What Is a Soundbar? [Everything You Need To Know]

Georgi Karaivanov
Georgi Karaivanov

Updated · Oct 16, 2022

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Nowadays, home theater systems are all the rage. But they’re not for everyone. They tend to be expensive and require a ton of free space and many cables to set up. For many, however, the unparalleled sound quality of a home theater system is worth the cost. But what if you want something more manageable? This is where soundbars come in.

What is a soundbar? Simply put, it’s the middle ground between a TV’s built-in speakers and a home theater system. Our guide addresses the advantages and drawbacks of these devices and why you might want one.

What Is a Soundbar?

A soundbar is a relatively small (yet wide) speaker system that functions as a replacement for a TV’s built-in speakers, enhancing its sound. Soundbars generate much better sound quality than a TV on its own. Most soundbars, however, still aren’t as rich sounding as a complete home theater system.

What Is a Soundbar Good For?

There are many reasons you might want a soundbar. For example, you might not like the sound quality of your TV’s built-in speakers. It should be relatively easy and inexpensive to find a suitable soundbar system for your TV. 

If you prefer a high-quality soundbar, you can purchase those designed to emulate a home theater system with surround sound. There are hundreds of options, all priced differently and boasting distinctive features. 

Some soundbars specialize in enhancing spoken dialogue, prioritizing the mid and high ranges, and making speech clearer and more prominent—excellent for podcasts or news. These types of soundbars, however, won’t be appropriate for listening to music or watching movies. Other systems are specifically designed to boost these experiences. It’s essential to choose one that suits your needs best.

How Does a Soundbar Work?

It’s easy to understand why soundbars are so popular; they’re low-cost alternatives to home theater setups. They may not sound as rich, but they don’t include all the wires and bulkiness accompanying a home theater.

So how do soundbars work? The number of speakers varies from model to model. They generally comprise multiple, larger speakers than those on your TV—making for clearer, robust sound, which can be increased without distortion. 

Many models feature subwoofers for enhanced bass, which significantly enhances a sound impossible to experience with a small built-in TV speaker. For instance, a 3.1 soundbar features three speakers—indicated by the first number and typically representing left, right, and center speakers. The second (‘1’) number signifies one subwoofer. 

Some soundbars also mimic surround sound, making it seem like the audio is coming from all sides. What does a soundbar do to achieve this? Many models have upward-facing speakers that bounce sound off your walls and ceiling, creating the illusion of coming from above and around you.

How do you know if a soundbar has these types of speakers? If a model has a third number in its channel description (e.g., 5.1.2), it includes these speakers. With this example, the number ‘2’ represents upward-facing channels.

Some soundbars utilize smart computer processing, which produces the illusion of surround sound. This processing carefully manages—among other subtle aspects to trick your brain—the volume and frequencies of the system.

Are soundbars as good as the surround sound of home theater systems? No. Some soundbars attempt to create auditory illusions from different directions. But at the end of the day, the sound still comes directly from the speakers sitting under your TV—a soundbar will never be as good as an actual AV setup.

But to compensate, many models come with additional Bluetooth speakers, which can be positioned around your walls to simulate surround sound—which may defeat the point for some.

What Is the Purpose of Soundbars?

Soundbars were initially invented as a low-cost alternative to home theater systems. They were to provide rich sound but without the need for massive speakers or confusing cable management—at least on paper. Early models in the late 90s were quite bulky and non-versatile and didn’t include subwoofers or upward-facing channels.

Another issue surrounding soundbars was that they were ahead of their time. The benefits of a soundbar were not so needful in the age of CRT TVs, which were rather boxy, requiring the necessary real estate for such large loudspeakers.

But now, in the era of the flatscreen, TVs with much smaller speakers may not sound as good as older TVs, so the benefits of enhancing your audio via a soundbar are much more significant. Hardly anyone in the 90s had the issues soundbars were intended to solve. But in the 2020s, the advantages are apparent.

Home Theater System, Soundbar, or Speakers?

Do you wish to use your sound system for movies, music, or video games? What should you look for when hunting for a good setup for your living room—a home theater, soundbar, or speakers? Each of these arrangements requires a different approach. Consider the following configurations when deciding which sound system best fits your situation.

Movies and TV

If you want rich, immersive sound for your movie experience, your best option is a home theater—especially if you’re a passionate cinema fan. There is, however, a drawback: cost. Home theaters provide the best sound but can also bleed you dry

On the other hand, a soundbar is convenient, inexpensive, doesn’t require much space, and blends nicely with the surrounding environment. It’s an excellent option if you’re more of a TV watcher and wish to enhance your set’s audio.

But what about a soundbar vs speakers? Even the most high-end soundbar won’t sound as good as a low-end surround sound speaker system. But speakers require a lot of cable management and are challenging to set up. But on the flip side, they provide genuine surround sound.

If convenience is what you value, and you’re not much of an audiophile, a soundbar will do.

Music and Gaming

Most soundbars are not intended for listening to music; the speakers aren’t large enough to sound good. And as for video games, the number of options for speakers is vast.

So is a soundbar better than speakers in regards to music and gaming? Sound-wise, the answer is almost always “no.” But where soundbars shine is in their convenience and relatively low cost. If this appeals to you, then it’s an option worth exploring.

Wrap Up

A soundbar is an inexpensive alternative to surround speakers or a home theater. It’s the middle ground between settling for your TV’s built-in speakers and dealing with an expensive AV setup. Convenience also makes soundbars popular. They take up little space and blend nicely with your room. But perhaps the most considerable advantage they have includes the carefree setup.

Are they perfect? No. When contemplating buying a soundbar vs a home theater system, the latter will always provide better audio. But if you’re short on space or don’t feel like dishing out thousands of dollars, purchasing a soundbar is worth considering.

FAQ.


What is the purpose of a soundbar?

A soundbar is used to enhance the audio of a TV. It features speakers oriented in different positions for better sound. Some soundbars can even emulate surround sound.

Is it worth getting a soundbar?

If you lack the space for a home theater system, getting a soundbar is worth the money. Soundbars are also excellent alternatives for other high-quality audio solutions and are convenient and easy to use, making them very popular.

What are the benefits of a soundbar?

One of the best benefits of a soundbar includes convenience. They’re easy to install and don’t require many wires running throughout the living room. And, of course, they sound much better than a TV’s built-in speakers.

Is a soundbar just a speaker?

Not exactly. It’s a collection of speakers and subwoofers. Some soundbars are designed to bounce audio off your walls to create an illusion of surround sound. (Consider our What is a Soundbar section above for further details.)

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Georgi Karaivanov

Georgi Karaivanov

My fascination with technology began from quite an early age thanks to computers and video games. Nowadays, I love anything related to music production and astronomy. Coincidentally (or is it?), both of those have a great deal to do with tech. Honestly, most of the stuff that can be accomplished with modern electronics kind of seems like magic to me. This is why I feel this strong need to constantly learn more about it and talk about it, almost to the detriment of others.

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