Soundbar vs Bookshelf Speakers-Which is for What? – 5 Facts to Compare

Do you ever feel like you TV audio is inaudible or you want to boost up the music sound with extra bass and tremble? A soundbar or bookshelf speaker might work for you.

Bookshelf speakers vs. Soundbar, which one should you buy? It’s not a fixed rule to buy a soundbar with TV although they go along quite well.  A soundbar can create excellent surround sound and some supports Dolby Atmos and some soundbar have equipped with advance sound technologies such as noise cancellation and built-in woofer for extra bass.

Bookshelf speakers are ideal for small spaces and compared to soundbar the sound quality of bookshelf speaker is enriched. This makes it ideal for audiophiles. However some may prefer soundbar if they have small room and have space beneath their TV area over bookshelf speaker to avoid complicacy of setup and organization of wires.

In this Bookshelf speakers vs. Soundbar article, I will explain RMS, Frequency Range, impedance & sensitivity, channel and drivers, connection and placement, setup & size and also explain which is best for what in very in-depth. Before that, let me show you the top pick of Bookshelf Speaker and Sound Bar considering every fact: 

Top 3 Bookshelf Speakers:

Top 3 Soundbar:

 Also Read: Budget Audiophile Speakers

Bookshelf Speaker vs SoundBar: What And Why

What Is A Bookshelf Speaker?

Bookshelf speakers are compact speakers. They typically have tweeters and mid-range drivers and might need additional subwoofer if you want extra rumble or tremble. While choosing a bookshelf speaker you need to be careful matching them with amplifiers. They come in budget friendly to costly price limit.

These speakers are ideal for music lovers and can come in two-way or three-way styles. The three-way style may include a woofer that will give you extra bass and boom.

Key Features of A Good Bookshelf Speaker:

  • There are two types bookshelf speaker: active bookshelf speaker and passive bookshelf speaker. The active bookshelf speaker has built-in amplifier and the passive bookshelf speaker needs a separate amplifier.
  • Bookshelf speakers usually deliver good mid-range and have moderate bass sound ideal for small to medium sized rooms.
  • The sound has clarity and bass for music. It has detailed emphasis needed for movies
  • Bookshelf speaker is versatile because you can include other speakers and create a home theater.
  • Bookshelf speakers have ‘all-range’ driver for bass and mid-range and tweeter drivers. This may vary from model to model.
  • Some Bookshelf speaker has rear bass port that deliver excellent bass. If you want powerful bass then you can add subwoofer.
  • The placement is a crucial factor for of a bookshelf speaker.

What Is A Soundbar?

Soundbars are a great replacement for your TV audio. Some high-end soundbars can mimic a consistent surround sound. Soundbars usually have several speakers and can have a built-in subwoofer or not. If your soundbar has a number like 5.1.2 this means it has a subwoofer and will include Dolby Atmos. Dolby Atmos bounces sound off the ceiling and have a more powerful effect.

Soundbars need only one wire if they support HDMI which reduces hassle of setup and wiring. You can watch movies or play games with good surround sound. However, audiophiles may want more coherent sound and for that you can buy a subwoofer or high-end ones.

Key Features of A Good Soundbar:

  • Soundbar consists of several speakers and drivers to produce a virtual surround sound. The number of speaker and driver will vary in different models.
  • Some soundbars may have built-in subwoofer, others can pair up with an additional subwoofer.
  • Some soundbars support Dolby Atmos that enhances the overall sound quality.
  • Freedom to choose between active (built-in amp) and passive (separate amp) soundbars.
  • Most soundbars have voice clarity feature.
  • Most soundbars have Bluetooth so that you can stream music from mobile.
  • Some soundbar comes with wireless rear speakers to deliver powerful surround sound.

5 Facts to Compare Between Bookshelf Speaker and Soundbar:

Fact 1 of 5:  Power & Frequency Response:

Audio quality is largely depending on power and frequency response of a sound system.

If you are looking for loud music and the speakers have 90dB efficiency then 200W is ideal, whereas if you are into classical or jazz, then 50W is enough.

An ideal frequency response will be such that, the frequency output should be equal to input so that it does not alter the signal. It is responsible for balanced bass, mid and treble of a music.

Power of Bookshelf Speakers: 

The power of speaker can be divided into RMS power and Peak/Max power. The RMS is a measure the amount of power given to a speaker under standard conditions. This is used to match the rating of the amplifier.

Peak power is the highest amount of power that can be given to the speaker for a limited amount of time. It is not used to match with the amplifier.

Power of Soundbar:

The power output of a soundbar is a measure of total wattage applied to the speakers. The power consumptions is the wattage that it takes from the AC power supply.

Typically, the power output will be a maximum of 80-90% of power consumption and a minimum of 20-30% of it.

Frequency Range of Bookshelf Speakers:

Bookshelf speakers have subwoofers that are responsible to generate low-frequency audio within 35Hz-200Hz. To achieve deeper bass a subwoofer is recommended.

Frequency Range of Soundbar:


In soundbars, the 20Hz – 200Hz range is produced by the subwoofer. The midrange frequencies, 200Hz -2000Hz are produced by woofers and the range 2000Hz-20000Hz is produced by the tweeters. 

Here are some examples, so that  you can compare  the specifications of different soundbar.
  • Polk MagniFi MAX–  its “system power” is180W;
  • VIZIO SB2920-C6 Sound Bar –  Its  frequency range is 70Hz – 19KHz and capable of producing 95 dB with less than 1% total harmonic distortion;
  • Sonos PLAYBAR – Sonos does not provide any specification for output power, dB, or frequency range. Because they think it makes confusion among the user. Sonos Playbar has “nine class-D digital amplifiers” which is extremely efficient for power distribution and consumption.
  • Samsung Electronics Sound+ Premium Soundbar – Its frequency response is 40Hz – 20KHz. Samsung also does not provide any specification about output power or dB.

 Table: Bookshelf Speaker vs Sound Bar "Power & Frequency Response"

Bookshelf Speaker Vs Sound Bar -Audio Output

Fact 2 of 5: ‘impedance & sensitivity’:

Sensitivity is a measure of loudness of the speaker and impedance is defined as the resistance as opposed to the current flow.

Sensitivity: Speaker vs Soundbar

The ultimate purpose of using a speaker is so that it sounds better even at high volume. Sensitivity is the term that will define the volume. Sensitivity is defined by  the amount of sound emitted when one milliwatt power is given and measures by dB(unit).

Sensitivity of Bookshelf Speakers:

Lower sensitivity  of a bookshelf speaker will struggle to deliver good sound quality. Usually 88dB is good for standard size room and  92dB will be best for large room to delivery significant audio output.

Sensitivity of Soundbar:

If a soundbar has higher sensitivity it will need less power and deliver high, crystal clear sound.

Impedance:

The speaker impedance varies with the frequency of the signal given as an input. It is often referred to as nominal frequency.

Impedance of Bookshelf Speakers:

Generally bookshelf speakers come with 6 Ω or 8 Ω of impedance. A 4 Ω spekaer is also available but that will be a high-end speaker ideal for audiophiles.

Impedance of Soundbar:

The standard value for impedance is 8 Ω. There are soundbars with 4 Ω loads as well. The receiver and load should be matched in this case.

Comparison Table: Bookshelf Speaker vs Sound Bar- sensitivity and Impedance 

Comparison Table: Bookshelf Speaker Vs Sound Bar sensitivity & impedance

Fact 2 of 5: 'Channel and Drivers':

Channels and drivers are important aspects of speakers. The more number of channels ensures better surround sound. The drivers are responsible for sound output at different frequencies.

Channels:

Channel indicates the sound that is coming out or going in at a specific point. This generally means the numbers of speakers of a sound system. There could be a single channel and up to 9 or more.

Channels of Bookshelf Speakers:

Usually, bookshelf speakers come in pairs. One of them takes care of the left channel and another one the right channel.

Channels of Soundbar:

Generally, soundbars have 2 or 3 channels but it can also be more. 2-channel means, it has left and right channel and 3 means it has left, right and middle channel speakers. A 5 channel soundbar will deliver surround sound.

Drivers:

Drivers of a speaker are responsible for generating sound in different frequencies. Usually larger drivers produce good sound. Bookshelf speakers/soundbars with multiple drivers is preferable.

Drivers of Bookshelf Speakers:

Bookshelf speakers consist of woofer (20-2000Hz) and tweeter (2000-20,000Hz). Generally it has a tweeter along with a 5.25 to 6.25 inches of driver.

Driver of Soundbar:

Soundbars have tweeters of different sizes and usually a subwoofer is built-in. However, with some soundbars you can buy a separate subwoofer to take care of low frequency (20-200Hz) audio that deliver good bass.

Comparison Table: Bookshelf Speaker vs Sound Bar- ‘channels and drivers’

Factors

Channels

Driver

Bookshelf Speaker

Usually 2 channels

2 woofers and tweeters. You can buy mid-range driver.

Soundbar

2,3 or more

Have built-in tweeter and subwoofer.

Fact 4 of 5: Connection and Placement:

The ports and sockets of soundbar or speaker are important to understand to establish connection. Also, the placement of speaker is directly related to how it will sound.

Speaker connection of Bookshelf Speakers:

The connection of bookshelf speakers is not the same as soundbars. Bookshelf speakers often need to connect to an amp and has more number of wires.

Once an amp is matched with the bookshelf speaker you need cable. if the speaker cable is short, buy 14-gauge speaker wire.

The speakers generally has 3.5mm to dual RCA audio cable that is used to connect to CD, mp3, etc. it has dual RCA to dual RCA cable. An optical fiber connecting cable is there to connect to DVD and speaker connecting cable to connect to another speaker.

Connection of Soundbar:

Soundbar comes with power cable, optical cable, and aux cable. The best method is to connect soundbar and TV with HDMI cable via HDMI arc.

You can also connect them via the optical wires. You can use another HDMI cable to connect soundbar to DVD. A 3.5mm jack aux cable connects soundbar to other audio devices like laptop, etc.

Placement:

The place of a sound system has significant effect on the audio. If you put them by your side it will sound in one way or if you put them on back side it will feel like surround sound.

Placement of Bookshelf Speakers:

Placing them on bookshelves, because of the name, is not a wise decision. They need speaker stand specially built for them.

For speakers to sound better they should be placed on an open shelf, a foot or more away from the wall and the speaker’s tweeter should be at level with listener’s ear.

Placement of Soundbar:

soundbars are ideal to keep at the feet of the TV so that the sound fills up the entire room.

If the TV is wall mounted, you can mount the sound bar as well. just make sure you place them beneath the TV.

Comparison Table: Bookshelf Speaker vs Soundbar ‘placement and connection’

Factors

Connection & ports

Placement

Bookshelf Speaker

3.5mm-dual RCA,

 optical fiber,

 speaker wire,

 dual RCA-RCA

Need separate speaker stand

Soundbar

HDMI cable,

3.5mm jack aux cable, optical wire. 

No stand needed, put them beneath TV

Fact 5 of 5: setup & size

The setup and size are important factors because it will change your room décor. So the size of your room affects the speaker installation. Small rooms will look scattered with bookshelf speakers due to their wires and speaker size.

Set up:

The setup is a hassle for bookshelf speaker compared to soundbar. Bookshelf speakers have less number of wires so you need to know the setup procedure.

Setup of Bookshelf Speakers:

More than two wires are needed for every bookshelf speaker. One is to connect two speakers, another is for power and you might need more if you connect to DVD, laptop, pc or TV.

So these are not ideal for small spaces where organizing of wires will be a problem. If you connect amp the wire will increase.

Setup of Soundbar:

Mostly need only two wires. One is to connect to soundbar and TV another for power supply.

No wiring is needed so these are ideal for congested house or room.

Size:

Bookshelf speaker and soundbar differ vastly in size.

Size of Bookshelf Speaker:

Bookshelf speaker may come in different sizes such as 13.5” height and 6.75” in width. They look like rectangular boxes and since they come in pair they take up a lot of space.

Size of Soundbar:

Soundbars are long in width and short in height such as the Bose soundbar 700 has 38.5 x 2.25 x 4.25" dimension. Even if you have small space it will easily fit beneath the TV.

Comparison Table: Bookshelf Speaker vs Sound Bar ‘Setup & Size’

Factors

Setup

Size

Bookshelf Speaker

Messy, several wires

Pair of speakers, takes up space

Soundbar

No hassle of wires

For one soundbar, need less space

When You Should Go for Bookshelf Speakers? 

You should go for a bookshelf speaker if:

  • You think the audio of soundbar doesn’t sound like real surround sound. 
  • You are an audiophile and you don’t want to compromise sound quality over anything.
  • You want the freedom to add more components or upgrade to a home theater in future.
  • You want supreme audio quality in low budget.

Types of Users Who Need Bookshelf Speakers:

Bookshelf speakers are ideal for small condos or rooms. They give you the freedom to add more components to create a bigger home theater system. You can use them for music, games or movies.

Bookshelf speakers generates strong mid-range and bi-directional audio. They are ideal to listen music compared to soundbars. However, they are often weak with bass due to their compact size. So if you think you have small space but don’t want to compromise music sound then you can buy a subwoofer with it.

If you have a house full of kids, you might want to rethink about bookshelf speakers because they might trip and fall. To sum up you can get bookshelf speakers at a low cost and add amplifier and subwoofer or you can buy an expensive one. Either way you will be the winner.

Benefits of A Bookshelf Speaker over Soundbars:

  1. Compact design to fit in any stand, shelf or desk.
  2. Some bookshelf speakers have built-in amplifier which enhances sound quality.
  3. Some has built-in woofer that delivers moderate bass.
  4. Light weight, you can easily shift the speakers to the corner of the room or near you bed easily.
  5. An open media stand will be ideal to place the speakers.
  6. There is no vibration of cabinet so there will be no distortion of sound.

Things that Are Not As Good As Soundbars:

  1. They have piles of wires that needs organizing;
  2. Setup is complex;
  3. Not good for a house full of children.

Review of Top 3 bookshelf speaker:

Elaac Debut B6.2-【Best Budget Products】


PROS:
  • 5.25cm mid/bass with aramid fiber enhances stiffness and damping.
  • Bass port in front panel makes placement easy.
  • The tweeter is improved with a better frequency response of 35kHz.
  • Delivers a powerful and wide sound stage.
  • Comes with 3 years of warranty.

CONS:
  • The drivers are wrapped in cloth so they will be prone to wear and tear.

B&W 606: 【Genuine Japanese Products】


PROS:
  • Broader soundstage with good dynamics and bass.
  • Propriety Continuum core along with 6.5” woofer and Al dome tweeter.
  • Bass port at the back panel, so it shouldn’t be placed very close to walls.
  • Magnetic grille adds elegance to the speakers.

CONS:
  • At low volume, music like rock or pop might sound bright.


Klipsch R-41M  Powerful detailed Bookshelf Home Speaker


PROS:
  • Affordable high-quality speakers with lively sound.
  • Horn-loaded tweeter and 4” woofer delivers detailed audio with good midrange and bass.
  • Doesn’t need a stereo receiver to connect with computer or Blu-ray player.
  • Silicon pads help control vibrations when placed on a wooden surface.
  • Built-in Bluetooth, but need to pair every time.

CONS:
  • Doesn’t deliver powerful bass, so some people might need to buy an additional subwoofer.

Quick Tips:

If you plan to keep bookshelf speakers on table or bookshelf with enclosed compartment then select one that has front port. So that the bass is directed towards you.

When You Should Go For Soundbars? 

You should buy a soundbar if: -

  • You just want something to replace your TV sound;
  • You can invest and buy a good quality soundbar that deliver excellent surround sound;
  • You don’t want the hassle with wires or you think speaker set up is complex;
  •  You don’t want to modify your sound system or extend to home theatre system in future.

Types of User Who Needs Soundbar:

If you are satsfied as long as you have to deal with less wires and easy installation. Soundbar will give you a decent surround sound with good bass and emphasis on dialogue

If you think you are going to watch mainly movies and have a small room with a TV, then you should buy a soundbar. While you do so, increase your budget so that you get a realistic surround sound ideal for movies. If you get a 2.1 or a 3.1; you will get a built-in subwoofer for extra bass.

If you love the slim and sleek design and don’t want the trouble with wires can choose it. However, we recommend to observe quality and if needed increase your budget.

Benefits of a Soundbar over Bookshelf Speakers:

  • Soundbar uses amplification and sound processing procedure that permits seamless self-modulation. This is how this audio device can create duplicate surround sound similar to speaker.
  • The drivers are pointed towards the user whereas the drivers of TV are pointed down and away from the users.
  • Bluetooth option that allows connectivity with  MP3, FLAC, mobile, tablet without cable.
  • Soundbar has separate woofer and tweeter that deals with lows and highs of the audio.
  • Compared to bookshelf speaker some soundbar has built-in woofer for extra bass.
  • Simple setup and effortless installation without many trails of wires so you need not to organize every now and then.

Things that Are Not As Good As Bookshelf Speakers:

  • Sound quality of soundbar is not as good as bookshelf speaker so if you are a music-junkie you will be disappointed. But with high price you will get a high-quality soundbar.
  • Some soundbar may need a subwoofer which might increase cost
  • According to audio-geeks a realistic surround sound is not experienced rather it sounds inconsistent.
  • You can’t upgrade the soundbar in future.

Review of Top 3 Soundbar:

Yamaha 108【Offer Clean and Intelligible Sound Effect


PROS:
  • Rubber pads to avoid scratches.
  • Supports HDMI ARC, you can use a single remote to control both soundbar and TV.
  • Pairs with multiple Bluetooth devices.
  • Excellent sound quality with woofer and emphasis on dialogue.
  • Supports DTS Virtual:-X and 4D Ultra K.

CONS:
  • Doesn’t work with Dolby Vision or HDR10+.

JBL Soundbar 5.1【Offers Theater-like Experience


PROS:
  • Powerful bass depth and crisp, clear highs sound quality.
  • True 4K Connectivity.
  • Wireless subwoofer.
  • Dual bass port with Dolby Digital decoding.
  • HDMI output that allows 1080p video pass-through.
  • Digital signal processing generates a surround-like sound.
  • It has 5 preset EQ modes.
  • Easy to use and supports Dolby Atmos and DTS: X.

CONS:
  • Not real surround sound.

Vizio 2.1 Sound Bar SB3821-C6【Best Budget Soundbar Ever


PROS:
  • 2.1 Soundbar and wireless subwoofer with 5” woofer for additional bass.
  • Built-in Dolby Digital decoder, DTS True Surround and DTS True Volume deal with power.
  • Deliver dialog with clarity and 100dB sound with less than 1% total harmonic distortion.
  • Built-in Bluetooth allows playing music from smartphone or other audio sources wirelessly.

CONS:
  • The product is susceptible to wear and tear.

Quick Tips:

  • Although not mandatory, compatibility with HDMI ARC will ease setup and support multiple audio format.
  • Soundbars are getting sleeker; you might need subwoofer to enhance sound quality with extra bass.

You may Like to Read: Best Home Theatre: Bose vs Klipsch

Frequently Asked Questions[FAQ]:

Does soundbar work as a center speaker?

Generally, soundbars aren’t designed to work as a center speaker, but you can use the passive soundbar as center speaker. It might ruin the audio quality so you can look for center channel speakers that look similar to soundbar and place them in front of your TV, such as: Klipsch RP-440C and the Polk S35.

Should I buy Dolby Atmos soundbar?

Even if you don’t buy a Dolby Atmos sounbar the sound quality will surprise you because they mimics the surround sound of home theaters. However, including Dolby Atmos feature will enhance surround sound by reflecting them off the ceiling.

Do I have to buy subwoofer with bookshelf speakers?

Subwoofers will increase the bass of the audio so if you love music with powerful bass you should include it. However, how good the bass will sound depends on the size of the room. If you have a smaller room, adding a subwoofer will not be a good idea.

Should bookshelf speakers be placed on stands?

Generally, yes. You need to buy separate stands to place them which will increase total cost. However, you can also place them on tables of shelves that are not enclosed and the tweeters should be at ear level.

Parting Words:

Bookshelf speaker vs. soundbar, which one is the best? There is no absolute best answer for that. Both these speakers are ideal for users in different situations.

Soundbars are better than TV audio and bookshelf speakers are great for music lovers and gamers. The major differences among others are their setup and upgradable options.

Based on your space, situation and budget, you can follow my guideline that will lead you to experience the best.

I am very much enthusiastic about Home Automation and actively developing open-source software to extend its capabilities so this is going to all be biased by my own experiences.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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