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 compared to a surround sound system. There is some truth to that, a soundbar is a good choice if you have a small room, don’t have a large budget, or aren’t that serious about your home audio system.
I’m a big fan of surround sound if you can make it work, but it usually costs more, and you need the space, especially if you are looking at a full Dolby Atmos speaker set up. However, let’s take a closer look at the soundbar and surround sound system and learn some pros and cons to help you determine which is the best one for your home theater.
What Is a Soundbar?
A soundbar is a wide speaker capable of projecting audio more efficiently than a standard television speaker. A soundbar is essentially multiple speakers housed in one convenient enclosure, capable of creating a surround sound effect.
As their name suggests, soundbars are much wider than they are tall, which means they’re easy to mount above or below a television. Plus, 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 theatre-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 may not be suitable for 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?
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 what 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.
There are a few specs to consider when determining which is better for your home theater, including the following.
Sensitivity refers to how effective the speakers are at converting power into volume. The more sensitive the speakers, 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.
2. 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 ones 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 influencing 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 ten 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 the Right One
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.
However, 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 perfect. In this case, a surround sound system will likely be a little too much for the space.
On the other hand, if you have a large room, the audio from a soundbar may get lost, and a surround sound setup is a 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.
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A passion for writing and ongoing research projects gives Catherine an incredibly broad knowledge of all things. She has authored an incredible number of articles and can be found in the wilderness when not attached to technology or listening to podcasts.