This is my first post here, but I have been following this forum since August, first to select a TV, which I bought couple of months back, and now, to select a soundbar.
Basic background: Apartment living room, 12x14, an LG 42lv5500 tv (first HDTV).
Current viewing pattern*:
70% Netflix Instant over LG Smart TV app (80% TV shows 20% movies),
10-15% Cable - TV shows / news / weekend football,
10-15% Youtube/Online video/Online sports stream from Laptop over HDMI.
Play DVDs on laptop.
No dedicated DVD / Blu ray player, game console yet - Planned for late next year, or maybe not if we are satisfied with current setup. We do not spend a lot of time watching TV.
First off, I found the reviews and discussions here very useful while choosing a TV. I had no knowledge about the HDTV market and this helped in preparing a shortlist and things to lookout for before going to the showrooms for a demo. I am very happy with my TV purchase!
I am looking for a soundbar not > $400. I have not had any soundbars before, neither have I had any home theater, nor enjoyed watching movies / music in any home theater setup. All I have been exposed to is stereo from my old Creative Inspire 2.1 on my PC from 11 years back (which I enjoyed!).
What I am looking for :
1. Clear dialogues at normal volume level - was always a problem with the Creative speakers as far as I can remember - so this is a must. Also, on current TV, I have to crank up volume only for the dialogues.
2. Very good improvement over TV / laptop speaker.
3. Should also play music from my iPod - my usage pattern will change drastically once I get a soundbar - expecting 40-50% usage for music. Would be great if the sound fills the room and does not sound muddy when I move away from the front stage.
What I am not too worried about
1. Big bass - I usually set it at low level either with my 2.1 or in the car.
2. Connectivity - I might just plug in output from TV to the spkr.
What I have done so far:
1. Listened to PolkAudio 3000, 6000, sony 150, BA tvee 25, panasonic ht10, jvc th bc3, JBL (forgot model name - it was priced at $599), bose soundbar and bose cinemate 2.
2. Out of the above, both me and fiance liked the JVC BC3 (was connected to a venodyne woofer) - This was at Frys inside a demo room. It sounded loud and dialogues were clear while standing in front. However, it sounded muddy once I moved 30 degrees+ left / right. Is this to be expected from every soundbar? I would really like music to sound the same or atleast close to the same at any angle. Am I expecting too much from a soundbar for this? I couldn't test all other soundbars from different angles as they were kept in the open and their sound was drowned by outside noise. Besides this concern, we really liked the sound from this soundbar! The Frys guy (very nice person!) was surprised we liked the JVC as they were not as established as Polk/JBL/BA in home theater segment. We still think it sounded best amongst the others.
In short, this sounds good for watching TV, but might not be good for music.
2a. The BA TVee 25 sounded good for TV/movie. However, it almost felt like the volume was turned waaaay down when we plugged in the iPod. The Frys guy tried a couple of things but the volume remained pretty low with iPod for some reason. Now we are not convinced with this. Does anyone know if it really behaves like this with every BA 25 model? I liked this model otherwise!
3. Sony 150 had good sound / surround effect, but was not loud enough even at max volume. Was not convincing for either of us.
4. Panasonic was not very impressive when played at home - returned it already. Bought this during Amazon BlackFriday sale, impulsively.
5. Polk 3000 was louder than Sony 150 but was not as good as the JVC. 6000 was very loud but we were not able to test it well at BB. Fiance thinks it is very loud though. And it sells for 400+ at the moment. Slightly over budget. Not very convinced with either. Even the Frys person was not a big fan of both.
6. Bose Cinemate II sounded good for music, but it is expensive and I have read it is not great for movies and well, it certainly does not fit my budget.
7. The JBL was very, very wide - wider than my 42" TV. And expensive. It sounded great though!
8. Soundbars I am interested in, but not been able to test - Zvox 555 (really interested with what I read, can't decide until I test it), Yamaha S400 and S401 (this is expensive), BA Tvee 30 (a bit expensive though), JVC TH BA1/3 - doesn't look like they make these anymore
9. I wouldn't mind bringing home one of the above and testing them before returning (assuming I do not like what I hear), but had to pay for return shipping when I returned the Panasonic to Amazon. The boss won't be happy if I repeat this
So, I need to be double sure that anything I am going to purchase purely for trial basis wont cut me short for return shipping / repackaging.
10. Another doubt I had was regarding remote control - will any of these work with my LG Magic Remote?
11. Also, I observed most of the soundbars are 2.1, some are 3.1 (sony) and 4.1 (JVC BA1). I understand from these forums, in a true HT setup, the Center channel is what reproduces dialogues. Does it mean, I need to look for soundbars with dedicated Center channel if I want to enjoy crisp dialogues? How will this impact playing music? Can someone enlighten me regarding this as well?
Any help from the experts would be really appreciated!
PS: I keep digging these threads for one person's comments - "Davyo" :P