Soundbars vs Surround Sound Systems: Is There a Difference?

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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 are affordable

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.

Check out our recent article on ‘What Wattage Soundbar Do I Need?’

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.

Surround sound systems deliver amazing sound

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

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 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.


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 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 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.


  • Avatar Kevin Martin

    Well to make longer life of your sounbar in Vancouver you need to clean it regularly so that there is no dust remains inside it moreover you need to play music daily in it so that it stays in working condition as without usage of electronics items it jams.

  • Avatar Anthony Whaley

    It’s true that real surround sound systems are superior to sound bars. But sound bars are now starting to close the gap. Have you listened to the Nakamichi 9.2 or 7.2. It’s pretty much the best of both worlds. A sound bar with dual subs and the 9.2 has four surround speakers while the 7.2 has two. I think this is probably the best option that can meet in the middle four everyone.

    • Avatar AudioReputation Team

      Huh? Not sure what you’re trying to say.

      Soundbars can simulate surround sound (thanks to built-in side-firing and up-firing speakers) but they can never compete with true surround sound. Surround sound simulation is usually based on sound reflections and sound reflections depend on so many things (distance between the wall/ceiling and the speaker, material the wall is made of, furniture arrangement, etc.).

      Hope this answers your question

      Your AudioReputation Team

  • Avatar Austin

    Soundbar looks classic lying below tv set. It gives a very sleek look. But it cannot match the sound experience offered by a surround sound systems not anywhere near it.

    Both have their pros and cons.

  • Avatar Captain Peroxide

    Hi Mrs James,

    What surround sound system should i buy? What is the best model under 600 dollars, any recommendations for me? 7.1 or 5.1?

    Thank you.

    • Avatar AudioReputation Team

      Hi, Captain Peroxide

      If you need something really cheap, Onkyo SKS-HT540 7.1 is a great option (under $400). Klipsch Black Reference Theater Pack 5.1 Surround Sound System is one of the best under $600.

      Hope this helps

      Your AudioReputation Team

  • Avatar Gary Spears

    Bose 700 Soundbar with surround speakers and Sub modual is the best best Soundbar to buy in 2019 and is not listed.
    audioreputatiion are you for real?

    • Avatar AudioReputation Team

      Hi, Gary

      This is not a list. This article explains the difference between soundbars and surround sound systems. So, Garry, are You for real?

      Your AudioReputation Team

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