The choice of speaker for a home theatre setup has always been a debatable topic. Some argue that a decent soundbar system should be the ideal choice as it is compact and easy to set up. Some argue that a multi-channel speaker setup, despite being slightly more complicated, offers much better audio quality and surround sound experience.
Then there is the third category — smart speakers — which have become quite popular these days and also offers decent sound output along with the option to pair multiple smart speakers and use them as the external speaker system for the TV. Practically, they also have a lot more to offer than the regular speakers.
But the ultimate fact is everyone has different tastes when it comes to audio quality. To simply say, some want to have cinema-like audio submersion from their home theatre setup, while others are looking to just boost the audio quality of the TV.
We’ve put together a few points to help you put an end to this debate and choose the right speaker based on your needs. Read on:
Soundbars vs speakers vs smart speakers: Ease of set up
Soundbars, as already mentioned, are simple to set up and also consume less space. All you need to have is a slight space below the TV to place it and have two plug points — one for the soundbar and one for the subwoofer. In fact, most soundbars, including some affordable ones, offer wireless connectivity to the subwoofer and rear speakers.
The multi-channel speakers, on the other hand, are mostly wired and require users to connect them with the subwoofer or an external hub. This means, you are dealing with a lot more wires compared to the soundbars. Apart from that, their placements are also important and that also requires you to make space for every speaker that’s included with the soundbar. For example, if you are planning to buy a 5.1-channel speaker, then you will need to place three speakers — front left, centre and front right around the TV, the subwoofer on the side and two rear speakers at the back, which is quite a complicated process, plus you will also need really good wire management to hide all the cables from plain eyesight.
Coming to the smart speakers, they are probably the simplest to set up. All you need to do is plug in the speaker and then pair it with the TV via Bluetooth. That’s it. Some smart speakers also support stereo pairing and adding an additional woofer, which can also be done via the dedicated app in a few clicks.
Soundbars vs speakers vs smart speakers: Connectivity
Another important thing that differentiates them from each other is the way they connect with your TV. Starting with the soundbar, you are probably looking at the most extensive set of connectivity options. Even regular soundbars come with HDMI (eARC) port and HDMI input ports, allowing you to connect multiple devices at once with the TV. In addition to that, they also offer optical connection and Bluetooth connectivity.
Speakers, too, are good with the connectivity option. However, a basic 5.1-channel speaker setup offers Bluetooth and regular RCA (the Red, Yellow and White cable that used to come with old DVD players) connectivity options. However, modern multi-channel smart speakers also come with a dedicated hub, which includes all the extensive options like multiple HDMI ports, an optical connection, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and more. In fact, if the home theatre speaker has an external box, it will certainly offer more connectivity options than an expensive soundbar.
Smart speakers are generally limited to Bluetooth only. But it all depends upon the ecosystem you are using. For example, if you own a Fire TV Stick, the Echo speakers can be the best companion. Similar, if you have an Apple TV at home, then HomePods offer seamless connectivity.
Soundbars vs speakers vs smart speakers: Dolby ATMOS, DTS support and sound output
This is another major factor while choosing a speaker setup for your TV. Most multi-channel speakers and soundbars support at least some format of Dolby and DTS or both. Expensive options also offer support for modern sound codecs like Dolby ATMOS and DTS:X support. Smart speakers also offer such codec support but in expensive models.
Talking about the sound output, there’s no doubt that a multi-channel speaker setup will offer better sound separation as the sound is travelling from one speaker to another, which is kept at a distance and one can clearly feel that. Another good part about speakers is that they usually come with a rear speaker setup, which makes watching movies and shows more immersive.
Soundbars are not that far behind. Most companies have started using ‘bounce back’ ideas and directional speakers to offer more audio immersion. They have become better, but still not on par with speakers, especially when comparing them at a similar price bracket.
But, here’s a deal-breaker. Spend slightly more and you can easily find yourself buying a Dolby ATMOS and DTS:X supported soundbar, which is very hard to find in speakers at that price point. These soundbars not only offer separate left, right and centre channels but also come with upward-firing speakers to offer a sense of space and the third dimension for a complete cinema-like experience.
Smart speakers also support Dolby ATMOS, but it’s their form factor, which limits their capabilities and offers slightly limited sound immersion compared to the other two options. But, they are certainly good options, if you are simply looking to enhance the audio quality of your TV.
Soundbars vs speakers vs smart speakers: Pricing
All three of them are available at various price points. You will get what you will pay for. For instance, a basic, the 5.1-channel speaker can be bought for as low as Rs 3,000 from popular brands. However, if you are looking for more extensive features like a wide range of codec support or multiple connectivity options, you’ll have to pay more.
Similarly, soundbars are also available for as low as Rs 5,000. But they are the most basic option you will get. Once again, if you are looking for a wireless subwoofer, multiple connectivity options, a 3.1 or 5.1 or 7.1 channel soundbar with Dolby ATMOS support, you’ll have to pay more for it.
The same applies to smart speakers as well. However, for a good smart speaker that offers respectable sound output, you’ll have to spend around Rs 8,000 or more. Because the basic speakers can barely get loud enough to fill a living room. Also, if you are looking to pair more than one, then you’ll also have to spend more.
Soundbars vs speakers vs smart speakers: Which one should you buy?
Everything comes to the preference and can be subjective as well. Basically, if you are short on space and do not want to fiddle around with lots and lots of wires and also looking for good sound output, then you should go with a good soundbar that offers at least a 3.1 channel setup with Dolby support and multiple connectivity options.
But, if you want something to offer more immersive sound output at an affordable price, then a good 5.1 channel speaker setup will do the job.
For smart speakers, if you already have a couple at your home and you are also involved in the smart home ecosystem and simply want to enhance the TV’s audio quality, then a smart speaker setup can be a good choice for you.