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New TVs, monitors, and screens in general are looking sharper and crisper with each generation. But with more components going into driving the visual aspect, and sets getting increasingly thinner, there’s less room inside for quality speakers that can project powerful sound outwards. What you’re left with: sound that’s also pretty thin, muffled and lacking. By now, manufacturers almost expect users to get an accompanying sound bar to go with their set, in order to complete the true home theater experience. But if you don’t have room on your entertainment unit, or want a sound bar that’s tucked out of the way, you’ll want to consider a bookshelf sound bar.
How Does a Bookshelf Sound Bar Work?
A sound bar is a long, thin speaker designed to work with your home media like TVs, laptops, even phones. Since most TVs and computers don’t contain powerful speakers, having an external unit like a sound bar can bring up the bass, volume, and ability to project overall sound quality of your favorite movies, shows and games. It can even mimic a full surround system, as movies and games are becoming increasingly encoded with commands to project a realistic soundscape firing from all angles – top to bottom, and side to side.
What to Look for in a Sound Bar
Audio Format: When shopping for a sound bar, make sure it’s going to fit the format of all the devices you want to connect, since not all of them have the same ones. For example, Dolby Atmos or DTSX are popular formats found in the best sound bars. It also helps to narrow what you’ll be primarily using it for, as some sound bars are engineered more for music than movies, but if you’ll be playing downloaded files or using this for studio mixing, you may want to double check it can play files such as WAV, AIFF and FLAC too.
Display: Some units have a built-in display up front to show you things like volume, which audio settings you’re on, and sometimes even the track name. It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if there isn’t, but it’s always helpful to get a visual confirmation of your voice or remote command, and saves you a trip from the couch.
Space and Size: Not all sound bars share the same size, and some are significantly larger than others. It may be an afterthought, since sound quality is the real priority, but if you’ve got limited shelf (or desk) space or a small entertainment center, definitely take some measurements before going all-in. Same goes for the reverse too – some bars are designed for bigger rooms, and won’t perform as well in enclosed spaces.
Remote: Sound bars sometimes include remotes to give you more options from afar, instead of having to keep the bar on one single setting and just adjust everything around it like your TV. Some are more involved than others, and a few have only the most basic functions, but may be compatible with a universal remote.
Ports: Depending on how many devices you’ll be connecting, ports are definitely something important to consider. While one HDMI port might suffice for now, chances are you’ll be getting another device in the future that’s going to need an input of its own. You can always buy an additional HDMI splitter later if needed, but it’s best to have a few free openings just in case. Other than HDMI, sound bar inputs can also include RCA and AUX. It’s also advised to make sure the ports support the latest tech like 4k, Bluetooth, and HDR, so you’re not missing out on all your media has to deliver.
Extras: Outside the bar, different brands offer varying options to beam music from your phone to the main unit, or connect up multiple speakers throughout the house to all sync up wirelessly over WiFi or Bluetooth. Voice control and smart home links are also available for services like Amazon Alexa. And the best sound bars will have the ultimate, excellent add-on: a subwoofer, which brings up the low-end like nothing else, and can add instant bassy punch to any music or movies. Same goes for extra external speakers too, which boost the high-end of the sound spectrum and can be placed around the room. But even without these, the bar alone will enhance your home audio dynamically.
1. Bose Solo 5 TV Sound System
At 21.6 inches long, the Solo’s compact build fits into smaller spaces without the need for a subwoofer. And weighing under three pounds, it’s easy to move from room to room. But don’t let the small size mislead you — this bar still projects powerful sound.
The universal remote offers plenty of capabilities, such as volume, bass control, and playback, switching between the unit’s two sound settings. “Dialogue Mode” is a neat feature too that emphasizes focus on the spoken word audio in anything you’re watching.
Since there’s no separate subwoofer here, so you won’t be blown away by house-shaking bass, but that being said, it still does a pretty great job rounding out the deeper end of songs, shows and movies.
Connecting via Bluetooth is easy, and gives you a nice range to move around freely (about 30 feet). Also because of its small size, there are noticeably less ports here: optical, coaxial, and auxiliary (it also comes with cables for the latter two). No HDMI, however.
2. TaoTronics Three Equalizer Mode Stereo Sound Bar
This wall-mountable bar pumps out 36 watts of power in a small package, at about 21-inches long, 2.4-inches tall, and under four pounds.
Connecting through the latest Bluetooth using your phone is quick, with LED icons that light up on the unit to show which function it’s on. There are optical and AUX inputs, and it comes with an optical and a 3.5mm-to-RCA cable too.
The three EQ modes are pre-set for games, music, and movies, and all can be controlled with the included remote, along with other basic other functions like volume.
3. Sonos Beam Smart TV Sound Bar
Mesh fabric surrounds this entire Sonos bar, with a minimal but functional three buttons up top, and three inputs on the back for power, Ethernet, and HDMI. As far as audio formats, the Beam supports Dolby Digital and Stereo PCM, but that’s about it, which can be a little limiting when you want the full effect of ever-evolving modern media audio.
There’s also no Bluetooth capability here, but music can be played from your phone via the same WiFi network. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are compatible too, for instant voice commands to do things like turn on the TV and play music from your streaming service of choice.
Wall-mounting this can be tricky, since the mounting holes are on the bottom, so best to keep this sitting in front of your screen; plus, since it’s only 2.6 inches high, there’s little chance it’ll hinder your view. Sonos has their own app too, which is a huge help when setting this up.
The Beam is also great if you’ve got other Sonos products too, as all their design aesthetics go well together to create a stunning home theater setup.
4. TCL Alto 7+ 2.1 Channel Home Theater Sound Bar With Subwoofer
At 36 inches long and almost four inches high, this bar and sub pair is an excellent addition to any room.
The bar takes care of the high frequencies with dual 1.5-inch tweeters, as well as dual midrange drivers too. Then the subwoofer brings up the lower end with powerful bassy undertones. It’s ready to receive Bluetooth, as well as compatible with HDMI-Arc, optical, IR pass-through, AUX, and USB, while a color-coated LED light tells you what you’ve got currently playing,
The separate sub stands over a foot high and features a six-inch woofer on the rear panel. There’s no individual volume control for the sub, which makes it hard to control the bass, but it does well with rounding out full sound without distorting or crackling.
A remote is also included, with three pre-programmed audio settings, and a control pad for menus, volume and playback.