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.
Zvox SoundBase 580
Early soundbars sacrificed the low end of the sound spectrum in the name of streamlined appearance, much to the dismay of listeners. To bring back bass, most systems have added separate subwoofers, which solves one problem but creates another: where to put the separate big box.
Zvox Audio went a different direction: Its soundbars gain bass through depth. The SoundBase 580 is 16.5 inches deep, compared to just two or three inches you'll find on many units. The big unit houses two 6.5-inch subwoofer speakers for reproducing low-end effects. While it doesn't provide the floor shaking that a good subwoofer can create, Zvox's approach makes full sound possible in a neat and tidy package.
Thanks to five 3.25-inch speakers, the 580 produces an encompassing sound for movies and TV shows, with plenty of power to fill a room, yet dialogue sounds clear and sharp. If you've got the room for a deep speaker beneath your TV, Zvox is worth a long listen. [$500; zvoxaudio.com]