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Soundbar vs Speakers for a PC: In-Depth Audio Quality Comparison

So you want to elevate the audio experience on your desktop computer or laptop beyond the basic built-in speakers. The two main options are getting a compact all-in-one soundbar or a dedicated multi-speaker surround sound system. But which works better for PC gaming, videos and music? This comprehensive guide examines all factors from connectivity to audio performance in the soundbar versus speakers debate.

Key Soundbar and Speaker Considerations


[table] [row] Pros:

  • Streamlined minimalist design
  • Single plug-and-play device
  • Virtual surround effects
    [/row] [row] Cons:
  • Simulated not true surround sound
  • Limited bass without subwoofer
  • Can be expensive for the audio quality
    [/row] [/table]
[table] [row] Speakers
[/row] [row] Pros:

  • True multi-channel surround sound options
  • Flexible placement for best acoustics
  • Bass from large internal subwoofers
    [/row] [row] Cons:
  • Bulky multiple components
  • Higher setup complexity
  • Prone to interference
    [/row] [/table]

Soundbar vs Speaker Timeline and Origins

Before assessing audio capabilities, it helps to know the history behind each device category.

Soundbars first emerged in the early 80s with the sound projects by speaker manufacturers like Polk Audio and Koss introducing models integrated with TVs. But Danish high-end audio company Bang & Olufsen unveiled the BeoSound 9000 soundbar in 2005 which became the template for modern variants with its sleek horizontal design and spatial sound.

PC speakers also debuted in the 80s once personal computers started gaining mainstream popularity. They enable audio output directly from the desktop CPU without an amplifier. Speaker makers like Bose, Harman Kardon and Logitech launched speakers tailored for desktop use with computer connectivity.

Now high fidelity desktop audio is a priority for an optimal viewing experience as visual displays get sharper on modern 4K and 8K monitors.

Connectivity Comparison: Soundbar vs Speakers

Seamless device connectivity is the foundation for good audio. We first examine how soundbars and speakers hook up with desktop PCs via cabling.

[Image: Soundbar connectivity]

Soundbars predominantly have HDMI ports since they‘re designed as TV audio accessories. So you may need HDMI-to-3.5mm audio extractors or optical audio adapters to interface soundbars with computers − adding to cost and cabling clutter. Bluetooth is an option but risks interference and latency during movies or gaming.

[Image: PC speaker connectivity]

Whereas speakers for PCs feature 3.5mm aux inputs, RCA or USB plug-ins to directly interface with a desktop‘s audio port without adapters. Some speakers also have HDMI or optical inputs for lossless Dolby/DTS multi-channel signals from media sources. This gives speakers the connectivity edge for fuss-free hookup.

Design and Placement: How Soundbars & Speakers Fit on a Desk

Apart from cables, physical size and ergonomics affect how sound gear integrates into a desktop workstation.

Soundbars live up to their name with their distinctly elongated rectangle chassis designed to align under display monitors or be wall mounted. Sizes vary from compact 2.1 channel models to expansive Dolby Atmos-enabled variants with wireless subwoofers. Their low-profile unitary construction conserves space which appeals in compact work areas. However, the elongated shape can interfere with desktop keyboards and mousing area unless placed carefully. You must secure adequate clearance between the soundbar cabinet and worktop edge for usability.

[Image diagram: soundbar ergonomics on a desk]

Speakers are available in more diverse physical configurations like bookshelf speakers, edgy desktop speakers, stand mount speakers, 5.1 surround systems with satellite speakers and a subwoofer. This versatilty permits placing components strategically around the workspace. Some usage scenarios:

  • Nearfield desktop speakers positioned left and right of the monitor
  • Larger bookshelf or floor standing tower speakers mounted on stands at ear-level
  • Wall mounted back speakers for surround sound immersion
  • Hide floor subwoofer under desk

So speakers ultimately permit more ergonomic arrangements tailored to your desk real estate and usage − gaming, music production or movie viewing.

[Image diagram: speaker ergonomics on a desk]

Audio Quality Showdown: Soundbar vs. Speakers

We now compare the all-important audio reproduction quality between these desktop sound solutions.

Many moderately priced soundbars mimic surround sound via psycho-acoustic processing tricks rather than discrete speakers reproducing channels individually. Their small built-in drivers try projecting sound at angles to create a spatial illusion through phantom imaging. Some techniques used:

  • Stereo panning: Widens the sound stage by splitting certain frequency bands left and right
  • Phase shifting: Adds time delays to certain drivers, so sounds reach the listener at different intervals
  • EQ filtering: Boosts specific frequencies to emphasize directional audio cues

Higher-end soundbars augment this using:

  • Dolby Atmos and DTS:X processing: Object-based spatial coding mixes height/3D channels
  • Upfiring speakers: Reflect height channel audio off the ceiling
  • Wireless subwoofers: Helps extend bass response which small soundbar drivers struggle to reproduce

But ultimately compact soundbars can‘t match the surround spaciousness and sonic fidelity of an equivalent multi-speaker system engineered for accurate cinema-grade audio.

[Diagram: Soundbar audio components vs surround speakers]

  • Specialist drivers: Separate tweeters, midrange drivers and subwoofers each handle specific frequency bands well. Better transient response.
  • Strategic placement: Directionality improves when satellite speakers placed optimally left, right, rears, center according to Dolby/THX 5.1 or 7.1 layout guidelines. No acoustical tricks needed to simulate 360° audio imaging and lifelike instrument separation.
  • Bass enhancement: Large 10" to 15" subwoofers or bass modules reproduce deep, rich LFE (low frequency) effects viscerally from explosion rumbles to concert hall ambiance.
  • Audiophile-grade amps/receiver: Multi-channel AV receivers amplify and process discrete surround channels. High-end amps improve transient response.

So for authentic cinema and music recreation according to creative intent, true surround speakers beat even premium soundbars.

Audio Quality Test Benchmarks

We can further illustrate the audio performance difference between soundbars and speakers with some comparison test data benchmarks.

Frequency Range

This graph displays the overall bandwidth both systems reproduce from bass to treble which impacts realism:

[Frequency response graph]

While compact soundbars hit around 40Hz to 15kHz − acceptable for TV/gaming use, quality bookshelf speakers reach down to 35Hz for deeper lows and up to 40kHz for lifelike sparkling highs thanks to dedicated tweeters. The larger the bandwidth, the closer we get to the spectrum of human hearing in fidelity and immersion.

Volume and Power

Sheer output volume and room-filling ability based on some sample models:

[Loudness comparison chart in decibels]

With standalone amps driving each element hard, home theater speakers handily cross 100+ dB while compact soundbars average 80 to 90 dB. The expansive headroom allows precision calibration – pinpoint loud bursts while retaining clarity during subtle moments.


Harmonic distortion measurements indicate how accurately speakers reproduce the input signal across different frequencies from bass to treble compared to a perfect benchmark:

[Distortion chart comparison]

The separate satellite speakers and subwoofers in home theater systems display lower distortion which translates to purer, cleaner audio compared to soundbars where small drivers attempt reproducing all frequencies leading to some muddiness and coloration.

Cost Considerations: Soundbar vs Speakers

Weighed along with performance is the price point of upgrading your audio gear. Here is a high-level cost analysis.

Entry-level soundbars with basic connectivity and virtual surround start at around $100 to $200. To get discrete rear speakers for actual channel separation, you‘d have to spend over $800. Adding further Dolby Atmos height channels brings premium soundbars closer to $1500.

Compare that to 5.1 home theater packages bundled with an AV receiver, floorstanding front speakers, surround satellites, center channel and powered subwoofer − starting as low as $500. Full-fledged Dolby Atmos setups with in-ceiling speakers extend to $2000 or more.

Clearly, for equivalent immersive audio capabilities, standalone surround systems provide better value than integrated soundbars costing several hundred dollars more. Only ultra-minimal workspaces may warrant spending extra on all-in-one soundbars to save space.

Recommended Soundbars and Speakers for PC Use

Given the above comparisons, here are some recommended options that strike the best balance of features, performance and affordability:


  • Budget Pick Under $200: Yamaha SR-B20A
  • Best Standalone Model: Samsung HW-Q800B
  • Top Splurge With Dolby Atmos: Sonos Arc + Sub Mini + IKEA Surrounds

PC Speakers

  • Best Desktop Speakers: Audioengine A2+
  • Top Surround System Under $500: Logitech Z606
  • Premium Dolby Atmos Pick: Klipsch Reference Theater Pack

I‘ve evaluated multiple options across diverse budgets for both categories suited for computer use based on connectivity, design and calibre of spatial audio.

Placement Tips for Soundbars and Speakers

  • Soundbars: Ensure there‘s at least 2-3 inches space between the bar cabinet and desk edge for usability. Angle vertically to point at ears. Wall mount them if desk space is really tight.
  • Speakers: Position monitors, speakers equidistant from your centered seating position. Keep tweeters at ear height. Place floor subwoofers away from walls. Absorb first reflections using acoustic treatment.

Proper placement and room acoustics optimization elevates the listening experience for both systems.

Conclusion: Should You Choose Soundbars or Speakers for Desktop Audio?

In closing, while streamlined soundbars pump up computer audio over lackluster built-in monitors, external multi-channel speaker systems − especially with dedicated subwoofers − deliver proper room-filling surround sound for gaming and movies. Discrete satellite speakers and precise placement create better immersion.

If compact form factor outweighs fidelity for your needs, modern higher-end soundbars employ clever psychoacoustics and Dolby Atmos height channels for nearly convincing spatial audio under $1000.

But critical listeners and home theater enthusiasts shouldn‘t settle for simulated surround gimmicks. For just a few hundred dollars more, true 5.1 and 7.1 surround speaker packs offer genuine cinema-grade performance, better components driving specific frequency ranges and unlimited placement flexibility perfect for enjoying music, gaming and movies.