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.
JBL Cinema SB400
Soundbars usually fall into two general categories: inexpensive models that often shortchange sound for convenience, and more expensive ones that do the job right. The JBL Cinema SB400 breaks the mold by delivering excellent sound and plenty of features for a moderate price.
Belying its trim size, the SB400 offers more than you'd think in terms of features, connections, and sound. With three HDMI inputs, the SB400 can handle the trifecta of modern video entertainment: a Blu-ray player, media streamer, and game system. It also integrates Bluetooth connectivity so you can stream music wirelessly from your mobile device.
Beyond connections, the SB400 produces sound that rivals units that cost several hundred dollars more. Vocals are full and – thanks in large part to the eight-inch wireless subwoofer – resonant, offering the oomph that TV speakers always lack. The SB400 is a solid choice in a sub-$600 system. [$550; jbl.com]