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Cheap fixes for your TV's awful speakers

For as little as $10, you can enjoy a major improvement in TV audio volume and quality.

17-roku-smart-soundbar

A soundbar, even an inexpensive one, can greatly improve your TV audio experience.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I love TV -- especially now that I'm stuck at home watching so much more of it. But I have some less-than-loving feelings about certain actual TVs. Nearly every modern flat-screen suffers from two problems: the dreaded soap opera effect and weak, tinny, pointed-in-the-wrong-direction speakers.

It's easy enough to deal with SOE, but overcoming awful audio takes a little more doing. Although some would tell you to invest in a multichannel receiver and a theater's worth of speakers, I'm here to make the case for cheaper options.

Why? Because even a small improvement can make a major difference. Let's take a look at ways to improve the volume and clarity of TV audio without spending a lot.

Read more: Best speakers for 2020: Bose, Sonos, Yamaha, Vizio and Elac    

Add a soundbar

mpow-soundbar

Give your TV audio a big boost for a small price.

Mpow

Arguably your best audio-upgrade bet is a soundbar, which will add amplification and point the sound in the proper direction (which is to say, at you rather than at the floor or wall).

One super-cheap option: Best Buy has this Insignia 2.0-channel soundbar with Bluetooth for $50. It's fairly basic, but it should deliver a noticeable improvement. And like most modern soundbars, it doubles as a Bluetooth speaker.

Spend a little more and you can get a soundbar with a subwoofer, which really elevates the TV-audio game. At this writing, for example, this Bomaker soundbar with subwoofer is $95 when you clip the accompanying $30-off coupon.

I'm not going to list the more expensive options, because the goal here is to do this on the cheap. In fact, a $95 soundbar is the most expensive thing here. Read on for even cheaper solutions.

Read more: The best soundbar for 2020

Resurrect old PC speakers

logitech-s120

Even a $10 pair of computer speakers can produce better sound than your TV's speakers.

Logitech

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. Might be good for a smaller TV, like one in a bedroom.

Still, I'd see if you could scrounge a set from the attic or basement or a friend or family member. If not, a soundbar 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%, 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 are 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 discontinued, but TVSoundScoopz are still available via Amazon for about $16.

As for the still-in-production Turboscoops, they're currently on sale for $15 shipped. 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 a couple years ago), 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 or disprove the concept.

Skip the speakers altogether

taotronics-bluetooth-transmitter-and-receiver-2

Plug this Bluetooth transmitter into your TV (adapter cable included) and presto: You can listen with your favorite wireless headphones.

TaoTronics

Are you by yourself? 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 aptX low latency (to help keep audio in sync with video). This TaoTronics Bluetooth 5.0 transmitter and receiver is a good option, and it's reasonably priced at around $30.

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.

Amazon Fire TV and Roku owners can pair their devices directly to Bluetooth headphones. On a Fire TV, just hop into the settings to set up that pairing. Roku users can pull up the Private Listening feature in the Roku app; it uses 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 me about it in the comments!

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