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MediaHead MythBusters 1

Are soundbars better than passive speakers?

MediaHead MythBusters has begun on YouTube! Each month we will tackle some of the common questions we get from clients and give you our honest opinions. Make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel: @mediahead. (with the dot!)

Watch our MediaHead MythBusters 1 below:

What is sound?

Mitch wants to get you back to the science of it…

  • Put your hand in front of you mouth
  • Now talk.
  • What do you feel?
  • Air movement.

Sound is created out of air movement. The more air you move, the better the sound is.

What are soundbars, active speakers, and passive speakers?

Soundbars are a bar-shaped device containing multiple speakers and are a type of active speaker. They are a considerably better option than the active speakers that come with your TV.

Active speakers have their own internal amplifier, whereas passive speakers like in-wall, in-ceiling or floorstanding speakers, require an external amplifier to operate.

Your TV speakers are mediocre at best and very shrill. Most TVs have 2 (maybe up to 4) 1-inch speakers that might have a total of 10 watts behind them. That means your TV at max volume is throwing 4 to 5 square inches of audio of you.

A soundbar, like the Sonos Arc in the video, will double or triple that with NINE 1 to 2-inch diameter speakers, which means it's throwing 10 to 20 square inches of audio at you. This makes the sound seem louder, without actually being louder, because it’s pushing more of it at you..

Passive speakers allow design flexibility to deliver the air movement all the way to your sweet spot on the couch. By design, these passive speakers surround you, instead of just throwing air at you in one direction.

Using the Origin Acoustics D89 Series in-ceiling speaker as a demonstration to compare to the Sonos Arc soundbar… This in-ceiling speaker has a 1-inch tweeter, 3-inch mid woofer, and an 8-inch low frequency woofer. How much air does that move? Using rough surface area math, it has about 60 square inches of audio to throw at you, which is 3 to 4 times more than the Sonos Arc soundbar. And in most scenarios, you will have at least 2 in-ceiling speakers in a 2-channel design like this.

Typically accompanying in-ceiling speakers are two in-wall speakers, two bookshelf speakers, or two floorstanding speakers to really fill out the surround sound, along with a center channel speaker for crisp dialogue, and of course, a subwoofer to enhance the low-frequency sounds.

We believe that subwoofers are the foundation of all audio.

Subwoofers specialize in 40% of all audio below 200 hertz, which means 40% of everything you hear is produced by a subwoofer. It is why the audio all of a sudden feels full and impactful.

So, are soundbars better than passive speakers?

In general… NO. They are a step up from your TV speakers, because they throw a lot more air and you have the option of tying in a subwoofer to enhance it even more. Remember that any speaker can play loud, but that doesn’t mean it is quality audio. Soundbars can give you pretty great audio without breaking the bank.

A stereo setup of in-wall, in-ceiling, floor standing, and/or center channel speakers are going to sound better at every volume level because they are moving more air than a soundbar. So, YES, other passive speakers will always be better sound quality than soundbars.

However, a soundbar is a great option depending on its use, especially because you can tie several of the high-end options into a two-channel system with an amplifier as well. They are great for bedrooms and smaller rooms where you are sitting closer to the TV and there’s less surface area for the audio to reach to. Save the budget for higher end passive speakers in your home theater or on your patio where sound has to travel farther.

Let’s talk cost…

Good soundbars will cost you anywhere from $300 to $800 and excellent ones will range from $800 to $1,200. And, remember if you want to add a subwoofer or other passive speakers, you will need an amplifier. Sonos Amps are typically around $700 and if you add in a subwoofer, the Sonos Sub is usually around $800. So your total budget can range from about $300 to $2,700.

[Side Note: If you purchase a high-end soundbar like the Sonos Arc, it may not work with your TV. It requires a TV with an HDMI port, so usually TVs older than 2017 do not have that. You need the HDMI port to access the connection to Apple TV (or Roku and the like) and to benefit from the Dolby Atmos immersive experience.]

If your budget is over $1,500, you may as well spring for the stereo setup with passive speakers. A really good two-channel system that is substantially higher quality than bonding your amp to a soundbar can range from about $2,000 to $5,00.

For our audiophiles out there, we can go considerably higher $5,000 for high fidelity sound.

Moral of the story…

You would greatly benefit from our MediaHead design team to work with your unique budget, lifestyle, wants, needs, uses, and aesthetics so that you build a system that you’re happy with for years to come and you can upgrade components over time without scrapping all of the equipment.

Give us a call to get started!

(972) 707-9573

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