Many individuals are always looking to upgrade their home theater system with good sound, and the options out there that allow you to do so are endless, with two of the options being soundbars and bookshelf speakers. So, which one is better?
Bookshelf speakers produce a higher quality of audio than soundbars in general. This is because they offer a wider stereo spectrum (sound stage), have larger drivers that can produce better frequency response, typically have a better efficiency rating than that of soundbars, and have a wider frequency spectrum.
If you always wanted to know the key differences between a bookshelf speaker and a soundbar, read on. This article will go over all the technical factors you should be considering and the ones that define how well a bookshelf speaker and soundbar reproduce sound.
Are bookshelf speakers better than a soundbar?
Without a doubt, bookshelf speakers provide a better overall quality of sound than soundbars do. This comes down to the quality because you get both a soundbar and bookshelf speakers that can cost a fortune and are of the highest quality.
Rather, it comes down to how speakers are supposed to be designed to give you the best possible sound, and although soundbars can be great, they fall a little short compared to bookshelf speakers.
Let’s examine how speakers work internally and compare the technical side of a soundbar to a bookshelf speaker.
Technical aspects concerning a bookshelf speaker and a soundbar
Bookshelf speaker and a soundbar sensitivity rating
Many individuals don’t know this, but speaker sensitivity (also known as speaker efficiency) is probably one of the most important factors when it comes to how loud and clear your speaker will sound.
A speaker (no matter if it is a home audio speaker, studio monitor speaker, or car audio speaker) needs to have an efficiency rating of at least 90dBs to be considered good. A speaker with this efficiency rating or above will produce the loudest and clearest sound with the least amount of power.
Typically, an audio system will have a sensitivity rating (efficiency rating) of between 86 and 88dB. This is considered the norm, but high-end systems should have at least 90dBs. Anything that is 84dBs and lower is considered to be pretty bad and should typically be avoided, no matter if you are purchasing bookshelf speakers or a soundbar.
Now bookshelf speakers are designed for audiophiles specifically, and their efficiency rating will typically sit between 88 and 92dB depending on the make and model you choose. On the other hand, soundbars come to a dime a dozen and typically sit with an efficiency rating of about 86 to 88dBs.
Please don’t be mistaken; however, you are able to get some good quality soundbars that have a high-efficiency rating, but you will be paying the top price for it.
Bookshelf speaker and a soundbar impedance rating
Impedance (how much resistance) your equipment and wire can handle play a crucial role in producing high-quality audio. Many individuals do get a little confused when it comes to impedance because impedance affects speakers, but the length of the wire will also affect resistance.
This article won’t look at impedance levels with wires because that is a little beyond the scope of this article but we will take a look at speaker impedances.
It is important to note that you do not want an audio system with either a high impedance or a low impedance. Typically you are looking to have an impedance of between 4 and 8 ohms when looking at your speakers (both soundbar and bookshelf).
Bookshelf speakers sit nicely in this bracket, but some soundbars have been known to have a deficient and high impedance level.
Although impedance does not affect the quality of sound, it affects how hard your equipment has to work for that sound to be produced. You always want to try and match your impedance levels were possible to negate problems that may occur with wire length and power consumption.
Bookshelf speaker and a soundbar power rating
Another factor that confuses people is power ratings on amplifiers and speakers. You will see a speaker having what is known as RMS and Peak Watts. RMS will typically be lower than Peak watts because RMS is the loudest constant power that a piece of audio equipment can push out continuously.
Peak watts are the most amount of power your equipment can push out for a short sustained period of time. Considering both bookshelf and soundbars, both will have the equivalent loudness in sound if they have the same watts (but only if their efficiency is the same).
Thus if you are looking to listen to movies, or genres of music like jazz, soul, and R&B, then 50 watts of RMS is more than enough. If you are looking to blow the roof of your house of and want to party to rock music or dance music, then you would be better suited if you got yourself some speakers that could handle 150 watts and above.
To get the watts you want in bookshelf speakers is pretty simple. They will usually state what the RMS and Peak watts are, but soundbars work a little differently. The power output of a soundbar refers to the total applied wattage.
You can find soundbars that have the watts stated but remember this will typically be Peak watts and not RMS because a soundbar typically can not handle a high amount of power.
Once again, there are exceptions to the rule; however, soundbars with high watts and good efficiency will come with a hefty price tag.
Bookshelf speaker and a soundbar frequency response
Frequency response is one of the main characteristics of a speaker that you have to consider. The wider the frequency response, the better. This means your speakers, no matter what speakers they are, should have a low response all the way through to a high response.
The lower the response of a speaker, the more bass and the deeper the sound will be. This is where soundbars fall short unless they come with an added subwoofer.
Bookshelf speakers are of great quality and have a low response, typically falling around the 50Hz mark. This means that, for the most part, they will not require a subwoofer.
A soundbar will typically play frequencies in the mid-range and above. Take note that the mid-range frequencies start at roundabout 200Hz. This means that cheap and some mid-level soundbars won’t be able to reproduce high-quality bass frequencies, and thus, they will not produce a good bass sound.
Bookshelf speaker and a soundbar connectivity
The last technical factor we will cover is that of connectivity. Bookshelf speakers you will need to wire to your audio system and TV. However, some soundbars come with wireless connectivity, such as Bluetooth.
You have to understand that given the limited bandwidth of wireless connectivity such as Bluetooth, there will always be audio transmitted with lossy data compression. This means that Bluetooth will degrade the sound quality to a degree.
Lucky enough, many soundbars do come with other audio out options such as optical out, HDMI and some even have the trusty old RCA connectors. Just keep in mind that if you choose to use Bluetooth, you will have inferior sound quality. Some individuals argue, though, that it is negligible, and you cant hear it.
Bookshelf speaker and a soundbar speakers (drivers)
The driver size and what drivers your speakers have will also play a crucial role in producing top-quality sound. Traditional speakers will have a woofer (for the bass), mid-range speakers, and then tweeters (for the high frequencies). This will also be designed to be a specific size in accordance with what frequency range they are trying to reproduce.
Woofers are large because the sound waves produced in the low-frequency ranges are slow and large and will require the speaker to move large amounts and push large quantities of air. On the other hand, Tweeters are small because the sound waves within the higher frequency spectrum are short and fast.
Traditional speakers and bookshelf speakers are designed with this concept in mind and therefore produce good quality sound. That’s not to say that soundbar speakers are not designed the same way; it is just that they are designed much smaller because of the space they are required to fit in.
This means to the degree that the woofers (if a soundbar does indeed have them and many will not) and mid-range speakers in a soundbar will be significantly smaller than what they typically should be. Thus, the sound in terms of producing the best possible quality in those frequency ranges will be limited to a degree.
Once again, take note that there are exceptions to the rule, and you do get drivers in soundbars that are designed to be of exceptional quality.
Bookshelf speaker and a soundbar placement (sound stage)
Without a doubt, bookshelf speakers crush soundbars in this category due to the possibility of speaker placement. Remember that when you are trying to reproduce sound and especially stereo sound, you need to consider what is known as the sound stage effect or stereo spectrum.
For the most part, you can think of it as if you were at a concert and standing next to the sound engineer. The band comes onto the stage and begins to play. What you will hear is a wall of sound coming from the left, right, and in front of you. Furthermore, the instruments will be panned (placed in certain parts of the stereo spectrum).
This means you might hear the guitars coming from the left and the piano coming from the right while the singer’s voice can be heard coming clearly down the middle. The wider the stereo spectrum or sound stage, the more your ears can perceive, and this is where surround sound comes in.
By placing your left and right bookshelf speakers far apart from one another, you can create a wider stereo spectrum. Thus the listening experience will be more pleasurable.
A soundbar is placed under your TV in the center, and with all the speakers located in this position, it offers you a limited stereo spectrum.
One thing to consider is that some soundbars use DSP (Digital Signal Processing), and this means that it can simulate stereo sound and, in fact, surround sound quite well.
Should you choose a soundbar or bookshelf speakers?
The fact remains that you can get high-quality soundbars and bookshelf speakers along with poor-quality ones, so the question remains, what should you choose then.
Although bookshelf speakers will offer you better sound quality, soundbars are designed to be convenient. That means you buy it, and you don’t have to worry about setting it up, especially if you do not have sufficient knowledge of home audio equipment.
You just take it out of the box, plug it in, and connect one cable to your TV or sync it with Bluetooth. Coupled with the fact that some soundbars offer DSP technology, they come with subwoofers, and many of the top-quality branded soundbars are designed to produce good sound. There is nothing wrong with opting to choose a soundbar if you are looking to enjoy the better sound when it comes to watching some movies or streaming some music from Spotify.
If you are truly looking for the best audio experience, then you may want to choose a good pair of bookshelf speakers because they will provide better sound quality overall due to the numerous factors we discussed.
What are the best soundbars to get?
Below you will find our top pick of the best soundbar we could find that offer great quality sound.
SAMSUNG HW-Q950T 9.1.4ch Soundbar with Dolby Atmos
Featuring true 3D surround sound thanks to Dolby Atmos and DTS, this soundbar will make you feel like you are in a movie theater.
It comprises of an astonishing 20 speaker system with nine channels and their breakthrough Q-symphony technology that will help you synchronize Samsung QLED TVs for a fuller, more immersive cinematic sound.
Another cool feature is that it has a built-in Alexa that will allow you to enjoy all the things you know and love and comes with the advantage of powerful and optimized sound.
It comes with an adaptive sound that analyzes content automatically, providing you with the perfect sound for each scene on your TV. This means you will be able to hear things much more clearer.
Lastly, it is designed at the California Audio Lab. Top audio engineers have applied advanced audio techniques, technologies, and cutting-edge computer modeling to give you the best room-filling sound possible.
Check out this soundbar on Amazon.
What are the best bookshelf speakers to get?
If you are looking at bookshelf speakers rather than a soundbar you are in like because we also included our top pick for the best quality bookshelf speakers that you can lay your hands on.
Elac BS243.4-SW Carina Premium Bookshelf Speakers
Probably the best pair of bookshelf speakers on the market today, the Elac premium speakers come in a stunning satin white finish.
The tweeters feature a lightning-fast response and wide dynamic range, offering little to no distortion at all. This means they have a larger headroom to breathe and create high-quality sound.
Furthermore, it sports a large diameter voice coil and an oversized vented pole piece magnet that provides you with the most remarkable bass dynamic that has ever come out of bookshelf speakers. Truly a remarkable set of bookshelf speakers.
Check out these speakers on Amazon.
We discovered that from a technical standpoint, bookshelf speakers do offer superior sound quality over soundbars. This is because speakers are supposed to be designed in a specific way that incorporates many technologies that a soundbar is just not capable of reproducing.
Please take into consideration that there are exceptions to the rule as with anything, but a soundbar that functions, as well as a pair of mid-level speakers, will cost you an arm and a leg because it is difficult to reproduce sound that is designed to come from two separate speakers which are placed to the left and right of you out of a one center channel soundbar.
When it comes down to it, though, you should base your decision on choosing based on your situation and preferences. Both can offer good quality sound depending on your situation, price range, and the bookshelf speakers or sandbar’s make and model.