A sound bar requires, in most cases, a power cord and a few HDMI cables. Even if you have a subwoofer or rear speakers, they usually connect wirelessly to the main unit, requiring only a nearby wall outlet. You can easily set up your soundbar on a small table like the one pictured above, without additional equipment cluttering up space. With a bulky receiver, two to three speakers in the front, and several speaker cables, it becomes more difficult. (It’s possible, but difficult – and the smaller your speakers, the more you start to lose the sound quality advantage.)
Also remember that it is seldom the decision of one person. The more items you add, the more the Spouse / Parental / Roommate Acceptance Factor decreases. An enthusiast might want to set up a full 5.1 system, but other members of the household might not accept it. A high-end soundbar can be a great compromise in this scenario, especially if you live in a small apartment and don’t have room for a separate theater cave.
The cost-benefit curve
Finally, you need to consider the price. There are soundbars in just about any medium, some of which compare to speakers more or less favorably, making a general cost comparison difficult.
There are, for example, a few cheap 5.1 speaker sets there, but the cost of a receiver greatly increases the price. At the bottom, a sound bar will probably be cheaper for those on a budget. Vizio’s insanely decent V-series The 5.1 system costs only $ 200. It’s hard to find a complete speaker setup as inexpensive as if you buy it second-hand. (And soundbars can play this game also – Craigslist and OfferUp are spoiled for choice.)
However, the higher the price, the more difficult the cost-benefit analysis becomes. Mid-range sound bars like Samsung’s T650 get more in the area of speaker pricing with a receiver, and once you get into expensive Dolby Atmos compatible soundbar setups like the Elevate vice, you can almost certainly build a best sounding speaker system for the price. (There are also compelling mid-range options, like the Cinehome II Enclave wireless system 5.1.)
At the end of the day, it’s a balancing act. When looking at the cost of a soundbar versus a speaker setup, you need to look at your specific price range and remember the benefits of both approaches. You don’t just balance sound quality with price, you look at the package, and while it’s hard to beat the sound of a well-built surround system, the clean look and simple setup of a sound bar are unprecedented. So look at your budget, look at your space, and look at your spouse’s face as you come up with different suggestions. If you can get a full speaker system to work, I highly recommend you do so. But if that sounds like too much of a headache, these high-end soundbars sound pretty good – you’re just paying a little more for the simplicity. And you know what? It’s OK.
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