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Sound Advice: Soundbars vs. TV speakers and holiday gift ideas

Don Lindich, Tribune News Service on

Published in Tech Advice

Q. I have been reading your recent columns featuring TV speakers but still did not buy anything. Though I want clear voices I am primarily interested in watching movies and sports with room-filling theater sound. The speaker or soundbar will be used with a new 55-inch TCL 5-series Roku TV in a room that is 12 feet by 15 feet. What can you recommend for under $200, and is Atmos something I should look for? I will play 4K Blu-ray, cable TV and Roku streaming (from the TV.)

— P.C., Sound Bend, Indiana

A. It sounds like a soundbar is the best fit for you. While both products improve voices, TV speakers have an emphasis on dialogue while soundbars deliver more of a home theater experience.

I do recommend an Atmos soundbar. Dolby Atmos is at the forefront of surround sound technology and many streaming channels now feature Atmos soundtracks, as do most UltraHD 4K Blu-rays. Sophisticated audio processing can now take an Atmos soundtrack and provide an immersive effect without having speakers placed all around the room.

Soundbars from TCL would be a good match for your TCL TV (or any TV, really) if you are looking for an affordable, yet high-quality soundbar with advanced technology. I have tested several models of TCL soundbars and headphones and have always been impressed by the natural sound, which is a perfect complement to TCL televisions and their natural picture quality.

The $149 TCL Alto 8i soundbar fits your needs and budget. It is incorporates two internal subwoofers and Dolby Atmos processing to create an expansive sound field, and built-in Bluetooth allows you to play room-filling music from your phone or tablet. I have tested it in my own home and you can’t do better for the money, especially if you want Atmos capability. If you can stretch to $299 consider the TCL 8+ 3.1.2, which adds a wireless subwoofer and incorporates a separate center channel driver and upward-firing Atmos speakers into the soundbar for an even more impressive home theater experience. tcl.com

To connect the soundbar to your TV, connect the soundbar’s HDMI ARC port to the television’s eARC HDMI port. Connect the cable box and Blu-ray player to the other TV inputs and all your sources will play the sound through the Alto 8i.

 

Deals and gifts for Black Friday and beyond: With the gift giving season upon us, through the end of the year I will be featuring more capsule reviews and deals in the second part of the column.

ZVOX AV52 AccuVoice Noise Canceling headphones: The AV52 is the recently introduced update of the popular AV50 headphones, which I praised saying “there are no better headphones for flying.” While supplies last you can use the code SALE52 to save $130 on the AV52 headphones, reducing the $199.99 price to just $69.99. zvox.com

Cambridge Audio Melomania Touch earphones: These earphones use extra-large drivers to create their uncommonly good sound and deep bass. Normally $119.99, they are now $89.95 and represent a top buy under $100, from a revered high-end brand. cambridgeaudio.com

Hanasco Sonic Electric Toothbrush: The Hanasco Sonic Electric Toothbrush I praised recently is now reduced to $27.99 on Amazon. The black and white appear to be sold out but pink was still available as of my deadline.

ZVOX AV157 AccuVoice TV Speaker: Anyone who missed the ZVOX AV357 deal or needs another TV speaker should pay attention to this one. Regularly $249, the code SALE157 brings the cost of the top-rated AV157 TV speaker down to only $129. zvox.com

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