Soundbar vs. Speakers: Choosing the Right Audio System
Updated: September 20,2022
If you’re in the market for a new sound system, you’re likely deciding between a soundbar or traditional speakers. Both options come with their pros and cons, so deciding which is a better solution for your space and preferences can be tough.
This article will compare these sound systems and try to settle the soundbar vs. speakers debate. By discussing the benefits of each option and outlining other important factors, we’ll help you make an educated decision. Let’s dig in.
What Is a Soundbar?
A soundbar is a type of audio system designed to improve the sound quality of your TV. This is a compact system, usually no wider than a 43” flat-screen TV. The main purpose of a soundbar is to replace the audio output of your television set without taking up too much space. Ideally, you should place a soundbar underneath your TV screen.
So, right off the bat, it’s clear that one of the main advantages of a soundbar is its thin form that comes with a lot of power. Despite looking like a single, elongated speaker, a soundbar actually houses a whole set of speakers. This way, one device covers the whole frequency range. There are also sets where the subwoofer comes as a separate, chunkier device.
As for the speaker setup inside them, soundbars range from pure stereo to 5.1 surround sound systems. You can connect your soundbar to the TV setup by wire or use Bluetooth to send audio inputs. Soundbars that are capable of connecting through Bluetooth can stream audio from other devices you may have, like smartphones or gaming consoles.
One of the biggest reasons people purchase soundbars is their compact size. If you’re tight on space, a soundbar is a great option because it won’t take up much room in your living room. In most cases, you can place the soundbar under the TV and it won’t get in the way. You most likely won’t even notice it, but you’ll hear the difference.
In the soundbar vs. TV speakers comparison, the soundbar is the audible winner, every time.
Soundbars are easy to set up and use, and many models include multiple speakers that create a surround sound effect, giving you a more immersive TV watching experience. They also include built-in amplifiers that provide better sound quality than your TV’s internal speakers. Most models connect to your TV set via a simple optical connection or an HDMI port.
Lastly, soundbars are an affordable option for improving your TV’s sound. At the lower end of the spectrum, you’ll be able to find devices that cost less than $100 and offer pretty decent sound. Of course, if you want to go full on with a soundbar setup, such a system will cost you much more.
The soundbars vs. speakers debate often stresses that the overall audio quality isn’t the biggest strength of the former. Soundbars have certain limitations since the same device does all the amplification and audio processing, all in a small case. It is thus not uncommon for more affordable devices to distort the sound at high volumes.
Another downside of soundbars is that they can’t usually be upgraded. If you decide to turn your soundbar into a surround sound system, you’ll most likely have to outright replace it with a new 5.1 soundbar (with rear speakers, a dialogue speaker in the center, and a bass subwoofer), instead of just purchasing a few extra speakers.
Finally, soundbars can sometimes interfere with your TV’s remote control signal. If you have a soundbar, you may need to use the soundbar’s remote instead of your TV’s remote to adjust the volume. Or, simply put, the soundbar can physically block the TV’s infrared receiver if it’s installed too close.
Overview of Speaker Systems
A speaker is a type of audio system that uses one or more drivers to convert electrical signals into sound waves. Usually housed in a wooden box, the speakers can be part of a bigger audio system, modular or even standalone with an internal battery.
This is the most flexible sound setup that you can purchase for your home and is more advanced than the soundbar for TV. Speakers come in all shapes and sizes - from 2.0 stereo systems for gamers, to massive surround sound setups with multiple speakers and, sometimes, more than one subwoofer.
They can also be self-contained systems or something you need to connect to an AV receiver to take full advantage of. It’s the only way to create a proper, immersive home theater experience, especially if you build a system with Dolby Atmos support.
Of course, modern speaker systems come with all sorts of connection types and Bluetooth support, so each of your devices can output sound through them.
The biggest advantage of speakers is that they generally provide better quality sound than soundbars. If you're looking for the best possible audio experience at home, you’ll probably be better off with a speaker system.
Speakers also come in a variety of setups - from small desktop speakers, to 2.1 entry systems, all the way to surround sound speakers where each individual speaker receives a different audio feed. It has become common to purchase individual speakers and then connect them all into a surround sound setup.
This also means it’s easier to upgrade them compared to a soundbar system, especially if you’ve got an AV receiver or similar routing device. With speakers, you don’t have to replace everything to get better audio quality; just find the weakest link in the system and upgrade it.
Of course, we can’t talk about speakers vs. soundbars without looking at the other side of the coin - the disadvantages of getting a speaker system instead of going with a soundbar.
For starters, speakers are usually quite large and can take up a lot of space. On top of that, you have to figure out all the wiring well before you install any speakers. A full surround sound system can easily turn your home into a cable spaghetti. You may solve this with a wireless subwoofer or a fully wireless sound system, but it’s not a cheap alternative to dealing with cables.
Another downside of speakers is that they can be quite difficult to set up. Most speaker systems require multiple wires and connections, which can be tricky to manage. This is especially important to remember if you’re making a home theater or simply want to have multiple devices outputting their sound through the speakers.
There’s also a matter of price. A good speaker system can easily cost several times more than a solid soundbar. While the simple desktop speakers or wireless speakers that you can carry outdoors tend to be dirt cheap, anything more advanced will ring up a hefty price.
Speakers vs. Soundbar: The Final Showdown
So, we’ve gone through both types of audio systems. We’ve seen how each of them works, where they excel, but also what the downsides of each of them are. Are soundbars better than speakers, then? As you can see, the answer isn’t as straightforward as it may initially seem.
Both systems are great under certain conditions. They each have their application, so it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll go with a soundbar, a stereo speaker setup, or build a fully fledged home theater system. Ultimately, as long as you get quality sound out of your system, it doesn’t matter how “professional” your system really is.
Frequently Asked Questions
Like with many things in tech, it’s all about what you’re looking for and how much money you’re willing to spend on an audio upgrade. If we’re talking about entry models, then soundbars are the clear winner. But, even basic stereo speakers for TV can prove better than purchasing a soundbar due to superior sound quality. That is, if you don’t mind cables going around the room.
Yes, the soundbar is a speaker, so it’s possible to use it instead of speakers for your TV, laptop, or pretty much any device. Of course, the exact usage may vary depending on the capabilities of the soundbar you get.
Yes, at its basic level, the soundbar is just another speaker. But, a modern soundbar usually has more than one speaker inside, so it’s a fully fledged system.
In our soundbar vs. speakers comparison, the main reasons for purchasing a soundbar are the low entry price, compact design, and ease of use. Soundbars are pretty much plug’n’play devices nowadays.
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With a degree in humanities and a knack for the history of tech, Jovan was always interested in how technology shapes both us as human beings and our social landscapes. When he isn't binging on news and trying to predict the latest tech fads, you may find him trapped within the covers of a generic 80s cyberpunk thriller.