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.
Add a sound bar
For starters, if you're willing to spend at least $50, you can get a decent sound bar. Right now, for example, Best Buy has this Insignia 2.0-channel sound bar with Bluetooth for just $49.99. It's fairly basic, but it should deliver a noticeable improvement. (Plus, it doubles as a Bluetooth speaker!)
Spend a little more and you can get a sound bar with a subwoofer, which really elevates the TV-audio game. At this writing, for example, this Abox sound bar with subwoofer is $99.99 when you clip the accompanying $10-off coupon. (I also like this one because it has a small display that shows mode, volume, etc.)
Read more: The best sound bars for 2019
I'm not going to list the more expensive options, because the goal here is to do this on the cheap. In fact, a $50 sound bar is the most expensive thing here. Read on for even cheaper solutions.
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.
See, there's limited space inside a flat-panel TV cabinet, so your TV's speakers are most likely pointed down or even to the rear.
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.
I'm not sure I'd recommend actually buying computer speakers for this purpose, though something like the Logitech S120 would run you only about $10.
Instead, I'd see if you could scrounge a set from the attic or basement or a friend or family member. If not, a sound bar will look and perform better, and most likely give you the benefits of Bluetooth as well -- for not a lot of dough.
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 a couple products that can help.
As an introduction to them, let me ask a question: Have you ever noticed that when you cup your hand around your phone or tablet speaker, the sound gets louder and clearer because it's now directed at your head?
The same principle works with TV speakers. TVSoundScoopz and Soundverter Turboscoops are plastic, well, scoops that attach to your TV and help direct the sound toward you.
The former is a discontinued product, but it's still available via Amazon for about $15.
As for the still-in-production Turboscoops, they run $20 for a single pair, plus $5 for shipping. I haven't seen (or heard) these in action, but the design seems pretty similar.
Both products work on the same sound-directing principle, and both let you avoid the hassles of power, wiring, extra remotes and all that.
Just 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 of the TVSoundScoopz), 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 an oatmeal canister into similar "scoop" shapes. They might look a little goofy, but if nothing else it would help prove/disprove the concept.)
Skip the speakers altogether
Are you by yourself? Then forget speakers: opt for headphones instead. In my experience, even an inexpensive pair of earbuds greatly outperforms the speakers built into a TV.
Although some newer TVs offer a Bluetooth audio option, not all do. You can buy an adapter, but make sure it supports at least Bluetooth 4.2 (for connecting two sets of headphones instead of just one) and promises low latency. This TaoTronics adapter is a good option, and it's reasonably priced at around $32.
Interestingly, this little gadget is a receiver as well, so if your TV already has Bluetooth but you want to plug in a pair of wired headphones, you can do exactly that.
If you're a heavy user of Amazon Fire TV and/or Roku streamers, you probably know that most current-gen models can pair directly with Bluetooth headphones. Fire TV users can just hop into the settings to set up that pairing, while Roku users can pull up the Private Listening feature in the Roku app (which leverages headphones already paired to your phone).
Watching live TV? Check out Tunity, a free app that streams live TV audio to your phone (and whatever headphones you're using with it). Side bonus: It's a marriage saver, allowing you to listen to the TV in bed while your spouse is sleeping.
If you've found another inexpensive way to overcome crummy TV speakers, tell us about it in the comments!