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You Asked: Mixing AV brands, the best headphones for TV viewing, and more

In this installment of You Asked: Should you stick with the same electronics brand, or is it OK to mix brands? What are the best headphones for quietly listening to a TV? Which big TV has the best sound quality? And who needs a line conditioner or surge protector? All those topics and more are coming right up!

Mixing TV & Soundbar Brands, Best Headphones for Watching TV | You Asked Ep. 30

Should AV components be the same brand?

A close up of a Samsung Q990C soundbar on a media console.
Digital Trends

Stewart got a new LG SQ95R soundbar system, but the 2016 TV he has doesn’t have eARC. And while he’s getting Dolby Atmos by using a Fire TV Stick connected directly to his soundbar, he’d like to change up his connection configuration and utilize eARC. So he’s looking into getting a new TV.

Stewart writes: I was wondering if there is still any advantage to keeping the same brand? LG has a new QNED line coming out for 2024, along with still available 2022/2023 QNEDs, and I know I can’t go wrong with any of the LG OLED equipment. The price points for the OLED sets are a bit high, so I was thinking of either the Hisense U7K/U8K or TCL QM8 QLEDs. Thoughts? Should I stick with the same brand, or does it matter anymore?

Also, Dominique Hernando writes: My wife and I are looking into purchasing a new TV, and I actually want the LG G3. Unfortunately, my wife wants the Samsung S90C. If we end up going with my choice, will there be a compatibility issue if I get the Samsung Soundbar Q990C, or am I better off with the S90C?

I’m glad you asked, because this question about the merits of sticking within the same brand among various components has been ongoing for decades.

Here’s my response: Ideally, you shouldn’t have to stick to the same brand. Fundamental compatibility is supposed to be ensured thanks to standards like HDMI, CEC, and High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP). Ideally, you should be able to connect any brand’s soundbar to any brand’s TV and get at least basic compatibility and functionality. And I’d say that is the case most of the time.

But, at least with HDMI connections, it isn’t always the case. Sometimes, soundbars and TVs connected via HDMI do not get along for one reason or another. Folks complain about various issues ranging from occasional signal dropouts to full-on failures. And the underlying cause for the trouble varies — if it can even be determined at all. It’s super inconsistent. For example. one person may have trouble getting their Sony soundbar to work with their Hisense TV, but the next person with the same setup doesn’t have that trouble.

I don’t think anyone should actively avoid mixing brands between TV and soundbar, but I do think it’s worth keeping in mind that you could run into trouble. If you do and you can’t solve the issue, you should return one of the products and try again.

However, if you do stick within the same brand, not only does the likelihood that they’ll play nicely together go up a little bit, but you only have one company to bark at if you do have trouble. And that company’s tech support team is not going to be able to pass the buck to another brand out of laziness.

The only other reason it may be desirable to stick to the same brand is to unlock specialty features you will only get by using one brand’s wares. For example, if you want to take advantage of Samsung’s Q Symphony sound feature, you’ll need to use all Samsung gear. Or, if you want wireless Dolby Atmos audio signal delivery between a TV and soundbar, you may need to stick with the same brand.

All of that is to say that Stewart should not have to purchase an LG TV to enjoy Dolby Atmos sound on your LG soundbar. You should be able to make it work with either the Hisense or TCL TV models you mentioned. But you may want to do a quick search to make sure that there isn’t some forum thread out there with like 200 people all saying the same thing about how the SQ95R doesn’t ever work with this one TV make and model.

And Dominique, I don’t think you should have any problems using the Q990C with an LG G3. (I use a Q990C with a Sony A95L with zero issues.) But I do think you might like some of the Q Symphony sound compatibility that would come with pairing that soundbar with the S90C.

Wireless headphones for TV viewing

Senneiser RS 175 radio frequency headphones on a stand.

Ti Ngo writes: I share an apartment with a roommate. The walls are thin, so I can’t use a soundbar with my LG C1 OLED TV without annoying him. I mostly watch shows or movies on streaming platforms (HBO Max, Disney Plus, etc.) and play video games. What would you recommend for a wireless headphone that doesn’t cost over $500?

The best advice I can give here is to avoid Bluetooth headphones — my primary concern is latency. But if you have Bluetooth headphones and can connect them to your TV (the C1 does support Bluetooth audio out), and it works OK for you, then, man, there are so many great wireless headphones well under $500 to choose from. I’d actually suggest checking out our best headphones under $100 list.

With that said, I’m a big fan of dedicated RF wireless headphones for watching TV. Sony and Sennheiser both make great options ranging from $100 to $400, with a wide range of features. But they all use RF — radio frequency — for their wireless audio transmission, and they all use a base station transmitter that connects to your TV’s optical digital audio jack to get the sound from the TV. That’s the way I would go. You’ll get great sound, very little latency, and depending on how much you spend, you can also get noise-canceling, dialogue enhancement, or dynamic range compression.

Best built-in TV sound system

The top right corner of a Hisense UX TV showing the bezel.
Hisense UX Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

Jim Begley asks: Which of the latest TVs, 75-inch or larger, have the best built-in Sound System?

Well, Jim, I have to say the best-sounding TV out on the market right now is going to be a Sony OLED with acoustic surface sound technology. And of those, the A95K and A95L are the best. Of course, a 77-inch A95K or A95L is going to be pretty pricey. However, those screens double as speakers, so you have sound coming directly at you from the screen. And that, paired with the bass reinforcement from the TV’s built-in subwoofers, makes for really great sound.

The Hisense UX also is a surprisingly good-sounding TV. I recently heard the Samsung S95D and it sounded really solid, which was a pleasant surprise because I remember the S95C being pretty mid. Those are really the standouts.

Keep in mind that with the overwhelming majority of TVs on the market, the sound is … pretty bad. So the bar is really low to begin with. Anything that doesn’t sound terrible gets good marks, so there are other TVs that sound OK. But for the best-sounding TVs? Yeah, that’s the list.

Best soundbars for apartment living

A closeup on a Sonos Src Soundbar on a media stand.
Sonos Arc Digital Trends

Jeff is moving and needs a new soundbar. They are going to an apartment, so they don’t need room-shaking bass and have limited surround speaker placement options. He then writes: I have been leaning toward getting the Sonos Arc refurbished through their website, as it is currently $509, but I have also been considering the Klipsch Cinema 1200, which is on sale for $800, or even the Samsung Q930c for $900.

There is no question in my mind that you need to get the Sonos Arc. Do not under any circumstances get the Klipsch Cinema 1200. I know that may come as a surprise, given I just recommended it in the previous You Asked episode, but that soundbar’s subwoofer is a beast that is virtually untamable, and it is not apartment-friendly. The Samsung Q930C has a little more subwoofer-level control than the Klipsch, and I suppose you could dial it down enough not to upset your neighbors. But, frankly, the Sonos Arc has the best sound without relying on a subwoofer, which is the primary reason you should get it. And it also has the ability to be tuned to your room for the best sound quality and sound effects at your listening position. Get the Sonos Arc. At $509 refurbished, it’s a great deal. Plus, you can add to it later down the road if you like.

Virtual surround sound

The Sonos Era 300 soundbar under a TV on a media console.
Sonos Arc Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

Miller Cook writes: What reasonably priced surround setup would you recommend for those of us who rent homes/apartments and can’t run speaker wire through walls/don’t have the space for mounting surround speakers? Currently planning on utilizing Dolby FlexConnect with my Sony OLED once released.

Miller, Bose, and Sonos are the champs of virtual surround sound, so a soundbar from them without surround speakers is going to get you the best overall effect. But 2024 has some surprises in store, and — well, let’s just say Sony might be coming out with something that really interests you this year.

Clean power

An AV gear rack with turntable, Mangetar receiver, and collection of vinyl records.
Digital Trends

Bill Sheehan writes: I have used a line conditioner or isolation transformer on my AV equipment for 25 years now and I have never lost a piece of equipment to power issues. I was wondering what your experience is with this, and would like any additional advice you might have to protect your TV and sound system investment.

I haven’t used many line conditioners, even though I certainly would if someone sent me some. I just haven’t spent the money on them to get that “clean power.”

I think both clean power and surge protection are hugely important, though. The best way to get relatively clean and stable power to your gear is to run a dedicated circuit for your AV gear, but not everyone can do that. Surge protection is so important, though, and you can’t just rely on those cheap power strips you get at the hardware store.

I would say anyone who has relatively expensive or just valuable electronics gear needs, at the very least, a really strong surge protection system. And check the fine print on it to verify that it offers a warranty or insurance on anything you have connected to it.

4K SDR versus 1080p HDR

A TV screen showing a mountain scene to comare HRD vs. SDR.
Digital Trends

Vikram asks: What generally looks better — 4K SDR or 1080p with HDR? I do know that HDR makes a difference (looking at the comparison videos), but will it be that noticeable when you don’t have another display playing SDR?

That’s hard to answer! There are a lot of factors at play here. But, broadly speaking, I’ll take HDR over resolution in most cases. Unfortunately, 1080p often doesn’t just mean fewer pixels; it means lower bit-depth when it comes to streaming. Also, we’re presuming the 4K upscaling on a 4K TV is good enough to make that 1080p signal look quality. But, yeah, HDR is more meaningful than resolution, on the whole.

Blu-ray vs. streaming

A Magnetar Blu9ray player and two Blu-ray discs (1917 and Across the Spiderverse.
Digital Trends

Also from Vikram: Would you recommend getting a 4K Blu-ray player and collecting discs over spending money on Netflix, Prime Video, and other streaming services?

I would make no such recommendation unless I knew a whole lot more about you and your priorities, preferences, and habits. I would say that if all you watch is movies and all you care about is the best video and sound quality? Then 4K Blu-rays are awesome. However, it is impossible to argue with the fact that streaming services offer such a huge variety of content and a massive number of titles. There’s no way on $20 Blu-ray disc a month will beat a whole month of streaming whatever I want in 4K and often in HDR,  even if it is a bit compressed.

Bass dead zones

A subwoofer in a corner of a media room.
Digital Trends

Alan J. has a 9-foot by 14-foot room, sits about 6 feet from the TV, and has a Vizio Elevate soundbar system with the subwoofer on the left side of a five-seater couch. He says: For some reason, the corner seats have amazing bass, but it gets lower approaching the middle seat, to a point where almost no bass reaches there. Do you have an idea of why that is? I can’t afford a sound professional to come to see why, and I am kind of stuck with this position.

What you are experiencing is a bugger that drives many of us crazy, and it is part of the fundamental laws of acoustics.

Do you know how noise-canceling headphones work? They create sound waves that are exactly 180 degrees out of phase with the sound they detect through their microphones. When we sum up one sound wave with one that is 180 degrees out of phase with it, what we get is a null. That means they are canceling each other out. The sound waves are being made — that energy is happening — but we can’t hear it.

I can demonstrate that by taking a music signal and piping it through two speakers placed so they face each other. As the drivers in these speakers move back and forth, 180 degrees out of phase with each other, they cancel each other out.

When I lift the speakers back and disrupt that perfect out-of-phase competition, you can really hear them.

Why the acoustics lesson? Well, what happens in your room is that the bass waves your subwoofer is putting out come out of the subwoofer and bounce around the room. Unfortunately, the bass waves coming directly from the subwoofer will, at some places in the room, be 180 degrees out of phase with the bass waves coming from your walls, ceiling, and floor, and they will cancel out. And that makes it seem like you aren’t hearing the bass.

The best way to deal with this is by moving the subwoofer. Try rotating it 90 degrees and see what happens. Then, experiment from there. And write in again and let us know what happened!

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Caleb Denison
Digital Trends Editor at Large Caleb Denison is a sought-after writer, speaker, and television correspondent with unmatched…
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