What is a soundbar? 5 reasons you should get one

Bose Smart Soundbar 900 sitting on console in front of tv

If you've only ever used your TV's built-in speakers while watching your favorite shows and movies, you might not realize the audio is subpar compared to external speakers. Because TVs are so thin nowadays, the speakers have to be quite small, which compromises sound quality.

To experience TV audio the way it should be experienced — with clear dialogue and a more dynamic range — one of your best options is to invest in a soundbar for your TV. What is a soundbar, exactly? It's a compact external speaker system that sits in front of your media setup, and it typically houses several speakers that face toward the listening area. Soundbars are one of the easiest (and most affordable) ways to instantly improve your TV's audio, and more advanced models, such as wireless soundbars, even support Dolby Atmos® content, delivering a theater-like audio experience right in your living room.

As you decide whether a soundbar is right for you, here's everything you need to know about the technology and its benefits.

What's inside a soundbar?

Soundbars are easily recognizable thanks to their long, narrow design, which can range from 20 to 60 inches in length, but have you ever wondered what's inside the shell? A soundbar cabinet houses several loudspeakers, including both tweeters and midrange drivers. Tweeters are small speakers that produce high-pitched sounds, like piercing screams in horror movies or the wail of an electric guitar. Midrange drivers produce the middle-frequency range, which includes dialogue, background music, sound effects, and more. Some soundbars may contain woofers or subwoofers, which are responsible for low-range audio, but because these speakers are often large, it's more common for them to be placed in a separate module.

The larger a soundbar is, the more speakers it contains — for example, the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar is one of our largest models, featuring a total of nine speakers inside the 41-inch cabinet with a sleek universal remote control to keep everything in balance. Most of the speakers within a soundbar point forward, aiming soundwaves directly toward you, but the best soundbars may include sideways and upward-firing speakers, too. With this advanced technology, soundbars create multidirectional audio, making it seem like certain sounds are coming from above or behind you.

Home theater system with Bose soundbar, bass module, and surround speakers

The benefits of a soundbar

If you're on the fence about whether a wireless soundbar is right for your home or not sure how to choose a soundbar that fits your needs, keep these features in mind:

1. Improved TV sound quality

The main reason people invest in a soundbar is to improve TV audio. Most of today's TVs have two small backward-facing speakers, which results in muddy audio, especially in larger spaces. By increasing the number of speakers and pointing them toward the listening area, you'll drastically improve the sound quality of your favorite show. The dialogue will be clearer — so you can turn off those subtitles and won't need to reach for your TV remote to turn up the volume. With higher highs and lower lows, the sound from your soundbar will be crisp, dynamic, and most importantly, easy to hear.

The difference isn't just proven by anecdotal evidence, either. Studies have found that soundbars deliver better spectral clarity and richness of sound than your average stereo system and create a more immersive listening experience that most people prefer. Instead of just watching a movie or playing a game, you'll feel like you're in it, allowing you to enjoy the content to its fullest potential.

2. More immersive audio

If you want to feel like you're in a movie theater, a soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos can deliver more immersive audio than your television’s built-in speakers. Thanks to their upward-firing speakers, Bose soundbars are able to place specific noises around your room, making it sound like the helicopter on screen is actually flying above your head.

Even if your content doesn't support Dolby Atmos, Bose smart soundbars make it an immersive experience with TrueSpace spatial processing. This proprietary Bose technology analyzes your content and upmixes it to place sounds to the right, left, and overhead, creating a multidimensional experience, no matter what you're watching.

3. Bluetooth® connectivity and smart features

Bose smart soundbars aren't just useful for TV audio. Thanks to their Bluetooth connectivity, soundbars can easily connect to your smartphone, allowing you to play your favorite music, podcasts, or other audio through the powerful speakers. You can wirelessly play tunes from most popular music streaming platforms, and if you have other Bose smart speakers throughout your home, you can group them together with your soundbar to enjoy seamless audio from every room.

That's not the only smart feature you can take advantage of, either. Bose soundbars have Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built in, meaning you can use them as a smart assistant in your home. You can ask for the weather, turn your TV on or off, or check your calendar. Alexa can even make hands-free phone calls through the soundbar.

4. Easy setup, tailored to your space

Even if you're not the most tech-savvy, there's no need to be intimidated by soundbars. They're quick and easy to set up, without any complicated wiring or additional components required. Bose soundbars use a single connection to your TV, and your speaker will come with both HDMI-eARC and optical audio cables for installation. The HDMI-eARC cable allows your new soundbar to play Dolby Atmos-encoded content, but if you have an older TV without an HDMI port, you can use the optical audio cables instead.

One connection is all that's required to get your soundbar working, and once it's set up, you can use the Bose Music app to run the ADAPTiQ audio calibration, which will automatically optimize its audio based on your room's layout. Plus, if you ever move to a new apartment or house, you can simply take the soundbar to your new space and recalibrate it — unlike built-in theater speakers, which are challenging to move.

5. Expandable systems

If you want a comprehensive home theater with multiple speakers but don't want to buy it all at once, a soundbar is the perfect starting point for your setup. It will provide great audio until you're ready to expand your system, and Bose soundbars can easily be paired with a compatible wireless subwoofer and/or surround sound system, allowing you to build an audio system that suits your space.

Occasions for using a soundbar

Bose soundbars can also elevate your gaming experience. The multidimensional sound ensures you can clearly hear noises coming from your left or right, which is crucial for many video games. Plus, the immersive audio will make you feel like you're actually in the game, making it all the more fun for you to play.

Even if you're not watching TV or gaming, your soundbar can come in handy. You can use it to play a podcast or playlist while you cook dinner, using voice commands to pause the audio or skip a track, all while keeping your hands free. Soundbars are also useful while entertaining, providing background music that fills the whole room for your guests to enjoy.

Bose TV Speaker connected to television and resting on TV stand

Picking the perfect soundbar for your room

Soundbars come in an array of sizes with a wide range of features, so the best option for your space will depend on factors like the room size and TV size. If your TV is located in a large space, such as an open-concept living area or room with high ceilings, a larger soundbar with more speakers will more effectively distribute sound. However, a large soundbar may be too overpowering for an average 200-square-foot living room or bedroom — in these cases, you'll likely want to size down to avoid buying a larger speaker than you need.

As a secondary consideration, you generally want to look for a soundbar that's a shorter width than your TV for the sake of aesthetics. (Keep in mind that a 55-inch flat-screen isn't 55 inches wide — that number is the diagonal measurement, and the width will be shorter.) It's also a good idea to think about where you'll place the soundbar, whether it's placed on a media console or mounted to the wall, as you don't want the unit to block the TV screen.

The difference a soundbar can make

Many people are initially hesitant to purchase a soundbar, but once you upgrade your TV's speaker system, you'll never want to go back. The powerful speakers within soundbars offer crisp, clear, immersive audio that built-in TV speakers simply can't match, and you'll find your soundbar useful for other occasions as well, becoming an integral part of your daily life.