Full Surround Speakers or Soundbar? How to Choose.
The introduction of flat panel televisions around the turn of the century has opened up all kinds of new places we can put our televisions. As TV's have gotten thinner and thinner (and less expensive) they are winding up in more places than ever. One side effect of thinner TV's is far less room for speakers than ever before. It's just about impossible to understand what people are saying on a current TV due to the lack of space for speakers bigger than a quarter!
As they say, where there is a problem, some see an opportunity and we've seen a huge increase in the number of soundbars on the market. So what is a soundbar? Its a small speaker that contains the critical center channel dialog speaker, left and right, and sometimes even effects speakers to create a sense of space. Soundbars are typically about the width of a TV and thin enough to hang on a wall. Some are totally self contained with amplifiers for all the speakers, while some require an audio/video receiver to drive them. Most recommend the addition of a separate subwoofer.
So when is a soundbar a good choice? If you are limited on space and/or cost is part of the equation, a soundbar can be a great choice. Especially for areas where the TV viewing is more about catching the news or sports they are fantastic. Most soundbars do a pretty good job of making the dialog track clear and easy to understand. They can hang on the wall and with a self contained one, very little space is taken up with equipment. Add a subwoofer and you'll have powerful bass to make action movies more fun.
However, just like the flat panel TV's, soundbars are constrained on space. This does put a limitation of the size of the speakers which has an impact on the ultimate quality of sound reproduction. If you plan to use your system to enjoy movies, we highly recommend a good, separate speaker system. Here's why: Ask any movie producer what the goal of a movie is and they will tell you its the “suspension of disbelief”. This happens when, while enjoying the movie, you are totally enveloped in the film. You can only have this occur when the picture is great (and big!) and the sound is really good. Yes, a soundbar can improve dialog by a million times over a TV speaker, but they are just not large enough to have speakers that not only let you understand the dialog, but sense the emotion in the voice. There is also the issue of dynamic impact. When an explosion hits with a good speaker system, you can feel it through all the channels. Dynamic content on soundbars pales in comparison.
It really comes down to your home and how you plan to use the system(s). You may have one TV location with little space. If that is the case, a great soundbar will enhance your experience by a mile. Or you may have room for better speakers. If so, consider a separate speaker system. Another case may be where you have a room for a dedicated home theater where its obvious to do a great speaker system, but the family room is used for catching the news or sports and it makes perfect sense to use a soundbar for that room. Soundbars are also extremely popular for bedroom TV's.
Whatever your choice and needs, we have lots of options available for you and the expertise to help you decide which option is best.