Soundbar vs a Surround Sound System

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Updated September 12, 2022

If you’re shopping for top-rated speakers, you may wonder whether a premium soundbar is better than a surround sound system. Your audio experience can transform how you enjoy a favorite movie or live sports. Investing in a premium soundbar can provide immersive audio, but does it offer a cinematic experience like surround speakers? Stick around to learn whether a soundbar vs a surround sound system is a better pick for audio quality and listening experience.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • A soundbar is a compact audio device that delivers powerful sound for movies, music, and TV.
  • A surround sound system uses multiple physical speakers to deliver immersive audio for a home theater or TV setup.
  • Soundbars are more affordable and smaller than surround systems, but they do not provide the same immersion or audio quality as a surround sound system.

If you need quality sound for home theater experiences, learn how to choose a soundbar. Picking the suitable model can provide immersive audio in a limited space. That said, you should compare soundbars vs speakers if you’re considering a surround system.

Insider Tip

A game console like the Xbox Series S|X applies spatial audio to headphones and certain Dolby Atmos-equipped AV receivers.

What’s Better: Surround Sound or a Soundbar

A soundbar typically sits below a television, or you can mount it to the wall. This type of speaker offers a compact design and powerful sound.

A surround sound setup typically uses a center speaker, rear speakers, a separate subwoofer, and additional speakers to the right and left of the audience. You need ample space to accommodate the separate speakers, but it can provide immersive sound and overhead effects.

Depending on the type of setup you want for movie nights or playing games, picking an audio device can be confusing. That said, there are some apparent differences between soundbars and surround sound speaker systems.

Sound Quality

A proper surround sound setup should outperform your average soundbar in most cases. That said, an expensive soundbar is better than a series of low-quality floor speakers. As long as you plan to invest in a high level of quality, either audio option should deliver great sound.

Warning

Mute your television’s built-in speakers to avoid diminishing your surround sound experience and audio quality.

Immersive Experience

The soundbar market offers audio processing and virtual surround technology, but a surround sound setup with powerful speakers provides a more immersive experience. Since they utilize multiple physical speakers, surround setups are capable of a wider range of frequencies compared to soundbars.

Compact Design

Surround sound setups take up more living space than a soundbar. While a soundbar rests below the TV, you need extra space to store the individual speakers in a surround sound system.

STAT: A 2019 Pew Research Center survey showed that 29% of suburban American households use a smart speaker. (source)

Affordable Option

Even an affordable surround sound speaker setup will cost more than a typical soundbar. Additionally, you can get advanced features in a soundbar for the price of a low-end surround sound solution.

Soundbar vs. Surround Sound FAQs

What size soundbar should I get?

You want a soundbar that is about the same size as your TV. A bigger model has no audio advantage, so you can pick a compact soundbar that blends into your entertainment center

What do Dolby Atmos soundbars do?

A Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbars feature upward-facing speakers that bounce sound from the ceiling to create the height effects and the verticality of spatial sound. That said, only certain content supports virtual surround technology.

What is virtual surround sound?

Virtual surround sound, also called spatial sound, is an audio processing technology that attempts to simulate more audio sources than are present. Virtual surround sound is most common in headphones, and it provides enhanced spatial awareness in movies, music, and games.
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