A soundbar is a speaker enclosure that is designed to enhance the sound for watching movies and TV. Most of the earlier models did not come with subwoofers of any kind and instead, just offered better stereo sound for the viewer. However, it is an increasing trend that new soundbars include subwoofers – either as separate units or integrated into the main housing. This helps to fill in the low-end sound and it adds more impact to certain elements of the audio experience.
In shopping for a soundbar or soundbase, you are going to find that some models come with a built-in subwoofer and then there are some others that come with a separate subwoofer that you connect to the system (often wirelessly). This may lead some to question which is better or which style is right for their home. There is not really a strict “one is better than the other” type of answer and it will depend on what the individual is looking for in a home audio system.
For the quality and the impact of the bass, the separate subwoofers are usually going to outperform the models that have them integrated into the unit. While the models that do have built in subwoofers can still sound good and produce a ton of bass, they have to be worked into the unit (like the Sony soundbase model shown below) with all of the other speakers and components of the system. When the subwoofer is in its own dedicated enclosure, the designers have a little more freedom to design the box to get the best response from the speaker.
In addition to this, the limited amount of space means that they cannot fit as large a subwoofer in to the unit, or that they might have to modify the size or position of other components to fit it in. This is especially true when you are talking about soundbars over soundbases. A soundbase will have a little more room to fit these components in, so there will not be quite as much need for compromise.
On the point of installation, the units that have the integrated subwoofer are going to be easier to install and set up. It is just the one unit, so you do not have any extra wires or cords to run to get the subwoofer working. However, some manufacturers have started to offer subwoofers that are wireless to make the installation a little easier. It will still be a little more work, but it is better than having to run a piece of speaker wire to the subwoofer.
To take it all down to basic terms, if you want the best performance on the low frequency channel, then a separate subwoofer is probably the right way to go, but if you are more concerned with having a system that is easy to set up, an integrated subwoofer will probably be better. Both can work well depending on your needs and the design. You can still find models with integrated subwoofers that produce great low-end sound and you can find models, with separate subwoofers that are relatively easy to install. It’s just a matter of knowing what you want, and finding a model that fits your home.