If you want the best sound for your TV, you’ll need to invest in a full-blown surround-sound system. Those have five or more speakers with a sub-woofer, allowing the best possible audio performance out of a TV.
Of course, the reality is that – for many – that just isn’t a practical option. That’s where soundbars come in.
Why You Should Consider a Soundbar
Soundbars are cheaper than a surround system and they certainly offer better sound quality than your TV’s built-in speakers.
Yet even with soundbars, you still can’t beat the quality of the more expensive options out there. In fact, some soundbar setups will cost you nearly $1,000.
The question is, are these soundbar systems worth the investment? Many home theater experts would say no, but we think they’re missing the point. That’s because, for us, soundbars are more than just about sound quality.
A Simpler Setup
Soundbars are simpler – and that’s something many out there prefer. Setting up a soundbar requires less fuss and detailed attention. You plug the soundbar into a socket, connect it to your TV, and switch it on. That’s it.
True, you’ll occasionally encounter issues like audio delays and such. Those will require some fiddling and fixing. But those issues are largely dependent on your soundbar and your TV.
Chances are, you’ll run into issues setting up a bigger, more complex speaker system, too. And those demand far more work from the beginning.
A full-blown sound system comes with a receiver, speaker wires – and more labor. The more components you need to set up, the greater the chances of something going awry. That’s especially true if you need to run cables through the wall for your rear channels.
Shopping for the speakers themselves will be a bit of a challenge. Choosing a speaker system tends to be more complicated thanks to its usually piecemeal nature.
Cleaner Lines and Aesthetics
A simple soundbar setup offers an aesthetic advantage over a surround-sound system, as well. A speaker setup adds more clutter to your room no matter how many speakers you choose to use.
While that might sound like a thin argument, that’s not how many see it. Some homeowners simply prefer a simpler, almost minimalist look to their appliances. Here a soundbar beats a speaker system hands-down.
In most cases, a soundbar requires one power cord and a couple of HDMI cables. Soundbars that come with a subwoofer or rear speakers usually connect to them wirelessly. Those might require a nearby wall outlet – but that’s all.
You can also easily fit your soundbar on a small table with no other gear cluttering the space. You get the cleanest look possible.
The same can’t be said with a speaker system’s bulky receiver. You’ll need to decide where to position two to three speakers in the front, too. Then you’ll need to deal with multiple runs of speaker cables.
Sure, it’s possible – but difficult. Remember, the smaller your speakers, the more you begin to lose that advantage in the quality of the sound.
There is also the unavoidable fact that the decision is rarely yours alone. The more components you add, the less likely your spouse or roommate will be amenable to your audio arrangement.
The enthusiast in you may want a full 5.1 system. But others in the household may not share your enthusiasm. A high-end soundbar can be an excellent compromise, especially if you live in a small apartment.
The Cost-Benefit Curve
Then, of course, there is the entirely separate matter of the price. There are soundbars in just about every bracket. Some compare to speakers more or less favorably. That makes a smart cost comparison difficult.
There are some inexpensive 5.1 speaker sets out there, but the cost of a receiver increases the price significantly. A low-end soundbar is probably going to be cheaper for those on a budget.
For example, Visio’s fairly decent V series 5.1 speaker system will cost you around $250. You’ll have difficulty finding a cheaper, decent-quality speaker system unless you’re prepared to buy used gear. (But then, if you choose that route, you’ll find used soundbars on Craigslist, too!)
Be that as it may, the higher your budget, the more complicated a cost-benefit analysis becomes.
Midrange soundbars like Samsung’s T650 will cost you just about as much as speakers with a receiver. Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbars like the Vizio Elevate almost certainly build a better-sounding speaker system for the price.
There are also persuasive in-between options. For instance, there is the Enclave Cinehome II wireless 5.1 system.
The Bottom Line
None of this says that soundbars are better than Dolby Atmos overheads and a well-calibrated receiver. If you love high-quality audio, you’ll have a tough time finding a soundbar that outperforms a great surround-sound system.
The stereo separation you get from speakers spaced farther apart gives you a wide soundstage most soundbars cannot replicate. The larger drivers of a speaker system produce a richer sound, too.
Ultimately, you need to look at how much you’re willing to spend even as you consider both approaches. Because you’re not just considering sound quality against price here. You’re looking at the entire package.
True, it’s hard to beat the sound of a well-built surround system. But the clean look and simplicity of a soundbar can be a significant advantage, as well.
So, consider your budget, consider your space, and pay attention to your spouse’s face when you offer different suggestions.
If you can make a full speaker system work, we highly recommend it. But if that sounds like too much trouble, high-end soundbars are excellent, too.
You’ll just be paying a bit extra for simplicity. Often enough, that can be a good thing, too.