ARTICLE: Soundbar or AV Receiver – which one should you choose?

MrMrH

Active Member
Thanks for this article, I find this a question I am asking myself writer a bit these days.

Do (m)any of the soundbars out there offer useful room correction and systems to help with setup? I figure this would be important for Dolby Atmos as surely it would need to know where in space to put the object sound.
 

BillRawles

Active Member
Thanks Steve, interesting and something I had a brief look into recently.

I'm under no illusions that an AVR and separates would be better and were I fitting out a "man cave", it would be a no brainer. However I was looking for a solution for an already decorated family living room and the thought of speaker wire and trunking (shudder) was too much to bear. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places but I just couldn't find an AVR option providing wireless rear speakers. That left me to choose from the handful soundbars that do. I got a smashing deal (>50% less than the Q950 price mentioned) on a JBL 9.1 in the end and we're very impressed.

Also in your example, that centre speaker would look so out of place beneath my (and I'd guess most peoples) TV. I'd be awarding aesthetics points to the soundbar side of the debate.
 

T1berious

Member
In an existing space its going to be difficult to go AVR 5..1.2 without it being obtrusive. The Samsung Q950 and rears were a perfect solution purchased for the in laws. It sat on their existing cabinet and replaced a Sub they had from an old Bose system and they're very happy with it.

In stark contrast we cabled up a 5.1 + 2.0 system when new flooring was going in (visible cables were not an option!) looks great but means 5.1.4 isn't going to happen.

If I had the choice again would I go 5.1.2 + 2.0 cabling wise, probably not as this was 8 years ago and ATMOS was in its infancy (and cabling up the ceiling would have been a mare!).

A man cave you can go for your life, but if its a shared living space you have to accept the aesthetic compromises versus audio needs.
 

GeirW

Member
I've had the Samsung q950 for a few weeks, and it was decent enough.
I returned it because I found myself missing my old ma gold setup.
I will return to a 5.0 setup with arendal front and center speakers and I'll see about about the surround speakers.
I'll agree wholeheartedly that the aesthetics of a Soundbar is miles ahead of anything else🙂
 

Morden

Well-known Member
Thanks for this article, I find this a question I am asking myself writer a bit these days.

Do (m)any of the soundbars out there offer useful room correction and systems to help with setup? I figure this would be important for Dolby Atmos as surely it would need to know where in space to put the object sound.
The sony zf9 has settings for db level and distance and also has a white noise mode. Which is helpfull in using a sound meter to calibrate the speakers.
I would think that sound bars from other manufactures should have similar settings. Though owners of them feel free to correct me.

Thanks Steve, interesting and something I had a brief look into recently.

I'm under no illusions that an AVR and separates would be better and were I fitting out a "man cave", it would be a no brainer. However I was looking for a solution for an already decorated family living room and the thought of speaker wire and trunking (shudder) was too much to bear. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places but I just couldn't find an AVR option providing wireless rear speakers. That left me to choose from the handful soundbars that do. I got a smashing deal (>50% less than the Q950 price mentioned) on a JBL 9.1 in the end and we're very impressed.

Also in your example, that centre speaker would look so out of place beneath my (and I'd guess most peoples) TV. I'd be awarding aesthetics points to the soundbar side of the debate.
I agree, I replaced an is old sony davs550 system with a Sony ht zf9 with rears. Going wireless was the option I had to go with as the cables for the old system were a source of complaint . And to have something that blended in to the room aesthetically was very important.

The sound from the sb was a step up from my old davs 550.

Yes a new receiver/seperates would have been better as would perhaps an upward firing SB system, but we have neighbours and the bedrooms are upstairs. Sound proofing the the roof was not in my budget :)

So I had to.compromise.

The sony ht zf9 doesnt do proper overhead, but when setup properly, it will provide a 'bubble' of sound all around you and will do good left to right & front to rear effects.
And it has very heavy bass, which I had to dial down for neighbours.

I paid £679 for my ZF9 when it first came out so very happy with cost to sound performance ratio.
And I also have another in my other room where the roof is high contains glass and is angled and it performs well there.
No neighbouring walls or upstairs, so it gets a better volume than the one in my living room 😁

The best system for anyone is whatever they are happiest with for their room/house given budget and other limitations.

I would love an atmos system with overheads, but neighbours and upstairs bedrooms aside putting holes in the roof, ripping out skirting boards and bits of walls and then redecorating to allow unobtrusive cabling is very much not an option for me.
 

ozzzy189

Distinguished Member
I don't want a sub, I don't have room for one, I have my stereo speakers with my TV in the middle of them and I have to put them in sub optimal position because of the bloody sub. So I'd rather have a soundbar without a sub.
 

BobSquarePants

Standard Member
Thanks for the informative article. One important issue is the shape of the room which limits where and what speakers to install. For example, If you live in a 1930s house, you probably have a fire place/chimney breast, radiator(s), bay window and then seating for at least 4 and a door (!!) to get into the room. Trying to get a room set up for home cimema is a nightmare when you have to work around all of these factors. I have a 5.1 system but can’t find any place for rears as my sofa is up againt the wall and it just the case of doing the best you can in the rooms you have.
 

MarkusThatch

Distinguished Member
I recently took the plunge with a soundbar after being dead set against them for years. The reason was we needed to reconfigure our lounge and doing so revealed just how many speaker cables and wires were involved in the previous av set up. The lounge was planned for as part of an extension some 6 years ago so tried to future proof with what were at the time decent hdmi leads plus backups of cat v cables, speaker cables laid for a surround set up.

We were limited in terms of placement because of the type of walls/ceiling we have so all of the cabling was very much ‘fixed’ and permanent. So when the time came to replace a 4K Samsung tv with a 4K Sony tv the first horror revealed itself - I hadn’t planned for long enough hdmi cable to take into account that Sony hdmi ports were located in different places to that of Samsung sets. More fool me. Swmbo was singularly unimpressed with my lack of forethought and I was similarly annoyed at myself as this would mean some messy channeling work and a little bit of redecorating. Not massive issues but annoying.

My previous set up was atmos 5.2.1 so there were a lot of speaker cables coming out of the wall into the amp and of course plenty of hdmi leads for the tv, games consoles, sat tv, 4K player, multi region br player. When we reconfigured the room swmbo sent me a photo at work of the spaghetti junction of cabling and wires and that was it for me, I’d seen enough to convince me I’d had enough of 15+ years of av amps and just wanted simplicity. So that’s what I’ve gone for and to be fair it works pretty well. Modern family life means I can’t have the sound as thunderously loud as I used to and I guess it’s like anything really - you don’t know you’re missing out if you haven’t got it/can’t experience it!

I don’t advocate for either option really - I’m not competitive with mates or fellow avforumers with my set up, it works and I’m happy with that. Ignorance is bliss?! I must admit though, if money/situation ever changes in the future I would love to go back to the days of a dedicated man cave and that probably would be a full on wired cable/speaker set up!
 

steviedr

Distinguished Member
Thanks Steve, it’s certainly something many of us have thought about at some stage in our setups.

Ignoring audio performance / cost, aesthetics does play an important role if you share the room with others, and for many may be the deciding factor (even speaker choice, aesthetic may overrule performance for acceptance).

I’ve thought many times of replacing my current floor standing speakers with a neater solution (would love in wall but with brick and cost, it’s not happening any time soon). I even thought of replacing then whole setup for the Panasonic oled with built in Atmos speakers (appreciating it will be front heavy).

The big AV receivers can be hidden (within a cabinet), they are even getting a makeover (recent Nad touch screen caught my eye), again, adds to the acceptance.

If anyone is decorating their room, for the sake of the cost of speaker cable, wire it up in case you decide to go for it. I regret not running cable (up the brick wall) for Atmos in ceiling / digital Ariel (stuck with satellite), now the thought of starting to raggle a brick wall...well, it’s not happening...
 

T1berious

Member
Thanks for the informative article. One important issue is the shape of the room which limits where and what speakers to install. For example, If you live in a 1930s house, you probably have a fire place/chimney breast, radiator(s), bay window and then seating for at least 4 and a door (!!) to get into the room.
Yup, totally agree, less than ideal but with room correction it makes for a really nice space. You always have to work with what you've got and make compromises.

 

veedub

Active Member
Thanks for the article Steve, very interesting subject. Absolutely agree with the points raised.

In my own experience, I do prefer a full AVR setup - a Soundbar can be a very effective option that is cost effective and easy to set up, but AVR’s do give a lot more options - more HDMI’s, Customisation, better amplification, better sound EQ options & crucially the ability to upgrade individual components when required (i.e. changing speakers or adding different subwoofers).

I have both AVR’s and sound bars, the AVR’s consist of a 5.2.2 Denon X3300W AVR setup (using up firing modules for Atmos) in the living room and a 7.2.4 Marantz SR7012 with power Amp (using ceiling speakers) in the Cinema Room.

I find that a AVR in a cabinet with a center speaker and a well matched set of surrounds can be very discreet (cabling can easily be hidden behind skirting boards or under carpet where possible). This really does depend on the build of any house - but for myself in our house running cable isn’t an issue.

The Sony and Polk soundbars we have are excellent but offer limited upgrade options and the lack of HDMI’s is frustrating. But are ideal solutions in certain situations where rooms are smaller and accommodating AVR’s and associated equipment is difficult. The Samsung Q950 will be a step up from my soundbars but I can’t help but think that spending over £1k on a Soundbar is money I would be better off using in other ways - i.e. speaker upgrades or amplification (but that is purely my own opinion based on my own requirements). I like being able to upgrade components over time which can spread costs. Where possible I would always tend to go with a AVR for my main AV setup for these reasons.

Every person will have a different viewpoint on what is required for their setup, brilliant we have so many options that give excellent sound quality now (whether Soundbars or AVR’s).
 
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Red tape

Standard Member
Thank god I`m not in the situation where I have to think which one to buy.
But my friend was. His wife said that all speakers and movies must go. He finally got permission to buy soundbar. When she saw the subwoofer (6 or 8 inch), she wasn`t happy at all (I was ready to leave). He has to do all kinds of demos to show that he could keep it.
I guess they are happy after all.
 

Phil Hinton

Editor
Staff member
another article, with a very nice "advertisement", for the Q950T ...
No, this isn't an advertisement. If it were a sponsored or commercial post, it would be clearly marked as such. I actually asked Steve to look at this question and with his vast experience reviewing hundreds of soundbars and AVRs, to come up with some solutions in a written article. This also includes looking at second-hand equipment within the AVForums classifieds.
 

Davekale86

Well-known Member
If you have the room for it then I’d choose an decent AVR setup and speakers over a sound bar you can’t beat having actual speakers behind you but if your other half isn’t into home cinema or don’t have the room then a sound bar would be the way to do luckily my other half didn’t mind me setting up my surrounds and Atmos speakers she even wanted a demo of them! Either way you’ve got to go with what works best for you a lot of things come into play like proper positioning of speakers and wiring up speaker cable and most people are not prepared to be drilling holes in the ceiling haha
 

boabis

Active Member
Ed has mentioned on the podcast that a good stereo system might be more “immersive” than a soundbar, and provide an alternative to a front-only soundbar.

Naim Muso is £1299 in certain places now, and that would be a great one-box solution, and it has HDMI ARC.

Denon and Marantz now do network enabled stereo-only receivers with multiple HDMIs for about £500, which leaves you plenty of budget to pick up some decent speakers.

I went from 5.1 Denon/Kef eggs to a Q Acoustics M3 soundbar, as most of my viewing is at lower volumes (because of young kids).
 

Captain Ron

Well-known Member
I was fortunate enough to meet my wife over a shared love of music so the only considerations I have had to factor when building my AV system have been budgetary and installation related. Neighbours is also the other important consideration. We are renting currently but hopefully homebuying this year and it has already been decided that whatever property we go for it absolutely must be detached.
 

coolbreeze84

Standard Member
This article has come at the perfect time. I've been debating for several months about replacing my two year old flagship Samsung HW-N950, 7.1.4 soundbar with separates.

Our current setup sounds fantastic with Atmos really working well. Myself and my other half really enjoy it but I bought a Denon X3600H during the first lockdown which is still in its box. I'm sorely tempted to start building something. We are looking at changing our living room later in the year so that might be the time to do so.
 

Russ_64

Well-known Member
I don't see this as an "either or" question. I have both.

My soundbar is used for daily TV (using Sky Q) and I have the AVR(HT) for movies (using the UHD and Apple TV4k). My hook up is everything into the AVR using HDMI (with passthru) and then to SB (HDMI) and then to TV (HDMI Arc). When AVR is in standby it passes thru Sky Q and SB is active. When watching a movie the AVR is on and the SB is in standby (passthru). Works for me.

Using a Harmony allows for one button to turn on/off all active devices as needed.
 

Hoku

Active Member
I’m sorry but I’ve yet to hear a soundbar that even remotely comes close to a separate AV receiver and speakers. I think they’re an overpriced con: in many instances, especially at the cheaper end of the market, they’re barely better, if at all, than the TV’s built-in sound.

Their principal problem IMO is that they ask their design engineers to begin with a problem and try and solve it: incorrect placement. One speaker pointing at your knees will never sound that good no matter how many drivers you try and throw at it; and that problem is made even worse if you have a large or poorly shaped room. Why create the problem in the first place?

I do appreciate the difficulties of a full surround sound system though - the wiring, the speaker placement; although it should be considered that citing a soundbar effectively isn’t always easy either, without it being located too low, and hence so ineffective.

Personally for those who are struggling for aesthetic or financial reasons to shoehorn a full surround setup in their living room, I feel that in many cases a stereo amp (with optical input for your TV) and a set of room and budget appropriate stereo speakers is a far superior solution: or indeed a pair of powered speakers.

I’d prefer for example a set of Ruark MR1’s at their price point than any soundbar. The performance would be infinitely superior (especially if you want to use them for music duties too) and let’s face it: they’re not exactly large and difficult to find a home for in most living rooms. Add a sub and you’ve got a tidy and pretty high performance system for the money.

It does annoy me when I see five star reviews of soundbars: poor punters that don’t know any different will look at those five star products and think they’re actually good: when for the same money often they would easily find an equivalent stereo alternative that would knock a soundbar out of the park.

I will admit that soundbars are big sellers and I can understand why manufacturers are feeling forced to jump on the bandwagon and have a few in their lineup: but then the mass market has never chosen quality or the best options out there. But there are far better alternatives and it’s the job of reviewers of soundbars to at least point out that although a soundbar may have five stars FOR A SOUNDBAR, that that doesn’t mean it’s a great product compared to the alternatives available.

And that’s before you get me onto obsolescence: once a soundbar becomes out of date, like any all-in-one system, it means chucking the thing away and investing in a whole new system again. At least with a stereo amp and speakers, the speakers should last you 20 years.

Sorry, here endeth the rant!
 
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Coulson

Distinguished Member
An AVR will also have a better remote control, along with a proper display that’s visible, easy-to-read and informative.
Have you seen the display on the Marantz 6000 series lol
Thankfully there is one option that stands head-and-shoulders above the competition, offering a 5.1.2 channel configuration at an affordable price. The Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 (£699) is an excellent speaker package that not only sounds superb and comes with a decent subwoofer, but has upward-firing drivers built-into the front left and right speakers, making for a tidier solution.
An absolutely stonking set of speakers with Focal grade satellite speakers. The sound from these and their up-firing modules is simply amazing for their size. Think of them as bookshelf sized speakers even though the shape makes them seem smaller. So if the satellites are excellent, they must have cut costs somewhere, right? Enter the subwoofer which is a typical HTIB sub i.e. ok but boomy and probably not much better than a soundbar subwoofer. The other issue is that if you want to upgrade with another set of Dolby speakers, the price for the new pair is prohibitively expensive when compared to the price of the set. For many films you might not notice the difference between .2 and .4 but if you can find a deal then it is definitely worth it.
 

Coulson

Distinguished Member
I don't see this as an "either or" question. I have both.

My soundbar is used for daily TV (using Sky Q) and I have the AVR(HT) for movies (using the UHD and Apple TV4k). My hook up is everything into the AVR using HDMI (with passthru) and then to SB (HDMI) and then to TV (HDMI Arc). When AVR is in standby it passes thru Sky Q and SB is active. When watching a movie the AVR is on and the SB is in standby (passthru). Works for me.

Using a Harmony allows for one button to turn on/off all active devices as needed.
I don't have a soundbar but I agree and if you have a Harmony (which can be a PITA) it's even better. Of course it does becomes an either/or question because of budget. How many people can afford to have both?
 

Russ_64

Well-known Member
I don't have a soundbar but I agree. Of course it becomes an either/or question because of budget. How many people can afford to have both?
I understand that point but I would not pay a high price (>£500) for a soundbar as we understand it's inherent limitations. For those wanting Home Theater for Atmos / DTS:X, then of course budget is a different matter.
 

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