A soundbar, sound bar or media bar is a type of loudspeaker that projects audio from a wide enclosure. They are much wider than they are tall, partly for acoustical reasons, but also so that they can be mounted above or below a display device, e.g., above a computer monitor or under a television or home theater screen.
Early passive versions simply integrated left, centre and right speakers into one enclosure, sometimes called an "LCR soundbar".
Altec Lansing introduced a multichannel soundbar in 1998 called the Voice Of The Digital Theatre or the ADA106. It was a powered speaker system that offered Stereo, Dolby Pro-Logic and AC3 surround sound from the Soundbar and a separate subwoofer. The Soundbar housed four 3" full range drivers and two 1" tweeters while the subwoofer housed one 8” dual voice coil driver. The Voice Of The Digital Theatre used Altec Lansing’s side-firing technology and algorithms to provide surround sound from the sides, rear and front. This configuration eliminated the wiring of separate speakers and the space they would require.
Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc. announced the PDSP-1 in 2002, the world's first digital sound projector that utilizes a single-source speaker panel to deliver discreet 5.1 channel surround sound audio with more than 500 watts of power.
Polk Audio had a pre-existing method of widening a stereo image by cancelling crosstalk from the left speaker to the right ear and vice versa. They expanded this to give a surround effect from one cabinet which they call a SurroundBar around 2005. The tag-line was "Five channels. One speaker. Zero clutter."
Philips worked on similar technology, called Ambisound which spawned from an earlier technology 'SonoWave' in 2007. The latter had the sound bar split into two units, with a phased array of three full-range drivers in each.
Yamaha's YSP-1 Digital Sound Projector won the Best of Show award at the January 2005 Consumer Electronics Show. As well as large left and right drivers, it had a phased array of about 40 small centre drivers. These would be configured automatically by running a setup program with included test microphone to control sound reflected from the walls of the room.
HEOS by Denon has launched the HEOS HomeCinema system in June 2015 that includes a sub-woofer and soundbar featuring dual 2X5” precision drivers that produce upper bass and mid-range audio for high fidelity sound with response extending to 20 kHz.
Each company has its own proprietary technology, but Ambiophonics is an open system that could use a stereo dipole in one enclosure.
Some manufacturers have gone much further into phased array technology.
Soundbars are relatively small and can be easily positioned under a display, are easy to set up, and are usually less expensive than other stereo sound systems. However, because of their smaller size and lack of flexibility in positioning, soundbars do not fill a room with sound as well as separate speaker stereo systems.
To take advantages both from soundbar and stereo set system, some manufacturers produce soundbar hybrids in which the soundbar represents left, center, and right speakers plus (wireless) subwoofer and rear-left and rear-right speakers. Sometimes producers make soundbars with left, center, and right speakers plus detachable charge rear-left and rear-right speakers.
A soundbase is similar to a soundbar but designed for a TV to stand on. Because of their larger size, soundbases typically have better bass sound than soundbars, unless the latter has a separate subwoofer.