Soundbar vs. speakers: Choosing the right setup for your home

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar on a TV stand in a living room

Creating your home’s sound system is a personal experience. Not only does it need to fit your audio needs and preferences, but it also needs to be perfect for your regular use cases, like gaming, watching films, hosting gatherings, and soundtracking workouts. Your home gets a say, too. The layout, shape, furnishings, and even construction material of the room that will host your sound system can — and should — play a key role in determining the right setup for you. So do design, portability, maintenance, compatibility, and certainly your budget.

Today, home speaker systems typically divide into two options: soundbars vs. surround sound speaker systems. Neither is inherently better than the other, but each does come with its own pros and cons that you’ll need to evaluate carefully alongside your goals. In fact, doing so not only helps ensure you get the best sound system for you but also can save you thousands of dollars.

Follow this guide to help you navigate the soundbar vs. traditional speaker landscape, so you can find the right answer to the question, “Which audio system is best for my home?”


Sound quality

Whether you choose a soundbar or a traditional speaker system for your home, you can be sure of a giant — even astonishing — leap in the quality of your soundscape. That’s primarily because television speakers in today’s flat-screen TVs have been reduced and repositioned over the decades, providing poor sound quality that can’t be fixed by simply turning up the volume; in fact, it may only make things worse by distorting the signal.

High-quality soundbars, such as the Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar and Bose Smart Soundbar 600, provide impressive sound that easily fills any small or midsize entertainment space. In fact, the Ultra contains nine transducers firing in multiple directions to create a three-dimensional soundscape, especially when channeling Dolby Atmos® technology. The A.I. Dialogue Mode also balances voice and surround sound for ultra-crisp vocal clarity. Bose soundbars also come with some level of equalization control via the Bose Music app — plenty for the casual listener.

Connectivity and compatibility

Man sitting on couch adjusting volume on a Bose soundbar using the Bose Music app

One of the areas where soundbars excel is connectivity. That starts with the setup, which is as simple as it comes — just a power cable to an outlet and an HDMI™ cable to the television. This simple configuration will make it easier on how to choose a soundbar.

Traditional speakers, on the other hand, generally require more intensive installation, power tools included, and wires upon wires to connect them all.

Thanks to Bluetooth® connections, soundbars easily connect to nearly any enabled device. So not only can you expand the soundscape by connecting your soundbar to other Bose speakers and headphones via SimpleSync technology, you can also link it to your phone, tablet, or other Bluetooth-enabled device, allowing you to play music, podcasts, and shows through it from your favorite streaming platforms and personal library. Voice control, including through Alexa and Google Assistant, adds further connectivity options.

In a traditional speaker system this is much less possible, as each new connection requires both new hardware and more wires to connect them. This poses challenges to any wireless sources, which may not be able to connect. The number of outputs may also be more limited, as it depends on the amplifier, so you may not be able to connect everything you want, including your smartphone. That’s a great reason to consider incorporating a hybrid unit like Bose Music Amplifier, which offers both Bluetooth and wired connections.

Upgrades and modifications

Soundbars can’t be upgraded on their own, but when paired with a subwoofer and surround sound speakers, it can make for an epic home theater setup. Because they are self-contained, all-in-one units, it’s impossible to fiddle with any one element. And if something stops working, the entire soundbar must be repaired or replaced. That said, Bose soundbars do offer some ability to upgrade the total sound system by connecting Bose portable speakers, including a subwoofer, but the upgrade options for soundbars are more limited than a traditional speaker system.

Size and space

Living room with chairs around TV console holding Bose soundbar and Bass Module 700 on the floor

Setting up a high-quality traditional sound system is no small thing — literally. All the components take up significant space, usually in the form of a shelved entertainment center and free-standing speaker mounts around the room. That can be a problem in small rooms where fitting it all won’t be easy. Nor should you try, as a full traditional speaker system in a tight space may sound distorted due to the high number of sound reflections. This becomes even worse if ceilings are low, defeating any efforts to add a height dimension to the sound.

Soundbars, however, are sleek and light, with the largest by Bose reaching just 41.14” long and 12.8 ils. That’s a tremendous saving in space — especially when you consider the soundscape the soundbar creates — allowing soundbars to fit easily into almost any size room. Plus, if the room is small, you can simply use a smaller soundbar. The soundbar’s size and weight make placement easy, too, as the soundbar can fit snugly atop the same stand as the television or mounted just above or below it. Lastly, Bose soundbars are able to analyze the room space with ADAPTiQ technology and calibrate the soundbar accordingly, so the output never overwhelms the space.

Price point

As with all life decisions, cost is an important factor — if not a deciding one. When it comes to choosing between a soundbar and traditional speaker system, the first is generally far more economical, ranging from $500 to $900 in the case of Bose soundbars. That includes everything, with no additional outlays necessary for supporting components, cables, and so on. Indeed, one of the more striking aspects of Bose soundbars is they sound far more expensive than they are, especially when using Dolby Atmos, creating a surround sound effect without a surround sound system.

A traditional speaker system requires significantly more investment, as the speakers alone can easily run four figures, and that’s before you’ve even added the players and amplifiers. All told, a full system can run into the thousands of dollars. Of course, cheaper-quality, low-end hardware can trim the price tag, but you get what you pay for. In fact, a high-quality soundbar will probably sound better than a low-quality traditional speaker system. So if choosing a traditional speaker system, be ready to invest enough money to make it worth it.

Which audio system is best for my home?

When considering the best speaker system for you — soundbar or traditional speakers — try not to be influenced by the shiniest, most expensive option. It does no good to purchase the biggest and baddest speakers if you don’t have the right space for them or will never use half the features. The right decision comes down to fit and the factors above. Only after considering the various pros and cons of soundbar vs. surround sound speakers can you find perfect harmony at home.


Featured in this story

Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar tdt
Bose Smart Ultra Soundbar
2 Colors
2 Colors
Bose Smart Soundbar 600 tdt
Bose Smart Soundbar 600
1 Color
1 Colors
Bose Music Amplifier tdt
Bose Music Amplifier
1 Color
1 Colors

More Bose stories

Bose Smart Soundbar 900 on a TV stand

How to choose the best soundbar

What is a passive speaker and how does it work?

What is a passive speaker and how does it work?

View More