Home Theater or Soundbar? Learn How to Decide

If you love watching movies or listening to music on your TV, then you may want to get the best sound experience. However, most TVs don’t have the best speakers. Inbuilt TV speakers are usually weak in terms of power. They hardly deliver full-range sound. You’ll only get mid-range vocals without any bass or highs. As such, you may want to upgrade your TV sound by investing in an external speaker system.

You can choose between investing in a home theater system and a soundbar. Both options are great for enhanced sound experience from a television set. However, which is better between the two options? It can be quite confusing to choose between a home theater vs a soundbar. Read on through this article to learn how to decide between these two amazing sound systems.

Learning the Difference:

First and foremost, you need to know the difference between a home theater and a soundbar:

What’s a Home Theater?

To start with, a home theater can be described as a set of electronic devices that recreate the experience of watching a theater film at home. When you watch a movie or listen to music using this system, you get a more immersed experience than using the inbuilt TV speakers. The system makes it possible to hear dialogue and sound effects all around you. A home theater system comprises of several speakers that are spread out throughout the listening space. As such, you get to hear different sections of a soundtrack coming from different parts of the space. As a result, you get more involved in the film or music such that you’ll feel you’re part of it, just like you’d feel in a real theatre. Thus, the idea behind home theatres is recreating a theatre experience using a home sound system.

What’s a Soundbar?

On the other hand, a soundbar is a compact sound system that is basically built to enhance the sound of a TV set. Due to their compact design, soundbars take little space and are easy to set up. Just like the name suggests, a soundbar is slim and long. It comprises of a number of individual speakers that are built side by side into one lengthy bar. A soundbar comes as one unit while others come with a separate subwoofer for enhanced bass.

Which is better between a home theater and a soundbar?

To discuss this question, it’ll help to start with knowing the arguments for both options. This way, you’ll get to know which option would be best for your needs and personal preferences.

Arguments for a Home Theater System

i. Enhanced surround sound

Home theater systems outperform soundbars when it comes to surround sound. A home theater comprises of multiple speakers and a subwoofer. The most basic set up comprises of 5 speakers and one dedicated subwoofer. The speakers are arranged in front, behind, and on the sides of your listening spot. As such, you’re surrounded with sound throughout the listening room.

For instance, when a speaker on the left side of your TV is speaking, you’ll hear the sound more from the left speaker. Similarly, a person speaking on the right side of the TV will be heard more on the right speaker. The speaker at the center of the surround sound set up anchors the audio from both the right and left speakers. It’s specially designed to play the front sound effects and dialogue to make them feel like they’re emerging from the center area of the TV instead of the sides.

On a similar note, the speaker unit behind the listener plays background noise in a film such as sounds from motorbikes, cars, rushing water, helicopters, and more. The back speaker also gives a feeling of movement together with the front speaker such that you’ll hear the sound of movement starting from the front and moving right behind you. As such, a home theater set up makes you feel like you’re part of a film or music for it delivers surround sound.

ii. Enhanced options for customization

With a home theater, you can place speakers wherever you want throughout the room. Since the system comes as separate component speakers, you can set each component where you find best. You can even build your own home theater system by buying the different components according to your budget. For instance, you can start with the front speakers and the receiver. Upon getting more money to spend on your music system, you can add a dedicated subwoofer and rear speakers. With time, you can add speakers that face upwards for enhanced sound experience.

When setting up your customized home theater, you can buy different components from different manufacturers. For instance, you might be preferring a subwoofer from a specific brand and you want front speakers from another brand. This is quite possible with a customized home theater set up.

In addition, home theater receivers come with multiple ports, making it possible to hook them up with almost all the most common audio devices. You’ll also have more HDMI ports than you would have on a soundbar. This way, you can hook up multiple devices and choose the source you want without setting up the devices a fresh. You just hook them up once and that’s it.

iii. Adjusting the best listening spot

With a home theater, you can adjust the listening spot anyhow you want. You can place the speakers wherever you want in the space. You basically have multiple listening spot and angle the speakers however you want to customize the listening spots. As for a soundbar, you can only have one listening spot, which is usually around the TV area.

iv. Enhanced frequency response

Home theaters come as 5.1, 7.2 or even custom surround sound systems. They usually have more drivers, woofers, and cabinet space working hand in hand to deliver a more accurate frequency response. They create more accurate sound than what a soundbar can do. As such, you’ll get to enjoy the best highs, mid-range, and lows. You can also customize the frequencies to your preference better than you can with a soundbar.

Arguments for a Soundbar

i. Takes little space

A soundbar is extremely compact. It’s designed for placement below the TV. It can also be mounted near the TV on a wall. The drivers in a soundbar are all built into one bar. Thus, it takes very little space, unlike a home theatre that takes more room around a space. Actually, it’s hardly noticeable due to its compactness. You’ll just enjoy good sound without focusing on where it’s coming from, thereby enhancing your concentration on a film or music.

ii. Doesn’t clutter a room

Since a soundbar takes less space in a room than a home theater, it doesn’t clutter a room. It makes the room look clean and neat. Moreover, no much wiring is needed such that there’re no cables that will be scattered all over the space. Home theaters may clutter a room, especially where you are connecting them with wires. With a home theater, you’ll be forced to find ways to conceal the cabling to de-clutter the space and make it look neater.

iii. Easy to install

Using a soundbar is as easy as plug and play. You simply hook it up to your TV using a cable or wirelessly with Bluetooth. As such, you’ll find it extremely easy to use, especially when you don’t like dealing with cables and complex sound system setup processes. As for a home theater, you have to hook up multiple speakers and program the receiver to equalize sound accordingly. Home theaters also demand special speaker placement to sound great, and this may not be easy for some people to set up.

iv. Affordable

Soundbars are more affordable than home theaters. Thus, if your budget is extremely tight, yet you still want to improve your TV sound, then you’d rather go for a soundbar since you’ll spend less on it than a home theater.

Choosing Between a Home Theater and a Soundbar

Now that you have learnt some arguments against both options, which is the better one? Well, it all depends on the kind of sound experience you want. If you’re looking for great sound for daily TV viewership, then a soundbar would be the best option. Every day TV viewership such as news, sports, documentaries, TV shows and other such daily TV needs only require regular stereo sound. A soundbar can offer perfect stereo sound for regular TV viewership where surround sound is not a major importance. Moreover, if you want some bass, you can go for a soundbar that comes with a subwoofer to enjoy more bass with your regular TV viewership.

In case you want enhanced film, music, and gaming experience, then you should go for a home theater system. The best film, music and gaming experience demands a speaker system with surround sound. A home theater is able to deliver the best surround sound, better than a soundbar. Home theaters are also more booming than soundbars and deliver better sound effects.

Conclusion

Home theater systems and soundbars have their own benefits and shortcomings. Each option is better than the other in certain aspects. As such, each option is a great choice for enhancing the sound experience you get from your TV. Thus, it can be concluded that both options are great choices and the ultimate choice to make should be based on your needs. For instance, if you want better sound for regular TV watching, then a soundbar will be the best choice. If you want enhanced sound for watching films and gaming, then a home theater would be your best bet. If you are still confused you may also read: Center Channel Speaker vs. Passive Soundbar; Different or the Same.

Michael Evanchuk
 

Michael Evanchuk is a San Francisco-based sound engineer with 20 years’ experience installing, troubleshooting, and repairing commercial, automotive, and household sound equipment. Evanchuk owns an auto stereo center, where he offers highly competitive car audio installation and repair services. He has written dozens of articles on different sound engineering topics, all of which have been published in leading journals, blogs, and websites. He enjoys swimming and boat riding during his leisure time.

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