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Buying a Soundbar for Your TV? Read This First.

Soundbars owe their existence to flat-panel TVs. Sure, those skinny screens produce a crystal-clear picture. But their tiny built-in speakers can’t even reproduce dialogue clearly, much less deliver convincing explosions, car crashes and all the other mayhem that keeps us riveted by our favorite movies and TV shows.

TV speakers are not only undersized and under-powered, they’re almost always aimed in the wrong direction, firing sound downward or toward the wall behind the TV. It’s no wonder everything comes out indistinct and out-of-focus.

So the goal of the soundbar is to provide a sonic experience that more closely matches the TV’s lifelike picture. Equipment makers use a variety of methods to achieve that goal, and pretty much any soundbar you choose is going to sound better than your TV’s speakers. A lot better.

Soundbars have exploded in popularity in recent years, and the number of models has likewise exploded. So we’ve put together this buying guide to help you quickly figure out what flavor of soundbar might work best for you.

Klipsch Reference R-4B Design

What is a sound bar?

A soundbar is an all-in-one speaker system that delivers high-quality TV sound without requiring the space, complexity and expense of a home theater receiver and surround sound speaker setup. A soundbar’s long, slender cabinet contains two or more speakers, and may provide either stereo or surround sound. Some soundbars come with a separate subwoofer for producing deep bass, which adds impact to movie soundtracks and music.

Nearly all soundbars you’ll run across are a self-powered or “active” – that is, they have their own built-in amplifiers. But there is a vanishing breed of soundbars designed to be connected to and powered by a receiver. These non-powered or “passive” soundbars lack another major advantage of active models: easy setup and operation. This article covers only self-powered soundbars, since that’s what 99.9% of folks are looking for.

When shopping, you’ll run across soundbars from nearly every audio company, as well as most TV makers. A soundbar made by the same company that built your TV may be a perfect match cosmetically, or offer other compatibility benefits. But for pure sound quality, you’ll probably do better with a model from a company whose main focus is audio gear.

Where do you plan to put it?

Knowing where you’re going to place your sound bar will immediately simplify your decision and narrow down your choices. There are two basic options. If your TV is hanging on the wall you can mount the sound bar right below it for a neat, uncluttered look. If you’re going this route, you’ll want to consider how you’ll hide the power cord and connection cable.

On the other hand, if your TV sits on a stand or cabinet, you can set the soundbar in front of the TV. In that case you’ll want to measure your stand and your TV’s base to be sure the soundbar won’t stick out from the stand at all.

You should also measure the space between the top of your stand and the bottom of your TV screen, to make sure the soundbar doesn’t block any of the screen. Some soundbars can be positioned either with the speakers facing forward, or laying flat with the speakers facing up, for just this reason.

Soundbars come in a wide range of sizes, from barely a foot wide to nearly five feet long. The right size bar for you will depend on the size of your room, the size of your TV, and your personal preferences.

If you plan to do at least some of your shopping in actual brick-and-mortar stores, pull out your phone and snap a few pics of your TV before you head out the door. That way when you’re comparing models at the local big box, you can check those photos and have get a better idea of how different soundbars will look in your home.

Klipsch Reference R-4B Wireless Subwoofer

What about a subwoofer?

If you think you might want a soundbar with an accompanying subwoofer, that might limit your placement options a bit, but probably less than you’d expect. That’s because nearly all of these subwoofers are wireless. That is, they receive the audio signal wirelessly from the soundbar, so you needn’t connect any cables between the soundbar and the subwoofer. But you will need to plug the sub into a wall outlet for power.

Also, the low frequencies that subs produce are difficult for our ears to locate, so you can usually position the sub almost anywhere in the room and still have it blend well sonically with the soundbar. Put it next to your sofa or tuck it in a corner behind a potted palm.

Soundbar or sound base?

So far, we’ve been talking about soundbars that really do have the long, thin shape of a bar. But there’s another type: the platform-style soundbar, also sometimes called a sound base. This wide, low-profile design sits under your TV and supports it. Sound bases have specially reinforced cabinets that are extra-sturdy. If you’re considering this type, check the specs to make sure it can support the weight of your TV. And make sure the sound base is wider than your TV’s base.

A sound base might be your best bet if there isn’t much vertical space between the bottom of your TV screen and the top of your stand. It’s also a smart choice if you want full-range sound without a separate subwoofer. Sound bases have two advantages that help them produce surprisingly full sound. They can use bigger speakers, plus the cabinets are much larger, giving the speakers “room to breathe” so they can produce more bass.

Stereo or surround sound?
It’s worth repeating that any soundbar is going to sound way better than your TV. Basic soundbars tend to be stereo designs that reproduce the same right and left channel audio information as your TV. But they sound much bigger thanks to larger speakers powered by amplifiers with real oomph.

You’ll also run across systems with two speakers, or even three speakers in a left/right/center configuration, that can go beyond the limitations of stereo. These soundbars may use Dolby Digital processing to anchor the dialogue to the TV screen and place sounds so that you get a broader front soundstage with more precise placement of sound effects.

Then there are the multichannel soundbars that mimic the realistic, wraparound sound of a full-on, multi-speaker surround sound system. They typically are labeled 5.1 or 7.1 systems, with discrete sounds assigned to each channel to create a three-dimensional soundfield. A few soundbars use special “beam-type” speakers to bounce sound off your walls, tricking your ears into thinking there are speakers all around you.

If you’re a “cord-cutter” who relies on your TV’s built-in tuner to pick up over-the-air TV signals, and/or smart TV apps to watch streaming services like Netflix, you’ll want a soundbar with Dolby Digital decoding. Most recent TVs will pass a Dolby Digital signal to your soundbar when you’re watching an internal source – those that aren’t external components. We’ll talk more about this in the connections section.

Hearing voices

Just getting sound that’s louder and fuller than your TV’s speakers is pretty exciting, but most soundbars have a few other audio tricks up their sleeves. Actors’ voices will naturally sound much clearer thanks to bigger and better speakers, but many soundbars add dialogue enhancement features that make voices louder still and bring them forward in the mix.

And here’s something we’ve probably all experienced: Watching TV at a comfortable volume level, then suddenly being blasted off the couch when a commercial comes on. Most soundbars now include technology to ensure that commercials aren’t louder than show soundtracks. Another common feature is a “late night” mode that reduces volume peaks in the program, making it less likely that you’ll disturb someone sleeping in a nearby room.

Soundbars can make great music players, too

With the popularity of wireless music playback it’s not surprising that many soundbars now offer that capability. Built-in Bluetooth® lets you stream music easily from your smartphone, tablet, or Bluetooth-capable computer. It works with the music stored on your phone as well as your favorite streaming music apps (like Spotify®). And Bluetooth is the wireless music standard these days – nearly all iOS®, Android®, and Windows® phones and tablets have built-in Bluetooth.

Some soundbars even have Wi-Fi® capability for quick access to online streaming services as well as your personal digital music library. Wi-Fi isn’t as goof-proof to connect as Bluetooth, but some soundbars include Wi-Fi-based wireless audio systems like Play-Fi, which let you set up a multi-room sound system so you can seamlessly play music all over the house. A soundbar might also have a USB input, so you can load up a thumb drive with your favorite tunes, leave it plugged in, and listen to them anytime.

Making the right connections

When choosing a soundbar, be sure you pick one with the right connections for your TV and other components. There are two basic ways to hook up a soundbar to your system. The most common way is to use your TV as a switching hub: you connect your Blu-ray player, cable or satellite box, and game console to your TV, then send the audio out from your TV to the soundbar.

This is a simple approach that lets you simultaneously switch the audio and video signals when you switch inputs on your TV. Typically, you’ll make a digital audio connection between your TV and soundbar – either optical or HDMI – in order to be able to enjoy surround sound from sources that offer it. This is a particularly good way to go if you bought your TV in 2015. That’s when TV makers decided to build true Dolby Digital pass-through into their TVs, allowing connected components like Blu-ray players to send surround sound audio through the TV and on to a receiver or soundbar.

Prior to 2015, if you used your TV as a switcher, the TV would convert any incoming audio to a two-channel PCM signal. That’s still playable by soundbars, and it sounds good, but it’s stereo, not surround. By the way, this is often the answer if you’re getting a picture but no sound from a connected source. Just go into the TV’s menu and you should find an audio setting for either PCM or Dolby Digital.

Every HDTV and 4K TV has an optical digital output, and so does nearly every soundbar. This connection is second only to HDMI as a way of getting high-quality sound from your TV to a soundbar. And speaking of HDMI, a growing number of soundbars include HDMI connections, which means you could connect your Blu-ray player or high-def cable box directly to the soundbar.

Staying in control

Once your soundbar is hooked up and set up, you can usually use your TV remote to control its volume. Most TV and cable or satellite remotes can be programmed to control a soundbar, or the soundbar can learn your TV’s commands. Most soundbars include at least a basic remote control, and often there are free remote apps that let you use your smartphone or tablet as a remote.

Wrapping up

Initially developed as a reaction to wimpy TV sound, soundbars have taken on a life of their own, providing a user-friendly combination of performance, convenience, and value. With so many models to choose from, everyone should be able to find a model that suits their preferences and pocketbook.

3 Times a Soundbar is Better Than Surround Sound

We know what you’re thinking. “Blasphemy! A soundbar can never be better than a surround sound system!”

You’re right. In a perfect world, everyone has a kick-ass 5.1+ surround sound system rattling the windows and pissing off the neighbors every night.

That being said, we are a realistic bunch and there are specific situations where a soundbar is the ideal solution for people looking to upgrade their TV’s crappy built-in speakers.

Thankfully, Klipsch boasts a family of soundbars that are not only an upgrade from any built-in TV speakers but also out-perform the competition. We feel strongly that these are not “just soundbars.”

Here are three situations, where a soundbar is indeed the better solution over a surround sound system

FINANCIALLY SPEAKING

Klipsch speakers are a serious investment. We respect and appreciate consumers’ willingness to spend their hard earned money on our speakers. Fortunately, Klipsch speakers do amortize over time due to their durability and timeless sound.

Of course, it is still a rather large up-front cost, especially if you consider the additional costs of an AV receiver, speaker wire and labor (if you are hiring someone to install it into the walls). That’s where a soundbar comes in.

The Klipsch lineup of Reference soundbars is reasonably priced and provides a multitude of options that not only better your TV’s built-in speakers but also crush the competition. The most recent addition is the Reference R-4B soundbar, which comes in at $399 in the United States, making it an excellent value for any home.

Plus, if you are able to upgrade to a full-blown 5.1+ surround sound system, you can always just move the soundbar to another room!

NO WIRES ALLOWED

Almost everyone hates wires. They can be unsightly with your décor or they may even become a chew toy for your curious cat. Heck, they could even be unsafe if you run them through the middle of the floor, acting as a trip wire.

Klipsch Reference soundbars keep clutter to a minimum and each comes with a wireless subwoofer, which is great because you don’t have to run a subwoofer cable. (Click here to learn where you should place your subwoofer.)

NO SPACE FOR BIG SPEAKERS

There are a couple reasons where space becomes an issue for a surround sound system. We are not all so fortunate to be able to plop giant floorstanding speakers wherever we desire.

First of all, you might simply have too many things and be unable to make the adequate floor or wall space required for separate Klipsch speakers. The second reason is that the room where you have the speakers may not be setup very well for a proper surround sound system. For example, if the room is very narrow, you are not going to get much stereo separation from the front speakers if there’s even any space to the left and right of the television.

Have questions about whether you should get a Klipsch Reference soundbar or to go with a surround sound system? Post in the comments below!

Four Reasons Why the Reference R-4B Soundbar Rocks

We are proud to introduce the Klipsch Reference R-4B soundbar and wireless subwoofer into the Klipsch family of soundbars. The newest member is also the most affordable, ensuring that more people won’t be stuck using their TV’s built-in speakers.

Seriously, please don’t use your TV’s crappy built-in speakers. There are dozens of reasons why the Reference R-4B soundbar and wireless subwoofer is amazing; however, we have narrowed it down to four that we believe are most compelling.

Klipsch Reference R-4B Design

1. DESIGN SOLUTION

One of the most annoying things about many soundbars is that when you place them in front of the television on the same surface that they block a portion of the bottom part of the screen. They may even block the TV’s infrared sensor, meaning that using your remote becomes difficult if not impossible.

The Reference R-4B soundbar stands at a mere 3.5” in height, allowing you to place it directly in front of the television without fear of it blocking the screen or the infrared sensor. If you watch a lot of Sportscenter, you’ll thank us because you won’t be missing the ticker anymore.

Klipsch Reference R-4B remote

2. AUDIO SETTINGS

The Reference R-4B has a couple of audio settings that are useful additions to one’s listening experience.

Voice Enhance Mode increases the dialogue’s volume, enhancing vocal clarity without boosting the ambient sounds. Never again will you have to say “What did he say?”

Night Mode adjusts dynamic range for quieter listening environments. Here at Klipsch, we are infamous for liking it loud (just ask anyone who attended the Consumer Electronics Show), but there are times when it is simply more comfortable to have a more subdued listening experience.

Klipsch Reference R-4B Wireless Subwoofer

3. WIRELESS SUBWOOFER

Affordable soundbars often suffer from weak performance, particularly in regards to bass response. Thanks to a 6.5” down-firing wireless subwoofer, the Klipsch Reference R-4B is certainly an exception. Its wooden cabinet boasts a slot-ported design, allowing for deep, powerful bass.

Klipsch Reference R-4B Sound Quality

4. SOUND QUALITY

At the time of this blog post, the Reference R-4B soundbar is the most affordable entry in the Klipsch roster of soundbars. You probably think that we cut a bunch of corners and put out a soundbar that just isn’t up to our usual lofty standards. Wrong.

We say it time and time again, but it’s certainly worth repeating. Whenever we make a product, we aim to deliver best-in-class acoustics. We have done so again. This isn’t “just a soundbar.”

SHOP THE KLIPSCH REFERENCE R-4B SOUNDBAR + WIRELESS SUBWOOFER

Have questions about the Klipsch Reference R-4B soundbar and wireless subwoofer? Post them in the comments below!

Soundbar vs Surround Sound

Trying to decide between using a soundbar or a home theater system for your home? We’ve listened to your requests and put together this overview to ease your mind and open your ears to the difference in set up and sound quality.

As you know, soundbars are all the rage with their sleek design, easy installation process, wireless set up, and ability to produce a form of surround sound. Does this mean you’ve found a replacement for a separate-piece surround sound system with front, rear, and center speakers? No, of course not. Nothing can replace a full-blown Klipsch home theater setup…BUT a soundbar can be the ideal solution for those seeking an upgrade to their wimpy TV speakers.

Let’s break down the pros and cons of each so you can decide what’s best for you.

Soundbar Overview

Pros:

  • Easy installation and connectivity
  • Minimal wires
  • Modern design
  • Great for small-medium living spaces
  • Excellent virtual sound, which simulates the surround sound experience

Cons:

  • May need to buy separate subwoofer (although many Klipsch systems include a sub, such as our HD Theater SB 3, R-10B Soundbar and R-20B Soundbar)
  • The placement of the soundbar creates specific “sweet spots” in your listening experience
  • Does not produce complete surround sound, especially in larger living environments

Surround Sound System Overview

Pros:

  • Full range surround sound
  • Able to place speakers in multiple stations for optimal acoustics
  • Maximum bass
  • Audiophile theater system presentation

Cons:

  • Most quality systems require running wires from the receiver to each individual speaker
  • Takes up more space
  • More involved installation process
  • More expensive

Q: Does Bigger = Better?

Big speakers may provide the look of a major sound producing machine, but remember, looks can be deceiving. While it is true large speakers have the ability to produce eardrum pounding sound and are an excellent choice for a large room, soundbars and smaller speaker systems are more than capable of producing quality sound. Make an informed decision and learn how to ensure a quality set up by reviewing the following section.

How Do I Compare a Soundbar to a Surround Sound System?

As with any audio product, there are varying levels of quality and associated performance depending on the device. The best soundbars will overpower and outperform the run-of-the-mill surround sound system. So, the question is, what performance standards do you look for? We’ll make this part easy on you. Just refer to the below list on how to understand the specs to find the quality speaker system you desire.

  • Sensitivity

The speakers’ effectiveness of converting power (watts) into volume (decibels). The higher the sensitivity, the less power the speaker needs to deliver the effective sound. To put it quite simply – a higher sensitivity rating = loud, clear, high quality sound.

Speaker

Sensitivity Rating

Power Needed To Produce High Volume

Speaker A

85 dB

100 Watts

Speaker B

89 dB

50 Watts

Speaker C

92 dB

25 Watts

*less power to produce higher volume is key for speaker longevity

  • Frequency Response

The range of frequencies that are audible to humans lies between 20 and 20,000 Hert (Hz). Some of the lowest frequencies (below 35 Hz) are more felt than heard (like an earthquake in an action movie), and are produced by the subwoofer. Review the frequency response range to understand what kind of listening experience you will gain with the associated highs and lows that the speaker produces.

  • Power Handling

How much power, in watts, a speaker can handle before it is damaged. Simply put, the higher the power handling, the more likely you are to piss off the neighbors.

  • Impedance

How much electrical resistance is presented against the current flowing from your outputs. Impedance will fluctuate since the speaker will produce sounds at varying frequencies, but all manufacturers will publish a nominal impedance figure. 8 ohms is the norm, though some speakers can handle a 4ohm load (just make sure your receiver matches this load).

SUMMARY

Hopefully this helps to answer some of your questions on how to choose the right speaker system. Remember, much of it comes down to personal preference, but be sure to do your homework when it comes to reviewing the specs and associated performance standards of each sound system. We’re sure that either choice will amplify your current set up and make PWK proud.