Soundbars were born out of necessity. HDTVs got thinner, and quality built-in speakers were sacrificed as a result. A full home theater, with an audio-video receiver and separate speakers, provided the only option for sound that matched the quality of the picture. Unfortunately, home theater systems take up a lot of space and clutter up your house with a lot of unsightly, hard-to-keep-track-of wires.
The soundbar solved that problem by integrating multiple speakers – and the electronics to process surround sound – into one unit. While early soundbars opted for convenience over quality, the latest units wrap both qualities together in simple bundles.
Even within similar looking soundbars, a wide range of options exists. The best for you depends on what you value most: quality, convenience, or price – or, more likely, some combination of the three.
GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array
High-end speaker manufacturers used to sneer at the idea of soundbars because they produced inferior sound. But as the systems grew in popularity, premium audio companies figured if they can't beat 'em, they'd join 'em – as long as they didn't have to compromise on sound quality.
The answer, in the case of GoldenEar, was to leave something out: the power. GoldenEar's $1,000 SuperCinema 3D Array soundbar solution incorporates full-range center, left, and right speakers into a single unit, but leaves the power and processing to an audio-video receiver, just like in a traditional home theater. The result is an unpowered soundbar that packs high fidelity into a streamlined package – no sound sacrifices were made in the production of this speaker.
GoldenEar's soundbar matches the quality of its other speakers: It produces realistic, full vocals, and crisp treble tones that reveal details missed by lesser units. The real trick is that the 3D Array creates a wide soundscape, as if the speaker were bigger than it really is. Pair it with GoldenEar's jaw-rattling (yet petite) $500 ForceField 3 subwoofer, and you can experience the highs and lows of music or movie soundtracks without sacrificing much space in your room. If you want the full 5.1 experience, add a pair of SuperSat 3s surrounds ($250 apiece) for a truly immersive sound experience. [$1,000; goldenear.com]