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The sound bar was just a starter; feast your ears on the sound pancake


Boston Acoustics' TVee One sound platform

The sound bar has some serious competition coming its way. Just when it started getting slim enough, sleek enough and virtual surround sound-y enough for people to want to buy it, a new kind of speaker came along and crashed the sound bar’s party. You heard it here first, folks: The new fad in home audio isn’t a bar at all, it’s more like a pancake … or a plate, or a platform, or a console.

Whatever you call it (we’re going to call it a sound base just to be different, and so we can get through this article, thanks), the product makes the same pitch the sound bar does, and it goes something like this: “Your TV’s speakers sound horrible and you know it. How can you bear to live with that terrible sound? You need me to make your TV sound as big as it looks. Buy me. Buy me now and save your pride.”

It’s a compelling pitch, yes? Here’s the problem with sound bars, though: They laugh in the face of physics, and physics doesn’t much care for that.

Sharp HT SB60 Soundbar review speakers closeupPhysics has a way of getting what it likes because it’s made up mostly of laws which were discovered by a bunch of incredibly smart people and, therefore, it has tremendous street cred. And yet, people have this insatiable desire to get big things out of really small packages. So, that’s what tech manufacturers try to deliver; to do it, they must cheat acoustics using a lot of engineering know-how, electronic muscle and some magic pixie dust. Sounds expensive, doesn’t it? It is.

Therefore, when it comes to sound quality, sound bars tend to fall into one of two categories: inexpensive and poor sounding, or expensive and just pretty good sounding. Who actually wants to settle for something that’s “just pretty good sounding?” Right. No one. Ever.

That’s why a sound base (or sound console … whatever) makes a lot of sense. These speakers sit under your television – often as a platform for your TV’s stand – barely take up any extra room, are low in visibility, and can produce some pretty spectacular sound, all without necessarily breaking the bank. But how do they do that?

Simply put, these sound bases are capitalizing on a bunch of unused real estate on your media furniture. If you’re placing your TV on a stand, that means that there’s a whole lot of nothin’ going on underneath it. That’s a lot of wasted space. So, some genius figured out that instead of wasting that space, you should use it for a 2 or 3-inch high speaker solution that runs deep. It can hold more amplification parts and better drivers, better reinforce bass response, and produce better overall sound quality than any sound bar without an accompanying subwoofer could ever hope to do. Win.

So who was the first to come up with this idea? Probably Thomas Jefferson. But the first one this writer can recall seeing was the Zvox 315. Since then, Zvox has come a long way; it’s recently-introduced Z-Base 555 looks a lot more attractive. And many others are jumping into this arena, too. Boston Acoustics just announced its TVee One sound base, we’re working on a review of AudioXperts’ 4TV sound console, and LG recently announced its Sound Plate.

That’s just the beginning, too. If this year’s CEDIA and CES shows were all about the sound bar, next year’s are bound to be loaded with these things. That’s just fine by us, because any simple solution that brings big, high-quality sound to go with the big, high quality pictures we get from today’s ultra-thin TV’s has a warm place in our testing labs and homes. 

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