Soundbars have not only become terrific add-on sales to virtually any television install, with their lower price points and much simpler/lower cost installation, but they also have opened up a whole new world of customers for us. But even though soundbars are no longer a new product category, it has taken me a little while to find my flow when it came to the best way to fit them into our product mix.
With so many bars on the market, at prices ranging from less than $100 to more than $2,000, determining the right offering and how to differentiate them took some thought. As with any product offering, we didn’t want to overwhelm clients with so many choices that they ended up confused, so we ended up settling on three different bars, in good-better-best tiers.
Because we wanted all of our soundbar offerings to still deliver quality performance, we decided to stay away from the really budget models. Our “entry-level” option, therefore, is a Sony bar that sells for around $400. The step-up offering is Definitive Technology’s W Studio Micro, which makes a potent combo when paired with its included sub at $899. And finally is the Sonos Playbar, which ranges from $700 when standalone, to $1,400 when paired with a sub, to more than $2,000 when fully kitted out in surround mode.
The next step was deciding how to best demonstrate bars to close the maximum number of sales.
I generally start my qualification process by figuring out what the customer wants to accomplish. Are they merely looking to improve anemic TV audio quality? Are they complaining of something specific like not being able to understand dialog? Are they looking to get a surround sound experience but just don’t want the hassle of a traditional system with multiple speakers and a receiver? Or will the bar be part of a larger home audio distribution system?
The Sony bar makes a great pairing for the person who just wants to improve TV audio. It’s a pretty light investment, and since Sony is our preferred flat-panel TV brand, it is a really natural pairing for the majority of TVs that we are installing. The bar also offers Bluetooth, which makes it easy for people to enjoy music as well.
For the person looking to improve dialog intelligibility, I like to sit them in front of the Definitive bar. One of the features I really like about this bar is that it features two mid-drivers dedicated to the center speaker specifically to address dialog issues. The result is a fullness and richness of dialog that belies the speaker’s svelte form factor. I’ll then ask them what TV show(s) they typically have a hard time hearing and frequent answers are The Blacklist, CSI, and Law and Order—dialog-driven shows that tend to have high levels of background music that drown out voices when played through a flat panel’s speakers.
We’ll pull up an episode on demand and let them listen, demonstrating how easy it is to adjust the center channel volume to raise dialog levels or put the bar into “Music” mode, which also tightens up dialog, or lower the bass output if it is too boomy. I’ve had multiple clients tell me they were finally able to understand a certain character talking that they’ve never been able to before. This bar often closes the sale for us.
As icing on the cake, the Studio Micro is part of Definitive’s W-line, making it is fully Play-Fi compatible. So, customers get a whole host of music streaming services, and this bar can serve as the entry to adding wireless music. Also, because Play-Fi recently enabled surround sound from the bar, we can now add rear Play-Fi speakers to the bar to create a true surround sound experience. (I’m currently testing a wireless Definitive Play-Fi surround solution that will post to Residential Systems soon.)
If the customer is already a Sonos owner or is talking about adding whole-home music as part of the project, then the Sonos Playbar is an easy choice. We have several different Sonos zones setup in our showroom, and walking customers through using the app, and demonstrating how you can stream TV audio from the bar to other speakers around the house, or have the bar become another music zone makes for a very compelling demo. It also offers a great upgrade path for the customer if they want to start small with just the bar, or upgrade by adding the sub or surround speakers. Sonos was also very smart to recently add gloss white as an option for the subwoofer; a move I’m surprised more manufacturers don’t make, as many people prefer that to black. Also, in the cases where the customer wants to use in-ceiling speakers as part of the surround, adding the Sonos Connect:Amp is another upgrade option.
Pulse SoundbarAfter reviewing the Bluesound Pulse soundbar recently (review to post online soon), I’m definitely considering bringing that in and adding it as an option to customers who are equally interested in music listening along with TV viewing as its high-resolution audio playback was terrific. When paired with the Pulse sub, the audio delivered performance that rivaled a high-end pair of bookshelf speakers with bass that outperforms virtually all of them.
I’m also interested in finding a high-performing Atmos bar for surround enthusiasts who don’t have the ability or budget to add a traditional Atmos surround system. This could easily justify the price step up to the next performance level if it can deliver the height-channel goods. I was really impressed with what I heard from Sony’s upcoming HT-ST5000 at CES. The bar delivered true look-up-to-make-sure-no-speakers-are-actually-in-the-ceiling performance during several demo clips, and I look forward to giving it a closer listen when it is released.