2012 Holiday Gift Guide: Soundbars (list)

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Soundbar Gift Guide

Flat-panel TVs may look great, but the chassis doesn’t allow for the room necessary to add great sound to the mix. That’s the reason for a sound bar — it can go below the TV, if on a wall, or just in front of it if seated on a cabinet. Not only does it match the svelte appearance, but also provides clarity of audio to ensure the A/V experience isn’t one-sided. Don’t expect a single speaker in that sound bar either; multiple speakers and advanced audio technologies — be they designed to straightforwardly present audio around the room or “fool” your ears into hearing multichannel sound — are arranged inside for creating a sound-field that any home theater owner can appreciate. And in 2.1 (two speakers and a subwoofer) or 5.1 configurations as well. So is there a sound bar to match your needs and price range? Of course there are, as you can see below.

Budget Priced

Philips CSS2123/F7 SoundBar Home Cinema Speakers

This compact soundbar manages to contain 2 dedicated tweeters within a svelte frame and is accompanied by a stand-alone subwoofer.  DoubleBASS audio technology improves on bass and virtual surround mimics the effect of a 5.1 system. Besides digital and analog inputs, the Music iLink jack allows connections to mobile devices.

For the small apartment or den, there’s more than enough amplification to let you listen without straining. For big sound effects and loud blockbuster films, not so much.

Amazon has it for $124.

Maxell SSB-1 Maxsound Soundbar Tabletop Speaker

Designed to go underneath the TV, the 30 watt-powered SSB-1 can hold up to a 55-pound TV. The glossy black exterior hides 2 speakers inside as well as a subwoofer for greater bass. Inputs can accept an audio signal from a mobile device (smartphone, tablet, etc.) as well as digital and analog.

Space conscious consumers will find this an easy way to add to their enjoyment without having to rearrange their TV viewing area. A 42-inch or smaller flat-panel will work best here.

Amazon has it for $48.

 

Middle Priced

Sony HT-CT150 3D Sound Bar System

This sound bar can be mounted directly to select Bravia TVs and has 340 watts of power and a dedicated subwoofer. Audio inputs include digital and analog.

Features include a HDMI Audio Return Channel, Repeater system for A/V signal transfer and multiple HDMI inputs for use as an entertainment hub with 3D compatibility. These added functions make the HT-CT150 well suited for those who have updated their TV in the least 2-3 years.

Amazon has it for $183.

LG NB3520A Sound Bar

This 2-speaker soundbar comes with a stand-alone subwoofer, but also features wireless connectivity between the two as well as Bluetooth audio streaming capabilities. Two optical, 1 analog and 1 USB input, a 3D sound optimizer, 160 watts/speakers, 140 watts/subwoofer should do you nicely.

Those looking to increase the volume of their TV viewing, movies especially, will find this appealing. That the subwoofer does not need to be wired makes for more flexibility in its placement.

Buydig has it for $249.

 

Expensive

Harman Kardon SB-16 Sound Bar with a Wireless Sub

This soundbar contains 4 midrange drivers and 2 tweets, with 50 watts of power. Complimenting this is the wireless subwoofer, 100 watts strong, that can be placed anywhere in the room. The SB-16 can be used with an existing remote and features adjustable phase and EQ settings for tone preferences — 2 channel stereo and virtual surround modes are handled by digital signal processing (digital, analog and coaxial inputs).

Wall mounting bracket and shelf placement feet are also included. Because of the choices allowed for digital surround-like effects, those with a home theater set in a moderately large room will find this sound bar works exceptionally well. Those using it in small spaces will need to fine-tune the output if they’re to get the full advantage of its audio capabilities.

Amazon sells it for $599.

Proficient Audio MaxTV MT2 TV Speaker

This Bluetooth-enabled tabletop speaker is designed to hold a TV of up to 160 pounds. 80 watts of amplification powers the 4 midrange drivers, 2 tweeters and 2 down-firing subwoofers. Audio inputs include digital, analog and coaxial, and the wood framed grill is held in position magnetically.

Proficient’s placement  of the subwoofers enables the MaxTV to deliver a deep bass without adding to the space requirements of the room (no dedicated sub to place on the floor or in a corner). This is complimented by a powerful speaker set that any pro-sumer can get behind, yet its simplistic approach to providing audio makes it as easily used by the neophyte as the more sophisticated audiophile.

It sells for $599, but we’re unable to find an online retailer at this time.

 

Splurging

Artison SB-1 Sound Bar

This 3-channel soundbar is designed to provide the impact of left and right speakers along with a center channel, all within a black anodized aluminum cabinet. It utilizes 6 long-throw woofers and 3 tweeters, plus side-firing tweeters. The front grillwork can be customized to match that of the TV.

Wired connections from an amplifier are required and the soundbar can handle up to 50 watts of power per channel. The placement of the speakers (especially those at the sides) contributes to a greater depth to the sound-field than is common, making the Artison more suitable for creating a “surround sound” like effect, which adds to the clarity and strength of the audio it presents. Audiophiles won’t be disappointed.

Crutchfield has it for $1,199.99.

MartinLogan Vision 5.1-Channel Powered Soundbar

Featuring 3 transducers and 4 drivers, this 100 watt-powered soundbar delivers 7 dedicated channels of amplification, with support for 3.1- and 5.1-channel simulated surround sound. Audio inputs include 2 each digital and coaxial and stereo RCA, along with a wired subwoofer output.

A built-in subwoofer transmitter can wirelessly connect with an optional MartinLogan subwoofer. A wall mount bracket is also included, as is a remote control. The MartinLogan’s speaker array enables it to create a “surround sound” like effect with a greater clarity and depth as compared to moderately priced (and even higher) soundbars. This is due to the inclusion of a high-end speaker set that would be comfortable if placed in speaker cabinets instead.

As the soundbar expects a subwoofer to be added, the provision for a wireless transmission is an added feature that shows how the company thinks ahead to provide straightforward functionality for the user.

Amazon carries it for $1,499.

Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.

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