Stuck in a toss-up between a soundbar and a surround sound system? With advocates on both sides, it can be hard to decide which one is best for you, and it’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your home entertainment system. So in general, does a soundbar replace surround sound?
How do you decide whether a soundbar or a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system (more on the differences here) is better for you? Personal preference, room size, and your technology needs all play a role in this decision. A soundbar is a straightforward and affordable choice, whereas a surround sound system provides limitless power, quality, and flexibility but with usually with a larger price tag.
Before figuring out which choice is perfect for you, you’ll need to ask yourself some questions. Do you have current components that you want to implement into your sound system? Do you have a large or a small room? Which room will you be using? What does your budget look like? Let’s dive into the pros and cons of purchasing a soundbar or a surround sound to see which of these two options aligns with your needs. Before diving into the main section, it’s worth mentioning that surround sound can’t be added to a soundbar unless you’re willing to endure a complicated set-up (our tutorial).
Why Choose a Soundbar over a Surround Sound System?
Soundbars keep things simple. They are manufactured with built-in speakers that help to reduce bulk in your room and are designed to be sleek and stylish. Soundbars tend to be very affordable, and since the demand is high for them, they are pretty impressive as far as design, sound, structure, and price.
However, there are a few downfalls to them. They might not provide the immersive sound that you are looking for in a large room, and they often limit you to specific components when upgrading or adding on. You may find that the pros outweigh the cons, or maybe not. Find out more below!
Soundbars Are Extremely Simple
If you’re a person that likes to keep things simple, a soundbar may be perfect for you. Soundbars are created to keep things simple for users. They are super easy to use from the beginning, with quick setups and minimal hassle, and they easily integrate with your TV and media devices. You usually don’t have to worry about whether or not your soundbar will be compatible with your TV, smart home device, or cell phone.
They are easy-to-use, and oftentimes, they can be controlled through your smartphone, Bluetooth, or smart home device. What can be better than controlling the remote with your voice? Many manufacturers are even making sure to update the software you use on your soundbar so that you’ll always be up-to-date with different technology as it comes out. Overall, you’ll find that very few complications arise during setup and use with a soundbar.
Soundbars Tend to be Less Bulky than Traditional Surround Sound Systems
Soundbars are slim, sleek and stylish without letting up on quality. Most of them are very eye-catching in design and fit into your room like a glove. They look like more of a decorative piece, rather than a powerful sound system. A manufacturers’ goal with soundbars is to create compact sound systems where fewer speakers are necessary in and around the room.
Oftentimes, the components that you can add on to a soundbar are wireless. The additional components compatible with soundbars are wireless subwoofers and sometimes wireless surround sound speakers, although, many soundbars can’t have a subwoofer added to them which you’d know already if you’ve read our guide. These components are typically wireless, therefore, you won’t have to worry about hiding wiring throughout your room, which can be a huge hassle. Compatible soundbar components are also usually small and compact. They don’t take up very much space or become an eyesore like many floor speakers are with a traditional surround sound system, especially if – as we explored in our guide – you’ve chosen to go with a wireless route.
Soundbars Are Very Affordable (Most of the Time)
Soundbars were traditionally an affordable way to make your flat screen sound better. Now that they have become so popular in recent years, you’re not only getting an affordable product but a high-quality product, as well. When searching a great soundbar for your home, you can trust that you’re going to get a great bang-for-your-buck, no matter what your budget is.
We actually have an article that goes over the best soundbars for your money!
Whether you want a solo soundbar that simply makes your TV sound much better or a soundbar with a surround sound package that includes a wireless subwoofer and additional wireless speakers, such as a 5.1 or 7.1 setup, you can find it at a great price for a great level of quality. Surround sound speakers are the main difference between 2.1 and 5.1 soundbars.
They are Well-Designed
Since popular home entertainment brands are now competing for space in the soundbar market, manufacturing is better than ever. They are creating intuitively designed soundbars and soundbar packages, and they are built to last. They truly understand people’s needs – adding integrations with smart home devices and the latest TVs, plus creating high-quality and low profile speakers.
Whether you have a 4K TV, something fancier, or you see yourself purchasing one in the future, you’ll be able to find a soundbar that is compatible with it and more. Plus, the speakers will impress for years to come.
Soundbars Offer Less Flexibility
One of the biggest downfalls about purchasing a soundbar or soundbar sound system, which includes additional components, is that you’re often stuck with a certain line of components for your additional speakers. Plus, you’re limited to the soundbar’s built-in speakers as your front speakers.
Even though soundbar speakers, subwoofer, and compatible wireless speakers are often truly great quality, you may not be able to purchase additional components outside a certain spectrum. Once you buy the soundbar and/or soundbar package, you are often stuck with those components. There typically isn’t an option to upgrade anything. That may be a bummer to you as a buyer and make your investment less valuable if you’re interested in adding on or upgrading at any point.
It’s Hard to Match the Sound Quality of a Traditional Surround Sound
Manufacturers are doing their best to create truly amazing sound experiences with soundbars, and many soundbar owners are satisfied with their sound systems. That being said, it is hard to beat hand-picked components by industry-leading specialty brands that create unbelievable products.
One main difference in sound quality between soundbars and surround sound systems is the location and flexibility of the front speakers. In a surround sound setup, you can choose your front speakers, and you can place them in whatever location sounds best for your room. With a soundbar, your front speakers are integrated into the soundbar, and you cannot move them anywhere in the room. You get more of a front-heavy sound, rather than a full room, immersive sound. But you can add on rear and side speakers and place them wherever you want, which helps for a better surround sound experience.
Sounds Better in Smaller Rooms
There are a handful of solid soundbar packages that do a good job of creating a surround sound environment in larger rooms. However, soundbars and soundbar packages typically provide a better experience in smaller spaces. This is mostly due to the front speaker placement, which creates a more directed sound, rather than a multi-directional, room-filling sound.
If you have a big room, there aren’t many options for soundbars that have more than 2 wireless surround speakers. You would need a long soundbar and multiple sets of wireless surround speakers to fill a very room.
The only soundbar I know of that has multiple sets of wireless surround speakers and isn’t ridiculously expensive is the Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4Ch Soundbar System (on Amazon).
If you’re spending this kind of money on an extremely high-end soundbar it might make sense go with the traditional surround sound setup since you’re already spending the extra money, but that decision is up to you.
Why Choose a Traditional Surround Sound System Over a Soundbar?
Surround sound systems allow for more flexibility. You get to pick and choose different components from the beginning, and you can also mix and match models and brands to create your ideal sound system. Since you can choose the best-in-class components to build your own system, you can create an unbelievably powerful and high-quality sound for your home theater or home entertainment center.
With a powerful system comes more complications. Surround sound systems can be complicated to set up and integrate together, especially when you’re choosing different brands and product lines to mix and match. In addition, your overall cost can be quite a bit more to create an awesome setup. Find out whether or not this is right for you below.
Traditional Surround Sound Pros
Traditional Surround Sound Systems Can Have Limitless Power and Quality
When you have a custom-created surround sound system, you get to purchase individual components, based on your needs and preferences, and you can choose the best-in-class options at your will. You aren’t limited to the packaged subwoofer, the specific line or brand of compatible components, or built-in speakers. If you want a specific amplifier for your surround sound, you can get it. You can choose how many channels you have included in your system, whether it’s 5.1, 7.2, 9.1, etc. Check out our article all about surround sound channels if you’re aren’t familiar with how channels work,
This gives you the power to create the best sound experience as possible, even though you might need help with recommendations. You can start with a packaged line of surround sound components that you know are good and add on from there, or you can start from scratch. The choice is yours, and that’s the beauty of it. If you need help deciding, check out our recommended surround sound speakers to use for your new system!
They Have Better Overall Sound
With the flexibility of buying top-of-the-line products from top home entertainment manufacturers that have been making surround sound products for a very long time, you’re going to have a truly great sound that is optimized to fit your needs.
You can upgrade components or add on components at any time to create a better sound as you see fit or as your budget allows, and the sky is the limit with your options. You can always be improving the sound in your room. Plus, you’re able to move your components around to fit your specific room and seating arrangement needs.
Traditional Surround Sound is Great for Larger Rooms
If you’re working with a large room, you can be sure that a traditional surround sound setup will give every seat in the room an amazing sound experience. Surround sound systems are especially fitting for a dedicated home theater and setups that have rows of seating, rather than just a couple of seats and a TV.
In a large room, it’s a risk to buy a soundbar sound system that might not blow your socks off like you were hoping, and with a traditional surround sound, you can always upgrade, update, and make the sound better. You can add on as many components as your room needs and buy the top products. More expensive and better components will mean a more immersive sound experience for all of your viewers, no matter where they are seated.
Traditional Surround Sound Cons
Surround Sound Systems are More Expensive
When you’re creating your own line-up of awesome components to make up your surround sound, you’ll find out quickly that the higher end products are expensive. It’s a trade-off because they are truly impressive products made by specialty manufacturers who can upcharge due to the level of quality you’ll receive. However, this can quickly run your budget dry if you’re not careful.
One component in a surround sound system made by a specialty manufacturer can cost as much as an entire soundbar sound system or more. However, this may just mean that you need to purchase your components over time. Sometimes, it pays off to wait and get better prices as new products come out. Or this may mean that a different setup will work better for you.
They Are Much More Complicated
Figuring out whether or not different brands and lines of components are compatible can be a headache. You have to really know the ins and outs of the products you are working with, and you may have to get some outside help to figure out what will work best with what. It will take time and a lot of research to decide on which products will work for you.
In addition to finding out if different products are compatible and sound well together, they can be complicated to set up, integrate, and work. You might have to hire help for your setup, and there might be a big learning curve to learn the ins and outs of how to optimize each of your components to fit your needs. Overall, you’ll have to spend a lot of time getting to know your equipment and figuring out how to use it for your home theater or home entertainment center.
More Difficult to Install and Not as Neat
When it comes to traditional surround sound systems, you likely think about large equipment. Whether it’s large front speakers that sit on the floor or a subwoofer that seems out of place, it can be hard to make a surround sound setup look sleek and stylish, additionally, as we explained in our guide, it becomes even more complicated when you consider that the type of flooring you have will affect the sound.
Surround sound products, in general, aren’t as neat and tidy as a soundbar setup would be. There are more compact components and wireless options available, but they will cost significantly more. With a surround sound setup, you’ll likely have to figure out how to hide your wiring and store your components without causing them to overheat. Overall, you’ll need to make sure all of your equipment doesn’t take away from your home entertainment experience.
Conclusion – Which is Better?
When it comes to deciding between a soundbar and a surround sound to determine which is better for you, it’s best to know your needs. What size is your room? Do you have a dedicated home theater or are you setting it up for living room entertainment? How important is it to you to add custom components? Do you want to keep it simple or do what you have to do to create a mind-blowing sound system?
For a simple, straightforward and high-quality sound experience that doesn’t blow your budget or overcomplicate things, you’ll want to go with a soundbar. For a setup that requires a little extra work and thinking but pays off in the end, especially for a dedicated home theater, you’re going to want to create your own surround sound.
We hope this helps you in your decision between a soundbar and a surround sound. Happy hunting!