Sound bars review

Fewer boxes, easier connections, compromised sound.
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Sound bar

Test results for eight sound bars, priced from $999 to $3299

A sound bar is a box with a number of speakers in it. It's designed to sit just below your TV screen, and uses clever technology to approximate some of the effects of having speakers placed around the room. Some of the products tested also come with a separate subwoofer, which look after those deep rumbles and loud bangs that make movies more exciting.

If the idea of a room full of speakers and wires puts you off buying a surround sound system, a sound bar may be an attractive alternative. This test reveals which models produce a similar experience to a surround sound system – but unfortunately, none can replace a 5.1 surround sound system for immersing you in sound.

See our home theatre section for more information.

Please note: this information was current as of March 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

How they work

There are two types of technology the products tested use to give you a sense of sound coming from a particular direction.

Beam forming

This creates narrow beams of sound that can be directed to reflect off the walls or ceiling and give the impression of sounds coming from different places in the room. These sound bars often have a lot of small speakers (The Yamaha YSP-4000 has 42) and are best used in rooms with hard surfaces. Too much sound-absorbing material in the room can result in the beams not appearing in the right places.

Head related transfer function (HRTF)

HRTF technologies tend to have fewer speakers in the sound bar. They rely on creating auditory signals we associate with different sound locations, to "trick" us into thinking the sound is coming from a specific position. This means they are less affected by the surfaces and will probably work best in rooms with lots of soft furnishings and carpets.

The sound bars were assessed on:

  • Their overall sound quality and whether they could replace a 5.1 surround sound system.
  • How they performed on technical tests such as frequency response, total harmonic distortion, subwoofer integration.
  • How easy they were to use.
  • Energy consumption of the main unit and subwoofer on standby.

Brands tested

  • Denon DHT-FS3
  • Denon DHT-FS5
  • Samsung HT-X810
  • Sony RHT-G900
  • TEAC SB03iDV
  • Yamaha YAS-71
  • Yamaha YSP-600
  • Yamaha YSP-4000

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