Picking the right speakers for your home entertainment setup is almost as important as choosing a great TV.
There’s little to enjoy about having an excellent display if your movies, series, or games sound terrible.
Nowadays, consumers generally have the option of either a soundbar or home theatre system.
Soundbars combine good sound quality and volume in a compact form-factor – but when it comes to an immersive audio experience, an home theatre system is the preferred option for some users.
We compared the benefits and downsides to both options to help you decide which is best, below.
A soundbar is a single, long rectangular device that is typically placed horizontally underneath the TV. It can be bought or paired with a subwoofer for better bass.
A soundbar can contain anywhere from two to seven speakers, with at least three being recommended for a simulated surround sound effect.
Home theatre systems come in sets and typically consist of a receiver, subwoofer, and five speakers – one for the centre, two for each side on the front and two for each side in the rear area of the room.
These systems are highly configurable, so you could start out with a receiver and two speakers and then expand this later on.
Both soundbars and home theatre systems offer superior audio to built-in TV sound. This is because both systems allow for more space within which sound can bounce around.
More powerful speakers have higher wattage ratings, and many entry-level soundbars are capable of drawing 100W – which should be more than powerful enough for the average viewer.
However, home theatre systems are better suited for the most realistic surround sound experience, as the speakers are strategically placed around the room.
Separating the sources of sound between speakers also means that the likelihood of distortion at high volume levels is decreased.
At the same price-point as more affordable soundbars, entry-level home theatre systems typically boast higher power draws of between 300W and 500W.
Certain soundbars do offer virtual surround sound – however, HowToGeek warns that this is often only an exaggerated stereo effect from two or more speaker drivers in cheaper soundbars.
Moving into the mid-range of soundbars, consumers may find units with five or seven different speakers that are capable of producing sound from each individual channel.
To enjoy true virtual surround sound, users should look out for premium soundbars that support Dolby Atmos.
When it comes to setup and space requirements, soundbars are a much easier option.
Normally, once you have put the soundbar in your chosen spot and connected it to a power source, you can link it to the TV via a wireless or Bluetooth connection.
Cabled connections to the TV are also supported.
Soundbars take up much less space than home theatre systems, too, making them ideal for a smaller apartment or townhouse rooms.
Additionally, multi-speaker home theatre setups are more complicated and require additional time to set up.
You will also need to efficiently manage your cable layout to not only be aesthetically pleasing but to prevent people from tripping over them and damaging your speakers.
Cables will need to be run from the receiver to each speaker and the subwoofer, as well as between the receiver and the TV.
Soundbars, like the Sonos Beam, also include integrated support for digital assistants. These include Amazon’s Alexa.
Additionally, soundbars often come with ports for connecting external media such as USB drives.
Port selection is usually larger on a home theatre system, though. The receiver may also act as a hub for a wide variety of other peripherals, such as a decoder, Blu-Ray player, or console.
Potential buyers should ensure that their chosen system has a sufficient number of ports to connect all the media sources they require.
While soundbars may appear to be more affordable than multi-speaker home theatre systems, this is not necessarily true for high-end devices.
Soundbars can range in price from around R1,500 all the way to just over R20,000, but the cheapest soundbars that support virtual surround sound are more expensive than home theatre systems capable of genuine surround sound.
A like-for-like comparison between sound quality and features is therefore needed to determine which will provide the best value for money.
You could give up sound quality for more convenience and go with an affordable soundbar, or if convenience is less of an issue, a home theatre system could be better priced and provide better sound in the lower price range.
Below are several of the best-rated soundbars and home theatre systems from Takealot.
Hisense 2.1 200W Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer – R2,399
JBL 3.1 Bar Studio Soundbar – R7,699