Soundbar, soundplate, speaker and subwoofer - the four esses
For all that your typical flat panel TV looks great, aesthetically, and is capable of producing fantastic high definition pictures, the chances are that the audio quality will let it down.
Flat panels = small speakers = lacklustre sound = incomplete audio-visual harmony but there are numerous ways you can improve it, at a range of prices to suit all budgets.
Here are a few of our favourite current products and, as with all our informative articles, we'll be keeping this one updated to account for new models being released.
There’s perhaps no easier solution, right now, than an all-in-one soundbar. It has the obvious benefits of space-saving convenience, easy connectivity and fool-proof operability. At less than £220, the SBX-N500 provides all that, and more, at a price that won’t leave you wincing. Not only does the N500 have HDMI (ARC) capability, meaning you can control it with your TVs remote but it also features Miracast, DLNA and Bluetooth streaming options so you can listen to your music collection, pretty much wherever it’s stored. And it sounds really good too, with a warm, expansive quality and good bass performance for a solo-soundbar product. Build quality is also excellent for something in this price-category so it’s built to last and we think it's probably the best sub £250 all-in-one soundbar we’ve tested.
As popular as soundbars have proved to be, they still aren’t quite a tidy enough solution for some. Step forwards the sound-plate, soundplinth, soundbase - or whatever a particular manufacturer chooses to call it - as the ultimate in small footprint solutions. You simply pop your TV on top of it, insert necessary cables and enjoy. The LAB540 even finds room for a 3D capable Blu-ray player which will also scale your old DVDs to HD resolutions and it has the convenience of Bluetooth for audio streaming from phone, tablet or PC. You also get a Smart TV platform, with the likes of Netflix, NOW TV and YouTube amongst the ranks. This package comes with a separate subwoofer unit for added low end extension and will set you back less than £400, so if you’re after the ultimate all-in-one convenience solution, look no further.
What happens when you can’t decide between a ‘conventional‘ soundbar and a soundbase? Easy, you have both. French outfit, Focal have always liked to be a little different and that Gallic creativity has been brought to bear on their Dimension Soundbar and Sound base products. The soundbar side of the equation – which you’ll need as a minimum – packs in five independently amplified channels of audio and includes HDMI connectivity, a digital optical input, stereo line-in and you can add an optional wireless receiver that allows for Apt-X Bluetooth streaming. Even on its own, the soundbar is a lovely performer with well-defined multichannel for movies and TV and an impressive stereo presentation with two channel music. Add in the soundbase, which doubles as a plinth for your TV, and low end extension is dramatically enhanced, adding far more impact to your movies. The pair will set you back in the region of £1,100, with the soundbar portion accounting for £800 of that. That’s quite a chunk of change for a French Fancy but we think it sounds superb.
Stop the press! Your next TV audio solution doesn’t necessarily have to be a soundbar or base. You could actually place a couple of speakers either side and perhaps add your own choice of subwoofer later, should you so desire. The BT3 package provides many of the conveniences of a soundbar, including its own amplification, and for £350 leaves most price-comparable examples for dust in terms of affording an engaging sound field. The BT3 solution is lively, very clear and capable of going louder than most living rooms would need. Naturally, being a more traditional speaker pair, stereo music sounds far better on the BT3 than it does on even fairly expensive soundbar packages and the inclusion of aptX Bluetooth quality streaming, means you can make your smartphone and tablet into the ultimate portable HiFi system. Befitting their ‘lifestyle’ audio status, the speakers come in a choice of 3 colours – red, white or black – and the beautifully finished cabinets would grace any living room.
And now we come to probably the most popular solution out there at present – the soundbar and separate subwoofer package. The HW-H550 is a mid-range product with prices, online, beginning at round £270 and for that fairly modest sum you bag a stylish, slim soundbar and matching sub. This being Samsung, the H550 has a feature or two up its sleeve and the package boats HDMI, Bluetooth streaming and wireless connectivity with compatible Samsung TVs via, the nifty and reliable Soundshare feature. There is an alternative silver finish, carrying the product number HW-H551, which shares the same lively audio performance and both are great all-rounders with TV, movies and music all well catered for. The HW-H550 can also decode multi-channel Dolby Digital and DTS and stream AAC, MP3, WAV, WMA, OGG and FLAC files that only extends the feeling of versatility and the combination of style, ease-of-use and feature-set is winning.
Check back soon because we seem to receive new solutions in for review, on a weekly basis, and there's no sign of things slowing down any time soon!
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