Q: You occasionally write about speakers that are designed to be companions to a TV and improve the sound. I think you call them soundbars or soundbases. My TV's sound is really lacking. What can you recommend for me?
A: These TV speakers come in many forms, from simple stereo soundbars to high-end soundbase systems with built-in powered subwoofers that fill the room with home theater surround sound. I've written about many makes and models over the years.
More elaborate, high-end systems will be discussed in an upcoming column. This week I have a great find for anyone interested in dramatically improving their TV's sound with a simple, affordable, high-value solution. Poor TV sound is the No. 1 subject of e-mails sent to the column, and I suspect this week's find will be the answer for a lot of readers.
The Insignia NS-SB314 soundbar (tinyurl.com/insigniasoundbar) is sold in Best Buy stores. The regular price is $99, but it is often on sale for $79. I bought one to test when I saw it on sale, and I was extremely pleased by the value it represents and the great job it does for the price.
You connect the soundbar to the cable box, Blu-ray player and other source to the TV with HDMI cables. Then you run an optical digital audio cable from the TV to the soundbar. The TV will take the audio signal from your source and route it over the optical cable to the soundbar. You may need to turn off the TV's speakers to activate the optical connection. If you need an optical cable I recommend the Bluerigger cables sold on Amazon for less than $10.
The remote has controls for bass, volume, mute and input select. You cannot use your TV's remote to set volume, an option provided by some more expensive products. But I found that I didn't need to use the remote much. Once I had the soundboard set up the way I liked it, I could forget about it and enjoy it.
Setting my Blu-ray player to Dolby Digital instead of PCM (lossless) yielded slightly louder sound at maximum volume. Usually I recommend using the lossless setting, but if you are using the NS-SB314, I recommend using Dolby Digital.
The sound quality is quite good and doesn't offend or cause listener fatigue. Many inexpensive products like this sound tinny or cheap, but this one doesn't. The volume doesn't get especially loud, and the bass isn't room-shaking deep, but the overall sound is full, solid and satisfying.
The NS-SB314 also can play music streamed from Bluetooth devices. The sound is equal to or better than competing Bluetooth speakers selling for the same price.
There is a subwoofer output if you want to use the NS-SB314 with an external subwoofer, but I don't recommend it. The NS-SB314 is best used as an inexpensive way to dramatically improve your TV's sound quality and clarity. If you are looking for a home theater experience, you'll be better off looking at higher-end soundbases and soundbars, especially after you consider the combined price of the NS-SB314 and an external subwoofer.
At $99 the NS-SB314 is a worthy buy, but if you can find it for $79 it is a steal.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.