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Sound Advice: Modern TVs need a sound boost

  • Article by: DON LINDICH
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 12, 2012 - 12:31 PM

Q I recently purchased a 42-inch LCD HDTV. I enjoy the picture quality but the acoustics could be improved, especially the clarity of the spoken word. Would a soundbar improve the acoustics for voice?

A A soundbar will improve the sound of all television audio, including sound effects, music and voices. Voices seem to be the sticking point for most consumers, because dialogue is often unintelligible.

Readers often ask me why their old console television sounded so much better than their new flat-panel HDTV, when the picture on the new television is so much better, the TV is thinner and lighter, and the screen is also much larger. The hidden truth is that TV broadcast sound quality has improved along with the picture. If you have a good sound system and watch an HDTV movie or a prime-time show on a major network, you will find crystal-clear, full sound, often in 5.1 surround. Unfortunately, most flat-panel TVs can't reproduce this sound.

Consumers like smooth, sleek, thin bezels and that means we now have tiny TV speakers that are pointed downward, rather than the larger speakers of yesteryear that were pointed directly at the viewer.

Every day my inbox has reader correspondence complaining about TV sound. It has gotten to the point that I almost consider a soundbar a necessity if you don't have a separate stereo or surround-sound system to use with your television.

Some TV manufacturers are starting to offer solutions. Value-priced TV maker Element Electronics has teamed with speaker manufacturer JBL to bring improved sound to Element flat-panel televisions. I saw a 70-inch Element LED-LCD television at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It had an integrated JBL soundbar and a wireless subwoofer, and the project was important enough to JBL that it had engineers present who went over the system with me. The sound was indeed good, and most consumers would be fully satisfied and not see a need to upgrade from there. Element offers JBL technology in many of its smaller televisions, starting at 40 inches in size. I'm going to try and get my hands on one for testing and see if it duplicates the fine sound I experienced in Las Vegas.

Great sound for under $600

Q I'm looking for new speakers and have a 14- by 15-foot space. I'm using a HSU Ventriloquist setup with an Onkyo 605 receiver. What's a good upgrade in quality for me, but not necessarily volume? I can spend $1,000 or more if necessary.

A You don't need to spend more than $1,000 to get much-improved sound quality. Look into the Definitive Technology ProCinema 400 (www.definitivetech.com). It's only $599 complete with subwoofer. In a room of your size the sound is spectacular, and readers purchasing the system have been thrilled.

Send questions to donlindich@gmail.com. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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