Are Soundbars Better Than TV Speakers?


The latest televisions come in a range of enormous sizes with immense picture quality that can bring the experience of the cinema screen to your front room. But does the extra technology to power such outstanding imagery leave the standard speaker behind? It seems, in most cases, the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Are soundbars better than TV speakers? A high-quality soundbar will always exceed a high-quality television in terms of audio performance. Poor-quality soundbars may sound worse than TV speakers. Soundbars are designed specifically for sound reproduction, offering immersive sound and flexible positioning for optimal acoustic placement.

In this article, we’ll discuss the issues with stock built-in television speakers and how soundbars can be used to improve sound quality and listening experience.


Issues With TV Speakers

As modern televisions become lighter and thinner than ever before, it seems appropriate to question whether the built-in speakers are as effective as possible. Thin speakers struggle to offer the best sound quality.

Of course, alternative speaker transducer types such as electrostatic and magnetostatic can be built thinly, but these driver types are expensive, fragile and rarely seen in speaker design, let alone in televisions.

If you’re interested, the alternative speaker driver types are discussed in detail in my article What Are Speaker Drivers? (How All Driver Types Work).

With such a wide range of alternative audio options on the market, it can be worth exploring whether the built-in TV speakers will suffice or if it is worth investing in additional speakers or even a soundbar.

Flat-screen TVs often have small speakers, usually situated at the bottom of the screen itself. Many screens come without even a bezel to offer the highest standard of aesthetic quality. As a result, the speakers tend to be situated behind the screen, pointing at a wall or down towards the floor.

Even high-quality speakers will produce lacklustre audio if placed near (and pointed toward) a boundary in the acoustic environment. Speaker placement is critical in achieving the optimal listening environment. TVs are often placed near physical boundaries and have their speakers pointing away from the listener. This just won’t cut it.

The size of built-in TV speakers also causes issues. In order to produce the entire frequency range of human hearing (20 Hz – 20,000 Hz) effectively, speakers of varying sizes are often required. Anyone who has been to a live music event will tell you the best quality sound, and the loudest perceived volume comes from large, powerful speakers.

This is why, for example, many full-range hi-fi speakers will have woofers, mid-range speakers and tweeter. Even these high-end speakers will generally benefit from a separate subwoofer that will produce the low-end frequencies. Again, small TV speakers just aren’t up to the task.

“Old-fashioned” CRT TVs included plenty of room within their box shape to house speakers of a fairly decent size. Although modern TVs are considerably larger than their older counterparts in terms of screen size, their thinness and the lack of a frame mean there is little space for speakers at all, and those that can be squeezed in usually need to be aggressively slim.

Of course, audio technology has also come a long way since CRT TVs and small speakers can sound good. But is good really good enough? Typical television speakers are fully capable of reproducing program audio intelligibly. However, their limitations in frequency response, loudness, and directivity leave something to be wanted.

Small speakers are naturally incapable of offering a great deal in terms of volume. Perceived loudness is dependent on large variations in sound pressure level, made possible by large speaker driver excursions. Small speakers just can’t move that much air.

Movies and television programs are often mixed with a wide dynamic range (the quiet parts are really quiet, and the loud parts are very loud). In some cases, the sound produced by the TV is so faint it can be challenging to hear some things at all. Add to that any competition in terms of external sounds, such as outdoor traffic or HVAC, and viewers can quickly become frustrated from missing meaningful dialogue from the TV.

One of the reasons why manufacturers don’t seem to recognize the need to improve the quality of built-in speakers could be the plethora of alternative audio solutions available on the market. Personal taste also has a role to play. While some may prefer the cinematic experience of surround sound with additional subwoofer units, others find a simple soundbar offers quality sound without the complexity of extra wiring.

Related article: How Do Speakers Produce Sound? (A Helpful Beginner’s Guide)


Soundbar Features

A soundbar is [generally] a higher-quality speaker that connects to your TV as an alternative to built-in speakers. Put simply, a soundbar is an elongated speaker, usually long and slim, although some can also be relatively thick and chunky. The variety of shapes and sizes can be helpful when searching for the optimal soundbar to match your TV or room.

Within the length of the speaker itself, various speaker drivers are spaced out, offering a variety of sound points almost similar to surround sound. They also contain built-in amplifiers to control each speaker individually. Some can also be connected to smaller speakers elsewhere in the room for a true surround-sound stage.

Of course, this sounds contradictory. I spent many paragraphs in the previous section discussing how poorly small speakers perform when it comes to loudness and bass response.

Let me begin by stating that I would typically recommend a stereo pair of hi-fi speakers, a 2.1 system (stereo pair plus subwoofer), or a surround sound system over a soundbar. However, soundbars are more economical and, more importantly, are the focus of this article!

As I warned about the shortcomings of small speakers, I also mentioned how far speaker technology has come. High-end soundbars are often designed with several high-quality drivers with intricate ported enclosures designs to achieve loud yet detailed sound reproduction. They can also be placed away from the television, away from the wall and pointing toward the listener, making them a better fit in the acoustic environment.

These attributes may seem insignificant, yet they play a vital role in the enhanced performance of soundbars, especially over built-in TV speakers.

Some soundbars offer a wired connection, while others give the added versatility of Bluetooth connection, furthering the possibilities of ideal placement. There is no compromise on the aesthetic design either, as a long sleek soundbar can complement the look of the most stylish TV. They can also be wall-mounted if needed (for aesthetics rather than pure performance), floating pleasingly beneath a wall-mounted TV for even better sound and beauty.

Some of the main benefits of soundbars include:

  • Value for money
  • Modern designs
  • Better bass output
  • Ease of use (some can even be linked to your standard TV remote)
  • Variety of shapes and sizes to match your TV or living space
  • Virtual surround sound
  • Compact size
  • Few wires
  • Opportunity to stream via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi

The Bose Smart Soundbar 700 (link to check the price on Amazon) features four custom-designed low-profile transducers (speaker drivers) with recessed enclosure ports for a wide-range distortion-free sound in a slim form factor. The proprietary PhaseGuide technology directs sound waves to produce a super wide sound stage, and the ADAPTiQ optimizes the soundbar by calibrating it to perfectly fit the acoustic environment.

The Smart Soundbar 700 also features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity along with Apple Airplay and a built-in voice assistant.

Bose Smart Soundbar 700

Bose is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 14 Best Earphone/Earbud Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Headphone Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Headset Brands (Gaming, Aviation, Communication)
Top 11 Best Home Speaker Brands You Should Know And Use
Top 10 Best Loudspeaker Brands (Overall) On The Market Today
Top 11 Best PA Loudspeaker Brands You Should Know And Use

The Definitive Technology Studio Advance 5.1 (link to check the price on Amazon) is a high-performance 5.1 channel soundbar system with a separate 8″ wireless subwoofer and built-in Chromecast. It has six midrange woofers and three tweeters built into an acoustically tuned vent enclosure, offering a superb sound profile with three EQ presets optimized for movies, music or night-time viewing/listening.

With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, this soundbar/subwoofer combination is a perfect upgrade for TV audio.

Definitive Technology Studio Advance 5.1

Definitive Technology is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Home Speaker Brands You Should Know And Use
Top 10 Best Loudspeaker Brands (Overall) On The Market Today

A quality soundbar will outperform even the most advanced built-in TV speakers. Of course, lower-quality soundbars also exist that can even produce a poorer output.


Alternative Options

There are many ways to improve the quality of your built-in TV speakers to avoid the extra cost and complexity of adding a hi-fi sound system. Making sure the TV is in a raised position, such as positioned on a wall or a stand, can free the space below the speakers to provide a better quality sound. Similarly, increasing the distance between the TV and the wall can also help improve the volume and quality of audio output.

There are also some excellent TVs on the market already equipped with high-quality speakers.

In addition to a soundbar, bookshelf speakers can also offer a better quality sound than the TV itself. The main advantage of all these speakers is that they can be arranged to point towards you, providing a far richer audio effect than any built-in speaker can offer. A separate subwoofer can also provide a deeper bass response than even the highest quality TV speakers.


Are Soundbars More Effective Than TV Speakers?

While it must be noted that some soundbars perform better than others, the majority will undoubtedly outperform built-in TV speakers. Add in the extra benefits, such as the chance to stream music or podcasts via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and connect to other devices like mobile phones, and it is easy to see why a soundbar is an excellent investment to go along with a modern flatscreen TV.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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