playing a true 5.1-channel audio stream, which you'll only get from a streaming service like Netflix or from a more traditional medium like DVD or Blu-ray. A system that switches between surround and basic stereo is your best bet, so ensure your new audio setup can handle the transition with ease.