TVs and Soundbars: What a Bracket

I’ve been sampling a variety of soundbars lately, ranging in price from $300 to $3,900. Despite the generic term—“soundbar” or “surround bar”—it’s actually a very diverse and interesting category with all sorts of subcategories within the soundbar umbrella: active, passive, LCR-only, LCR plus discrete rears, and etc. It’s also a category that can arouse understandably strong emotions of disgust and disdain among purists and quite a few custom installers. For millions of people, however, simplicity usually trumps sound quality; and the soundbar tsunami continues to swell and is unlikely to crest anytime soon.

But the pencil-thin form factor of flat-panel TVs is at odds with the acoustic principles speaker engineers currently take advantage of. The result is a shotgun marriage of something that is skinny with a partner that is usually a bit bigger-boned. Both of the home-theater spouses, though, do share a common aspect. Each one performs best when viewed/listened to from a position directly in front of the it. And therein lies a problem: what do you do with the soundbar if you turn the flat-panel on its base or otherwise change the angle of the TV (if it’s mounted on a tilting, pivoting, or full-motion wall mount from, for example, companies such as OmniMount, Bell’O, or Sanus)? In a more extreme case, what’s to be done with the soundbar if the TV is mounted in a corner?

If you’d like your soundbar to move with the TV, or want an alternative to mounting it on the wall or placing it on the top of a cabinet in front of the TV’s foot pedestal, you can use a universal soundbar mounting bracket. There aren’t many models from which to choose, but the good news is that none of them are terribly expensive, ranging in price from about $25 to $80. Although different in final design, the basic idea behind these brackets is to take advantage of the sets of mounting holes that are on the back of every flat-panel as well as the ones on the back of most soundbars in order to physically attach the soundbar to the TV—usually hanging it under the screen, but sometimes above it.

One of the least-expensive brackets is a two-piece design from Sewell. Sewell’s $24.95 Universal Soundbar Bracket system includes two individual L-shaped metal brackets that can be oriented to extend up or down depending on whether you want the soundbar above or below the TV screen. Soundbar Brackets offers a similar bracket system made that’s slightly larger, made from 12-gauge steel, and is rated for soundbars up to 35 pounds. It sells for $49.95.

At the moment, my personal favorite is the Universal Soundbar Mount (7912B) from Bell’O. The company says it’s designed for mounting soundbars onto “most 37-inch to 90-inch televisions.” I haven’t had a chance to actually use one in my system, but when I took a close look at the demo Bell’O had on display at the CES booth earlier this year I was very impressed with how sturdy and how adjustable it was. The rails of the bracket that attach to the TV are a mere 3/8-inch thick and fit between the back of the TV and whichever TV mount you choose to use. (It doesn’t have to be from Bell’O.) The rails for mounting the soundbar can be extended up to 41 inches wide. But this 41-inch limitation only applies to the distance separating the mounting holes on the back of the soundbar. The soundbar itself can be much wider than 41 inches. Bell’O says the 7912B is designed to handle most soundbars weighing up to 30 pounds and sells for around $50.

Even if you don’t intend on mounting your flat-panel TV on the wall or on a mount attached to a piece of furniture, you might run into a situation in which a soundbar-on-the-TV mount could be very useful. If your TV happens to have a short tabletop stand with a foot that extends out in front of the TV, it’s sometimes difficult to find a spot on the top of the cabinet for the soundbar. And oftentimes, even when there is room for the soundbar, it’s physical presence blocks the TV’s built-in IR receiver. (Definitive Technology’s SoloCinema XTR Soundbar incorporates an IR repeater just for this sort of situation.) Depending on the size and weight of the soundbar, a universal mounting bracket that suspends the speaker system above the screen instead of sitting below and blocking the IR window could be just the thing to keep something that’s supposed to be simple (e.g. the soundbar) from being one more piece of electronics to complain about.

One word of caution, however. Be sure to check the load-bearing specifications of both the universal soundbar mount AND the TV mounting bracket. You definitely want to make sure that bolting a 30-pound soundbar to your TV doesn’t put the combined weight of the components over the limit of the bracket they’ll be attached to. That could result in some great—but expensive and very dangerous—sound effects.