Can the all-in-one soundbar really replace a dedicated home theater system?
The emergence of the soundbar audio genre can be traced to two trends: 1) consumers’ desire to buy slender, space-saving speaker systems to match their slender, space-saving flat-panel HDTVs; and 2) consumers’ hatred of running speaker wire around the room. Studies show that people either leave their surrounds at the front of the room, which wreaks havoc with the soundstage, or they simply don’t hook them up at all, which is just a shame. To address the former, speaker companies began to incorporate the front three channels of a 5.1-channel system into one slender bar you could place above or below your TV. To address the latter, they took it one step further, putting all five channels into a single bar and using acoustic manipulation to create a sense of surround envelopment. It seems like every major speaker manufacturer is now jumping on the soundbar bandwagon, but does the technology really work? Can one speaker honestly re-create a 5.1-channel soundfield, and what kind of sacrifices must be made to do so? To find out, we brought in the latest soundbar models from Philips, Marantz, Yamaha, Denon, and Polk.