I love TV. But I have some less-than-loving feelings about TVs. Nearly every modern flat-screen suffers from two problems: the dreaded and weak, tinny, pointed-in-the-wrong-direction speakers.
It's easy enough to, but overcoming awful audio takes a little more doing. Although home theater enthusiasts will tell you to invest in a multichannel receiver and lots of speakers, I'm here to make the case for cheaper options.
Indeed, if you're willing to spend at least $100, you can get a decent sound bar. That's a popular option, and a good one as well -- but it's possible to spend even less and still see (er, hear) good results.
Resurrect old PC speakers
You know that old desktop PC collecting dust in the closet? Break out the speakers. Plug them into your TV and presto: bigger, louder audio. Know why? Owing to the limited space inside a flat-panel TV cabinet, your TV's speakers are most likely pointed down or back -- which makes no sense because you're sitting in front.
So it's bad enough that the speakers themselves are small and low-power; it's worse when they're pumping audio at the wall behind the TV or the stand that's holding it up.
That's why even an inexpensive pair of computer speakers can make a pronounced difference. If your TV has a headphone jack, you can plug that 3.5mm audio cable right in. If not, you might need an adapter to connect the cable to the TV's RCA audio-out jacks.
No old speakers lying around? For $20 or less, you can pick up something like the Insignia NS-PCS20 2.0 Stereo Computer Speaker System (currently $14.99 at Best Buy) or Logitech Z150 Stereo Speakers ($19.99). Splurge a bit on something like the Logitech Z323 (currently $39.99 at Amazon) and you'll add a subwoofer to the mix, making your better audio even better.
Just keep in mind that with this setup, you might have to venture into your TV's settings menu and change audio to "external." From there, you should be able to set the speakers' volume level at, say, 75 percent, then continue using the TV remote to adjust volume. (Your mileage may vary. Not all TVs are as accommodating to external speakers, especially those plugged into the headphone jack.)
Point the sound at your face
As noted above, a big part of the problem with TV speakers is the way they're facing. If yours are pointed down, there's a clever product that can help: Soundscoopz.
Currently $21 at Amazon (from a seller called Bargain-Master), these plastic scoops work on the same principle as cupping your hand behind your phone or tablet speaker. Ever notice how much louder the sound gets when you do that? It's because it's now pointed at your face.
The Soundscoopz work with any down-firing TV speakers. They require no power, no wiring, nothing except a couple strips of Velcro (included) to adhere to the back of the screen.
Don't expect miracles. These things don't amplify they sound, they merely redirect it. But there's definitely an improvement (based on my informal tests), and you can't beat the simplicity. For the price, it might be worth a try. (Pro tip: You could experiment with some DIY solutions, like maybe cutting a coffee can into similar "scoop" shapes. They might look a little goofy, but if nothing else it might help prove/disprove the concept.)
Skip the speakers altogether
The best TV sound by far comes from headphones, which is why I'm surprised more people don't take advantage of this option. If you frequently watch alone, forget all the aforementioned speaker options and put on your 'phones.
Although some newer TVs offer a Bluetooth audio option, it's still somewhat rare. You can buy an adapter, but make sure it supports Bluetooth 4.2 (for connecting two sets of headphones instead of just one) and promises low latency. Avantree makes such an adapter, but it's priced at $44.99 -- not exactly a cheap solution.
Fortunately, many current TV-streaming devices (and some game consoles) can pair directly with Bluetooth headphones. Find out more in If you own a current-gen Roku streaming device, you can take advantage of the Private Listening feature built into the latest version of the Roku app.
Of course, these limit you to whatever you can stream. What about live TV? For that, check out Tunity, a free app that. (Side bonus: It's a marriage saver as well, allowing you to listen to the TV in bed while your spouse is sleeping.) However, for now the app works with only about 100 channels, and only in the US. But you can't beat the price!
If you've found another inexpensive way to overcome crummy TV speakers, tell us about it in the comments!