Do You Need a Soundbar for a Smart TV? How to Tell!

Author: Alexis Ronstadt | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Imagine sitting down at a swanky wine bar and ordering that delicious vintage you’ve been saving up for along with a small charcuterie board to complement the experience …

The wine is divine, everything you had hoped for. The aroma is tantalizing, and the taste is balanced and refined. You can’t wait to pair it with some fresh bread, fine cheese, and juicy fruits to really enhance this already delectable sensory experience.

But when the board arrives, it features only cheap flavorless crackers, slices of processed cheese product (you know the kind), and exactly two pitiful-looking grapes.

Expecting a Smart TV to deliver a quality audio experience by itself can leave you just as disappointed. As audiophiles, we simply cannot abide …

The good news is that soundbars provide an affordable, robust solution to our sonic conundrum.

Let’s explore why the latest, greatest (and older generation) Smart TVs won’t satiate your need for quality sound, and how soundbars can help.

Modern TVs are Optimized for Images

There’s no debating the exceptional visual experience offered by modern Smart TVs.

High-definition and even ultra-high-definition resolution offer viewers vibrant colors, stunning clarity, and sharp details. TVs with OLED and QLED technology display visuals that rival reality. Models that support HDR technology further enhance the range of colors and brightness for added depth and realism.

But where Smart TV manufacturers keep upping the ante with more and more advanced display technology, the audio components tend to stay the same.

Consider that, before flat-screen TVs, living rooms were centered around some of the biggest, boxiest television sets known to man. Often deeper than they were wide, these early TVs allowed plenty of space for both audio and visual components.

Modern flat and curved screen TVs are thin and shallow, and the picture often extends to the edge of the unit.

Begging the question: where do the speakers go?

The answer, all too often, is that speakers are more of an obligation to TV manufacturers than a priority. To keep designs sleek, brands often tuck a couple of small speakers at the bottom or sides of the TV. Some may even hide them behind the display. That’s right: two humble speakers, pointed at the wall, behind the TV.

These are not ideal conditions for an immersive soundstage.

Especially when you consider the caliber of audio engineering that goes into modern tv and film sound. (More on this later.) Suffice it to say that you’re missing a LOT by forcing a complex and textured soundtrack through two tinny little TV speakers.

Why Soundbars?

Accepting that the speakers on your otherwise technologically advanced Smart TV are not doing your ears justice, it’s easy to understand why you need a better audio solution.

You can certainly go all in on a robust home theater system, complete with five or more speakers, two subwoofers, and a receiver.

But practically speaking, building out a system like that requires a deep understanding of audio design and wiring, not to mention an equally deep pocket.

Enter the mighty soundbar.

A soundbar is a compact speaker system enclosed in one slim, horizontal case. You only need one unit to enjoy a vast improvement to your home audio. And despite the size, soundbars often come with a subwoofer and surround sound capabilities.

They are also significantly more affordable than a home theater system, and they are remarkably easy to set up.

Soundbars are designed to fit nicely underneath or in front of your Smart TV, or you can mount it to your wall if that’s how you’ve set up your TV.

Instead of connecting a mess of wires from numerous individual speakers to a clunky receiver that then connects to your TV, a soundbar requires exactly one cable to give you a rich and textured audio experience. (Look for HDMI ARC output to adjust volume using only your TV’s remote.)

Plus, most modern soundbars come with Bluetooth connectivity so you can broadcast sound from multiple devices, and they are compatible with home assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant.

One could easily conclude that soundbars are, in fact, specifically designed to be the perfect accessory to modern Smart TVs.

What to Look For

To be sure, any soundbar is probably better than no soundbar when it comes to home entertainment and your Smart TV.

By understanding a few basic features of modern soundbars, you can enjoy clearer dialogue, boomier action sequences, and a more immersive soundstage. This goes far beyond just volume.

Channels

Perhaps the most important factor in what a soundbar can do for your TV is the channel configuration. The number of channels, how they are directed, and what frequency they emit dictates the quality of your listening experience.

Think of the channels in your soundbar like the nozzles in a high-end showerhead. More nozzles generally equate to a more immersive shower, while a group of nozzles in the middle of the head may even pulse for a pleasant massage.

The channels in your soundbar work similarly. Generally speaking, the more channels, the more immersive your soundstage. Some channels face outward or upward to bounce sound off the walls for a surround sound quality. And some channels only emit bass frequencies.

This is important because of the expert-level work that goes into mixing a modern tv or film soundtrack. The configuration of the channels in your audio setup might not matter so much if an expert audio engineer hadn’t also configured the soundtrack to perform optimally across numerous channels.

For example, dialogue is often mixed to be broadcast out of a central channel. In a system that only features two speakers, one on the left and one on the right, the soundtrack becomes muddied and dialogue comparatively unintelligible.

A soundbar with a three-channel configuration (left, center, and right) can deliver clear dialogue as it is meant to be heard.

Many soundbar manufacturers denote the channel configuration of their products in a handy coding system, such as 3.1 or 5.1.2.

In this classification system, the first number indicates how many treble channels, or speakers, the unit contains. The second number denotes how many subwoofers, or bass channels, it has. And the third number indicates how many of those channels are height channels or channels that are directed somewhere other than directly in front to provide surround sound. This is where technology like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X come into play.

So, a 3.1 soundbar has three speakers (left, center, and front) and one subwoofer. A 5.1.2 soundbar features five speakers, two of which face outward or upward for surround sound, plus one subwoofer.

Like the nozzles on a shower head, more channels are better and what those channels are  doing directly relates to an improved soundstage.

Satellite Speakers

It’s worth noting that some soundbars can be expanded with additional satellite speakers.

For example, you can place two additional speakers at the rear of your living room and connect them with the primary soundbar for a truer surround sound experience. Similarly, an additional dedicated subwoofer can add a welcome punch to the action sequences in your favorite shows or games.

Just be aware that satellite speakers are proprietary. That is, you can’t just connect any speaker to your soundbar. Look for soundbar models that can be expanded with supplemental speakers from the same manufacturer if this is the experience you seek.

To Summarize

Do you need a soundbar for a Smart TV? Ultimately, the speakers that are built into your Smart TV are not capable of broadcasting the rich and textured soundtrack from the content you watch. Soundbars provide a sleek, compact, robust solution for any home audio system. Plus, they are affordable and installation is nearly effortless.

There’s no need to settle for flavorless sound to go with your flawless picture. Investing in a soundbar can provide the complete sensory experience you want in your home theater!

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About Alexis Ronstadt

Originally from Phoenix (AZ), Alexis has been performing since childhood. She picked up the violin at age 8 and has been attempting to make interesting sounds with it, sometimes even successfully, since then. Projects include instrumental rock band Larkspurs and an improvisational collaboration called The Bone Stitchers. Aside from adding effects to her pedalboard and discovering exciting new artists, few things delight her more than writing about all things music in support of the music community at large.

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