Soundbar vs Sound base, which is better?

Sadly, not everyone has the money or space to have a more traditional 5.1 speaker system with surround receiver for their home theater setup. For that matter a lot of people likely don't care. Today you have choices of many ways to make your TV sound better.
Soundbar with sub and surround speakers

What is a soundbar or sound base?

Basically a soundbar is a powered speaker. In most cases they are 2.1 speaker systems, meaning they have a left and right channel with a possible external bass speaker. Therefore the 1 in the 2.1. Though they leave out the center channel speaker where dialog usually comes from they often do a decent job of faking out your ears by using electronics to hear the stereo in a broader pattern and the voices dead center.

What is the difference between a sound bar and a sound base?

Typical soundbar without subwoffer
A soundbar is simply a bar with 2 or 3 channels of speakers in it that sits either in front of or mounted on the wall under your TV. They sometimes will have a subwoofer wired or wireless to add bass. Most sound bars need the subwoofer to produce reasonable movie theater bass since they are relatively small.

A Sound base has a wider, deeper box that sits "under" your television. One advantage is that it allows for a much larger cavity for an integrated bass speaker, eliminating the need for a separate subwoofer. Sound base's were originally popularized by ZVox but are now made by just about everyone.

Take a trip to your local big box or warehouse store to listen to a few of the soundbars and sound bases. Newer models sound remarkably good for casual movie watching.
Typical Sound base

Features to look for:

  • 2.1 meaning they have integrated bass
  • 3.1 meaning they also have a center channel in addition to a bass speaker
  • Dolby
  • Surround (usually electornically produced so you don't need additional speakers)
  • Bluetooth to hook up your phone
Pricing usually runs between $70 and $400 an up depending on brand and overall quality. Caution on spending more than $400 on an item like this, the returns are diminishing. Once you get above this price point I'd steer you toward a full 5.2 or 7.1 speaker system with a receiver for a much better surround experience. 

Which is better? 

This depends on your specific needs and taste. If your TV is wall mounted a sound bar will almost always be the better choice. If your TV sits on a piece of furniture and you don't want something sitting in front of the TV than a sound base is an excellent choice and will offer great bass without the hassle of finding a home for a subwoofer. 

What's the difference between noise isolating and cancelling headphones

If you want to stop noise from getting into your music there are a few options to consider. There are lots of options and lots of confusing terms to deal with to determine the best noise cancelling option for you.

How noise cancelling headphones work

Noise cancelling headphones reduce external noise by cancelling out certain consistent frequencies they "listen" to in your environment with a microphone. They use that to cancel that sound with an off-setting out before it reaches your ear. There are technical explanations here but in genearl they work very well for things like jet engines, air conditioning, tire noise, vacuum cleaners and anything else that has a constant droning sound. Unfortunately noise canceling will do nothing to keep you from hearing the person in the cube next to your or your kids.

What are noise isolating headphones?

Noise Isolating in ear
Noise isolating headphones reduce all external noise equally, no matter what the source is, even talking. How do they work? They accomplish this by physically blocking outside noise from reaching your ears. Over ear headphones with enclosed backs do this well as do in-ear headphones which fit snugly inside your ear canal. Open air headphones of any type will not be noise isolating.

Types of noise cancelling headphones and earbuds
Bose In ear buds

As mentioned there are closed back and in-ear noise cancelling. Both work equally as well. It depends on if which style you're more comfortable with. Personally over ear head phones with a few exceptions (higher end Sony headphones) will start hurting my ears after about an hour or two. If you have smaller ears this may not be a problem for you.
Bose Closed Back over ear

Closed back over ear headphones

Over ear noise cancelling headphones offer good isolation of external noise as well as comfort to those who prefer not to stick something in their ear canal. They also have the benefit of having the electronics that do the noise cancellation inside the headphone.

In ear, or ear bud noise cancelling headphones will fully block the ear canal offering some isolation in addition to electronic cancellation but have an small external box to house the electronics. For me this is worth it but you might find it annoying. Be very careful that what you're getting has active electronics and is not a noise isolating headphone purporting to have cancellation.

Which is better?

If you are trying to block out white noise type sounds like a jet engine then noise cancelling is the way to go. If you want to partially block our your coworkers than noise isolating works just as well. As for in ear or over ear it depends on which you're more comfortable with. If you usually wear over ear headphones then that's your best choice. If you prefer in ear headphones like I do, then that's the way to go.

Which do you perfer?

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