A soundbar oughta sound good, right? What other criteria is there? Turns out, there’s a lot to consider before throwing down your hard-earned cash. Everything from the internal hardware, size, connectivity, and smart assistant support determine which soundbars are worth getting or skipping.

Hardware: When shopping around, you’ll come across terms like “drivers” and “channels.” Basically, drivers are the speakers within the soundbars. Woofers handle the deep bass tones, while tweeters take care of the high-pitched sounds. In general, the more drivers a soundbar has, the wider range of sound it can produce. Channels, on the other hands, act like pathways that deliver sound to specific drivers.

Common setups include 2.0 (stereo) for left and right channels, 2.1 (stereo with subwoofer) adding a dedicated bass channel, and 5.1 (surround sound) incorporating left, right, center, rear surround, and subwoofer channels. Dolby Atmos soundbars take things a step further with numbers like 5.1.2 or 7.1.4. These extra digits represent the number of height channels (usually 2 or 4) that create a more realistic, three-dimensional sound.

Connectivity: While soundbars offer wireless convenience, premium models often rely on wired connections like HDMI ARC or eARC. Imagine them as highways for sound transmission between your TV and soundbar. Standard HDMI ARC acts as a two-lane highway, perfectly suitable for most situations. It can handle compressed audio formats, which is how streaming services like Netflix deliver Dolby Atmos. However, for the uncompressed glory of Dolby Atmos found on 4K Blu-ray discs, you’ll need the superior bandwidth of HDMI eARC. Think of eARC as a multi-lane highway with a much higher capacity, allowing for the full, uncompressed audio experience.

Also look for a soundbar that can connect to your smartphone, tablet, or laptop through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi make it easy to set up a connected sound system by wirelessly linking other compatible speakers. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi offers compatibility with Apple AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast systems, allowing you to stream music with higher quality than Bluetooth.

Size: The right size for a soundbar is a balancing act between space and sound. A soundbar too large for your room can overpower your setup. On the flip side, larger soundbars tend to deliver richer and more immersive audio. The key is finding the perfect fit. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as room size, TV size, and available media stand space all play a role.

Smart features: Many soundbars come with built-in support for popular virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri. While not essential, these features offer a big perk: hands-free control. Instead of fumbling for a remote, you can tell Siri to play your favorite song. Voice control not only adds convenience but also makes your soundbar experience more accessible and user-friendly.

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