Truth be told, sound bar speakers don't sound very good.
That hasn't stopped them from selling like gangbusters. People happily buy the fantasy of single-speaker surround sound, mostly because they don't want to deal with all the wires and hassles of a bona fide 5.1-channel home theater.
I don't blame them. Even stereo, HT 2.0 systems are too intrusive for some buyers. Enter Canton's nifty CD 90 SB sound bar, it looks and sounds terrific.
I have to admit sound bars can look pretty slick mounted under a flat screen display, but there is the tricky matter of mounting the thing and running wires through walls. I suppose that's why most sound bars wind up sitting on a shelf under the display.
My real beef with sound bars is they don't sound all that good. The worst offenders are the ones that try to do some sort of fake surround sound. True, the better ones spread the sound well out to the sides of the room. Some project sound forward, towards the listener. But it's never as good as real 5.1.
Most sound bars' "surround" is only heard when you're sitting directly centered relative to the display and speaker; once you're over to the left or right the surround effect fades away. Worse yet, the sound quality of these things is iffy: it's either harsh or dull (most sound bars don't have tweeters). Mind you, sound bars aren't cheap: the better ones sell for between $1,000 and $1,800. For that much dough you could buy a really decent 5.1 speaker/subwoofer package with way better sound.
Granted, sound bar sound is passable when you're watching a movie, but try listening to music, and you'll realize just how lame the sound is.
Canton's new CD 90 SB ($650 MSRP) is the rare sound bar that sounds quite decent playing both music and movies. It's actually a three-channel design, it has three (left, center, right) two-way (tweeter and woofer) speakers built into its sleek, extruded aluminum body. The center-channel speaker handles movie dialogue, while the left and right speakers do everything else. The CD 90 SB makes enough bass on its own, so there's no need to add a subwoofer if you don't want to. You can read my complete CNET review here.
The CD 90 SB doesn't even try to eke out surround sound. The sound comes from the speaker, and that's it, but I loved the quality of the sound, and I spent a good deal of time just listening to music over the CD 90 SB. The only sound bar speaker that beats the CD 90 SB's musicality is Definitive Technology's SSA-50. But that model is almost twice as expensive as the Canton.