Television sound quality

How to improve the sound from your TV.

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The problem

Modern TVs are exceptionally thin. They are now lighter and easier to place in a room, they can even be wall-mounted. Some have screens that go all the way to the edge, so there’s no bezel around the outside.

The downside to this is poor sound performance. Where do you put the speakers in a super-thin TV with no bezel?

Some manufacturers have added speakers to the front making them part of the design, such as in the new Sony 4K TVs, but generally the speakers are behind the screen. They are much thinner than the regular speakers you’d find in a stereo, and either face forward so the sound comes through the screen or backwards to bounce the sound off the wall behind the TV. Neither option delivers quality sound.

One of the first things to do when setting up a new TV is play content you’ve heard before and listen to how it sounds. If it doesn’t sound right, open the sound menu and tinker with the settings. Most TVs have presets designed for particular content types. Some also have built-in equalisers so you can make further tweaks.

Thin TVs don’t have room for a decent-sized subwoofer. This results in thin-sounding bass. You may also experience a weird “bwaaarrr” sound from your TV as the bass sounds get close to the TV’s resonant frequency, which creates intense vibrations, especially at higher volume levels.

A home theatre system or sound bar can help overcome this audio problem.

Sound bars

A sound bar is a long speaker box that sits below or above your TV and most models come with a subwoofer (usually wireless). Some sound bars can be wall mounted. They work by projecting sound and bouncing it off the walls of your room. This is meant to deliver surround sound without needing speakers dotted around the room.

In practice, the surround-sound effect isn’t strong. You need a perfectly shaped room for it to work but, in general, sound is improved. A sound bar is better than basic TV speakers, especially as it can be played louder without any distortion.

Home theatre

A home theatre system gives you greater control over the sound with more speakers. It is a more complex (and usually expensive) option.

Home theatre systems have a number of speakers which give a surround-sound experience, perfect for a movie night at home. Home theatres also have bigger speakers, which means a lot more volume and higher quality sound.

They are usually listed as “X.Y channel” systems, where X is the number of speaker channels (left, right, centre, rear etc) and Y is the number of subwoofers. For example, a 5.1 system has one each of main left, main right, main centre, rear left and rear right speakers with a subwoofer.

Take the time to correctly balance the speakers – it makes a huge difference. This means calibrating each speaker channel correctly for where it’s positioned in your room. As the signal has to travel further to get to all the speakers, sometimes there can be a small (a few milliseconds), but noticeable, difference in the sound movement on screen. This can be adjusted on most systems (and on sound bars too) so they line up. Some systems have an auto-calibration feature, using a microphone that plugs into the unit.

Some home theatres support wireless speakers, so your room doesn’t have cables snaking everywhere. A potential downside is these can interfere with other wireless devices such as phones, laptops and tablets.

Basic tips

  • Don’t be afraid to play with the sound settings on your TV and change them depending on what you’re watching.

  • Think about where your TV is in the room and if that’s affecting the sound. (For example, a TV in a wooden cabinet may not sound as good as a one in the open.)

Sound bars

Sound bars

Sound bars

  • A simple all-in-one box with an array of forward and diagonally facing speakers.
  • Better sound than a TV alone, but not as good as a home theatre.
  • Most models come with a separate subwoofer for deeper bass tones.
  • Price range: $300-$1300+

View our sound bars test

Home theatres

Home theatres

Home theatres

  • A system of multiple speakers controlled by a central unit.
  • Most common are 5.1 and 7.1 systems, with 5 or 7 speakers and a subwoofer.
  • Delivers better audio than a sound bar.
  • Required for a true surround-sound experience.
  • Price range: $500-$2000+

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Member comments

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28 Jan 2021
Better TV sound on a budget

We have a Sony Bravia smart TV (model KD55X8500D) and a much older Panasonic Home Theatre system with no HDMI(ARC) sound input connection from the TV and did not want to spend a lot of money on a sound bar.

We could not directly connect the Digital TV to the Analog Panasonic Home Theatre system because the TV only has a Digital sound output connection so we purchased a 'Digital to Analog audio converter' (brand Taishan) for $39.00 cable included plus freight from Rapallo.

To use it I thought we may need to have gone into the TV's settings and make changes each time we wanted the sound transferred to the home theatre but it was just like 'plug and play'. All we need to do is turn the home theatre to AUX and the TV sound down (or off) and use the Home Theatre remote to adjust the sound level. It's made a huge difference in sound quality. Of cause the same ease of use may not apply to other TV models or makes?