Let’s face it – the average person is clueless about how to pick an audio system. Other than reeling off-brand names, very few people know enough to select one that is suitable. It is true that a large number of advancements in sound technology may have made it tough to track the latest developments. Let’s keep this straight – here’s all the information that you need to pick the best small soundbar.
We’ve compiled useful information about how to pick one, what specifications to look for in a soundbar, and how each specification impacts the sound quality. To round off, we have compiled a head to head comparison of five of the best models that are presently available in the market. This will give you a crystal clear picture of what suits your needs best.
Head To Head Comparison of The Best Small 2.1 Soundbar
How To Make Sense of Specifications?
You may have come across markings on speakers – such as 5.1 or 7.1 or 7.1.2, and may have wondered what it all means. Well, it is pretty simple. The first number in any sound bar represents the number of channels in a speaker, the second represents the subwoofer and the third represents an upward firing speaker.
What Is The Difference Between A Sound Bar And A Sound Base?
Before you start the search for a soundbar, it is time to know the distinction between a sound base and a sound bar. Here are three differences between a soundbar and a soundbase that will help you choose better.
SOUND BAR TYPE
Size, Shape: Soundbars are thin, rectangular and are typically as long as your average television set. The overall shape is, well like a “bar”
Sound Quality: You get crystal clear sound quality from a compact soundbar, that enhances the audio from television sets.
Bass Drivers: The compact, sleek soundbar is packed with technical features and design to make the listening experience thoroughly enjoyable.
SOUND BASE TYPE
Size, Shape: Sound bases are not as long as soundbars but have greater breadth (depth) in dimension, more box-like in shape.
Sound Quality: You get the same crystal clear quality in a sound base, like that of a soundbar, in a slightly larger sized sound system.
Bass Drivers: By virtue of being bigger in size, you get bigger bass drivers, which means that the deep thump will enrich the experience.
Now that we have that established this difference, let us look at what you need to known before you eventually pick up a sound bar.
#1 Channels – If you need real immersive experience, then you need a sound bar with 3 channels. This will help you experience surround sound, unlike the sound bars with lesser channels that only offer basic stereo effect.
The advances in sound reproduction and broadcasting mean that you get to listen to audio in as much as five different channels – left, right, center, rear left and rear right. Now that the sound comes in these five different channels, imagine having to listen to the sound in reduced number of channels.
The experience will certainly not be the same right? The channel description is pretty easy to understand. With two channels you get the left and right, while the 5 channel models will give you all the five different channels that is telecast.
In compact soundbars that are intended to sit beneath your television, you can opt for the 3 channel models – left, right and center. This gives a good listening experience. The higher end (read more expensive and larger) models are the 7 channel models which are designed to give the ultimate listening experience, especially if you get upward firing speakers for a truly immersive experience.
#2 Active/passive – An active sound bar has inbuilt amplification, while passive sound bars do not have inbuilt amplification. This impacts the sound quality to a certain extent. Therefore look for one that has amplifiers inbuilt.
Effectively, active speakers take care of everything in one compact shape. You do not have to plug in additional receivers or amplifiers. If you want a simple and sleek sound bar that eliminates wires and accessories, choose an active sound bar. Though a passive sound bar does not have any inbuilt power amp it comes with better speakers. This means that you get a better listening experience. However, this involves customization and can make things complicated if you do not have the right person or the knowledge to pull it off.
#3 Form factor – A sound bar is compact and permits you to put it up on the wall or on the table. Choose one as per the dimensions of your room and the television that you intend to which you intend to hook up the sound bar. Ideally, if you intend to change your television, do that before you pick your sound bar.
#4 Connectivity – Ideally, your sound bar should offer you connectivity through three standards – HDMI, Bluetooth and WiFi, in addition to USB connection. This is the ideal connectivity that should be available in the sound bar you pick, which will permit you to connect your devices and inputs seamlessly and without any hassles.
The devices and standards that are available presently offer you the opportunity to a wonderful listening experience. However, this means that your soundbars need to have the right connectivity options.
Relatively new TV models come with HDMI output, which is great for listening experience on multi-channel speakers. Choose a soundbar that offers this connectivity, for better separation of sound.
It is hard to imagine a device without Bluetooth. You can seamlessly connect to all devices and stream music without latency if you have a soundbar with Bluetooth.
With WiFi, your soundbar can get on the network to stream music from your favorite online sites, without the need for any additional actions.
With USB, you can plug in a flashdrive directly and play music or replay recorded audio smoothly. This is ultra-convenient and offers you the advantage of listening to high quality sound reproduction from one of the smallest possible storage options/formats – the USB.
Now that you know what you need to look for in a soundbar, it’s time to use that information as identify one that is perfect for your requirements. We zeroed in on five models based on popularity, performance and categories. Let’s take a close look at each of the five models to understand the tech specs and how it relates to your requirement. We also have a simple, one glance comparison chart to help you weigh your options better.
Sonos Beam Smart TV Sound Bar
This is one of the raging models, sleek, compact and loaded with useful features and functionalities that make your experience in the living room a lot more convenient. With the inbuilt Amazon Alexa voice assistant, you will find it a lot more easy to access the functionalities. The wrap around design is ultimate, blending perfectly into the black/white pill shape of the sound bar.
Compact – 25.6 (Width) x 2.7 (Height) x 3.9 (Depth) inches
3.0 channel arrangement, 2 passive bass radiators in the front for high definition sound
Apple Airplay 2 Support
HDMI and Optical input
Voice and app controls
Amazon Alexa inbuilt
Connects to other Sonos speakers
What Could Have Been Fixed?
You cannot easily switch between the Alexa/Google Voice Assistants. You need to do a bit of jugglery if you want to switch from Alexa to Google and vice versa. The Sonos does not have a remote, though you can control it with apps and handle certain functionalities with the TV remote. However, a separate remote could have been a lot less confusing.
Bose Solo 5 Sound Bar
Bose needs no introduction. Considered more like the gold standard in sound systems, you can be sure of a great experience. This is an ultra-compact model that can literally fit anywhere. Despite its small size, it is a feature rich model, that not only delivers a superior performance, it is ridiculously simple to set up and operate. Top features include.
Apart from these, the singing machine sml-385w disco light karaoke system comes with lots of extra benefits as well. Some of the unique features of this device are as given below:
Sleek – 21.6 (Width) x 2.75 (Height) x 3.4 (Depth) inches.
Connectivity – Bluetooth, Optical digital, Coaxial digital
Universal remote, 3.5 mm Aux out
USB port only for firmware and servicing
2 channel front speaker arrangement
Automatic wake and sleep functions
Dialogue mode for enhancement of audio
What Could Have Been Fixed?
The lack of HDMI connectivity, USB or WiFi hurts the experience. While the sound quality is good, the 2 channel system does not offer surround sound experience. The presence of a subwoofer could have made a difference to the sound quality, despite the fact that the Solo 5 still stands out for the rich sound quality from the compact single unit soundbar.
Yamaha YAS - 108
This is certainly one of the most desirable models at this price point. It boasts of features that are not available in other models. For instance, HDMI input and output, DTS-3D Virtual Surround Sound and the built-in subwoofers more than make up for other features available in other models. All the options elevate the listening experience and operating convenience. The deep bass ensures that you get a well round, rich output that fills your room with crystal clear sound.
Esthetic design – 36 (Width) x 5.125 (Height) x 2.5 (Depth) inches
2 channel arrangement with built-in dual subwoofers
Connectivity – Bluetooth multipoint (connects two devices), HDMI input and output
DTS-X 3D Virtual Surround Sound
Compatible with TV remote (HDMI-CEC models)
Supports 4K Ultra HD, HDR pass through and HDCP 2.3
Total 120 watts power – 60W subwoofer, 30W x 2 stereo driver
What Could Have Been Fixed?
The lack of Voice Assistant integration could be a dampener of sorts for a few listeners. Similarly, an onscreen display would have made this a better product. Presently, users get to decipher the volume levels and selections from LEDs, which may be challenging from a distance. A dedicated remote would have helped, despite the fact that you can control certain functions with the TV remote.
TCL Alto 5 2.0
This is a minimalist model, no frills and belongs in the sub 100$ price category. We have included this in the review as we wanted to profile and showcase budget choices that are presently available to customers. You get full value for your buck with this model that offers features such as deep bass, and clean loud sound, with good connectivity options and an easy set up. You get advanced features such as music mode and news mode to enhance your listening quality as desired.
Minimalistic design – 31.5 (Width) x 2.6 (Height) x 3.3 (Depth) inches
2 channel arrangement with active amplification
Connectivity – Bluetooth 4.2, 3.5 mm aux, optical, USB Type A
Built-in Dolby Digital decoders
Three sound modes – news, music, movies for greater choice
What Could Have Been Fixed?
Suitable for listening to music with heavy and deep bass. May not be the best choice if you want to hear crystal clear dialogues from movies. Loud enough but could have been a better, well rounded product if it had DTS support, as the surround sound is not very effective.
Samsung HW-R550 2.1
This is another well rounded product that gives you a combo of features that are good enough for enjoying music, movies and news. If you have a Samsung TV, this is a good option, as this is made to work smoothly in combination with Samsung TVs.
Compact form – 35.6 (Width) x 2.1 (Height) x 3.2 (Depth) inches
2.1 channel arrangement with subwoofer
Connectivity – HDMI, optical, Bluetooth 4.2
Game mode for an engaging and riveting experience
Optimized sound settings as per content for greater clarity, and bass effects
What Could Have Been Fixed?
Features that we miss include WiFi, and lack of a proper display. While the sound is good enough, the subwoofer delivers desired performance only when played in movie mode. This definitely needs to be fixed to offer a better experience when listening in other modes as well.
Here’s A Little Comparison That Will Help You To Choose Best Small Soundbar
|Dimensions||25.6 x 2.7 x 3.9 inches||21.6 x 2.75 x 3.4 inches||36 x 5.125 x 2.5 inches||31.5 x 2.6 x 3.3 inches||35.6 x 2.1 x 3.2 inches|
|Connectivity||HDMI, Optical||Bluetooth, Optical digital, Coaxial digital||Bluetooth, HDMI input and output||Bluetooth 4.2, 3.5 mm aux, optical, USB A||HDMI, optical, Bluetooth 4.2|
|Sound||Very good||Good||Very good||Good||Good|
|Additional feature||Apple Airplay Support, inbuilt Alexa||Automatic wake and sleep functions||Gyroscope that determines if your installation is vertical or flat.||Three sound modes for enhanced listening experience||Game mode and optimized sound settings|
Though these models did not figure on this list, they are definitely worth consideration. We will run a separate review on these models later as a sequel, after compiling all necessary in-depth details.
Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar
Bose Soundbar 700