Every TV comes with factory speakers, and of course, they work just fine. But if you walk through any electronics store and hear the sound quality that you could have for your sports, movies, and TV shows, you’ll realize you’ve been missing out.
Once you’ve decided to upgrade your sound system, you have two main choices: a sound bar (also called a speaker bar) or a surround sound system. Both have pros and cons, which we’ll review here to help you decide which one is best for you.
What Is a Sound Bar?
Sound bars are speakers, usually around two to three feet long and about three inches high. They’re easy to install—just plug in one or two cables—and fit nicely in front of your television or on the wall.
Sound bars are usually more affordable than a surround sound system. If you’re shopping on a budget, you can find models for $40–50; if you’re looking for a higher-end sound bar, you’ll pay almost $2,000.
Sound bars are great for smaller living rooms or bedrooms. They don’t project as much as a surround sound system, but they’ll do the trick in smaller spaces, which makes them a perfect replacement for regular TV speakers.
Some sound bars come with an additional subwoofer to boost the audio quality and add a bit of a surround sound experience.
What Is Surround Sound?
If you want to feel like you’re actually inside your favorite TV show or on the field with your team, invest in a surround sound system. This type of audio system consists of multiple speakers and subwoofers, and you can get optimal sound quality by placing the speakers around your room. The downside is that many speaker systems require a cable to connect each one.
Surround sound systems used to be costly, but now you can get a budget-friendly speaker system for around $100. They go all the way up to $4,000, and the higher price point gets you sleeker speakers, more options, and better sound. Depending on your needs and finances, you can start with a couple of speakers at first and then add subwoofers or rear speakers as you build your system.
Surround sound is the best choice for bigger rooms or if you’re looking for a theater experience. The standard 5.1 surround sound system uses six channels (and six speakers), while 7.1 surround sound uses eight speakers and offers greater audio depth. It’s also more expensive.
Four technical specifications can also help you decide whether to get a soundbar or surround sound system—and how to choose between the options once you decide:
- Frequency response. This term describes a speaker’s range of sounds. A full frequency system covers the full range of human hearing, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. These systems are usually expensive and large. Most systems fall between the 45 Hz and 20 kHz range. Look for the system’s variance number, usually +/- 3 dB (decibels), which means the sound is accurate within 3 dB. So if a system lists 34 Hz – 20 kHz +/-3 dB, and you want to reach the lowest bass sounds, you’ll need an additional subwoofer.
- Sensitivity. Sensitivity is how speakers convert electric energy into acoustic energy. The higher the sensitivity (measured in decibels), the more efficient the speaker is and the better sound quality it will have.
- Wattage. If you’re looking to provide sound in a big house, you’ll want a speaker system with more power, or more watts.
- Impedance. This measures the speaker’s resistance to the electrical voltage and is expressed in ohms. Most speakers come in 4, 6, or 8 ohms. Lower impedance (4 ohms) is found in high- end equipment because the lower the impedance, the more easily sound can flow through the speaker. Just make sure your amplifier is rated for your speakers so you don’t blow them out.
If you’re looking for sound a step above your TV speakers without breaking the bank, get a sound bar. If you want a serious theater experience, invest in a surround sound system. To really maximize your home sound system, enjoy your new audio system with a 4K Ultra HD TV, a DVR that can record and stream in 4D quality, and On-Demand service to catch all your favorite shows and movies.