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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Setting Up a Soundbar for Your PC in 2023

As a digital technology expert and audio enthusiast, I‘ve witnessed the rapid rise of soundbars as a popular way to enhance computer sound. Global soundbar sales have surged from 16 million units in 2018 to a projected 31 million units in 2023, with a significant portion used for PC audio upgrades.[^1] It‘s no wonder why – soundbars offer a sleek, simple, all-in-one solution for vastly better sound than built-in computer speakers.

Whether you‘re a gamer, cinephile, music lover, or remote worker looking to level up your PC audio, a soundbar could be a game-changer. In this ultimate guide, I‘ll dive deep into the key benefits and factors to consider when choosing a soundbar for your computer, share my top product picks for every budget and use case, and provide expert tips for getting the best performance.

The Advantages of Using a Soundbar with Your PC

So why are so many people ditching their default PC speakers for soundbars? Having tested dozens of computer audio setups over the years, I‘ve found that soundbars offer several compelling benefits:

  1. Huge upgrade in audio quality: Most PC speakers, especially in laptops, are afterthoughts with weak bass, tinny sound, and very little stereo separation. A good soundbar will deliver fuller, clearer, more dynamic audio with a much wider soundstage for a more immersive experience.

  2. Space-saving, clutter-free design: Soundbars have a low-profile form factor that fits neatly under your monitor, freeing up valuable desk real estate. You‘ll have fewer cables and components to fuss with compared to a multi-speaker system.

  3. Painless plug-and-play setup: The beauty of soundbars is simplicity. Most models connect to your computer with a single cable (USB, 3.5mm, or optical) and require minimal configuration. You can be up and running with better sound in minutes.

  4. Swiss Army Knife versatility: A soundbar can pull double or triple duty to enhance all your PC audio needs. They‘re great for adding oomph and positional cues to games, providing clear dialog and soundtrack depth to Netflix binges, filling your room with music, and crisping up your Zoom calls.

Decoding Soundbar Features and Specs

Choosing the perfect soundbar can be tricky with all the marketing hype and technical jargon. Here‘s a breakdown of the key factors and features you should look for when shopping for a PC soundbar:

  • Size and design: Soundbars come in various widths, so measure your desk space and ensure the model you pick will fit comfortably under your monitor. For a clean look, consider a bar with a built-in subwoofer or a wireless sub that you can tuck under your desk.

  • Audio technology: The best soundbars leverage advanced acoustic design and DSP to squeeze the best performance out of compact enclosures. Look for models with multiple active speaker drivers (woofers + tweeters), passive radiators or ports for enhanced bass, and audio processing like Dolby Digital or DTS:X for virtual surround sound.

  • Connectivity: Make sure the soundbar has the right inputs to work with your PC. The most common options are 3.5mm aux, USB audio, and optical S/PDIF. Some support Bluetooth for wireless connectivity to your computer or other devices. An HDMI ARC port is great for routing your monitor‘s audio through the bar.

  • Controls and features: Check what controls the soundbar offers for easy volume adjustment, muting, input switching, and sound mode toggling. A remote control or mobile app is handy, as are visual indicators for status. Some PC soundbars have bonus features like RGB lighting, built-in DACs, headphone jacks, and voice assistant support.

  • Price and value: You can find entry-level soundbars under $100, but stepping up to the $100-$250 range often gets you significantly better sound, build quality, and features. Some premium models cost $300+, but you don‘t need to spend a fortune to enjoy an upgrade over built-in PC speakers.

Soundbar vs. Computer Speakers: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Not sure if you should go with a soundbar or traditional computer speakers? Here‘s a quick rundown of the pros and cons:

Feature Soundbar Computer Speakers
Form factor Sleek, low-profile, all-in-one design Bulkier, multi-component system
Footprint Minimal desk space required, fits under monitor Takes up more desk real estate
Setup Simple, usually single-cable connection More complex with multiple speakers and wires
Stereo separation Wide, natural-sounding soundstage Depends on speaker placement, computer monitors can block sound
Bass performance Models with built-in or wireless subwoofers provide deep bass Deeper bass with dedicated subwoofer, but takes up extra space
Surround sound Virtual surround effects, best with 5.1.2-channel Dolby Atmos bars True surround requires 5+ speakers placed around you
Upgradability Fewer options to mix and match components over time Can upgrade individual speakers as budget allows
Value All-in-one solution, less cost than premium multi-speaker setups More affordable entry-level kits, pricier for high-end

For most people seeking an easy, space-saving solution, a soundbar will be the better way to go. But if you don‘t mind the larger footprint and wiring, a multi-speaker system may edge out a soundbar for positional audio and expandability.

Our Expert Picks: The Best Soundbars for PCs in 2023

After auditioning over a dozen of the latest models, I‘ve hand-picked the top performers for every use case and budget:

  1. Best Overall: Klipsch Cinema 400 Sound Bar with 8" Wireless Subwoofer

    • Powerful, detailed sound with a wide and immersive soundstage
    • 400W peak power output and 8" wireless subwoofer for room-shaking bass
    • Connects via HDMI-ARC, optical, 3.5mm, Bluetooth
    • Dialogue enhancement mode for clearer vocals
    • Sleek, wood grain finish looks great with any setup
  2. Best for Gaming: Razer Leviathan V2 PC Gaming Soundbar with Subwoofer

    • Designed for ultra-realistic positional audio in games
    • THX Spatial Audio and 7.1 surround sound with down-firing subwoofer
    • Compact 20" bar fits perfectly under monitors
    • Razer Chroma RGB lighting syncs with gameplay
    • Bluetooth 5.2, USB-C, 3.5mm, optical connectivity
  3. Best Budget: Creative Stage 2.1 Soundbar with Subwoofer

    • Impressive sound quality for the price
    • Dedicated subwoofer for punchy bass
    • Multiple EQ modes optimized for music, movies, and gaming
    • Connects via USB, optical, Bluetooth, 3.5mm
    • Convenient remote and touch controls
  4. Best Compact: Bose TV Speaker Soundbar

    • Wide, room-filling sound from a tiny bar
    • Custom-designed drivers and Bose audio processing
    • Bluetooth, optical, and HDMI-ARC connectivity
    • Dialogue mode makes speech extra clear
    • Super slim and easy to fit under any monitor
  5. Best Premium: Samsung HW-Q800B 5.1.2ch Soundbar with Dolby Atmos

    • 11 built-in speakers deliver ultra immersive 3D sound
    • Powerful 8" wireless subwoofer and up-firing channels
    • SpaceFit Sound+ auto-calibrates audio to your room
    • Q-Symphony syncs bar‘s speakers with your Samsung TV
    • Alexa built-in for voice control

How to Get the Best Performance from Your PC Soundbar

Once you‘ve chosen your perfect soundbar, proper setup is key to getting the best sound. Here are my tips for dialing in your PC soundbar:

  1. Placement: Position the soundbar as centrally under your monitor as possible for the most balanced stereo image. If your bar has an external subwoofer, it usually sounds best placed on the floor within 10 feet of the soundbar. Experiment with sub placement to find the right balance of bass response for your room.

  2. Connections: Use the highest quality audio connection supported by your PC and soundbar. HDMI or optical will generally provide the best digital sound, followed by USB, then analog 3.5mm. If your computer has a Thunderbolt port, you can connect the soundbar to a Thunderbolt dock for uncompressed, high-res audio.

  3. Configuration: Make sure your PC‘s sound output is set to the soundbar (it may show up as "HDMI", "S/PDIF", "USB Audio", or "Speakers"). Set the soundbar as your default playback device in Windows. If you‘re using HDMI with an HDR-capable monitor, enable passthrough on the soundbar.

  4. Calibration: If available, run your soundbar‘s auto room calibration to optimize the sound for your space. Otherwise, play reference-quality audio you‘re very familiar with and adjust the soundbar‘s EQ, subwoofer level, and sound modes to taste. Dial down treble if it sounds harsh, bump up bass if it‘s lacking punch.

  5. Surround placement: For soundbars with dedicated surround speakers, place them to the sides and slightly behind your listening position, angled in towards you. Experiment with height and distance until you find a placement that creates an enveloping soundstage without losing dialogue clarity.

The Future of PC Soundbars

As computer usage evolves, so does the technology inside the latest soundbars. In my conversations with acoustic engineers at leading audio brands, I‘m excited about several advancements on the horizon:

  • Smarter, more immersive sound: Expect to see more PC soundbars with auto room calibration, advanced 3D audio processing, and object-based formats like Dolby Atmos that can better position sounds in games and movies.
  • Tighter integration with PCs: Look for soundbars to connect seamlessly with PCs via high-bandwidth USB-C, gain features like synchronized RGB lighting, and tap into new spatial sound standards developed for games and VR.
  • All-in-one audio hubs: More soundbars will function as audio interfaces with DACs, mics, and headphone outputs built-in. They‘ll act as control centers for all your computer audio needs.
  • AI-powered audio: Soundbars may use artificial intelligence to analyze content and your preferences to automatically optimize sound settings, upscale audio quality, and dynamically adjust frequency response.

One thing is for certain – soundbars will only get better at delivering premium sound in a user-friendly package for your desktop setup. So if you‘re still settling for mediocre built-in PC audio, consider upgrading to an awesome soundbar and experience the difference for yourself. Your ears will thank you!

[^1]: Futuresource Consulting (2022), "Worldwide Soundbar Market Report"