Sound Bar vs. Surround Sound – Pros and cons

One of the first thoughts when trying to upgrade your lame TV sound is the choice between getting a soundbar and a complete surround system with all its bells and whistles. Soundbars have been getting more and 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 affordable? A soundbar? or a full 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.

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 amazing if you get a decent system and 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 hundreds of dollars and they are not as convenient since you need a space to place your speakers and a ton of patience to do proper cable management. In other words, surround sound systems are not minimalist.

If you decide to go your own route and build your system with a receive, 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.

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

Surround Sound – Pros and Cons

In other words, a whole surround sound system is good 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
  • Takes more space and you need a big 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 a good way to replace the integrated speakers on your TV ( anything can replace those speakers though) without breaking the bank and without having to be an expert or modify your living room to make space for it.

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

sound bar vs surround sound - sound bar design

Sounds bars start at around $100 for the more affordable options, which are still way better than integrated speakers. From there, you can get a very 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’ll be able to connect it via HDMI or optical cable to your TV and besides connecting the power cord your good to go.

Many sound bars support Dolby DTS and surround audio settings, although make no mistake, 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 a great fit for small rooms as they’re powerful enough to fill the room with sound while also being sleep 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 are never going to be as good as a complete surround system for many reasons. For instance, you’re getting every sound out of a single bar no matter if it’s a high frequency or low-frequency sound.

Soundbars tend to have problems separating voices from sound and this 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.

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:

Sound bar – 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. Can get a decent soundbar at $200-300
  • Sometimes you can add a subwoofer depending on the model
  • Easy to set up, don’t require extra space. Minimalistic and modern design.
  • All works over 1 cable (HDMI or Optical Toslink)
  • Don’t need an AV receiver or extra components to work
  • Some models support Dolby Atmos and surround sound formats all in one self-contained box
  • Great for small rooms or limited spaces
  • Some support wireless connection and smart devices

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

  • Can’t be upgraded except for maybe a subwoofer (depends on your model)
  • Can’t be customized or mixed between different brands
  • Doesn’t sound as good or clean as having separated channels
  • Emulated surround sound is not as good as the real surround for a full cinema experience
  • Not powerful enough to fill a huge bedroom/living room
  • Lack of connectivity without other devices except for smart devices in some models

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

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

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