Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems
Q My wife and I are in our eighties and we recently got a flat-screen TV, but the sound isn't strong enough. We're looking for a speaker to let us hear it properly but don't want to make the living room messy.
A You're not alone. For all their advanced picture technology, the sound quality on many televisions is actually quite poor. Ironically, the thinner they get, the worse the speakers - less physical space means tinnier, weaker audio quality. It's a question of physics. Audio typically needs space to reverberate. This is why the larger tube televisions of yesterday (the type that used to sit in a room's corner) often had better speakers than today's sets. And it's also why so many people think of getting an external speaker.
However, there are a couple of things to know before going shopping for one. One key element that sometimes isn't immediately apparent is that external speakers often come in several parts. Even those that try to contain the system to a single 'soundbar' frequently require a separate 'subwoofer'. For a hi-fi or home cinema enthusiast, this may well be part of the attraction. But for the rest of us, it can be a pain, both in having to set all the speakers up and in finding space for the various speakers without the sitting room starting to look very messy and wire-laden.
I prefer single speaker solutions that simply plug into your telly and work beside it. The one I've been most impressed with lately is Sky's Soundbox, which plugs into your TV or, if you're a Sky subscriber, your Sky Q box. (This is the little set-top box that a lot of Sky subscriptions now come with.)
The reason I like it so much is that it has really excellent, warm sound while being very neat: it sits right beside your DVD player, taking up about the same amount of space. It's reasonably easy to set up, too, although if you feel bamboozled by HDMI cables and the like, get someone to help. The only thing that might stop people getting it is its price - its €300 price tag is only for existing Sky Q subscribers (€350 for normal Sky subscribers). But while it works with any telly and any system, if you're not a Sky subscriber it's over twice the price.
In any case, €300 might seem a bit steep for plenty of people. If this includes you, I'd look at two cheaper options.
The first is Sony's HT-XT100 (€129 from PC World or Currys), which is a plug-in-and-play sound bar with all the required components (including the subwoofer) built in. Its audio quality isn't as good as the Sky Soundbox but it's less than half the price.
If something even friendlier on the wallet is required, try Bush's ultra-budget 45-watt soundbar (€25 from Argos). I'd only advise this option, though, if the telly you bought is a cheap or small one, as the sound output from this won't be significantly better than what you get from medium-priced new televisions in Irish shops.
Of course, you can always stick in a pair of headphones to the telly (some budget headphones come with two or three-metre leads) if there's a TV item you really want to hear urgently, but that's a little unsocial.
RECOMMENDATION: Sony HT-XT100 (inset, €129 from PC World or Currys)
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