Surround Sound vs Soundbars. Which is Best for You?

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Surround Sound vs Soundbars. Which is Best for You?

Posted by Alexandria on January 31, 2022

The new trend of releasing blockbuster movies simultaneously in both theaters and on streaming services means that the living room needs to replicate big-screen acoustics for the optimal viewing experience. Navigating through the hundreds of options for home audio systems can be daunting. Never fear — this post will help you pick between two of the most common types of personal speaker systems. Read on to learn more about soundbars and surround-sound home theater speakers (as well as how you can pick between them!).

iLive 5.1 Home Theater System with Bluetooth

Knowing the Difference Between Soundbars and Surround Sound

For many years, 5.1 surround sound set the standard for high-quality audio. The “five” in the “5.1” referred to the five speakers that surrounded the room or central point for listening. The “point one” signified the accompanying subwoofer. Now, it is becoming more common to create 7.1 or even 9.2 setups for full, immersive viewing experiences at home. Most surround sound speakers will need a separate component called a “receiver” to manage inputs and connect to televisions and entertainment centers, but most of these home theater systems are sold in sets, like the Yamaha – 5.1-Channel 4K Home Theater Speaker System with Powered Subwoofer. 

There is a science to getting to the the optimal multi-speaker layout in your home. Here are some of the typical components of a surround sound system to keep in mind when arranging your home viewing space.

  • Center channel speaker: The center channel speaker is primarily used to transmit spoken dialogue or music. This speaker should be placed directly in front of the primary listening area.
  • Left/right channel speakers: The left/right channel speakers should be placed at the very front of your setup since most movie soundtracks and sound effects route through these units. Experts recommend that these speakers be spaced 60 degrees from the listening center as a result.
  • Subwoofer: The subwoofer handles all the low-frequency sounds. Its position is not as critical as frequencies lower than 120 Hz are difficult to hear anyways, but it’s usually placed to the left or right of your TV.
  • Left/right surround speakers: The side or rear surround speakers assist the front left/right channels with additional ambient sounds and directional effects that create a rich soundscape. In a 5.1 setup, these speakers should be placed 100-120 degrees from the center channel. 

In contrast to surround sound systems, sound bars are an all-in-one sound solution. Housed in a single, compact device, sound bars are made up of a cluster of small speakers carefully arranged to mimic a traditional 5.1 audio setup. Products like the Sonos Arc Soundbar bounce audio waves to create an immersive three-dimensional listening effect without the need for multiple speakers placed around a room. Most sound bars are also Bluetooth compatible so a wide variety of devices can be linked up to them. Sound bars should be placed directly in front of the listening center and about 5-15 inches (13-38 cm) below your TV. 

One thing to keep in mind is that sound bars do not have the ability to adequately produce low-frequency sounds. Because of this, they are often sold in sets with a subwoofer like the Klipsch Cinema 600W 3.1-Channel Soundbar System.

Comparing Surround Sound and Soundbars

Both sound bars and home theater surround sound systems work well in a wide variety of room sizes. Knowing which system to invest in really depends on how powerful (also known as the wattage) you want your speakers to be. In general, a pair of 100-watt speakers fills a 500-square foot room perfectly. Depending on your room size, a surround sound system might be overkill. In these cases, a good sound bar instead of a full surround sound system may be all you need.

In general, the average price for a sound bar is less than the average price for a home theater surround sound system. Sound bars typically only include one or two devices, while home theaters have upwards of six to nine components plus the stands or mounts needed to set speakers on. Also, installation fees can inflate the cost, depending on how difficult your system is to set up. Basic sound bars start at about $100 while most surround sound systems usually begin at $500. However, high-end systems for both sound bars and home theaters can easily get into the thousands of dollars.  Floorstanding Speaker in Home Theater System

For the less technical, sound bars have the clear advantage over home theater systems. Most sound bars are “plug-and-play” — meaning once you take it out of the box, connect one wire to your TV, and plug it into an outlet, you’re good to go. In contrast, home theaters can be extremely complex to install with some systems requiring carpentry skills (or the hiring of experts) to set up properly.

Even though home theater surround sound systems are much more difficult to get up and going, they have a huge advantage with their customization ability. The sheer variety of speaker sets available can transform the look of your room. You can install speakers in your wall, mount them on a wall, or just have them on a floor stand. Plus, surround sound systems allow you to have technical control over your sound. Don’t you hate how some movies have quiet dialogue with overly loud action sequences? With a surround sound system, you can adjust the volume levels of specific speakers to redesign your listening experience.

Prime Elevation Speakers in Home Theater System
SVS Prime Elevation Speakers Pair – Black Ash

Here’s a handy table that breaks down how surround sound systems and sound bars respectively perform in a variety of categories.

  Soundbars Home Theater Surround Sound
Sound quality High-end soundbars can duplicate 5.1 surround sound effects, but not to the same degree as home theater setups. Although soundbars produce extremely high quality sound, the full immersion surround sound provides can’t be beat.
Ease of use The simplicity of having an all-in-one sound system makes installation and troubleshooting a breeze. You might need an expert to teach you how to install and use your sound system, which can get frustrating and costly to deal with.
Customization Soundbars can connect to a wide variety of devices via Bluetooth. For an additional cost, you can also connect more speakers, like a subwoofer, to enhance the base bar. Multiple speakers and a dedicated audio receiver means you can completely redesign how music and movies sound with a few clicks of a button.
Price Even though soundbars can get really pricey, in general they are much more budget-friendly than home theater surround sound systems. The increased cost of home theater surround sound is due to the large amount of components you must buy to make it work.

Both soundbars and home theater surround sound systems have pros and cons and deciding which one is best for you boils down to which system you think will work best in your space. To see what RC Willey has in stock, check out soundbars and surround sound systems at your nearest location today.


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