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Soundbars vs. Speaker Systems: Which is better for your audio setup?

Comparing soundbars and speaker systems 

Have you ever found yourself frantically searching for the remote to turn the volume down? This usually happens when a TV show or movie switches from dialogue to music. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence for at-home viewers who use their built-in speakers. Although built-in speaker technology has improved over the years, the speakers still often point down and away from the viewer, making dialogue difficult to understand even at high volume. 

Thankfully, a solid soundbar or surround sound system can eliminate sudden volume variations and transform your listening experience. While both soundbars and speaker systems offer premium sound, the major difference between the two is that soundbars are all-in-one speakers and surround sound systems include multiple individual speakers. Here’s how to choose the right soundbar or speaker for your budget and space. 

Is a soundbar worth it? 

The soundbar was designed for customers who wanted a clutter-free entertainment setup in their homes. Specifically, those who wanted an ultra-thin TV and great sound without a wired speaker system. Because of the soundbar, people can now listen to music and movies in their homes, no matter how big or small their space is.

A soundbar is a hybrid between a compact built-in speaker and a large surround sound system. Soundbars take all of the tweeters, subwoofers and drivers normally found in a surround sound system and combine them into an individual ‘bar.’ Today, many soundbars are wireless, making them the go-to choice for those interested in a simple sound solution. 

Like all speakers, soundbars have a wide price range, with some top-of-the-line models costing well over $1,000. The cost depends on brand, features and connectivity options. However, you can get a good quality, affordable soundbar for as little as $120. 

Soundbar pros

Soundbars are more budget-friendly compared to speaker systems. And they don’t require advanced audio knowledge for installation and operation. Unlike surround sound systems, soundbars are entirely self-contained and don’t require additional products such as speaker wire and receivers. This makes them ideal for smaller rooms.  

One of the most appealing features of modern soundbars is their versatility. Many offer built-in access to streaming services via Bluetooth and WiFi, so you can jam out to your favorite tunes

when the TV isn’t in use. Plus, WiFi capability makes linking them to other speakers in your house a breeze.

Soundbar cons

Stand-alone soundbars are great space savers, but they can’t produce the same sound quality as a surround sound system. Even a basic speaker system with a subwoofer can outshine a soundbar. Similarly, soundbars are not as well-suited for large, open spaces.

Lastly, soundbars don’t offer as many sound customization options as speaker systems, which limits how much you can hone in on your preferred equalization. 

Best soundbar 

Samsung HW-S60A All-in-One soundbar

What you need to know: This premium, all-in-one soundbar has two built-in woofers and a tweeter, allowing you to push out big sound without a big price tag. 

What you’ll love: The Samsung HW-S60A is packed with convenient technology such as voice control, Wifi, Bluetooth and HDMI connectivity. The HW-S60A is designed to fill the room with immersive 3D sound without taking up a lot of space. This soundbar has a meticulously placed center speaker that works with the side horn to produce crystal clear dialogue amidst disruptive background audio.

What you should consider: Although the HS-S60A offers better bass than most all-in-one soundbars, it still lacks the thundering bass you’d find in a surround sound system. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Is a speaker system worth it?

Any true audiophile will tell you that a surround sound speaker system is the only way to go if you want immersive, studio-quality sound. With a receiver-based system, you have complete control over your sound and dedicated settings for everything from bass and treble to mids and highs. 

Unlike a soundbar, speaker systems split multichannel audio into individual speakers. The end result is a three-dimensional soundscape that brings you inside of what you’re listening to. This amplifies dialogue without sounding artificial and enhances vital background effects, such as explosions, chase scenes and crowds noises.

Speaker system pros

Speaker systems can fill any sized room with meticulously engineered layers of sound. Improved bass depth and dialogue clarity are just the beginning of what a speaker system can offer. 

If you’re willing to invest in your setup, you can also get speaker systems that look like art pieces, such as the Bang & Olufsen Beosound 1 multi-room speakers or the Harman Kardon SoundSticks.

Speaker system cons

Even simple dual-speaker systems are expensive, and high-quality home theatres can cost into the thousands. And they often require expert assistance to set up. 

Speaker systems often sacrifice style for performance, so you may have to deal with large, potentially intrusive speakers for a full system. Furthermore, the sheer number of speakers needed to outfit a 5.1 channel system makes them cumbersome and difficult to decorate. 

Best speaker system 

Fluance Elite High Definition speaker system

What you need to know: The Fluance Elite speaker system is ideal for those making their first foray into high-definition surround sound systems. 

What you’ll love: The Fluance Elite speaker system delivers dynamic, premium sound from its dual tower speakers, dual rear bookshelf speakers and center driver. It can handle top-of-the-line sound software such as Dolby Surround to maximize performance at any volume. This system also comes in a variety of lovely finishes such as natural walnut and black ash, so they easily integrate into your space. To top it all off, the Fluance Elite is backed by a lifetime parts and labor warranty. 

What you should consider: The Fluance package doesn’t come with an AV receiver or dedicated subwoofer, which raises the cost of completing the system. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Should you get a soundbar or speaker system?

If you want to make your first audio upgrade, a quality soundbar won’t fail you. Soundbars are designed for ease of use, maximum value for money, and versatility. Because of this, they are ideal for people who want a simple, everyday solution. 

On the other hand, if you have the interest and you’re lucky enough to have the space and budget, you can’t beat the sound from a full speaker system. Many find the complexity and sophistication of a high-definition system intriguing and make a hobby out of their purchase. 

In the end, what matters most is deciding your level of involvement with the installment, use and maintenance of your audio upgrade.


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William Briskin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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