Soundbar vs Surround Sound: How to Choose What’s Right for You

Soundbar vs Surround Sound How to Choose What’s Right for You

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Dolby Atmos Soundbar
Soundbar vs Surround Sound: How to Choose What's Right for You 6

If you’re trying to decide what speaker setup to get for your home theater system, you might be stuck debating between a soundbar vs surround sound. Soundbars are a popular upgrade for a standard flat screen TV speaker system, but can they really compete with a true surround sound setup?

Audiophiles will lament the choice of a soundbar believing that you will never get the same audio experience when compared to a surround sound system. There is some truth to that but if you are looking at a soundbar it is a good choice if:

  • You have a small room that can’t accommodate surround sound speakers
  • You have a room, like an open plan lounge/kitchen that doesn’t have anywhere to put surround sound speakers
  • You don’t have WAF approval
  • You can’t run speaker wire around the room and wireless surround options are still a little limited
  • You don’t have budget for anything more than a soundbar
  • You’re not that serious about home theatre, home audio and just want to boost the sound from your TV.

You should know there are some really impressive soundbars available (including those with Dolby Atmos) on the market.

Personally, I am a big fan of surround sound if you can make it work but it costs more (usually) to do it right and you need the space, especially if you are looking at a full Dolby Atmos speaker set up and you might even have a projector to match.

Let’s take a closer look at soundbar vs surround sound to see what’s good and bad about each to help you determine which setup is the right one for your home theater.

What Is a Soundbar?

A soundbar is a type of speaker that is long and wide, capable of projecting audio more efficiently than a standard television speaker. As their name suggests, soundbars are much wider than they are tall, which means they’re easy to mount above or below a television. A soundbar is essentially multiple speakers housed in one convenient enclosure, capable of creating a surround sound effect. They usually come with a separate subwoofer to add even more depth to the overall effect.

Soundbars have become increasingly popular since flat-screen TVs have become the norm and everything has become much sleeker and smaller. The built-in speakers in most flat screen TVs aren’t very effective if you’re looking for movie theater-like sound, and a soundbar helps bridge that gap in a compact way.


  • Soundbars are easy to install and hook up to your existing flat screen TV.
  • They have a sleek, modern design that fits in with the rest of the electronics in your setup.
  • They’re extremely effective in smaller living spaces.
  • When properly set up, they recreate the surround sound experience pretty well.


  • They don’t recreate surround sound well in large spaces.
  • You may need to invest in an additional subwoofer.
  • The experience isn’t uniform throughout the entire room as there are sweet spots close to where the bar is installed.

What Is Surround Sound?

What Is Surround Sound
Soundbar vs Surround Sound: How to Choose What's Right for You 7


Surround sound is a way of enriching the depth of sound by using multiple speakers placed strategically around the room, surrounding the listener. Surround sound setups vary, but the most common uses six speakers – one in the front of the lister; one to the left and the right of the listener at 60 degrees; and one to the left and right of the listener at 100 to 120 degrees. There’s usually a bit of a sweet spot right in the center, but the effects are pretty impressive as long as you’re positioned in the center of the setup.


  • You can place the speakers as needed to improve acoustics.
  • The bass is far superior to a soundbar.
  • This setup recreates a true surround sound experience like in a movie theater.


  • Setup is tricky as most speakers need to be wired into the receiver. There are wireless options but they are limited.
  • Surround sound is significantly more expensive than a soundbar.
  • There is a fair bit of equipment involved, which takes up a lot of space.

Which Is Better?

The truth is that both soundbars and surround sound have their place, so it’s not really a fair question to ask which is better. Instead, ask yourself which is better for you. The number of speakers needed for a proper surround sound setup may not be realistic for a smaller space, but a soundbar is perfectly capable of increasing the sound quality of your setup many times over.

Soundbar vs Surround Sound

Soundbar vs Surround Sound
Soundbar vs Surround Sound: How to Choose What's Right for You 8


If you’re trying to compare a soundbar and surround sound system directly, it’s not always easy to do. There are a few specs to consider when determining which is better for your home theater, including:


Sensitivity refers to how effective the speakers are at converting power into volume. The more sensitive the speakers are, the less power they need to produce a high-quality sound, and vice versa. Simply put, the higher the sensitivity, the louder and clearer the sound.

Frequency Response

Humans can hear frequencies between 20 and 20,000 Hz. Sounds at the lower end, say, less than 40 Hz or so, are the sounds you can feel more than you can hear, like a low bass that vibrates your seat. Ideally, the range that a speaker covers should tell you whether or not it produces a lifelike sound, but the truth is that it’s not quite that simple. A wide range is ideal, but it’s not the only thing that influences sound quality.


All speakers have an impedance rating, which tells you how difficult the speaker is to power. The lower the impedance, the more efficient the speaker is at producing sound. That said, don’t get too hung up on this. Whether the speaker is six, eight, or 10 ohms, that rating is just a baseline. The impedance actually fluctuates a lot. What you should focus on, though, is whether the impedance rating of the speaker matches the receiver or amp.

How to Choose

A soundbar does not produce the same effects as a true surround sound system, and there’s really no way you can expect it to. Surround sound is much more involved with multiple speakers placed strategically around the room. A sound bar is a long, wide bank of speakers that’s easy to mount near your TV.

But that doesn’t mean a soundbar isn’t an extremely effective choice in the right circumstances. If you have a small or medium-sized living room and want a better sound experience than the one that comes from the speakers on your flat screen TV, a sound bar is a perfect choice. In this case, a surround sound system is likely to be a little too much for the space.

On the other hand, if you have a large room, the audio from a soundbar is likely to get lost. In this case, a surround sound setup is the way to go. With a larger space, it’s easier to get the speakers placed appropriately to enhance the experience without producing a sound that will overwhelm the room.

If you have questions please fire them at me in the comments below and I’d love to help, or discuss further.

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