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Sound Bar vs. Surround Sound – Pros and cons

One of the first thoughts when trying to upgrade your lame TV sound is choosing between getting a soundbar and a complete surround system with all its bells and whistles. Soundbars have become more common in the last decade, and sometimes you even get one included with your new TV acquisition. But which one is better, more convenient, and more affordable? A soundbar? or a complete surround sound system? Let’s dive in and explain the pros and cons of each option to get the best audio experience for your moves and TV series in this sound bar vs. surround sound comparison.

Surround Sound systems – Old but reliable

Surround sound systems are available in many brands, colors, shapes, and prices. They have been popular for at least a couple of decades back when everybody wanted a 5.1 or 7.1 channel set up for their new DVD player in the early 2000s.

The sound can be excellent if you get a decent system. You can buy and customize everything separately if you get an AV receiver, including mixing speaker brands and upgrading/downgrading the system according to your needs.

sound bar vs surround sound - space

However, most bundles can cost several hundred dollars, and they are not as convenient since you need a space to place your speakers and a ton of patience to manage and hide speaker cables properly. In other words, surround sound systems are not minimalist.

If you decide to go your route and build your system with a receiver, just the AV receiver alone can cost you a few hundred dollars, and you will want to get at least a pair of speakers to get started and a subwoofer. Later you could grow the setup to a 5.1, 7.1, or perhaps 7.2 system, and as long as the speakers are compatible with your AV receiver, the brand doesn’t matter.

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That’s why many surround setups can cost over a thousand dollars. Rest assured, you’ll get the best sound quality and cinema experience out of them as you hear every sound coming from different angles in your living room.

Surround Sound – Pros and Cons

In other words, a whole surround sound system is suitable for:

  • People who want the best sound quality, no matter the price. Perfect for audiophiles
  • Want to be able to upgrade or customize each speaker without limitations
  • Want the best cinema experience without going to the movie theater
  • You decide which speakers you want, the size, and where to put them.
  • Bass is going to be dope.
  • Extra ports to connect other entertainment systems

However, there are many cons as well:

  • More expensive as it starts at several hundred dollars and can potentially end up costing thousands of dollars
  • More complex as you might need to be tech-savvy to connect everything and understand the basics
  • It takes more space, and you need a prominent place to take advantage of it.
  • Tons of cables and wire management

Sound Bars – Affordable and reliable

Soundbars are the new option of this decade, and they are more common every year. Soundbars are an excellent way to replace the integrated speakers on your TV (anything can replace those speakers, though) without breaking the bank and having to be an expert or modify your living room to make space for it.

Since a soundbar is designed to be placed below your TV unless it is mounted on the wall, it will be a breeze, and you won’t have to do a ton of cable management or move your furniture to make it fit.

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sound bar vs surround sound - sound bar design

Soundbars start at around $100 for the more affordable options, which are still way better than integrated speakers. From there, you can get a decent system for $200-300, but you will also find soundbars costing up to $500 or more if they include a separate woofer/subwoofer or depending on the brand.

If you’re getting a new soundbar, you can connect it via HDMI or optical cable to your TV, and besides connecting the power cord, you are good to go.

Many sound bars support Dolby DTS and surround audio settings, although it will never sound as good or give you the cinema feeling that a proper surround sound setup makes you feel. However, you might be surprised because they can still make you feel like you have a set of speakers behind your back by bouncing audio signals around your walls.

Soundbars are an excellent fit for small rooms as they’re powerful enough to fill the space with sound while being sleek and minimalist. Many soundbars also come with Alexa, Google, or Apple Play integration and Bluetooth connectivity to quickly add your smartphone to the system. On the other hand, soundbars will never be as good as a complete surround system. For instance, you’re getting every sound out of a single bar, whether high-frequency or low-frequency.

Soundbars tend to have problems separating voices from sound, which doesn’t happen with surround sound systems. Also, as we’ve mentioned before, you won’t get the full effect of a cinema, although if you use them in a small room or TV room, the sound will be good enough.

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Also, if the soundbar fails, you’ll need to replace it with a new one, and it’s not customizable, with a few exceptions where you can add a subwoofer from the same brand. In conclusion:

Soundbar – Pros and Cons

Sound bars have many pros, and they’re the right choice for most people:

  • Sound is still way better than integrated speakers
  • Affordable. You can get a decent soundbar at $200-300
  • Sometimes you can add a subwoofer, depending on the model.
  • Easy to set up, doesn’t require extra space. Minimalistic and modern design.
  • All works over 1 cable (HDMI or Optical Toslink)
  • You don’t need an AV receiver or additional components to work.
  • Some models support Dolby Atmos and surround sound formats in a self-contained box.
  • Great for small rooms or limited spaces
  • Some wireless support connections and intelligent devices

However, there are some cons you’ll need to consider:

  • It can’t be upgraded except for maybe a subwoofer (depending on your model)
  • Can’t be customized or mixed between different brands
  • It doesn’t sound as good or clean as having separated channels
  • Emulated surround sound is not as good as a genuine surround for a complete cinema experience.
  • Not powerful enough to fill a huge bedroom/living room
  • Lack of connectivity without other devices except for intelligent devices in some models

Soundbar vs. Surround sound: The bottom line

In conclusion, get a soundbar if you’re not an audiophile or want to set up a messy, tech-savvy audio installation, plus your budget is between $100-500. It will sound way better than your integrated speakers.

If you’re an audiophile that loves routing cables, perceiving each sound from a different position, and don’t mind spending several hundred or thousands of dollars, get the full surround setup.