As I discussed in an earlier article, while soundbars are popular, they aren’t really a good option for those who want quality sound at a low price. Generally speaking, a soundbar is too small to sound really good. The companies who make soundbars aren’t usually dedicated to audio. Finally, similar systems at lower prices perform better. So today, I’m here to tell you what to buy instead. I’ve put together three different ways to get affordable alternatives at improved quality.
An Alternative To The Cheapest Soundbars
The most common soundbars people buy are just the bars themselves. Like this one I looked at carefully for a review: Vizio SB3820-x Review
As that review showed, it was just awful. However, it did offer the following list of features for $120:
- Makes sounds
- Connects to your TV
- Connects to Bluetooth
- Mounts to a wall
- Communicates via flashing lights
- Has a remote control
So, the question is, how close can we get to this for a similar price? Here is my solution:
- Dayton B652 with T-Amp – $77.50 (includes shipping)
Well that was easy. This will sound way better than the Vizio soundbar. I’ve reviewed these speakers and they are head and shoulders above the soundbar. It will work with most televisions. The speakers even have wall hangers on the back.
There is no Bluetooth connection, nor a good way of adding one. Your TV remote control might control the volume of the speakers, but that really depends on the model of your TV. These are important convenience features, but unfortunately that’s what you lose by getting better sound at 2/3rds of the price. We’ll get these in the later systems.
Check your TV to see how it outputs audio. If it uses a red & white RCA connectors, the right cables come in the box. If your TV has a headphone output instead, you’re going to need one of these:
- Headphone Cable – $6
If your TV has an optical connection, you need to pick up one of these:
- Optical to RCA Converter – $10
And that’s really all there is to it. If you want stands or better mounts you can get them, but ultimately for $78-$88 you can blow most people’s soundbars out of the water.
Adding a Subwoofer
Lots of people buy soundbars with subwoofers as well. Usually the subwoofers are very bad and don’t produce much bass. It’s there to make you pay $50 more, not to sound good. I know I get cynical about soundbars and mass consumer audio, but really, these subwoofers are often less that worthless. The bass produced by most of these products will be worse than what the Dayton B652 does on its own, as the Dayton speakers are decently large and have 6.5″ drivers.
Good, entry level subwoofers cost between $85-$200. That’s basically doubling the price of where we started, but that’s what you get by buying quality. The most basic subwoofer I can recommend is the Monoprice 108248. It has an 8 inch woofer, the minimum size a subwoofer should have.
To hook it up to the system described above, you just need to use two of these y-connectors to split your RCA signal in two.
This Amazon list has all of the products I’ve mentioned in the first two sections. The total price is $178, at most, for speakers with a subwoofer.
Adding to Surround Sound
Surround sound is a big step in a system, In addition to adding 3 more speakers, we need a home theater receiver. This is a device which will take all your HDMI inputs and extract the surround sound before giving them to speakers. It then sends a video to your TV. This is going to be the center of the system. All of the items here are in a separate Amazon list. The total price is $385 for 4 speakers plus a subwoofer.
I’ve picked out a Pioneer receiver that is the cheapest one I’d feel comfortable recommending. It has a remote control and Bluetooth, so this a definite step up from the prior section. Pioneer is a little bit of a risky bet as a receiver brand because they recently merged with receiver giant Onkyo. Both brands still exist separately, but one wonders if Pioneer’s business is going to come under the Onkyo brand. At this level of price though, I think it is a risk worth taking.
For speakers, I’m going to say just to buy two pairs of the Dayton B652’s I recommended before. They are $47 for each pair without the amplifier. I’m using the same $85 subwoofer as before. If you just bought one pair of speakers, and ditched the subwoofer, you’d have a nice stereo setup which sounds better and has more features than any soundbar at the same or less price for $227.
I also included the necessary cables on my list. There is also some speaker wire for when you need to make long lengths for the surround speakers. This can seem a bit daunting to people who have never done it before. Just take a pair of scissors and cut the length of wire you need. Then use a knife to strip the plastic insulation around the ends, and you’ll be good to go.
So know you’ve learned what you need to do to assemble your own setup that is better than soundbars in the same price range, and oftentimes, ones that are much more expensive. Audio can be complicated and require alot of knowledge to get into, which is why I’ve tried to share some with you before you go off and start buying stuff. This lack of knowledge is how people get bamboozeled by companies looking for an easy dollar. Armed with knowledge, you’ll get great sounds at affordable prices.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, and how to come up with bigger, better and more complicated setups, subscribe to my updates in the sidebar and buy a copy of my book, Affordable Home Theater.