Are You a Soundbar Person?

Soundbars and soundbases are not for everyone. But they are for an increasing number of people, with unit sales having risen from 1.3 million in 2010 to 12.9 million in 2016. I review soundbars and soundbases as well as satellite/subwoofer sets and orthodox speakers, so I know what it's like to live with one. I must admit it wouldn't be my first choice for a primary audio system. But the following scenarios don't apply to me. For brevity, we'll assume this discussion includes both soundbars and soundbases....

Are you living in limited space? Perhaps you're living in your first post-college apartment, a snug little studio? Or you're renting a room in someone else's apartment or house? You might be a soundbar person.

Do you hate the architecture of a conventional audio/video system? Do you find surround receivers so objectionable that you wouldn't squeeze one of those things into your living space for all the tea in China? You too might be a soundbar person.

Do you actually want to own a surround receiver for all the great ways it brings music into your life—but don't want speakers on the floor? A passive three-channel soundbar, along with wall-mount surrounds and (let's cheat a little) a flat wall-hugging sub, might be the right thing for you.

Do you have a primary home theater or two-channel system elsewhere in your home but want something simple for the bedroom? A soundbar might be just the ticket for you as well.

Do you want to buy a Bluetooth speaker, because that's how you like to do your (at least casual) listening—but you want it to do double duty as your TV speaker? Obviously a soundbar is the best solution for you. Most active (meaning self powered) soundbars include Bluetooth.

Do you hate the sound of the speakers built into your ultra-slim no-bezel TV? Clearly a soundbar would be a big improvement for you.

Do you wish to avoid having speakers on the floor but don't want to poke holes in the wall for in-wall speakers? Perhaps because it would violate your lease? Most soundbars are suitable for less invasive on-wall mounting and not at all invasive table placement.

Just because you belong to one or more of these groups doesn't necessarily mean a soundbar is for you. Some of the folks above may be just as happy with a satellite/subwoofer set or various in-wall or on-wall speakers.

Even so, the numbers don't lie. Soundbars are fitting into more and more people's lives, in exactly the way they want audio systems to fit into their lives. And that makes them one of the most powerful categories in an audio industry that is struggling to keep up with the way people want to live.

Audio Editor Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems, available in both print and Kindle editions.

mars2k's picture

I'm willing to bet soundbar sales have risen in direct proportion to the demise in sound quality of skinny tvs.

kgs51's picture

I have an onkyo receiver that delivers dolby atmos. I have a 5.1.2 system set up with 5 speakers and 2 atmos modules. Shouln't this sound better than a soundbar that sets up to deliver 5.1.4

walt0291's picture

Truthfully, it's finding what fits best in the situation for a particular room in your home. For example, here are the various setups we have in our house:

Basement: True 7.1.4 home theater with a 100" projection screen. This takes up roughly half of our downstairs living room with the other half left open for a future play area for our daughter due to arrive (literally) any day now. Not gonna lie, I'm a little concerned for the safety of my equipment, but did the best job I can to protect it in the future.

Main floor: We have a very nice 2-channel setup for listening to music while in the living room/kitchen/dining area. In same space, we also have our 58" plasma with a high quality soundbar hooked up to it for all TV-related audio since in this room a true surround setup doesn't make sense both in terms of speaker placement or WAF.

Master Bedroom: Small wireless speaker that isn't a hifi setup be any means, but sounds significantly better than audio from our phones. Primarily used for streaming music/podcasts when getting ready in the morning or winding down for the night.

I guess my point with this is that many audiophiles deride soundbars (and I suspect wireless speakers) as not being "truly" audiophile worthy, but I've found that it is truly the best and most appropriate situation for a certain area of my home and I've gotten many hours of enjoyment out of it. Is it the place in my home where I will choose to watch movies or play videogames? No. However, it is perfect for watching television and providing enough good quality sound so that I can watch the news/sports/TV sitcoms (is surround sound really necessary for the Big Bang Theory?) while preparing meals or on holidays when everyone congregates upstairs.