Soundbar VS Surround Sound – Complete Guide
Although most televisions come with decent audio systems, many a time it may not be enough. The sound quality may be lacking in certain aspects. Projection, clarity and feel may need enhancing. For this you have two options. You can either add a good soundbar to amp up your TV’s audio system or go for a surround sound speaker system. The soundbar vs surround sound system debate is an old one. Several factors influence the choice of sound devices for your home/office. In the following sections, we will learn the basics of soundbar and surround sound technology. We will also try and understand the surround bar vs surround sound argument. We will evaluate which device is better in what kind of setting, and why. In short, we will help you make up your mind regarding what to go for, soundbar or surround sound speakers.
A soundbar is a one-piece long slender bar consisting of several speakers placed side by side. It is often accompanied by a separate subwoofer for extra bass. A soundbar is a great way to boost the sound quality of your TV’s in-built speakers. It comes with adjustable sound modes capable of producing distinct dialogues and vocals. Some soundbars can also produce virtual surround sound wherein sound is reflected from walls and ceilings to create the illusion of surround sound.
A typical surround sound speaker system is a 5.1 home theater system with multiple speakers that can be placed in different corners of a room for optimum acoustics. It delivers room-filling cinema-like surround sound that is projected towards the viewer from every direction. Action-packed movies with advanced special effects are best enjoyed with a surround sound system. Intelligibility is greatly improved and even the faintest sounds come out louder and clearer. A surround sound system generally comes with an AV receiver, 5 speakers and one subwoofer.
Soundbar vs surround sound system – How is a soundbar different from a surround sound system ?
The soundbar vs surround sound system is a long-drawn tug-of-war with no real winner. Fundamentally, a soundbar and a surround sound system are the same- they are both audio devices used to boost the sound produced by television speakers. But there are a few differences. To begin with, a soundbar is compact and takes up very little space whereas a surround sound system consists of several speakers and needs more space. If space is an issue, soundbar is a clear winner in the soundbar vs home theater tussle. A soundbar can be placed anywhere – on a flat surface in front of or under the TV. It can also be mounted on a wall. Placement of the various units of a surround sound system in a room needs to be properly planned so that it can create stunning acoustics. Soundbars do not have too many wires and hence, are clutter-free. Surround sound systems may entail a few wires. Although there are Bluetooth enabled wireless surround sound systems, to get truly awesome and uninterrupted surround sound, you will need a wired connection between your TV and the speakers of the surround system. Soundbars have a minimalist look and are unobtrusive in design. They preserve the aesthetics of a room. A surround sound system can make a regular room look like the inside of a cinema hall or theater. It can completely alter the look and layout of a room and greatly enhance the decor. A soundbar can deliver crystal-clear dialogues and vocals. So they are ideal for watching dramas and comedies. Surround sound systems are excellent at producing special sound effects. So they are perfect for movies with a lot of action, animation and adventure. Installing a soundbar is fairly simple, but installing a surround sound system can be complicated. The layout and size of a room also matters. If the room is spacious and open, without any distinct corners and the walls are far away from the TV, a soundbar is the best option. It can make the TV sound louder and clearer. A soundbar also works best in smaller compact rooms measuring 12 feet by 13 feet, or less. On the other hand, if the room is medium or large sized and has defined corners where the speaker units can be placed, a surround sound system with a receiver and 5.1 channel speakers is preferable. A soundbar cannot produce surround sound but can create an illusion of surround sound by reflecting sound waves off walls and ceilings. This is called virtual surround sound and most soundbars have this feature. Price wise, soundbars are more affordable than home theater systems. Depending on how sophisticated they are, soundbars can cost anywhere between $70 to $2000, or more, whereas prices of surround sound systems start at $400 and can go up to a staggering $50,000, or more.
Soundbar vs surround sound – characteristics and features :
In the following paragraphs we will discuss the difference in physical design, sound quality and pricing of soundbars and surround sound systems.
Physical design of soundbar :
Soundbars, as we have already discussed, are slim and slender bars within which a row of speakers and amplifiers are laid out. It is like a long cabinet that contains the built-in speakers and amplifiers. A soundbar is a single device shaped like an elongated box. It generally has an understated and minimalistic design. Some soundbars have an aluminum or steel body with a solid grille covering the front panel. Some soundbars have a plastic body and cloth grille. Most soundbars come with a separate compact subwoofer for deeper bass. It is mostly wireless but a few models have wired subwoofers. Soundbars have in-built Bluetooth. Most also have Wi-Fi connectivity. You can easily stream your favorite shows and music from other Bluetooth enabled devices like smart phones, laptops, etc. There are three variants in soundbars. One is the common single-unit soundbar that houses two or more speakers and amplifiers. This is the standard variety in soundbars. It can be placed in front of the TV or mounted on a wall. The second type is the pedestal soundbar. It is shaped like a flat rectangular box and acts as a platform on which the TV rests. This kind of soundbar is specially engineered to take the weight of the TV. It is also called sound base, sound stand, sound plate or speaker base. It contains both speakers and amplifiers and sometimes may also come fitted with a subwoofer. The third kind is a hybrid between a traditional soundbar and a surround sound system. It comprises of a soundbar and two rear speakers for surround sound. The soundbar can be placed on a table or mounted on a wall and the speakers can be placed on either side of the listening/viewing position. Soundbars come with inputs for feeding in audio signals from devices like your television, Blu-ray discs, set-top box, gaming console, etc. Soundbars come in varying lengths. It is important to select a soundbar that compliments the size of your flat-screen TV. The following chart can help you in picking up the right soundbar.
Note: Televisions are measured diagonally. Therefore, soundbar length does not correspond directly to the size of your TV’s screen. Also, it is not compulsory for a soundbar to match the width of the TV, even if they are both from the same brand. We recommend looking up the manufacturer’s manual and finding out the actual width and length of the products before purchasing them.
|Length of soundbar in inches||TV screen size|
|38 inch to 45 inch||42 inch to 50 inch|
|50 inch||55 inch to 60 inch|
|60 inch||70 inch|
Pedestal style soundbars are less popular but still sold in the market. Their demand has fallen primarily because most flat screen TV brands, for safety reasons, have done away with the centralized stand and replaced it with dual feet at either end of the screen. Also, pedestal style sound bases lack a solid bass support as they do not have a separate subwoofer like other conventional soundbars.
Physical design of surround sound system :
A surround sound system is a home theater system that has multiple units. A typical 5.1 channel speaker system will have one AV receiver, five speakers and one subwoofer. The 5 in 5.1 indicates the number of speakers. There are three front speakers, one to the right of the TV, one to the left and one in the centre in front of the TV or above it. There are two other speakers that are placed behind the viewing area or couch facing the TV, one on the left and the other on the right. These two speakers provide rear surround sound. The 1 in 5.1 refers to the number of subwoofers. Most surround sound systems come with a 5.1 set-up. But other configurations are also available with variants as compact as 2.1 and as expansive as 9.2. Placement of the speakers and the subwoofer around the room needs to be well-planned to create an optimum surround sound experience. A surround speaker system makes in a living room is a statement. It is testimony to how much the owner of the system appreciates good entertainment. A home theater system requires wires to deliver uninterrupted surround sound. It may seem a little messy but it is required. You can use Bluetooth speakers but authentic room-filling sound can only be generated with the help of wires. The installation process of a home theater system may also be a tad complicated as it involves multiple devices.
Sound quality of soundbar :
A soundbar greatly enhances your TV’s sound. It makes it louder and more distinct. Dialogues are crystal clear and bass is deep. You can rest assured you will not miss a single word of the shows and movies you watch. Soundbars are perfect for small and medium spaces. It produces booming sound that is projected towards the couch where the listener is seated. Soundbars have virtual surround sound. This technology mimics actual surround sound by bouncing sound waves off walls and ceiling to give the impression of sound coming from different directions. In other words, soundbars simulate surround sound. However, they cannot offer an authentic surround sound experience. They can only create an illusion of surround sound through virtual surround sound processing. Hybrid soundbars with extra rear speakers manage to produce a somewhat surround sound effect but of course it does not compare with the real deal. The sweet spot in soundbars is generally static and cannot be moved around. Sound from the device is projected to a central position in front of the TV and that is where the sound is best experienced.
Sound quality of surround sound system :
Home theater systems produce impactful head-spinning surround sound. Every sound is crisper and clearer. The five speakers deliver every detail in high definition. The crack of a whip, the boom of gunfire, the roar of a lion, the rustle of dry leaves underfoot, the sound of a helicopter circling overhead – every sound is delivered with accurate spatial imaging. The audio quality feels so real that it transports the viewer/listener to the scene being played out on the screen. Every sound emanates from the direction in which the action is taking place on the screen. For example, if a car zooms past from left to right on the TV screen, the sound produced by the home theater system also moves from left to right, in sync with the action on screen. If a bird flies overhead, the sound of its wings flapping will also come from above. These are some of the nuances you can expect from a surround speaker system. In addition, the dynamic range of sound becomes wider, words and vocals are more intelligible and bass effect is more powerful. Home theater systems are therefore ideal for watching action-packed movies and shows which have plenty of special effects and animation. The high definition front (left, right and center) speakers are designed for pinpoint imaging and spacious distribution of sound in the front. A home theater system has more tweeters, drivers and woofers than a soundbar and therefore can easily fill a room with all-encompassing and reverberating sound. The entire 5.1 channel speaker system is capable of maintaining pinpoint accuracy of sound placement across the sound spectrum. The sweet spot(s) in surround sound systems can be moved around the room. You can adjust the placement and angling of the speakers to channel sound towards any viewing/listening position you like.
Pricing of soundbar :
Soundbars are generally cheaper than home theater systems. In the soundbar vs home theater debate, soundbar is a clear winner in terms of affordability. They can cost anywhere between $70 to $2000, or more. However, be sure to check out the specifications in the manufacturer’s manual. A soundbar may be large and expensive. But that does not imply its sound quality will also be great. Sometimes, a low or medium cost soundbar is sufficient to create realistic audio. It largely depends on the layout and size of your room. So do not judge a device solely based on its price. Take into account other factors too like space and TV size before buying a soundbar.
Pricing of surround sound system :
Surround speaker systems are more expensive than soundbars. They can cost anywhere between $400 and $50,000, or more. Some low-cost home theater system cost the same as medium price soundbars. Before investing in a device, it is important to understand your sound requirement and the layout of the room or space where the TV is located. The number of speakers will depend on the corners and angles in the room. Therefore, it is imperative that you read the specifications carefully before purchasing.
Soundbar vs surround sound – Which is preferable in what kind of setting ?
In the debate between soundbar vs surround sound, we often neglect to take into account the setting of the place. The size and layout of the room, the placement of furniture in it, the distance of the walls and ceiling from the TV and the audio system – all these factors influence the final sound delivered by the device. The acoustics of a room directly impact the movement and dispersion of sound around the room. Soundbars work best in small and medium-sized rooms. They are good for compact spaces where the walls are not too far away from the TV and soundbar. Soundbars project sound to a central area in front of the TV. The sweet spot cannot be moved much. Therefore, if you are simply looking to enhance your TV sound and if your room is small to medium sized, a standard soundbar is enough to give you better audio. Soundbars are also ideal for large and spacious rooms which do not have defined corners or which have high or asymmetrical corners. Soundbars cannot generate real surround sound. They can only mimic it. They use virtual surround sound processing technology to simulate surround sound by reflecting sound off walls and ceilings to give an impression of surround sound. Virtual surround sound is certainly an improvement over regular TV audio, but it still doesn’t compare with a full-range 5.1 channel surround speaker system. So whether it is a soundbar or surround sound speakers, the layout of a room and the arrangement of furniture and other objects in the room directly impact the sound experience. Also, if you want to mount your device on a wall, a soundbar is the best option. It hardly has any wires and can easily be set-up.
A surround sound system on the other hand is perfect for large rooms with well-defined corners. The speakers and subwoofer can be strategically placed in these corners to create convincing and resonating surround sound. Volume wise also a surround sound system is powerful enough to create loud feel-the-sound-in-your-bones audio. But if the walls of the room are far away from the TV and the layout of the room is also oblong without any clear corners, then a home theater system may not be the ideal choice. For a surround speaker system to function effectively, the layout of the room must support it acoustically. A surround speaker system will also need more space, making it the right choice for larger rooms. In other words, if you are looking to amp up the audio quality of your TV speakers and your room is spacious and has well-defined corners, a home theater system is what you need.
Soundbar vs surround sound – Top 5 soundbars and top 5 surround sound systems :
Top 5 soundbars :
Sonos PLAYBAR TV Soundbar :
The Sonos Playbar TV soundbar is as good as it gets. It transforms your TV’s tinny sound into unsurpassable audio with crystal clear dialogues, sweet high notes and rumbling bass. It is a formidable soundbar with 9 amplified speakers of which 6 are mid-range drivers and 3 are tweeters. The speakers are strategically placed in a phased manner to enlarge the sound stage. The Sonos Playbar has Bluetooth and a 3.5mm AUX-in jack for wireless and wired media input respectively. It is compatible with Android, iOS and Windows devices, set-top boxes, gaming consoles and Blu-ray players. It has inbuilt Wi-Fi and supports over 80 streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. The Playbar can be accessed through the Sonos mobile app. It has unique features like Trueplay Speaker Tuning, Speech Enhancement, Night Mode and Multi-room Music. The best thing, however, about the Sonos Playbar is that it is Alexa-ready. Just pair it with an Amazon Echo Dot and control what you watch with only your voice. The Playbar can be upgraded to a thunderous 5.1 channel home theatre system. Simply add a Sonos subwoofer to experience room-filling surround sound and ground-shaking bass. The soundbar is wall and shelf-mountable. It has a 2-cord setup, one for the TV and one for power. It can also be controlled with your existing TV remote. If you want a smaller soundbar with smart features then you may check Sonos Beam.
Bose Solo 5 TV Sound System :
The Bose Solo 5 is the perfect companion for your HD flat screen TV. It makes your TV’s sound fuller and richer and more impactful. The soundbar has Bluetooth for wireless audio streaming and media input from Bluetooth devices. It is compatible with all iOS, Android and Windows systems, gaming consoles, Blu-ray players and cable boxes. The soundbar has a power cord that goes into a wall socket, and a single audio cable that connects to the TV. Whether optical, coaxial or 3.5mm AUX input (analog), the soundbar intuitively knows the kind of connection you are using and adapts accordingly. The Bose Solo 5 has a universal remote. You can use it to control the soundbar as well as other video sources connected to the TV. The soundbar has a massive bass presence. In fact, the remote control comes with a separate bass enhancing button. There is a special Dialogue Mode too for making voices more distinct and audible. The gadget has a smart minimalistic design, and can be mounted on walls, tables and media consoles. It is also super easy to install and get started.
Bose SoundTouch 300 Soundbar :
The Bose SoundTouch 300 is a slim soundbar with stellar sound. It is built with proprietary QuietPort technology and PhaseGuide technology. QuietPort technology involves recessed ports that use parts of a resistance screen to minimize distortions and enhance bass. PhaseGuide technology generates beams of multi-directional sound using proprietary transducers (drivers). The Bose SoundTouch 300 has state-of-the-art transducers with advanced signal processing for greater cinematic clarity. It has multiple options for media input which include Bluetooth, inbuilt Wi-Fi, NFC pairing and wired connectivity through AUX audio cable. The USP of the SoundTouch 300 is that it can be bumped up to a monstrous 5.1 channel home cinema system using the Acoustimass 300 wireless sub and Virtually Invisible 300 wireless surround sound speakers. It produces never-before-like sound and completely revolutionizes home TV viewing. The Bose SoundTouch 300 is app-controllable and can be monitored through the SoundTouch app. It is also Alexa-friendly and can be paired with Amazon smart home gadgets like Echo Dot and Echo. The gadget has a universal remote and supports Dolby Digital, DTS, HDMI and 4K pass-through. It has a slender stylish body with a tempered glass top and a metal grille that goes around the soundbar. It can be placed on flat surfaces and also mounted on walls.
Polk Magnifi Mini :
The Polk Magnifi Mini is an ultra-compact home theatre system with big sound. It comprises of a soundbar and wireless subwoofer that amplify your TV’s sound and jack up the bass. The soundbar is equipped with a pair of 0.5-inch tweeters and four 2.25-inch midrange drivers while the sub is fitted with a single 6.5-inch woofer. The combined muscle of all the drivers delivers room-shaking audio with stunning clarity and depth. The Polk Magnifi Mini soundbar also boasts Polk’s signature Voice Adjust technology. This technology makes vocals and dialogues more intelligible so you don’t miss a single word of your favorite shows. The sub has Polk’s Deep Bass technology which greatly improves the bass performance of the system. The Polk Magnifi Mini has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Google Cast for wireless audio streaming. It works on all iOS, Android and Windows gadgets. For audio input through cables, the soundbar has an HDMI ARC, a toslink optical and a 3.5mm AUX-in jack. The speaker bar has its own infrared (IR) remote controls but is also compatible with other remotes like TV, set-top box and satellite IR remotes. The Polk Magnifi Mini lets you adjust your viewing with 4 modes: Music, Movie, Sports and Night. It supports Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 decoding formats.
Yamaha YAS-207BL :
The Yamaha YAS-207BL is a force to reckon with. It is the first soundbar in the world to adopt DTS Virtual:X technology. This technology generates room-filling 3D surround sound without using multiple satellite speakers. The sound feels like it is coming from various angles including from above. It matches the video on the screen and effectively reproduces the original audio, offering the most realistic and lifelike cinematic experience. The Yamaha YAS-207BL consists of a slim soundbar and a wireless sub. It has Bluetooth for wireless input and wireless music streaming. For wired input, it has digital optical, analog audio and HDMI facility. For output it has HDMI. The speaker bar supports 4K Ultra HD (60P), HDR pass-through and HDCP 2.2. There are 3 ways to remotely control the bar. You can use the included remote control, or manage it via the Yamaha Home Theater Controller app, or control it with your TV remote if your TV supports HDMI CEC. The Yamaha YAS-207BL has touch-sensitive controls and LED indicators. It is wall and table-top mountable. The subwoofer can be placed under the TV or stood on the floor next to it for the best bass dispersion.
Top 5 surround sound systems :
Klipsch 7.1 RP-250 Reference Premiere Surround Sound Speaker Package with R-110SW Subwoofer :
Klipsch 7.1 RP-250 is what they call ‘neighbors’ envy and owner’s pride’. It belongs to the ultra-high-end Reference Premiere Series of home theater systems from Klipsch. It is a set of 7 stand-alone speakers and a wireless subwoofer. The components include: (a) A pair of RP-250F Reference Premiere floor-standing speakers with two 5.25-inch cerametallic cone woofers, (b) A pair of RP-240S Reference Premiere surround speakers with two 4-inch cerametallic cone woofers, (c) One RP-250C Reference Premiere center channel speaker with two 5.25-inch cerametallic cone woofers, (d) A pair of RP-150M Reference Premiere monitor speakers with a 5.25-inch cerametallic cone woofer, (e) R-110SW 10-inch Subwoofer 200W. With such an extensive array of speakers, the Klipsch 7.1 RP-250 has enough power to send your TV’s sound through the roof. It further uses 90×90 Hybrid Tractrix Horn, Tractrix port, Linear Travel Suspension titanium tweeters and spun copper cerametallic woofers to produce spacious sound with crisp dialogues and booming bass. The audio fully envelops the listener and offers a truly amazing home cinema experience. The system is Bluetooth-enabled and supports all iOS, Android and Windows devices. The speaker enclosures are made of MDF and sport a stylish brushed polymer veneer baffle finish.
Onkyo HT-S7800 5.1.2 Ch. Dolby Atmos Home Theater System :
Next we have the Onkyo HT-S7800. It is a jaw-dropping 5.1.2 channel home theater system with a powerful audio-visual receiver and Dolby Atmos. Dolby Atmos is the latest in 3D surround sound technology and is only seen in high-end stereo systems. The Onkyo HT-S7800 comprises of 7 surround sound speakers and 1 subwoofer. The acoustic suspension full-spectrum Dolby Atmos speakers and the 2-way bass reflex right and left front speakers reflects soundwaves off of the ceiling to produce realistic 3D surround sound. DTS:X technology simulates object-based surround sound to exactly reproduce the original track so you get a lifelike viewing and listening feel. The Onkyo HT-S7800 has Dynamic Audio Amplification for distortion-free signal processing. It also supports 4K ultra-HD video and is multi-room-ready. It has Zone 2 DAC for NET and SPDIF which allows you to play music in another room through the internet or through digital audio sources. The system has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AirPlay and Google Cast for wirelessly streaming music from the web and various gadgets. It has a digital-to-analog convertor that ensures high-fidelity lossless audio. It also has AccuEQ with AccuReflex Room Acoustic Calibration for audio adjustments.
Onkyo SKS-HT540 7.1 Channel Home Theater Speaker System :
The Onkyo SKS-HT540 is a monstrous 7.1 channel home cinema system. It consists of stand-alone front, surround and center speakers, and a subwoofer. The 130 watt 2-way bass reflex front-firing speakers are fitted with two 5-inch OMF diaphragm woofers and one 1-inch balanced-dome floating tweeter. The 130 watt 2-way bass reflex center speaker has the same construction as the front-firing speakers. The 130 watt 2-way bass reflex surround speakers have one 3-1/8-inch cone woofer and one 3/4-inch ceramic tweeter. The 230 watt subwoofer has a massive 10-inch cone woofer. The 7 speakers and the sub of the Onkyo SKS-HT540 together crank out full-range room-filling surround sound, completely transforming your home TV watching experience. Each of the 7 speakers has spring-clip wire connectors while the sub has a single RCA line-level input in front. The speakers have black cloth grilles and a smart black ash finish. The surround speakers are wall-mountable. All in all, the Onkyo SKS-HT540 is an excellent choice for your home theater receiver and DVD player. It is easy on the wallet and provides the best sound for your home entertainment.
Definitive Technology ProCinema 600 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System :
The Definitive Technology ProCinema 600 is an unbeatable 5.1 channel home theater system. It has 4 satellite speakers for the front sound stage and surround channels, one speaker for the center channel and a subwoofer. The ProCinema 600 features Definitive Technology’s signature Balanced Double Surround System (BDSS) drivers. These drivers are pressure-coupled to mid/bass radiators of the same size. This greatly enhances the lower midrange of the satellite speakers and imparts a lot of depth and body to vocals and musical instruments. The system also boasts pure aluminum dome tweeters. The center speaker is fitted with state-of-the-art drivers and radiators to makes movies and shows more enjoyable. The ProCinema 600 has 120 Hz A/V receiver crossover settings. Each of the 4 satellite speakers is equipped with one 1-inch tweeter, one 3.25-inch mid/woofer and one 3.25-inch bass radiator. The center speaker is fitted with one 1-inch tweeter, two 3.25-inch mid/woofers and two 3.25-inch bass radiators. The sub has one 8-inch subwoofer and one 8-inch bass radiator. The cumulative effect of all these BDSS drivers and bass radiators can be physically felt by the viewer. You not just hear the sound, you feel it.
Fluance AVHTB Surround Sound Home Theater 5.0 Channel Speaker System :
The Fluance AVHTB is an absolute top-rung premium-quality 5.0 channel surround sound system. It includes 2 floor-standing 3-way-firing main speakers, 1 center channel speaker and 2 rear surround sound speaker. Each of the 2 floor-standing speakers has one 1-inch soft dome ferrofluid tweeter, one 4-inch poly-coated midrange driver with butyl rubber surrounds and one 6.5-inch poly-coated woofer with butyl rubber surrounds. The center channel speaker has one ¾-inch titanium soft dome ferrofluid cooled tweeter and two 4-inch poly-coated woofer. Each of the 2 surround channel speakers has one 1-inch soft dome ferrofluid cooled tweeter and one 4-inch poly-coated woofer with butyl rubber surrounds. The combined power of the drivers creates a sound effect that far exceeds the expectations of any audiophile. The Fluance AVHTB supports Dolby Surround Sound and DTS. The cabinets of the speakers have durable engineered MDF wood construction which combats distortion and vibration. They have a chic black ask finish and it enhances the aesthetics of any room they are placed in. The surround speakers can be mounted on walls. Overall, we can say that the Fluance AVHTB creates a magical sound arena where every spot is a sweet spot. It is a superlative sound system with a superlative performance.
To check budget soundbar for your TV, check this list. For Top Soundbar for Your Television do check this list. If you are looking for complete flexibility in your soundbar then, you can choose from a premium passive soundbar to boost your home theater system.