Sound Bar Solutions for a Small Space (and Small Budget)?

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Q: I've had to downsize considerably since moving from a house to a small studio apartment. I'm an avid TV/sports viewer who used to have one of those home theater in the box solutions, but I can't really accommodate for it any longer in my current smaller space, so I'm thinking of using one of those sound bar speakers instead so I don't have to worry about wires and cables. Could you recommend a few in my price range (preferably under $400)?

Sent by Paige

Editor -The sound bar category has exploded since the days when we first jumped in with the chunky Yamaha YSP-800, offering not only more affordable units, but models that are nearly as thin as the svelte flat panel HDTVs they're often matched up with. In many ways, sound bar systems are the new "HTIB", replacing multi-component big box electronics offerings with space efficient form factors for smaller spaces.

Admittedly there's no denying sound bars are a big compromise when compared to a dedicated multi-speaker home theater audio system, but if space and budget is an issue, they do a fair-to-good job amplifying TV sounds to enjoyable effect, especially for bedroom or studio apartment TV setups where a full system isn't an option. Here are a few we've demoed and recommend:

For Small Rooms: Samsung HW-D450 2.1 Audio System ($299.99)
Shaped by the idea of "less is more", this 2.1 audio bar system from Samsung does a solid job of amplifying and filling in where HDTV built-in speakers fall off. The 80W x 2 + 120W total power rating is plenty for smaller homes and apartments and the wireless subwoofer can be positioned behind (or even under) furniture, while the audio bar itself can be easily wall mounted to further aid when space is of the utmost importance (it's less than 2" thick). How does it sound? Decent, though don't expect anything but the most modest of surround sound effects; the HW-D450 is primarily an supplementary solution, particularly adept for small rooms (think bedroom unit) and modest budgets (hunt around and you can snag one for $250).

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For Tight Budgets: Sony HT-CT150 ($209.99)
What you lose in wireless subwoofer positioning compared to the Samsung HW-D450 you gain with 3 HDMI inputs and an extremely wallet friendly price tag. The two piece system requires the subwoofer to be positioned for IR receiver "line of sight", but if you're living in a small space as this system was designed for, this shouldn't be too difficult. We also liked this unit for the numerous amount of inputs, six in total, so if you've got a large array of external devices to plug in, you won't be left resorting to unplugging and plugging in.

When You Can't Wall Mount: ZVOX 555 Surround Sound System ($399.99)
The black sheep of sound bars, the ZVOX Z-Base 555 is a bigger, more robust solution compared to the rail-thin bar models above. Instead, the ZVOX is designed for those users who want or need to keep their display on a stand, the 555 operating both as speaker and TV base. Since the 555 has much more physical space for components, the sound is richer, louder, and more immersive than similarly priced sound bar units. In fact, it's proved too loud for our small apartment bedroom, perhaps best suited for medium sized living rooms for homes even without any additional subwoofer, producing improved dialogue and some modest 3D simulated surround sounds similar to our large Yamaha unit.

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