Soundbar vs Bookshelf Speakers

Jed Smith Profile image

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Updated July 27, 2022

One of the central debates about modern consumer audio products is soundbar vs bookshelf speakers. The best speakers for your system could be either, depending on your specific needs, so there are some things you’ll need to understand about both before making your decision.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Bookshelf speakers have more flexibility and versatility when it comes to placement and installation.
  • Soundbars tend to be more feature-rich than bookshelf speakers, especially when it comes to connectivity and surround sound functionality.
  • The higher price point of bookshelf speakers mostly has to do with their superior sound quality compared to soundbars.

While you’re at it, you may want to look into the differences between soundbar 3.1 vs. 5.1. You also might read up on soundbar vs. home theater.

Soundbar vs Bookshelf Speakers

Soundbars and bookshelf speakers are both popular options when it comes to consumer speakers, with a wide range of features and price points. They’ve got major differences, though, regarding functionality, sound, ease of installation, style, and connectivity, not to mention price.

Insider Tip

Most bookshelf speakers can be connected to most TVs, though a DAC may be required depending on connections available on both.

Sound Quality

Bookshelf speakers generally have better sound quality than Soundbars, with larger speaker drivers and actual speaker cabinets. There are soundbars designed to offer premium sound quality, especially in 3.1 and 5.1 models. The latter is designed for surround sound and newer surround tech like Dolby Atmos, while most models include a wireless subwoofer for a better low-end response. Still, overall you’ll probably notice a slightly thinner sound with a lower noise floor.

Versatility & Connectivity

This one’s a little closer. Bookshelf speakers have the advantage of being placed wherever you prefer. They’ve also got the advantage of being very modular, meaning a pair of bookshelf speakers can easily be connected to a variety of different components and audio sources. Lastly, while it’s not necessarily standard, many models come with connectivity options like Bluetooth or Smart TV integration- though it’s less common than with soundbars.

Conversely, soundbars are designed specifically to be connected to TVs and are limited in terms of installation location but often offer more connectivity options and more advanced features like surround sound or dialogue boost. On the balance, bookshelf speakers have a slight advantage, but options like surround sound will require buying additional speakers, whereas even Soundbar 3.1 models include a center channel speaker.

Warning

Soundbars generally have inferior sound to comparable bookshelf speakers and a narrower frequency range.

Price

Bookshelf speakers are generally more expensive than soundbars, which is in no small part due to their high-quality sound and larger drivers. Both soundbar and bookshelf speakers are available at a wide price range, but on the lower end, you may get a few more features- in terms of connectivity especially- out of soundbars. Soundbars have the edge here by a small margin.

STAT: A typical frequency range for soundbars is 70hz to 19KHz. (source)

F.A.Q.S

What is DAC, and does it matter?

A DAC or digital-to-analog converter is a device or component that takes an analog audio signal from a record player or even a microphone and converts it to a digital signal. DACs are often built into soundbars and other digital audio devices so that they can play audio from analog sources like older TVs.


Are bookshelf speakers better than a soundbar?

Bookshelf speakers generally have better audio quality than soundbars, whether passive or powered speakers. Still, there are several reasons why a soundbar might be a better choice for some. 5.1 soundbars, for example, are capable of surround sound out of the box, while you’d need to multiple buy bookshelf speakers for such a setup, but again it depends on what you want out of your audio experience.


Is it possible to connect bookshelf speakers to a television?

Yes, depending on the connection types available on both your TV and your speakers, you should be able to use your bookshelf speakers easily with your TV. However, the small majority of even newer TVs and Smart TVs still have analog audio connections in addition to newer digital connections like optical input. Older speaker models using RCA or other older connection types may require the use of a DAC or digital-analog converter to connect to a modern TV.


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