/ 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.

If you have an optical output connect to an amplifier and a pair of speakers i would imagine you can find some real cheap after Xmas at a car boot sale.

John Collins says:
2 December 2012

The answer to Rob’s problem is a sound bar that splits in two and the speakers stand in vertical columns either side of the set. Panasonic do one for less than £22, see my blog above. Like others, I use computer sound system with my 19″ bedroom set.

Thanks to john Collins. I’ll give it a go.

John Collins says:
3 December 2012

There seems to be a typo in my previous! Panasonic are at least £180! Whilst computer units are about £50 or so and up the scale.

Cheers I did think £22 was a bit to good to be true.

I bought the Celcus offering and wondered what crock I had managed to waste money on. The sound was tinny, the program guide text is greyed except for the line highlighted and thus hard to read, the sound is automatically muted when looking at the program guide, the remote buttons are unreadable except under JUST the right intensity and angle of light. The sound problem I cured as I had some secondhand computer active speakers. I muted the TV speaker, plugged in the speakers and it was transformed. So buy some s/h speakers on ebay and be amazed.

The other problems are largely cured as I bought a Freeview + box as well, so it cost an extra £100 (doubling the price) to get something acceptable and get away from the cheap junk impession. I wonder if it would have been cheaper to buy a monitor and a Freeview + box, but then if the box breaks down, I have a backup.

LG model 32LS345 i discovered looks great until one reads the SPEC i read no Jack for Headphones no connections for ones sound system.LG have been trying to improve their reputation i have read buyers disappointment because its sound is a bit tinny and they want to use a Headphone and also connect their sound system but there is no direct output connections.Oh god when i read this sounds like an Austin Allegro of of TVs even Aldi Cheap TVs have a better spec.Sounds like LG have moved 1 step forward 2 steps back not good for the bedroom TV and the Mrs wants to read while you watch Football and Sport.

I’m still using my 28 inch Phillips CRT with built in surround sound. I am patiently awaiting a 5.0 sound bar (i.e two rears and no subwoofer) which should replicate the Phillips’ terrific sound, before I buy a flat screen TV.

An American company (Vizio) has got closest. Surely there must be a world market for this – a home theatre without all the wires? I hope the Phillips CRT will last until one does appear.

Why do they insist on gizmos such as 3D and Smart TV before getting the basics right?

Lynne says:
29 December 2013

Was really pleased with great price for LG 42LN613V television. Picture fab but sound tinny and thin. We have trawled through sound options but to no avail. Might return it and try again with a different tv. So disappointed!

Alan Risius says:
28 January 2014

I see that the latest attempt to solve the poor sound problem are “Sound Bases” (as opposed to Sound Bars”), where the TV sits on top of the casing.

I would be interested to know Which’s opinion of them, as the HiFi magazines seem to be impressed..

With their extra size I am sure it should not be too difficult to incorporate 5.1 sound into them, with a pair of external speaker connections on the rear (or wireless if necessary), and my wish list would be complete!.

Geoff says:
21 November 2016

I bought a Panasonic HTE80 Soundbox to go with my 42″ Panasonic TV.
The music and action sound is pretty good, especially on Blu Ray DVD.
The speech sound quality is rubbish.
Always had Panasonic. This could be the last.

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I agree, Duncan, but a decent sound bar can greatly improve the sound of many flat-screen TVs. Those who value sound quality will have Hi-Fi separates and hook up their TV, but most value simplicity.

I have bought a cel us 40 inch tv, the sound is tinny , how can I improve it ?

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Duncan – you have touched on something I have not been able to understand. The speakers in sound bars don’t seem to be very large either but good ones give very good sound. The main difference in speaker size between a TV and an SB is not the circumference but the depth from front to back so perhaps that is the key criterion. Modern flat TV’s are obviously too thin to have any sensible depth for the speakers hence the tinny sound.

We bought a Yamaha sound bar for a secondary Samsung TV that was starting to get fuzzy for speech – the picture was fine but the sound was annoying. The SB has made a massive difference, including reproducing sounds that were completely lost previously, and has allowed us to play at a lower volume. It didn’t cost a fortune either.

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I suppose what I was trying to say in a roundabout way is that for a little more depth in a flat screen TV much better sound could be produced obviating the need for a sound bar. The sound bar we bought does an excellent job for our needs. There wouldn’t be much point in paying a lot more to increase the sound fidelity while at the end of the day it’s still a forty-two inch flat-screen TV and half the programmes are made to a disappointing picture [and sound] quality anyway. For £150-200 people can get a dramatic improvement in their TV enjoyment by choosing a good sound bar – and the Which? test reports were very helpful in our case.

Even without a sound bar I got 2 sets of little USB powered speakers for the two Cello TVs in our Camper. They were buttons but they transformed the sound
Knowing that additional speakers for these TVs etc need to be powered not like the old style plug in speakers so I looked at what was available and seen the USB ones
I ask my son in law ig he or my daughter had any and yes they had so I got to try a pair
I sent off for a set for each TV
For the most part the camper only has a battery to power everything and starting a generator is too costly so Having them powered from the USB means that they switch off along with the TV saving amphours
And yes John how they make so good noise out of so little a cone and so little watts I dont understand either
Hope everyone got the New Year in good