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Speakers or a soundbar? What should you go for?

While in many ways it’s great that TVs are becoming thinner and thinner, there’s no doubt this is having an impact on the audio quality they deliver. Luckily for us, there are a few ways to upgrade the sonic performance of our television by connecting it to dedicated speakers or soundbars.

Although both options will definitely improve your listening experience, there are many differences between speakers and soundbars in terms of audio quality, setup requirements, and price.

Today, we’ll analyse the main differences between speakers and soundbars, highlight their pros and cons, and give you enough information to identify which one is the right choice for your needs.

Let’s dive in!

Behind the insights

Marco Sebastiano Alessi, author and contributor at Higher Hz

I’ve been a musician, audiophile, and record label owner for over a decade, and dedicated most of my adult life to searching for the best way to experience audio in every format.

My research includes sound design and studying audio systems that can reproduce audio with clarity and transparency, immersing the listener in the soundscape.

Speakers and soundbar: definitions

Both speakers and soundbars are commonly used to enhance the audio quality of home theaters. However, the way they look and sound is fundamentally different.

I’m sure you’re familiar with what a speaker looks like! To upgrade your TV’s sound, all you have to do is get a pair of speakers and a receiver, connect them to your television and bring to life an immersive surround sound for your movie nights.

home theater speaker system
Image: Terence Joy

If you want to achieve an optimal sonic experience, you might want to add a subwoofer to your upgraded audio system.

Soundbars are an excellent solution for people looking for simplicity and attractive design. These are long loudspeakers that can be placed right in front of your television and easily connected through the HDMI input slot.

Compared to a standard speaker setup, soundbars are handy, affordable, plug-and-play devices – ideal for those looking for an all-in-one solution to elevate the audio quality of a home theater.

Speakers’ pros and cons

A pair of speakers can bring to life an enveloping sound no soundbar can match. The sonic texture is richer and more refined, and being the speakers placed in different parts of your room, they deliver a surround sound that can change the way you experience movies.

On the other hand, setting up a speaker system is more expensive than just getting a soundbar. While you can buy a soundbar for $100/$200, you won’t find a pair of good speakers for less than $200.

On top of that, you’ll need to buy a receiver (another $200 at least), cables, and speaker stands. You might end up spending four or five times more than a soundbar, so think carefully about what you want to achieve with your TV audio system before opting for a pair of speakers.

What I like

  • Great, immersive sound.
  • Endlessly customizable sound system.

What I don’t like

  • More expensive.
  • Steeper learning curve.

Soundbar pros and cons

Soundbars are the best solutions for those who want to improve the audio of their home theater without delving into the intricacies of sound systems: they sound good, are affordable, and are extremely easy to use.

You can get a great soundbar for $200, but many good models are available at around $100. With a small investment, you can truly change the sonic experience of your home theater.

TV and soundbar
Image: Jonas Leupe

Contrary to a speaker system, there’s little you can do to upgrade a soundbar to improve the audio quality. There are some soundbars that allow you to add rear-channel speakers and a subwoofer to enhance the audio quality. However, these add-ons are not cheap, and the sonic experience offered by a speaker system would still be superior.

Often, all you can do is replace it and get a better one or get a subwoofer to capture lower frequencies. If you’re creating an audio system with the idea of upgrading it in the future, it will make more sense to start saving for a speaker system.

What I like

  • Cheaper.
  • Easier to install.
  • Less bulky.

What I don’t like

  • Lower audio quality than speakers.
  • Harder to upgrade.

Why choose speakers?

You should go for speakers if your budget allows, and your interest in great audio quality justifies the extra cost and learning curve these audio systems require.

If you’re an audiophile watching concerts on your TV, then you should definitely go for a speaker system. The same goes for gamers and cinephiles who want to achieve a truly immersive experience.

In my opinion, once you start appreciating the sonic features in visual content, you develop a taste for high-quality audio, meaning you’ll want to upgrade your gear over time. If this rings a bell, then start saving some extra money to build your sound system.

Another crucial aspect is that, with a speaker system, you’re not tied to a unique manufacturer: once you define the type of sound you want to achieve, you can get Sony speakers, a KEF subwoofer, and a JBL receiver, so long as you ensure the models compatible with each other – something you can’t do with soundbars.

Why choose a soundbar?

You should choose a soundbar if you’re on a budget but still want to improve your home theater. They’re also great if you don’t have much space in the room, and many people appreciate the minimalist and unobtrusive design.

You can install a soundbar in seconds, and it’ll undoubtedly change the way you experience movies. I’d recommend soundbars to anyone who isn’t tech-savvy and obsessed with transparent sonic reproduction, but still wants more from their home audio system.

Once again, if you don’t need a stereo surround effect, or a perfect reproduction throughout the audio spectrum, soundbars offer great value for the money.

Once again, for your convenience, here’s a quick summarizing table:

Great, immersive sound.Lower audio quality.
Endlessly customizable system.Harder to upgrade.
Take significant space.Less bulky.
Steep learning curve.Easy to install.

Final thoughts

As always, it all comes down to budget and expectations. Soundbars can’t achieve the audio quality of speaker systems but are more affordable, so your first step should be to define what you aim to achieve by upgrading your home sound system.

Personally, I’d always go for speakers, but that’s simply because I’m already familiar with the technology, and I’ve learnt to appreciate the nuances an immersive system can deliver.

That doesn’t mean that soundbars don’t provide good-quality audio, but if the cinema-like enveloping sonic experience is what you’re looking for, then soundbars won’t satisfy your needs.

The flexibility and simplicity offered by soundbars attract many gamers and cinephiles, and rightly so: a small investment of money and time delivers a drastic improvement compared to your built-in TV speakers. Plus, you won’t have to worry about having bulky, expensive speakers in your room, which you might drop any day.

Happy listening!