Glossary of Terms

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First of all, let me say thanks to everyone who has visited SoundbarReviewsHQ.Net. I’d also like to thank those of you who have written emails asking many questions about sound bar and those of you who have left your comments.

With the increasing number of emails I’m receiving every day, it is tough for me to keep up. Since there are many questions that I’ve been answering repeatedly, I thought a glossary would be perfect. This glossary should answer the bulk of common questions that you would have pertaining to sound bar. Bear with me though that this is still a work in progress. If there is any term that you think would be good to include, do let me know. I’ll be more than glad to do so.

3.5mm Audio Input JackToday, 3.5mm audio jack is used to refer to the analog audio output port that is commonly found in many consumer electronics. The term may sound foreign but most people would have come across it in most of the products that they come into contact everyday. Examples of devices that uses 3.5mm audio jack are: laptop, personal computers and media / music players (including iPod and MP3 players).

Two variants of the 3.5mm audio jack exist, namely the 3-contact and 4-contact versions. The version that is more commonly found in the market is the 3-contact version. The additional contact in the latter is used to add an additional audio channel such as the line-in channel.

Unless one is talking about specific purpose headphones or speakers, most of the headphones and speakers designed to be audio output devices uses the 3-contact version. Headset with microphone support will be using the 4-contact version.

Further reading: 3.5mm Audio Jack
Active Sub-wooferA sub-woofer that comes with its own built-in amplifier and has its own power line is referred to as an active sub-woofer. As newer sound bar systems include separately powered wireless sub-woofer, they are active sub-woofers. Active sub-woofer is better than passive sub-woofer and one reason is attributed to the presence of amplifier that can also act as a filter to leave only the low frequency signal intact and filtered out the rest.
Analog InputAnalog input refers to the RCA ports that are used to plug a cable carrying analog audio signal. The exact same RCA port is used for digital coaxial input and it is easy to confuse between the two.

One easy way to differentiate between the two is to look at the number of ports. Analog input always comes in pair and they are color-coded with red and white. Digital coaxial input, on the other hand, always comes as a single port on its own and is not color-coded.

Further reading: RCA connector
Digital Coaxial InputDigital coaxial input refers to the RCA port that is used to plug a coaxial cable carrying digital S/PDIF signal. The same S/PDIF signal can be carried over fibre optic cables with TOSLINK connectors. Even until today, there is no clear winner between the two and each has its own proponents.

One argument that is often raised by critics of the TOSLINK cable is the superior audio quality that one tends to get with the digital coaxial cable. However, this argument is only true if the TOSLINK cable is twisted or bent at severe angles which is less commonly encountered in most practical situations.

Another argument against TOSLINK cable is the often loose connection that one gets with the TOSLINK connection compared to the RCA connection.

Further reading: Optical Audio Cable vs. Digital Coax: Which is Best?
Frequency ResponseIn principle, frequency response refers to the frequency range in which the sound bar is expected to operate in. In general, the audible range to adults' hearing is between 20Hz to 20kHz.

Some sound bars will specify this as the frequency response but not all. However, buyers are advised to be cautious when interpreting the numbers. A sound bar with operating specification of 20Hz to 20kHz is not necessarily better than one with specification of 40Hz to 20kHz. One has to understand that the response variance at different frequency range (or spectral shape) is what determines the quality of sound component of certain frequency range.

For illustration, a sound bar with frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz but variance of say +/-15dB at 30Hz and +/-10dB at 20kHz simply means that the sound component produced at the two ends of the spectrum will be significantly distorted. On the other hand, a sound bar with frequency response of 40Hz to 20kHz but variance of say +/-3dB at 40Hz and 20kHz simply means that the sound component produced at the two ends of the spectrum is still of the same loudness as that produced in the midrange spectrum.

Such information is rarely available and one has to rely on reviews to get true picture of the sound quality.

Further reading: Amazon's speakers help guide
HDMIIn the context of sound bar, HDMI can simply be referred to as high definition audio. The audio produced from TV (Hight Definition LED TV these days) is transported from the TV to the A/V receiver via what is referred to as Audio Return Channel.

In earlier times, the quality of HDMI audio is often compared to that of S/PDIF. While many still continue to ask the same question, HDMI has emerged as the clear winner. The specifications below say it all.

24-bit / 192kHz sampling rate
Support Dolby Digital (DTS)
Support Dolby True HD (DTS-HD)

24-bit / 48kHz sampling rate
Support Dolby Digital (DTS)
Does not support Dolby True HD (DTS-HD)

Further reading: HDMI vs S/PDIF Audio Faceoff
MidrangeSpecific to the context of sound bar, midrange may be associated with two different meanings.

Midrange price
Prices of sound bar vary from as low as less than $100 to as high as few thousands of dollars. The midrange price for sound bar is probably in the region of $300 to $500. Anything that is less than $300 is good for small room but probably lacks either the oomph, clarity or both. Anything that is in the midrange region is good for most people, delivers sufficient oomph to rock mid-size rooms and clarity that is good enough for non-audiophiles. Sound bar of audiophile quality would cost $500 and more.

Midrange frequency
Midrange frequency refers to the most sensitive frequency range of our hearing. Though 20Hz to 20kHz is the normal hearing range of most adults, the midrange frequency is considered to be somewhere between 500Hz to 2kHz. This is the spectrum at which human conversations are taking place.

Further reading: The audiogram explained
Optical InputOptical input refers to the TOSLINK port that is used to plug a fibre optic cable carrying digital S/PDIF signal.

Further reading: What is TOSLINK?
Passive Sub-wooferA sub-woofer that is attached to the main sound receiver unit and has no power line on its own is referred to as a passive sub-woofer. One drawback associated with passive sub-woofer is the absence of its own amplifier that results in undesirable frequency component leaking into the sub-woofer and generated unpleasant bass sound.
TOSLINKTOSLINK stands for Toshiba Link and it refers to the standard connector found in optical fibre audio cable.