Bookshelf speakers are the flagship consumer product of the audio world, and they’ve been around since the beginning, whereas the soundbar is still a relatively new concept. A main reason you’ll generally get more value with traditional bookshelf speakers is simply that there’s just more of them on the market, and thus more choice and competition within the niche. But that might change in the not too distant future – more and more soundbars are getting released and produced.
The main limitation of a sound bar is that, in an apparent trend to mirror the thin and slick design of modern TVs, most of them aren’t big enough to house standard sized drivers, and certainly not standard sized subwoofers, which limits their power and overall performance.
That said, soundbars do have some notable advantages: One, they can look nice, and that does matter to some people; two, they can fit horizontally over or under a TV; three, they’re usually powered, meaning you can plug them right in; and four, many of them are very inexpensive, making them, in addition to being easy, an attractive way to upgrade default TV speakers. Many of them also come included with a subwoofer.
If you don’t need massive sound, or you don’t want to buy a receiver, or you don’t want to otherwise have to deal with setting up traditional bookshelf speakers, or you maybe just down have horizontal space for speakers, a soundbar can certainly be a decent option, even if, per dollar spent, you get inferior volume and performance.
But soundbars have a ceiling – for now at least – and if you’re really looking to set up a high end, long term home theater system, then a receiver with at least a 2.1 set up (two bookshelfs and a subwoofer) is probably the way to go.