A traditional home theater setup uses an AV receiver and speakers to create a surround sound effect. However, this can be bulky and expensive. You might be asking yourself if you can skip the complicated setup and use a soundbar instead.
A soundbar can replace a receiver in some cases as it is cheaper, less bulky, and has a higher sound quality than a TV. However, an AV receiver and surround speakers with a traditional setup have a higher sound quality and true surround sound. Soundbars cannot be used with surround speakers.
In this article, I’ll break down what soundbars and receivers are. I’ll show the advantages and disadvantages of each home theater setup and explain why you can’t use a soundbar and a receiver together.
Also read: Can Echo Studio Be Used as a Soundbar?
What Is a Receiver?
An AV receiver works together with a larger home stereo system. It often acts as both a receiver and an amplifier, by converting signals into sound. A receiver is made up of different parts:
- Inputs for audio and visual parts
- Outputs to TV or speaker system
- Signal processor
The receiver processes sound by following these steps:
- The receiver gets the signal from the audio input and sends it to the signal processor.
- The signal processor converts the signal into a digital format that can be read by the amplifiers.
- The signal processor sends the converted information to the amplifiers.
- The amplifiers control speakers and turn the information into sound.
This process depends on whether the AV receiver has a digital or analog processor. If it has a digital processor, it converts the signal and sends it to each audio channel speaker. However, an analog processor extracts sound from two channels and redistributes it into four audio channels.
A receiver generally sits underneath your television at the front of the room. It sends converted sound to all the other speakers in your home theater, which creates the surround sound effect.
What Is a Soundbar?
A soundbar is made up of multiple smaller speakers. Usually, it has different speakers which face in different directions, from a single unit. Like a receiver, you have it at the front of your room, close to your TV.
The soundbar speakers cover each of the following channels:
- Front left
- Front right
- Surround left
- Surround right
Because the sound bounces around the room’s walls, this allows the soundbar to achieve a surround sound effect from just one position.
Soundbars are particularly suited to smaller spaces. This is because they can achieve surround sound without the need for multiple speakers and cables.
They take up minimal space without compromising too much on sound quality. The unit itself is slim and can be mounted under the TV.
There are two kinds of soundbars:
- Passive soundbars: They do not have an in-built receiver or amplifier. Therefore, they need to be used with an external amplifier or receiver to produce sound.
- Active soundbars: They have an in-built audio signal processor. Therefore, they act similarly to a receiver, except that they send the converted audio to their speakers.
Many top-end soundbars can handle Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround sound, and these advanced technologies create a three-dimensional sound effect that can fill an entire room.
I recommend the JBL Bar 9.1 (Amazon link) if you are looking for a high-end soundbar.
Can a Soundbar Replace a Receiver?
The main difference between a soundbar and a receiver is that a soundbar has its speakers. A receiver converts the audio signal and sends it to speakers that reproduce the sound. This has its advantages and disadvantages.
A soundbar is a great option if you have a smaller home theater space. You can achieve a surround sound without investing in multiple speakers. The soundbar itself is also small, so it takes up minimal floor space.
With a traditional setup, you will generally need a combination of tower speakers, in-wall speakers, and bookshelf speakers to set up your home theater. This can take up a lot of wall and floor space, and leave smaller rooms feeling cramped.
A standard soundbar is significantly cheaper than a traditional home theater setup. Most home theater systems cost thousands of dollars. Even a premium soundbar will have a lower price tag than this.
Therefore, if you’re looking to keep to a budget, then using a soundbar instead of a receiver and speakers could save you a lot. However, if you aim too cheap, the sound quality will suffer.
Depending on the soundbar, you may get a lower quality of audio. Many cheaper soundbars have inferior signal processing technology.
Spoken audio can also be of a higher quality when played through a receiver/surround sound speaker setup. Because of the smaller speaker size in a soundbar, they can sometimes struggle at the lower frequencies.
Passive soundbars have more sophisticated audio technology that allows them to produce a more detailed sound. However, you need a receiver or an amplifier to use with them anyway. Passive soundbars are also much less common.
Compatibility With Speakers
Soundbars also cannot attain the same level of surround sound. Without rear speakers, they have an imitation surround sound that is just an extension of stereo sound.
When you compare a soundbar to a receiver with a full set of surround sound speakers, you cannot achieve the same sound quality.
Most soundbars are not compatible with other speakers. They do not have the outputs to connect to external speakers. Therefore, even if you wanted to use them as part of a larger setup, it wouldn’t be possible or advisable.
Receivers are designed to work with other speakers. You can add multiple different speakers to create a full surround sound.
Can You Use a Soundbar and a Receiver Together?
Simply speaking, you shouldn’t use an active soundbar and a receiver together. However, you might consider using a soundbar and a receiver together if:
- You want to use the soundbar as a center channel.
- You want to use the soundbar with rear surround speakers.
However, you should not use an active soundbar like a center channel. It has multiple speakers that cover different channels. Therefore, the sound will be unbalanced and may move from one side to another.
If you try to use the soundbar with rear surround speakers, you can also run into problems. The soundbar isn’t designed to only broadcast a few channels, so the sound will also be unbalanced and not true surround sound.
It’s a different story if you have a passive soundbar. You will need to use this with a receiver to reproduce sound in your home theater.
This video shows the pros and cons of connecting a soundbar to a receiver. It also shows you how you can do it if you are determined.
You can use an active soundbar in the place of a receiver. It has the following advantages:
- It is cheaper.
- It takes up less space.
- The installation is easy.
However, you can’t use a soundbar in the same way. It has the following disadvantages:
- It is not compatible with surround speakers.
- It has a lower sound quality.
- There are less cinematic effects and surround sound.
A soundbar is a more simple option for your home theater system. However, it is not a direct replacement. You should consider your budget and audio needs before deciding on a soundbar or AV receiver.
If you are still uncertain, you may visit your nearest appliance store to have your concern addressed.
Check out my top picks for soundbars.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.