You don't have to live with crummy TV sound

Does your TV's picture rock you like a hurricane, but its sound is more like a gentle rainfall? Pumping it up with a sound bar speaker has become an increasingly popular sonic solution for super-slim TVs with wimpy sound.

In a recent Facebook post, we asked readers whether they used their TV's built-in speakers or some sort of external sound system to improve sound. Of the 55 people who responded immediately, only 17 percent said they solely relied on the TV's built-in speakers. The most popular choice—40 percent—was a sound bar speaker system. A surprisingly large number—to me, at least—was the 31 percent who said they used a component-based home theater setup. And fewer than 10 percent opted for a prepackaged home-theater-in-a-box system.

"New, slim TVs have the speakers in the back so it projects off the wall, whereas the sound bar's sound is directed at you," said one sound bar convert. "I invested in a sound bar," said another. "[The TV's] internal speakers were horrible."

And a third noted that you don't have to pay a lot to improve your TV's sound: "Check out the Vizio brand. I got mine at Costco for $89. It not only connects to the TV, it also has Bluetooth to stream music from my phone. The sound is really good, too."

In fact, we recently picked out two bargain sound bar speakers—one for midsized TVs, and the other for larger sets—from our updated home theater Ratings that provide very good sound at reasonable prices.

Looking for better TV sound? Check out our home-theater and sound bar speaker buying guide and Ratings.

In addition to price, convenience is one reason that people are choosing sound bar speakers to improve TV sound. Most sound bars can be placed above or below the TV, and can be mounted on a wall. Many come with a separate wireless subwoofer. Our latest sound bar Ratings include another option: a sound base—a wider, rectangular enclosure that’s placed under your TV set. (With this type of speaker, you need to make sure that it's rated to handle the weight of your TV.) Unlike regular sound bars, most sound bases have bass drivers housed within the cabinet, so you don’t need a separate subwoofer.

With either type of sound system, setup is easy. You can connect a cable box or streaming media player directly to the sound bar or sound base, or you can hook up the cable box or player to your TV, then connect the TV to the sound bar. In most cases, you use HDMI or digital-audio (optical or coaxial) inputs on the sound bar. Older gear may require stereo RCA jacks. Many of the sound bars we've tested have audio processing that simulates surround sound, with varying degrees of success.

If you're looking to improve the sound of your TV set, you can check out our free buying guide for more information, or check our full sound bar Ratings (available to subscribers) for our complete evaluations of more than 35 models.

—James K. Willcox

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