Manufacturers Becoming Soundbar Friendly
Loudspeaker companies are responding to consumer demand for lifestyle-friendly solutions like soundbars that combine high-quality audio and affordability.
The dramatic rise of products like flat-panel TVs (up 48 percent, according to Quixel Research) and new user habits like the playback of music through computers have in recent years driven loudspeaker manufacturers to create smaller, sleeker audio products. The golden era when Hi-Fi consumers owned and operated bulky console systems with over-sized speakers has passed. A new age of powerful, yet affordable, user-friendly audio products is at hand.
Soundbars Provide Aural Support
Kary Wawrzyniak, vice president of technical development for TruAudio, says the key for manufacturers to adapt to this explosion in all-in-one, consumer-friendly speaker solutions beyond offering sound quality is the ability to develop solutions that physically match these flat-panel TVs.
“With today’s TVs getting progressively thinner, it is important to design a soundbar that packs as much great sound into the thinnest enclosure possible,” he says. “This puts more focus on how to manufacture the most efficient enclosure and how the speaker wires will be routed to minimize the overall mounted depth than you would have on a traditional speaker.”
Companies like TruAudio are adapting their manufacturing processes and materials to facilitate the development of slim soundbar designs.
“We make great quality soundbars by optimizing tried-and-true technologies, instead of relying on digital sound processing [DSP],” says Brock Belliston, master engineer for TruAudio.
He explains, “You have to start with a speaker that has the clarity, tonality and the ability to produce a realistic soundstage before you can improve the surround experience with signal processing which most receivers can do nowadays anyway. To achieve this in our SLIM 300, we started by optimizing every component within the soundbar starting with the stiffness and shape of the woofer cone. We optimized airflow within the cabinet and made sure each channel got its own separate and defined airspace. The crossovers were arranged to allow us to get as much physical separation between the channels as possible. Even the center channel is tuned slightly differently than the other channels because of how the sound plays off the geometry of the cabinet.”
Speakers in the Real World
It is one thing to conceptualize a product in a controlled environment and it’s another thing to actually apply that product in a real-world environment. Wawrzyniak says that beyond the steps that companies take to ensure the sound quality of soundbars, another aspect they must look at is how easy the products are to install. Wawrzyniak emphasizes that that if dealers can’t easily install these products, they probably won’t use them. There are several features that make for a good install, he says.
“Mounting is at the top of the list,” he says. “The soundbar must be simple, fast and easy to work with. Time for installers is critical and the faster they can set up a job the more money they can make. Flexibility [is also important]; being able to use the same product in different applications is also a key to the success of a product. The more versatile a product is the easier an installer can overcome unforeseen problems during an installation.”
Consumers have different concerns. All they care about is that their new soundbar sounds good and looks good, says Wawrzyniak. And as the market continues to change, engineers will do their best to keep pumping out quality speakers that satisfy users.
“The soundbar market is unique in the sense that as TVs have gotten thinner, we have had to do the best to match the depth of the thin TVs,” says Belliston. “Almost every year you need to look at the design of your soundbar to make sure it is still a viable product.”
One integrator shared with CE Pro a statement he uses with clients that gets nothing but nods of agreement: “TVs have never looked so good and sounded so bad, which is why you need a soundbar.”
Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at [email protected]
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