Soundbars vs Surround Sound Systems: Is There a Difference?

Whenever we are buying new devices, we are trying to get the best possible model for our money. However, our choice is not always only ours. We often decide what to buy based on the current trends, our current budget, where we are going to use certain device, etc.

The same rule applies to buying speakers for our working or living space. We are sure most of us would like to experience watching a movie with an expensive home theater system. If we had that in our homes, we wouldn’t even have to go to the cinema. Unfortunately, not everyone has enough money to spend on these systems or enough space to place that kind of a system. This is where the compromising begins. In this article, we will try to list and explain all the differences between soundbars and surround sound speaker systems and tell you what’s the best choice for you depending on your budget, room size, and your preferences.

Reasons for Buying a Soundbar

Soundbars are affordable

We don’t want to claim that soundbars are cheap because they can be quite expensive depending on the brand, the number of features, materials used, etc. but it is definitely easier to find an affordable soundbar with many useful features than an affordable surround sound speaker system. A great soundbar can cost a few hundreds of dollars while a great surround sound system won’t cost less than $1000.

Soundbars can be set up easily

When you buy a soundbar, you don’t have to worry whether there will be enough space in your room or office or not. Soundbars can be installed in various ways and their placement will vary a little depending on the type of the soundbar.

A soundbar can be placed on a shelf below your TV or mounted on a wall under or above the TV. There are some types of soundbars that can be used as a platform for the TV (they are called sound bases). If it comes with a subwoofer or surround sound speakers, you should place the bar in front of you, while the left and the right speakers shall be on the sides.

There is no fuss about them because they don’t offer many placing options and you don’t have to worry about these things. There are basically two ways you can place the soundbar and the speakers – the bar goes below or above the TV while the following equipment is distributed on the sides.

Soundbars are practical

Soundbars are practical for many reasons. They aren’t only affordable, they are simpler than surround sound systems, it is easier to set them up and install them in most of houses/apartments and they save you space that you can fill with other useful gadgets, furniture, etc.

Soundbars are perfect for small apartments (13x12ft rooms or smaller)

The fact is that soundbars are smaller than surround sound speaker systems no matter how many elements they have. Soundbars can’t have more than 3 elements but they usually consist only of one or two and surround sound systems tend to have at least six different speakers (5 speakers + subwoofer). This is why a soundbar and a potential subwoofer will definitely occupy less space than surround sound systems. They usually occupy the space around your TV while the surround sound systems are supposed to be spread all over the room.

All these characteristics make soundbars more suitable for smaller rooms, apartments, and offices. They can be easily installed into any smaller room, especially wireless ones. There will be no mess and you will save a lot of space. The cables won’t be scattered all over the place, attached to the ceiling/walls and they will still be able to fill this kind of room with powerful sound.

Soundbars are a great replacement for TV speakers

We won’t lie to you and say that soundbars deliver the best possible sound in the world. They can’t even make surround sound effect and the sound they deliver certainly has some imperfections. They consist of at least two speakers and at least one small subwoofer (or one separate subwoofer) and nothing that small can deliver big sound.

However, if you simply want something better than your TV speakers, buying a soundbar is always a great option. They may not be large and they usually don’t deliver crystal-clear sound (especially those cheap soundbars) but you will still be able to hear every word and the music will be much louder and more enjoyable.

Reasons for Buying a Surround Sound System

Surround sound systems deliver amazing sound

As we have previously said, soundbars are small and their manufacturers are trying to fit as many speakers as possible in that small box. This is really not the greatest solution if you want big sound with deep and rich bass, perfectly clear vocals and sparkling highs.

With surround sound systems, you get all that and even more. Surround sound systems come with separate subwoofers that are large enough to deliver full and punchy bass. They are very accurate and they can deliver extremely low frequencies that you can not only hear but feel. Because of the fact that your speakers will be everywhere around you, you will be able to hear every sound like you are participating in every scene, every song, every conversation. The sound will be coming right to you from all the angles. It will be in front of you, behind you, on your left and right side. Watching movies or a TV will feel like you are in the center of the action.

Surround sound systems are perfect for big houses (15x20ft rooms or larger)

Big rooms require big speakers and big sound. Even if you don’t want to accept that, the fact is that a small soundbar can’t deliver sound powerful enough to fill a large room. It would sound quite poor and weak, and the quality of the mids, highs, and lows would become even worse because the sound would be lost in that big space.

This is why people with big spacious living rooms decide to buy surround sound systems. Believe us, in these situations, surround sound systems are worth their price no matter how it is.

Surround sound systems can replace going to the cinema

If you like watching movies but you’re not a fan of watching movies with a bunch of strangers, a surround sound system can help a lot. As we have mentioned, it consists of at least 5 or 6 elements that are placed around the “sweet spot” (the place where you are sitting, usually some couch or sofa). This way, the sound comes from all the directions and you can feel every moment and every scene just like in the cinema. It is loud, it is detailed, perfectly balanced and clear. It turns watching movies into a whole new experience. It can even be better than cinema because the home theater speakers can be adjusted to your taste.

The Best Way to Compare Soundbars to Surround Sound Systems

If you still don’t know what to buy, a soundbar or a surround sound system, and if all the previously mentioned pros and cons aren’t enough, you can always compare the technical specs, explore and compare the following characteristics and see which ones suit you better.

Frequency response

Frequency range refers to the range of frequencies that our ears can hear. Human ear can hear frequencies from 20 Hz to 20 kHz according to Wikipedia.org. The tones lower than 30, even 35 Hz are hardly audible and you can rather feel than hear them. The subwoofer is the part of the surround sound speaker system responsible for those low-end tones. The highest frequencies tell us how high your speakers can go (what are the highest frequencies they can deliver). The general rule is: the larger the response, the better the sound.

Power

Speaker power is expressed in watts and it shows us how powerful and loud our speakers can be. If you’re living in a big house, more power would come in handy.

Sensitivity

Sensitivity is expressed in dB and it also shows us how loud our speakers can be. The higher the sensitivity, the louder the speakers. However, sensitivity depends on the power so you would have to buy a powerful speaker with high sensitivity in order to achieve the loudest sound.

Impedance

Impedance is measured in Ohms and it shows how well the speaker resists to the electrical signal that goes through it. Low-impedance speakers require less power than the high-impedance speakers.

We are going to end this article with one simple advice. It’s not important what’s more expensive, trendy or what delivers better sound quality. The most important thing is that your speakers fit perfectly into your apartment or office. After all, you can buy the most complicated surround sound system in the world but it won’t be useful at all if you don’t have enough space for it.

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Hello, my name is James Longman.

I’m a writer and editor at AudioReputation. I disassembled my first portable AM/FM radio when I was only 8. At the age of 11, I burned the circuit board on my old boombox cassette player. I’m not going to explain how but it was reckless and stupid.

Since then, I have become much more careful around radios, boomboxes, and other audio devices (at least, I like to think so) but I have never lost the passion for audio equipment. Throughout 20 years of my professional career, I’ve been working for various audio equipment manufacturers and even started building speakers on my own in my little workshop.

I love the work we do here at AudioReputation. Testing, comparing, and evaluating all kinds of audio devices (speakers, soundbars, headphones, home theater systems, etc.) is something I truly enjoy. I try to be unbiased and give you my honest opinion on every piece of equipment I test. Still, you should take my reviews with a pinch of salt and always be just a little bit skeptical. The fact that I liked some speaker or soundbar doesn’t mean that you are going to love it. If you have the opportunity, you should test it/hear it before buying it.

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