The Hunt for New Music:
The world of audio is changing in dramatic ways almost daily. As a big, big, fan of recorded music, I’ve always had great sound systems. When I was in college, I took a job at a stereo store just so I could get the great discount available to store employees buying their own systems. With this discount, I was able to put together a JBL/McIntosh/KLH Sound system that was the envy of all my friends for a very modest sum.
After college, my budgets for audio systems got larger, the technology became a lot more sophisticated, and the range of music that I listened to expanded exponentially. I continued to invest in my systems and my apartment, house, farm was always the place that friends would hear the best recorded music.
At only one time during my life did I not have a spectacular sound system: when I four kids all under the age of 10. After I came home from a trip to find a peanut butter and jelly sandwich stuck in the tape deck and one of the speakers blown out, I decided that it was time to shut it down for a while and so I did—selling all the electronics, turntables, speakers, and accessories and downsizing to a system that used a Sony Discman and a set of small, portable Bose self-powered loudspeakers. That system, which actually sounded quite good, was low maintenance and easy to protect from the kids and it served me well for several years. Later, when the kids understood that the audio system was permanently off limits for them, I got another more serious audio system, this one component based (Yamaha) with a multi-disc player, receiver, and dual deck tape system, all of it hooked into a pair of Boston Acoustics speakers. That system (still in use), was very accurate and balanced; it also had enough inputs that I could (and did) run audio from multiple sources through it: DVD player, TV, cable converter, computer, music server.
Next up: an even larger (and much more expensive) system built around McIntosh components (Integrated amp and CD/DVD player) and Wilson Audio Sophia speakers. This system is very musical and created a large sound stage and is what audiophiles would call a “reference system”…accurate enough to be the standard by which other systems would be judged. It’s in use daily and, as with the previous system, is used with a variety of audio sources, from an Apple TV hard disc music server to DVD audio to streaming music from the Net. It’s a joy and everyone who loves music should have a similar system at least once in their life.
But—and this is reality intruding on the dream—not everyone wants to fund a reference standard audio system.
For those people, I have the perfect solution, and, like a lot of things in life these days, it simply involves repurposing some technology intended for one use to another, perhaps higher use.
The secret ingredient in the system is a sound bar. A sound bar is a horizontal cabinet that contains multiple speakers (typically, each the same size) and is designed to be used with a flat screen television. Today’s flat screens are video components(much like audio components) and they are designed to do one thing well: display video. They are not designed to provide great sound; the assumption is that the audio function will be handled by a separate audio system. Most sound bar setups also come with an accompanying sub-woofer, a single speaker that is designed to handle low the bass. A sub-woofer gives music and sound the type of big, body shaking bass that makes a tangible, sonic impact. If your only contact with sub-woofer is from hearing one cranked up by the car next to you at a stoplight, you might have an idea of the powerful impact the sub-woofer can have on music, but not about how much it can add to your enjoyment of the music (or a film) in the right setting. Sound bar systems are generally self-powered: they have their own amplifier(s) and the amplifier is designed to match the specific requirements of the speakers in the system–this is a nice engineering touch that insures that the amplification provided matches the electronic needs of the speakers. Some systems have two self-contained amps, one for the sound bar itself and another for the subwoofer.
A well-designed sound bar system, like the type made by Vizio, has multiple inputs so it’s a lot more flexible than you might think. Actually, if you’re only using it to provide the sound track for your video feeds or DVDs, you’re missing out on a lot of functionality. The range of inputs on a modern sound bar system should include a pair of HDMI inputs (for cable TV or set top boxes like Apple TV, Amazon Fire, or Roku), Bluetooth capability (so you play music from your phone or iPad), RCA connections for more traditional audio feed(right and left), an Optical input, and a mini-jack of the type that would be used to connect a small portable CD player (Discman) or an iPod., and a USB input. That wide variety of inputs provides a lot of options for connection.
The sound qualify of a sound bar can be surprisingly good (please note that everyone has a different idea of what constitutes really good sound, so the system that’s perfect for one person might not be perfect for another) so why not use it to build a terrific home audio system. It’s so easy it takes longer to write about it than actually do it, but….here’s how.
Set up the sound bar system and plug in the bar itself and the sub-woofer. If you’ve got a flat screen you’re going to use with the sound bar, make the connection, preferably with an HDMI or optical cable. Test it to verify that everything is working correctly.
Then, plug in your audio source: a CD/DVD player or an iPod (my personal choice is an iPod; it’s small, can contain your entire music library, and takes up zero space). As with all audio/video wiring, the cabling is out to in/in to out; very simple. Set the input on the sound bar to the input that you connected to the iPod or music source, turn the iPod on, turn the sound bar on and up, and you’re done.
Most sound bar systems have an adjustment for the subwoofer, so you can dial up massive bass if you live in the country and modest bass if you live in close quarters. After you have the system wired together and playing music, use the tone controls to adjust the sound for the setting and your personal tastes.
A Vizio 38” system with sub-woofer can purchased for about $200.00, but of course you can buy more expensive systems from other companies like SONOS (famous for their wireless/whole-house sound systems), JBL, Denon, SONY, Klipsch, Yamaha, Bose, and others. As with all things audio, your budget can provide you with a wide range of choices. There is lots of other information on the ‘Net about sound bars and a little bit of research now can bring a lot of enjoyment later.
We live in amazing technological times–take advantage of it.