Question: I recently purchased a 42-inch LCD HDTV. I enjoy the picture quality but the acoustics could be improved, especially the clarity of the spoken word. Would a soundbar improve the acoustics for voice, or are soundbars principally designed to improve the music quality?
G. J., Contra Costa, Calif.
A: A soundbar will improve the sound of all television audio, including sound effects, music and voices. Voices seem to be the sticking point for most consumers as dialogue is often unintelligible.
Readers often ask me why their old console television sounded so much better than their new flat-panel HDTV, when the picture on the new television is so much better, the TV is thinner and lighter, and the screen is also much larger. The hidden truth is that television broadcast sound quality has improved along with the picture. If you have a good sound system and watch an HDTV movie or a prime-time show on a major network you will find crystal clear, full sound, often in 5.1 surround. Unfortunately, most flat panel TVs cant reproduce this sound and often cant even provide a passable performance.
Consumers like smooth, sleek, thin bezels and that means we now have television tiny speakers that are pointed downwards, rather than the larger speakers of yesteryear that were pointed directly at the viewer. Every day my email inbox has reader correspondence complaining about television sound. It has gotten to the point that I almost consider a soundbar a necessity if you dont have a separate stereo or surround sound system to use with your television.
Some television manufacturers are starting to take note of the problem and offer solutions. Value-priced television manufacturer Element Electronics has teamed with speaker manufacturer JBL to bring improved sound to Element flat-panel televisions. I saw a 70-inch Element LED-LCD television at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It had an integrated JBL soundbar and a wireless subwoofer, and the project was important enough to JBL that they had engineers present who went over the system with me. The sound was indeed very good, and I think most consumers would be fully satisfied and not see a need to upgrade from there. Element offers JBL technology in many of their smaller televisions, starting at 40 inches in size. I am going to try and get my hands on one for testing and see if it duplicates the fine sound I experienced in Las Vegas.