The Evolution of Soundbars in India


Sound bars are becoming a necessary accessory in Indian homes. Electronics For You traces the evolution of this gadget

Ubon Soundbar
(Image credits – Ubon)

Since eternity, users have been excited about personal music players that kept changing shape and form at will. From the humble Sony Walkman to the CD variant of it called Discman, which looked ridiculously similar to a papad, music players have constantly evolved as a separate gadget vertical. Of course, there was a time around the late 90s where the iPod revolutionized personal music consumption and made users realize that music needs to be paid for, not just the player.

The Microsoft Zune tried giving the iPod a run for its money but failed miserably. Sony made a re-entry into the space with its collaboration with Ericsson, and launched a range of Sony Ericsson music phones, and for the first time, a mobile phone could play music, not just generate sound to make calls and listen to ring tones.

Today of course, a smart phone comes with Dolby Atmos or other sound modules that can put a TV’s sound output to shame!

Rise of the home theatre and wireless headphones

Somewhere along the line, personal music players made way to much chunkier home theatre sound systems, before these gadgets started shrinking in size, while generating similar or better quality of sound.

Bose is a prime example of this revolution, followed by brands like Pioneer. Home theatre systems were attached to TV sets and boosted sound output from the TV. However, the primary music device was still the sound system with the TV sound output just getting added to it.

The next revolution was the rise of wireless headphones that claimed to mute the TV sound for everyone except the person viewing it. While this became a boon for football enthusiasts in a household wanting to watch a game without disturbing rest of the household, the core idea of wireless TV headphones was a flop, primarily in a market like India where prime time TV viewing is a group activity involving family members of all ages. Before it sunk like the Titanic, the stereo headphone market was dominated by local Chinese players that offered over-ear headphones with an on-off button at an extremely affordable cost.

When smart phones became the center of our universe

The last decade has been all about the smart phone. With internet penetration skyrocketing and the phone becoming personal computing device of choice, a stand-alone music player has seized to exist in most urban Indian homes. This led to the growth of the headphone – both wired and wireless, as well as Bluetooth headphones.

Today, the music that comes out of a mid-range smart phone is better than any hi-fi sound system of the 90’s, that came with two detachable speaker boxes. In fact, it is better than the sound from your premium car stereo. Now, let’s pause for a moment and think about the TV that is sitting in your living room.

Smart TVs need smart sound

Mobile phones can now be synced to smart TVs and can be used to play YouTube videos directly from a TV’s OS. Your TV is no longer about a dozen on-air favourite channels. Today, content in the form of streaming content, OTT content, Internet content, even exclusive podcast content gets viewed on a smart TV. All of this content is sound intensive, pushing the need for better and better sound on your TV.

Brands like Sony Bravia realized this trend quite early and incorporated reverberating, vibrating sound modules and speakers in the front of the TV so you can get an immersive, life-like experience of the content you are viewing. But most smart TVs today compromise on one thing to give attractive offerings on video quality, build quality, slimness and OS performance. The compromise is sound. This has pushed the need for cost-effective yet useful investments in sound. Enter the sound bar.

Deciphering the sound bar

Unlike the humble old home theatre system, a sound bar, like the name suggests is a little vertical or horizontal bar that can be used as an external speaker connected through a wire or Bluetooth to your smart TV. It does nothing else except act as a speaker to for a TV. With intelligent sensors and boost algorithms, most sound bars enhance the sound based on nature of output from the TV.

Some brands like Panasonic have gone a step further and offer a separate sound bar with their high-end TVs to ensure a good visual as well as aural content experience. For entry or mid-range smart TVs, there are a lot of sound bars that are cost effective as well as rugged for sustained usage.

A simple example would be the recently launched Xiaomi sound bar, which boasts of the most minimalistic design for any sound bar. White with a minimal number of control buttons, the Mi Sound bar intelligently detects vocals or speech and boosts output accordingly.

Another recent example is F&D, which has launched the world’s first sound bar with an in-built sub-woofer. It is able to churn out 70 Watts of sounds, and comes with an 8 ‘ subwoofer.

Premium brands like B&O and Pioneer are innovating heavily in sound bars, and going by how the market is responding, seems like it is all set to become an inevitable gadget for the urban Indian household.