Until recently, I never gave much thought to the sound coming out of my TV.
For the last decade, I had a Panasonic plasma TV with decent front-facing speakers. I didn’t have a home theater, so the TV’s built-in speakers were just fine.
Because TVs have evolved to be much thinner, built-in speakers usually don’t face front.
In fact, the new TCL 6-series TV I have has downward-facing speakers.
While I love the TVs picture, the speakers are not going to win any awards, so I began to investigate other options for TV sound.
My smallish living room isn’t big enough for a multi-speaker setup with a home theater receiver, so I started testing sound bars, which usually feature one long enclosure of speakers designed to sit under the screen along with an optional subwoofer. Bigger sound bar systems can also include rear speakers.
After trying a few sound bar systems from some big audio companies, I ended up choosing a sound bar from TCL, the Alto 7+, that works seamlessly with my TV.
2.1 Home Theater Sound Bar
The TCL Alto 7+ ($179.99 at tclusa.com) has a 36-inch-wide sound bar with a wireless subwoofer.
The 2.1 in the name refers to the number of speakers (two) plus the number of subwoofers (one).
If you research sound systems, you’ll come across 5.1 (five speakers plus one sub) and 7.1 systems as well.
This inexpensive system is very understated in its design. It’s well-built and blends nicely with the TV. There is a row of buttons on top to adjust sound and input settings, and it has its own remote control, but I don’t use it because my TV’s remote can control the soundbar volume.
Ports on the 7+ can connect to your TV via HDMI-ARC (ARC stands for audio return channel), optical input, 3.5mm aux-input and Bluetooth for streaming audio from your phone.
There is no HDMI input, so you can’t connect a Blu-Ray player or game console to through the sound bar, but that’s not surprising for a sub-$200 system.
The Alto 7+ ships with every cable you’d need to set it up (HDMI, optical cable, 3.5mm aux cable and even an IR pass-through cable. This is a nice touch for an inexpensive sound bar.
The remote has some buttons that are not on top of the sound bar. The extra remote buttons allow you to change from three presets to adjust the sound for news, movie and music and to play, pause and skip music tracks if you are playing Bluetooth audio.
The 7+ can be wall-mounted if you already have your TV up on the wall.
It’s not perfect
One gripe I have about the 7+ is that occasionally when the TV is paused long enough to go to sleep, the sound is absent when we start things back up. We have to turn the TV off and on to get the sound back. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I’m not sure whether to blame the TV or the sound bar.
Also, there isn’t an adjustment for the subwoofer level, which I’d like to be able to turn down when sounds get a bit thumpy (that’s not really a technical term).
Overall, I’m very happy with the TCL Alto 7+.
It brings the sound front and center, with clear voices and much better-sounding audio than the TVs speakers provide.
It isn’t too large and it isn’t too expensive. I think it’s just right.
Pros: Inexpensive, easy setup with my TCL TV, good sound, all cables included.
Cons: No subwoofer adjustment, sometimes needs a reboot after sleep.
Bottom Line: This sound bar really fits in well with my TV and it sounds great.
Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at email@example.com.