Best sound bars of 2018 – dialogue, bass and surround sound tests electricity symbols

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Its Clear Voice setting produced some of the best sounding vocals and dialogue in our tests. When you combine that clear dialogue and immersive surround sound with a price of less than $300, it is hard to justify using your TV’s built-in speakers.

This sound bar has most of the important connectivity options, including HDMI ports, a 3.5mm auxiliary input and Bluetooth. The HDMI connections support 4K and HDR video pass-through, so the YAS-207 doesn’t degrade the video quality of content you play through your stream box or Blu-ray player if you connect them directly to it. However, the easiest way to set up your sound bar is to use the TV as the connection hub and send digital audio to the sound bar via the optical input. It’s also easy to connect mobile devices to the YAS-207 via Bluetooth so you can play your favorite songs from your smartphone or MP3 player.

The one important connection option missing on the YAS-207 is Wi-Fi. Sound bars with Wi-Fi use your home’s wireless network to connect to devices and allow you to stream higher-quality content from greater distances than with Bluetooth. To transmit via Bluetooth, you have to be within roughly 30 feet of the sound bar, and the connection doesn’t transmit lossless audio.

There are only two speakers in the sound bar, so its surround simulation is lacking compared to the best models we tested. However, movie dialogue and vocals were clear and concise, which is important if you use your entertainment room to watch TV programs and listen to music.

This sound bar package includes a 5.4-inch wireless subwoofer that connects automatically. It is one of the smaller subwoofers in terms of speaker size, but it was accurate and surprisingly powerful compared to its larger competition in our tests. The SB3621 had no problem filling our 300-square-foot AV room, but we suggest getting a sound bar with a larger subwoofer and more speakers if you have a medium- or large-size entertainment room.

It is missing a couple of the important connections we look for, including HDMI ports and Wi-Fi. However, it has an auxiliary input, USB port and Bluetooth connectivity. This is one of the few sound bars we tested with a USB port you can use to play high-quality WAV files – the USB connections on most models can only be used to service the product or update the firmware.

We spent more than 20 hours in our AV testing room trying all the available sound modes on each sound bar while listening to a variety of content. Once we found the best movie and music setting for each model, we enlisted the help of a panel of evaluators. Our recommendations are based on the cumulative results of survey testing and side-by-side comparison.

I have spent the last 15 years critically listening to speakers and evaluating the finite characteristics of home and professional audio products, but sound bars are the first step in someone’s path toward upgrading their entertainment room’s audio. As such, we sought input from people who have very little experience with home audio products as well as from expert evaluators.

In addition to in-house testing, we contacted experts from reputable sound bar manufacturers and professional audio associations to make sure we were up to speed on all the newest features and innovations. For instance, I asked the president of the WiSA Associaton, Tony Ostrom, if he thought manufacturers would start integrated sound bars into their televisions soon, and he responded that with TVs continuing to get thinner, he doesn’t think that will happen in the near future. However, he does believe “we will continue to see growth in matched audio solutions designed to aesthetically coordinate with and be physically adjacent to the screen.” This is an important insight for those who are waiting to make an audio upgrade because they think televisions will include high-fidelity speakers soon.

We are most concerned with recommending a sound bar that can serve your entertainment room well for many years to come. That is why we tested them with real content in real-world scenarios and tried to highlight the features and benefits you won’t find information about in retail marketing materials.

You want to make sure the sound bar you choose has all the necessary connections to integrate into your current setup. The most popular way to connect a sound bar to a television is an optical port. Most new TVs have a digital audio output that uses an optical cable to send sound to a sound bar. You then connect all your AV peripherals, such as a stream box and cable TV box, to the television, and it sends the audio to the optical input on the sound bar.

The other important physical connections are HDMI ports. They are used to send audio and video from one of the aforementioned peripheral devices or an AV receiver through the sound bar and on to the TV. All the sound bars we tested that have HDMI outputs that support 4K video pass-through, so they don’t degrade UHD video content.

There are two wireless connection options available on sound bars. Some have Bluetooth, others have Wi-Fi and the best have both. I asked Robert Goedken, the general manager of Yamaha’s AV division, what the best way to wirelessly stream high-fidelity content is, and he responded, “Wi-Fi offers greater range, better stability and supports transmission of higher-resolution audio content. Most people already have Wi-Fi in their homes, so it makes sense to use it to stream content to their sound bar.” We prefer sound bars that have Wi-Fi connectivity for high-fidelity audio and Bluetooth connectivity for ease of use.

Most of the sound bars we tested come with a wireless subwoofer, and those that do connect to them automatically, so they are easy to set up. If you want theater-quality audio, a subwoofer is an important component. In addition, you may want to consider a sound bar that has separate volume controls for the subwoofer if you live in an apartment or house with thin walls so you can turn the bass down to keep your neighbors happy.