STREAMING SOUNDBARS
Mac Life|December 2021
Enhance your cinema experience, and upgrade audio streaming at home with these smart soundbars

MODERN TV SETS place great emphasis on the size and qualiy of their displays but their audio capabilities usually get somewhat lower billing. In part, this is a consequence of the drive for ever-thinner designs. Achieving a deep and rich sound means moving more air, and the problem is there simply isn’t space inside today’s ultra-thin TVs to incorprate speaker units large enough to do it.

Soundbars have become increasingly popular as a way to achieve cinema-like sound in your own home. Their long-form factor means they sit fairly unobtrusively underneath your screen, and although their speakers are not huge they can generally be paired with a subwoofer for serious bass extension, and also often with additional satellite speakers for true surround sound. Although DVDs are not so common any more, digital streaming services offer advanced audio options like Dolby Surround or Atmos, and HDMI and optical ports on soundbars, TVs, and devices like the Apple TV make it all work seamlessly. The right soundbar can transform your TV and movie-watching experience.

How we tested

Each soundbar was connected to a mid-range 4K TV that was using an Apple TV 4K for its streaming services. Ease of setup and control was considered, as well as connectivity and sonic performance with a range of sources from streamed movies to music beamed over AirPlay. Where virtual surround like Atmos was a feature, we tested its performance. Where control was done via an app, we also looked at how well it was designed and worked in everyday use.

Things to consider…

>>> Physical size

The bars on test vary in size and the largest ones look odd with a small TV set. Try to match the sizes of both devices.

>>> Expandability

Some models are quite self–contained, others come with a subwoofer, and others have the option to add more speakers. Consider if you need this.

>>> Extra features

Most of the units on test are much more than just a speaker. You’ll find features like AirPlay, support for Alexa, access to Spotify, and more.

>>> Sonic performance

Although the bars on test are designed to provide a home cinema experience, they do have strengths with playback. The inclusion of different modes for movies can help with different sources.

> Denon DHT–S416

$380 From denon.com

1 Denon’s long history of making high–end hi–fi informs this soundbar, which comes with a wireless subwoofer, 2.1 sound with 4 drivers and HDMI ARC, optical and analog inputs and an easy–to–use remote control. You also get Dolby Digital. It features built-in Google Chromecast, offering direct access to a whole wide world of music streaming — including that from Spotify, Tidal, and much more.

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