/ Technology

Tinny tellies – what does your TV sound like?

An ear

Sound quality still can’t keep pace with picture quality, even on the latest TVs. But a recent Which? survey shows that nine in 10 of us count sound quality as an important factor when buying a new TV – so what’s going on?

Last year my colleague Mike Briggs confessed to keeping hold of his big box CRT TV. Why? Because he didn’t want to give up on its great sound quality, which is so rare on the latest flat screen tellies. Over a year on, have manufacturers picked up their game? In a word – no.

We still see generally disappointing test results on TV sound. And although one model we tested recently has shown that a top sound quality rating is possible from a slim TV, it’s definitely the exception rather than the rule.

Are TV sound bars for you?

So, in the meantime, what’s the best way to get good sound out of your telly? Well, the manufacturers seem to be pushing sound bars as a solution – these are slim speakers that might have once been part of your TV but no longer fit in! Instead they sit underneath or next to your TV. I’ve certainly seen a few sound bar ads as the Christmas deals ramp up – but are they all they’re cracked up to be?

We’ve put sound bar models from all the main TV manufacturers (and more) on test for the latest issue of Which? magazine. The best can improve the sound on almost any TV but can cost £200 or even £300. That’s getting close to the cost of your TV itself!

I’d like to see manufacturers working harder to find ways to improve speakers in their TVs. Picture quality’s important, but I wouldn’t underestimate how much listening to a TV with awful tinny sound can start to grate. Which? Convo commenter Terfar made this very point last year:

‘It is a shame that so many people watch TV and listen to such thin sound, losing most of the atmosphere and impact. The TV program makers put in a huge effort to transmit top quality sound, when the majority of people would be better off listening with a tin can and string.’

I’m not denying it won’t be a difficult challenge. And of course there will be a limit to the quality of sound you can get; it’s never going to compete with a full surround sound system. Yet, if one flat screen TV can get a five-star sound rating from us, it’s time the others caught up.

Are you unimpressed with the sound quality of your flat screen TV? What solutions do you have for improving the sound on your TV – investing in a sound bar, listening through headphones, hooking up to other speakers?


In an earlier Conversation we were told that Which? had changed its sound rating benchmark for TV’s due to flatscreens becoming the norm, so that it would be possible to buy a TV with a top score for the sound rating. Sound quality is mentioned reviews and the existence of this new Conversation is evidence that Which? remain concerned about the issue.

I am well aware that it is possible to connect a tV to a hi-fi system or to use a sound bar to get some improvement in quality, but manufacturers need to know that not everyone wants an ultra-thin TV they can hang on the wall.

I can see that changing the benchmark is helpful for buyers to choose the best of a bad bunch, but on the other hand it seems wrong that a tinny TV should ever be given a five star rating.

The same applies with smartphones, where it’s well accepted that they have poor battery life because making them thin takes priority.


Quad have been making top quality, slim speakers for decades using electrostatic technology so why can’t TV manufacturers do the same if they want to sell slim TVs ?


Would that double the cost of the TV, or would it be more?

What’s wrong with making the case deeper and including better speakers, or supplying a sound bar as standard rather than it being an optional extra?

Diane says:
23 November 2012

My flat screen sounds great – I have plugged in a set of very old PC speakers – 4 speakers and a bass box plugged into the earphone socket.


I’ve done the same, but with a pair of all-in one PC “active” speakers. I think you can buy similar speakers for around £15-20. They sit behind the TV and make a great improvement to the sound.

John Collins says:
26 November 2012

I recently helped a relative install a new 32″ panasonic TV. The sound was frankly awful. I added a cheap Panasonic sound bar but this has too much bass for my relative even at its lowest setting.
I have a 22″ imac computer, again a thin screen but the sound is very acceptable for everyday use. Why can”t tv designers follow suite? In the early part of my life I was a radio designer but managed to get the tv designers let me improve the sound of their designs and not a difficult job.
My feelings are that the design budget is spent purely on the picture which of course is a very much more complicated part of the design.

Diane says:
26 November 2012

Maybe it’s that they make a lot more selling sound bars


Car manufacturers have perfected the art of getting people to spend a lot more than they would if they bought the basic model. They even manage to get away with charging high prices, as you will see if you compare the cost of a sat nav as an extra compared with one bought from a shop.

So far, TV manufacturers seem to have focused on the theme of ‘biggest is best’ but I would not be surprised to see the introduction of expensive options, either built in or as accessories.


We desparately need better sound for our TV but its a 26″ diplay LG (only 2 years old) All the sound bar seem to be for 32″ and above.
Can any one offer a sensible solution.