A soundbar will most certainly come into the equation when you are thinking about upgrading the sound in your home. The convenience and affordability most certainly make it attractive, but will it match the sound quality of stereo speakers?
A soundbar can replace a stereo in certain scenarios. In a movie-focused sound setup, soundbars tend to deliver more crisp dialogues. For a quality music-listening experience, however, a set of stereo speakers will most likely deliver better results overall.
In this article, we’ll take a look at both sound systems and how they deliver sounds to help you make a more informed decision.
What Is a Soundbar?
A soundbar is a type of loudspeaker designed to project audio from a wide enclosure. They typically come in a wide enclosure that is short in height, with multiple speakers placed in one cabinet. The design of the bar means that it can be positioned just about anywhere in the space. Many people place them below the TV, accompanied by a subwoofer.
Soundbars come with a virtual surround sound functionality, which allows you to enjoy an immersive listening experience with needing special rear speakers. The overall design ensures that a typical soundbar can play sounds that may feel too big for its size.
How Do Soundbars Produce Sounds?
Soundbars deliver sounds by leveraging on multiple speaker drivers and bouncing sound waves off room walls. This allows them to make a good impression of surround sounds. The sound produced is not real surround sound, but unless you are fussy about your sound quality, you probably won’t notice.
This is especially true with newer models of soundbars, which typically come with Dolby Atmos functionality. For audiophiles, however, the soundbar technology is still not enough to replace a quality stereo setup with real surround sound.
What Is a Stereo Speaker?
Floor-standing or bookshelf stereos are loudspeakers designed to deliver very loud natural sounds and powerful bass. This is possible due to the large acoustic chambers housing the actual speakers. Floor-standing stereo speakers are best for living rooms or home cinemas while bookshelf stereos are best for smaller spaces.
How Do Stereo Speakers Produce Sound?
Stereo speakers tend to pack a lot of punch. They come with multiple speaker drivers, which allow them to produce high-quality sounds across a variety of frequency ranges. Floor-standing speakers with front and rear ports can deliver exceptional music and movie experiences, especially when paired with a subwoofer.
However, a quality stereo speaker setup can take up a lot of floor space. This is why more people are gravitating towards soundbars.
Soundbars vs. Stereo Speakers: Music & Movies
Soundbars can deliver value for money if you don’t really care about 100% perfect sounds all the time, but a music listening test will instantly show you that a stereo speaker system delivers a better overall experience. A solid speaker setup will deliver room-filling sounds in a way that most soundbars can’t truly match.
Pound for pound, two stereo speakers will almost certainly deliver better and louder music sounds than a soundbar and may cost less in some cases.
With movies, on the other hand, the roles are reversed. Soundbars tend to deliver crisper movie dialogues that can be heard from every corner of the room. This is especially true for soundbars that have Dolby Atmos technology.
With stereo speakers, the dialogue clarity worsens as you move further away from directly in front of the speakers—even worse when the stereo speaker is paired with deep subwoofers.
So, while stereo speakers take the crown when it comes to listening to music, soundbars have the edge when you want clear and uniform sounds when watching movies.
Which Should You Go For?
To determine if you should choose a soundbar or stereo speakers, here are some factors you should consider.
In an ideal world, you should have a soundbar accompanying a stereo speaker and subwoofer setup. However, if you have to choose, you should pay attention to your specific needs. If you listen to music more than you watch movies, then a soundbar can’t replace stereo speakers, as we have seen above.
If you are looking for a loudspeaker for your home cinema, on the other hand, a high-quality soundbar can perfectly replace stereo speakers.
How much are you willing to spend on your loudspeaker hunt? You can get a pair of high-powered bookshelf speakers from brands like Sony and Klipsch for less than $200. Good examples are the Sony SSCS5 and the Klipsch R-41M. Sub-$100 options like the Edifier R1280T and Polk Audio T15 can still deliver decent quality surround sound.
Quality soundbars that can deliver comparable or better sounds in relation to the speakers above will cost more than $200. The Samsung HW-T550 is a popular option for new soundbar enthusiasts. It is powerful, but still affordable.
Basically, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on new loudspeakers, you’re more likely to find a bargain with stereo speakers compared to soundbars. This is assuming that you are not looking to buy more than a pair of stereo speakers or trying to recreate a true surround sound setup. Otherwise, stereo speakers lose their price advantage.
Soundbars are very compact. In many cases, you get only one bar and a subwoofer. This makes them an excellent choice if you just want to plug in and enjoy your sounds without worrying about which speakers should go where.
Stereo systems, on the other hand, require some setting-up time. This is especially true if you want to create a perfect surround sound system.
You’ll need to match the speakers to a compatible amplifier or receiver, ensuring that the power outputs match properly. This is before you then spend some time on fine-tuning. The complexity of the setup process won’t appeal to everyone.
For the best experience with stereo speakers, you’ll need to find space for up to five speakers and a subwoofer. You also need to ensure you live in an environment where you won’t have to deal with constant noise complaints. There’s also the small matter of hiding the wires that will have to crisscross the room.
A soundbar that is Dolby Atmos-enabled and has upward-firing speakers takes care of these problems. It won’t give you the quality you can enjoy from surround-sound stereo speakers, but they come pretty close and will deliver an immersive experience, especially when watching movies. You definitely don’t need to rearrange your space to install one either.
Whether you choose floor-standing or bookshelf speakers, you won’t get more than the brick housing the speakers and the wires for connectivity to the amplifier or receiver. Modern soundbars, on the other hand, come with lots of features including Bluetooth or Wireless technology, memory slots for your hard drives or memory sticks and more.
So, if you want a smart loudspeaker system you can control from your mobile phone, a soundbar will always win—thanks to the integrated design.
Quality sound means different things for different people. Therefore, choosing between soundbars and stereo speakers will always be subjective. While hardcore audiophiles will be more skeptical about choosing a soundbar and losing control over the quality of their sounds, casual or everyday users—especially the movie-loving crowd—will most likely be happy with a soundbar system.
So, you’ll have to answer the question on your own by deciding just how involved you want to be with setting up your sound system and what qualifies as excellent sound to you. This way, you can be sure of making the right decision in the end.