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When you’re setting up your entertainment system, the question of soundbar vs home theater may come up, especially if you’re looking to have surround sound as part of your viewing experience. The finest soundbar, for some, may still be a lesser choice, while others will find it the best choice based on budget and ease of installation.
Like the question of a premium soundbar vs bookshelf speakers, the more you know about the benefits and drawbacks of both, the better choice you can make as a consumer.
The differences between soundbars and home theater aren’t subtle; one option offers superior sound while another offers convenience and a lower price point. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice can be difficult if you’re not knowledgeable about how each works.
Where all other things are equal, home theater speakers, and bookshelf speakers, for that matter, will pretty much always offer superior audio quality and a better listening experience to modern soundbars or even the greatest in-wall speakers.
If you’re not planning on using surround sound and audiophile-level sound quality isn’t a must, a Soundbar 3.0 is a far more economical and convenient choice over a home theater setup.
With larger bodies, larger drivers, and generally larger cones, they offer wider and deeper frequency response without the bass attenuation that even expensive soundbars suffer from, even though many come with a dedicated subwoofer. That doesn’t mean quality sound isn’t available in soundbars, however.
Soundbars have the edge here easily since they require little in the way of installation besides connecting them to your Smart TV. Beyond that, they take up far less room than a home theater system’s surround speakers, have more built-in connectivity options like Bluetooth, often come with sound imaging technology like Dolby Atmos, and surround sound is more or less plug-and-play for Soundbar 5.0 and newer. Wireless Subwoofers and center speakers also come included in many models.
When it comes to cost, Soundbars again have the edge. Even a mid-sized home theater speaker system could set you back hundreds of dollars — and significantly more if you want to run surround sound and need rear speakers or additional speakers of any sort.
Conversely, you can buy a good quality soundbar 3.0 with three-channel dialogue-optimized sound and a center channel speaker for under $150. Even some soundbar 5.0 models with surround capability can be found at this price point though at budget quality.
Here’s where sound quality becomes the main question. Is the inferior sound quality of a soundbar justified by its significantly lower price? If not, how much are you willing to spend? If you want surround options, you’re going to have to expand your budget considerably.
Though they’re more expensive due to their superior sound, home theater setups tend to have fewer connectivity options and are more difficult to set up than Soundbars.
What are Home Theater Speakers?
Home theater speakers are similar to bookshelf-style speakers and generally come in sets designed to allow for surround sound. This means that instead of two speakers for stereo playback, a home theater set generally has four to five, meant to be placed around a room for surround playback.
Can a good Soundbar equal the sound quality of a true Surround System?
Generally speaking, no. A soundbar 5.0 is designed for surround sound and is easy to set up for this purpose, but a soundbar of any kind will generally have smaller drivers than home theater speakers. Moreover, being encased in a smaller package also negatively affects bass response, meaning, just as with in-wall vs. bookshelf speakers, even a high-end soundbar will still have inferior sound to a comparable home theater or bookshelf speaker setup. Keep in mind that the best in-wall speakers will have the same issues.
Are Soundbars an upgrade from built-in TV speakers?
The answer is almost always going to be yes. As TVs have gotten slimmer and slimmer, TV speaker drivers and the enclosures have gotten smaller and smaller, and less able to provide a good bass response or sound image clarity, and tend to distort at their highest volumes. Soundbars, while inferior to bookshelf speakers in terms of performance, is still a step up, especially since most come with a subwoofer to provide more bass response.
STAT: The first dynamic speaker was introduced to the world in 1925. (source)