/ Technology

The thinner tech gets, the worse it sounds

While technology manufacturers are obsessed with making ever thinner products, there’s one thing that’s suffering – sound quality. But it’s not just TVs and laptops that are starting to sound tinny.

As anyone with a passing interest in technology will be aware, the ultimate goal of all manufacturers is to design the ultimate slim line gadget, which we can impress our friends with and promptly lose down the back of the sofa.

And manufacturers have really come a long way in this respect. I can still recall the first ‘pocket TV’ I saw. I was amazed at its portability and the idea that you could watch the Crystal Maze literally anywhere.

But as impressive as that pocket TV was, it was still pretty chunky. If you managed to actually get it into your pocket, it would most likely have dragged your trousers down instantly, unless you were sporting a sturdy belt.

Today we can watch telly on our smartphones, some of which have the same dimensions as that of a Ryvita. However, this new slim form factor isn’t all good news.

The price of this impressively thin technology is not just money, it’s their sound quality. With smaller and thinner equipment, there’s less room to fit in nice big speakers, so as they get smaller, the sound suffers.

Poor sound quality

Rubbish sound quality is an issue we’ve identified before on Which? Conversation with HD TV’s and laptops, but it’s also creeping into other areas.

Some of the latest sat navs are cause for concern, with their slimmer bodies. It’s one thing to miss a vital plot point on Midsomer Murders thanks to small TV speakers, but it’s another entirely to miss your turning on the M6 because your sat nav wasn’t loud enough.

So what’s the solution? Well, adding separate bigger and better speakers to your kit is obviously going to help. But it’s rather galling to spend the best part of a thousand pounds on your brand new TV, only to be forced to spend more because the speakers aren’t up to scratch. It’s a bit like buying a car and having to pay extra for the wheels.

Even thinner HD TVs

With 2012’s TVs looking thinner than ever (LG’s OLED TV is a tiny 4mm thick) it’s safe to assume that there isn’t going to be a sudden u-turn on getting bulkier tellies. It’s a shame to think that the big, boxy CRT set I threw away a few years ago probably had better sound quality than the flatscreen I replaced it with.

Technology marches on, and our equipment is looking better day by day, but the sound is getting left behind. Maybe in the near future we’ll see TVs being sold that are thin as paper, but with the caveat ‘speakers sold separately’.

It’s time manufacturers addressed bad sound quality head on, instead of trying to sell us skinny peripherals to solve a problem that they created.

Mordenman says:
17 March 2012

What I find incomprehensible, is the absence of external speaker connections. My 28″ Panasonic CRT set has them (and doesn’t really need them), but the 24″ flatscreen (bought for the kitchen) need them desperately but hasn’t ! I am well aware of the ‘work arounds’ that are available, but I do NOT want to switch on another device or use yet another remote control, when I want to watch tv.
If I could only connect my nice little ex hi fi speakers to the telly, they could be driven by the sound amplifier in the set and controlled by the set’s volume control. I am sorely tempted to open the set, disconnect the tinny 8 ohm speakers and extend the wires out to my own units. also 8 ohm. The 5 + 5 watt output would be quite adequate ….. but away would go my warranty. I would try the headphone jack, but I think that output is intended for a much higher impedance load.
Of course, there would be no need to buy another complete sound system so maybe someone’s profits would suffer ?

30 May 2013

Take the back off the telly.Disconnect the crappy small speakers and connect in a pair of bookshelf speakers.This is what I’ve done with successive telly for the past 40 years!

Alan says:
3 February 2013

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.
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 will last until one comes on the market.

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

Bob Roberts says:
2 May 2013

I am willing to agree that the “average” user does not care about audiophile quality sound from their TV. In fact, I am pretty sure that the “average” home cinema owner is not really seeking audiophile quality.

I do think that the “average” user wants to be able to hear the programme they are watching from their seat the other side of the room. They want for the dialogue to be distinguishable and to have access to reasonable audio performance at a range of volume levels not just “Full” or “Inaudible”.

I think that someone who owns a home cinema set-up to watch movies is unlikely to want to fire-up the whole shebang just to watch Question Time and I quiver in fear at the thought of anyone having to experience “In the Night Garden” in 7.1 surround simply because the expensive screen they purchased has a speaker which is not fit for purpose.

I totally understand the “Shiny Shiny” factor of lovely thin technology – it looks so clever and advanced. But then I have seen some Modernist chairs, which are practically sculptures and I can admire their design whilst having no desire to ever actually sit in one, let alone installing it in my living room.

Consumers are not “Choosing” thinner screens over better speakers. There is no manufacturer that says, would you like this 42″ Full HD screen in a 5mm thick bezel with an awful speaker, or would you prefer the exact same screen in a 20mm bezel with an acceptable sound performance.

Offer the consumer a choice and then we would truly have no-one to blame but ourselves. As it is – I blame the profiteering manufacturer who reduces cost from internal speakers and is hungry for peripheral sales.

Simon Cherry says:
2 May 2013

Anyone who really wants hight quality TV audio will be directing the sound through their HiFi system.
I have B&W speakers which cost as much as my TV did. The sound is terrific.

Surprised to read all these letters about poor TV sound with no mention of poor diction by actors, background music drowning speech and downright bad recording, all of which seem to be growing problems. Some time (years?) ago Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams on BBC Breakfast mentioned a campaign for better sound on TV and radio. I thought this was a great idea and eagerly awaited developments. Sadly I have not heard a mention of this since – not a ‘dicky bird’. Did somebody in the BBC quickly ‘sit on’ this idea?
My one-year old 46″ LED Toshiba TV has respectable sound for music and includes a sub-woofer for added base, if needed. (It is connected to my hi-fi amplifier and Bose speaker system, including woofer.) My main complaint is speech, but this is largely due to the faults mentioned above rather than the TV speakers, which I have tweaked as best I can to favour speech.

30 May 2013


Ian Baker says:
8 October 2013

Having just bought a new budget 40″ LED TV to replace an aging 37″ LCD that was starting to get patches, I was pleasently suprised by picture quality how thin it was, however, not pleasently suprised by the sound quality.

Fortunately said TV has a headphone socket. Experimented with various computer speakers I had round the house that did improve things, but still not great. Had the idea of finding some of the old hifi speakers I’d kept up the loft and found a pair of 15w 4ohm speakers. Dismantled some 7 quid Argos speakers and desoldered the speakers and soldered in my old hifi speakers leaving the cheap PC speakers to just work as an amplifier in effect. Results were fantastic, have a great bass and treble way better than I’ve had on a TV before and at a very low cost.

T ward says:
1 May 2015

I was a designer before I retired. If I had designed a TV that had poor sound I would of been out to a job. Why can’t designers start with the largest part of the design, “the speaker” and design around it. If we have to have extra sound bars, why not design the extra width into the TV shape. Form follows function.

T Ward says:
26 May 2015

I was a Designer and would of lost my job if I had produced such ill thought out products. I always considered the end user and asked people WHAT THEY WANTED.
TV sound quality is NOT the fault of the flat screen TV, ITS the Designers fault. NOT thinking clearly.
Start the design process with the largest component, THE SPEAKER.
I have just taken apart our old CRT TV and the speakers are about 100mm x 45mm x 50mm. The sound was brilliant. So why not bulge the back slightly to accommodate them?
And put the ON/OFF button on the front with the Auxiliary outputs. The back is hardly a convenient place. Consideration should also be made for hard of hearing and deaf people. Audio output etc.

Mr Bee says:
19 September 2020

I’d be happy enough just to buy a tv screen with power cable, Video in, sound out and full Bluetooth connection. Nothing else! No speakers is fine as their useless! Wasted expense!

Mr Bee says:
19 September 2020

BTW just buy a Logitech Z906 system. Can’t go wrong with that for £200.