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Mounting Soundbars: Should You Place Above or Below Your TV?

Soundbars have surged in popularity thanks to declining prices and dissatisfaction with thinning TV audio quality. Soundbar adoption grew over % last year with million units shipped globally [1]. With competitive pricing like the Sonos Beam at $449 or Vizio‘s 36-inch 5.1.2 channel model under $150 [2], capable soundbars fit many budgets. But where is the best placement in your living room or home theater? While above your television may seem ideal, there are acoustic considerations that may dictate mounting below as the better option instead.

How Do Soundbars Work?

Before assessing mounting placement, let‘s briefly overview soundbar technology. Soundbars cram multiple miniature midrange drivers and tweeters inside an elongated enclosure to redirect audio back towards the listener instead of behind or downwards like modern slim TVs.

For example, the compact Sonos Beam houses four midwoofers for punchy sound and one tweeter combined into a unitary array. This allows the speaker system to fire controlled waves of sound. DSP processing creates a wider sense of left, center, and right channels from this aligned array based on subtle timing and audio level differences. This enables a broad soundstage beyond the physical width of the soundbar.

Some soundbars also incorporate additional drivers angled upwards or to the sides to bounce audio throughout the room. Adding a separate wireless subwoofer helps supplement missing low bass impact. So when positioned properly, soundbars aim to provide surround sound-like immersion from a simple frontal three channel system.

soundbar diagram

Visualization of angled soundbar speaker components producing sound waves intersecting in front of bar.

Why Soundbar Placement Matters

With the acoustic fundamentals covered, let‘s examine how orientation impacts performance. Sound is essentially vibration pulsing through air in waves emanating from a source point. Like ripples expanding across a pond, these waves reflect and diffract off room boundaries.

Ideal placement leverages this physics for an enveloping listening experience. Angled drivers better excite the room when facing uncovered areas. Floor and ceiling boundaries distort flavor depending on bounce distance. So while above seems logical given the visual connection with the TV, lower could potentially improve dispersion.

Room context always affects preferences, but understanding these fundamentals helps make an informed decision during installation. Objective data combined with subjective listening gives the best assessment.

Spatially Aligning Audio with Video

Beyond psychoacoustics, soundbars serve as a direct sonic substitute for modern slim displays with underwhelming built-in speakers. Replacing the audio coming from the television panel itself demands careful alignment.

The ears rely more on minute timing differentials and volume between channels for spatial awareness than the eyes. So while eyes forgivingly handle spatial mismatches like speakers next to rather than perfectly aligned behind the video plane, ears remain more sensitive to such displaced acoustic imaging.

Proper lateral alignment also improves perceived channel separation. Angled drivers better differentiate left vs right elements across a wider listening window rather than sounding mono towards the edges.

Therefore, flush mounting with the screen edges regardless of above or below orientation best matches audio and video for proper lip syncing and enhanced immersion.

Ergonomic Height Considerations

Whether going above or below, considering proper height based on room dynamics and seating position prevents neck strain. While simply matching TV height seems sensible, television mounting standards stem from optimal viewing more than listening:

tv height

Ideal TV mount height based on viewing distance and room context minimizes neck strain [3].

Although some guidelines suggest lining up the TV‘s vertical midpoint with eye-level while seated, flexibility exists based on factors like distance and whether seated vs standing viewing is prioritized.

Alternatively, audio alignment stems directly from ear height:

ear height

Sound optimization relies more on precise ear than eye level alignment [4].

Although TVs sit anywhere from 28-60 inches above floor level depending on recommendations, the ideal soundbar position consistently targets roughly 36-48 inches based on seated ear height. Finding the optimal balance point given constraints necessitates mockups.

Connectivity and Cable Considerations

Future-proofed supporting connectivity makes long-term flexibility easier for premium soundbars and discrete home theater systems. Top options include:

HDMI – Supports enhanced audio formats like Dolby Atmos; easy one-cable hookup

Optical – Widely compatible; capable of 5.1 channel Dolby/DTS

Bluetooth – Convenient wireless music streaming

WiSA – Multi-channel wireless surround support

[Additional connectivity standards]

While wireless options simplify installation, most soundbars at minimum require a wired power source. Naturally, outlets sit lower on walls. So wire concealment and positioning connectors proves simpler when mounting beneath versus above. Recessed conduits, raceways, wire covers, or simply tucking behind furniture eliminates messy dangling cords.

cable management

Strategic wire routing techniques like raceways maintain a clean finished look.

For true wireless connectivity, WiSA Certified speakers communicate to a WiSA USB transmitter or compatible TV model over robust 5 GHz transmission optimized for multi-channel audio.

Adding Rear Surround Speakers

Immersive surround formats exponentially expand dimensionality versus basic 3 channel stereo. Many modern soundbars simulate rear effects through precise psychoacoustic processing. But including physical back speakers better envelops listeners.

Top examples like the LG SP8YA indirectly connect wireless rear speakers to the soundbar hub via the subwoofer. Models like the Sonos Arc separately link with wireless Sonos surround units. For both approaches, flexible speaker placement is key.

surround speaker placement

Ideally, surround speakers sit at seated ear-level dispersed widely near room corners [5].

But this remains impractical given typical living room constraints. Alternatively, wall or ceiling mounting at angles facing the central seating area maintains performance. Some designs permit flexible tabletop orientations as well. No matter the mounting style, the freedom supports molding to available room conditions.

Just ensure left and right symmetry not just for aesthetic reasons. Well-balanced acoustic imaging better transports listeners to the immersive atmosphere.

Expanding to True Surround Systems

There are always acoustic compromises inherent with compact single-box solutions like soundbars. Even premium hardware-accelerated formats like Dolby Atmos struggle emulating the speaker separation discrete systems achieve. And bass response is often further limited without a larger cabinet.

Home theater enthusiasts or music lovers preferring high fidelity demand better performance. Component audio systems with bookcase speakers plus an AV receiver provide enhanced channel separation with proper placement:

  • Full-range tower front channels on floor stands near TV
  • Vocal-emphasizing center beneath screen
  • Side surrounds and overhead Atmos modules dispersed widely
  • Powerful subwoofer positioned flexibly

The freedom dividing speakers across a room provides true enveloping 360 surround with pinpoint imaging.

Of course, the tradeoff becomes inevitable wiring complexity and costly investment. This prohibitive downside keeps soundbars so universally appealing. There are always some audio compromises seeking the convenience and simplicity an all-in-one model provides.

Key Takeaways on Placement

When considering mounting position for a new soundbar, then:

Align Flush – Lateral orientation matching screen edges enhances perceived directionality and immersion as audio localizes properly with on-screen elements.

Consider Height – Position somewhere in ideal 36 to 48-inch range for targeting seated ear height unless TV already satisfies range.

Stage Equipment – Balance connections and power with ergonomic height for optimized installation. Outlets more likely sit lower on walls.

Test Angles – Reorienting tabletop first helps determine ceiling bouncing or floor cancelation points before permanent install.

Room Context – Be conscious of potential acoustic obstruction from objects like furniture blocking crucial waves to the sweet spot.

While above certainly works, in most living rooms, going below the screen simplifies wire management while allowing tighter audio-video alignment. When room context permits, even several feet laterally and frontally displaced but precisely angled towards the viewing position captures proper imaging.


[1] Futuresource Year-End 2021 World Soundbar Market Report
[2]HD Guru March 2022 Soundbar Best Pricing
[3] Sanus TV Height Finder
[4] Crutchfield "Where to place your soundbar"
[5] Dolby Atmos Guidelines