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Sound Bar vs Surround Sound — Testing Which Is Best For Your TV (2021)

Sound Bar vs Surround Sound​

There are merits to getting a soundbar versus a surround sound system, so which one is best for you? To help you get the right system and save you from disappointment, our team has pitted a soundbar VS a surround sound system against each other. The Sony HTX8500 and Logitech Z906, in particular, are used for this comparison. 

Sound Bar or Surround Sound?

Best Compact Size
Sony HTX8500
Best for True Surrounding Audio
Logitech Z906
Sony HTX8500
Logitech Z906
Soundbars such as the Sony HTX8500 are recommended for a smaller home theater. If you don’t have a lot of space, this is the perfect option for you as it has advanced audio technologies and its own built-in subwoofer for bass.
A surround sound home system is unmatched for true enveloping audio. To get this effect, not only are advanced audio technologies recommended, but having surround speakers or rear speakers will improve your experience.
Best Compact Size
Sony HTX8500
Sony HTX8500
Soundbars such as the Sony HTX8500 are recommended for a smaller home theater. If you don’t have a lot of space, this is the perfect option for you as it has advanced audio technologies and its own built-in subwoofer for bass.
Best for True Surrounding Audio
Logitech Z906
Logitech Z906
A surround sound home system is unmatched for true enveloping audio. To get this effect, not only are advanced audio technologies recommended, but having surround speakers or rear speakers will improve your experience.

Features of Sound Bar and Surround Sound

Design and Build

There are pros and cons to both soundbars and surround sound systems, but a soundbar is the ideal option for audiophiles that don’t have a large living room. You won’t have cumbersome surround sound speakers and a sub to worry about and still elevate the audio from your TV speakers. However, a soundbar will never deliver the high quality true surrounding audio a full system setup would.

Soundbars can still come with all the advanced audio technologies such as Dolby Atmos and DTS, and there are some that even have their own subwoofer built in. The Sony HT CT180, for example, has its own Sony S-Force that provides 3D audio as an additional surround sound technology. It can seem like a soundbar is a smaller version of a full surround system in one.

For much better sound, our experts say a surround sound system is still the way to go for audiophiles and cinephiles that are picky with sound quality. Although the larger system takes up more space, the different components are each dedicated to relaying different frequencies to create the perfect audio experience.

In a world where our technologies are getting smaller and smaller, our experts determined soundbars to be the winners in this section of our sound bar vs surround sound comparison for their compact size, ease of placement and portability.

Sound Bar and Surround Sound: Sound Quality

While a soundbar can sound very impressive, the sound quality produced by full systems is unmatched. In a larger room, you can really hear the difference in sound projection from the soundbar and surround sound system.

Our experts say there is a method to improve the audio quality of your soundbars, and that is by purchasing one with a wireless subwoofer. Even when you set up your soundbar in your car audio system, a sub like the best ones made by Kicker brand, will significantly help with the bass. 

To make you feel like you are in the middle of the action, one would want full surround speakers for their new system. A full speaker system comes with an AV receiver, which is needed for passive speakers, or it may be necessary to add your own. Other components of a full set include a subwoofer, rear satellite speakers and a center channel.

In order to enjoy true cinematic sound in your living room, make sure you have at least a 5.1 channel system, which is the industry standard for true 3D surround sound. Single soundbars are 3.1 at most, which is just shy of what is required.

Both soundbars and full speaker systems can come with the same audio format decoding technology, but with more channels, a surround sound home theater system will still outperform the soundbar.

Both the soundbar and surround speakers can have multi-directional front speakers. Upward-firing front speakers will make sure you get a more expansive experience by bouncing sound off the acoustics of your room in different directions to create a listening sweet spot.

Speaker Sensitivity

Speaker sensitivity pertains to how well the device can convert power into sound. Many people look at this as how loud the soundbar can be, which is measured in decibels (dB). Because a full home theater system is larger, it also has the ability to convert more power for better sound. 

That’s not to discount the speaker sensitivity of the soundbar, but they still come up a bit short compared to their larger counterparts with more components. 90dB is recommended by our experts to be the best sensitivity measurement. However, anything a bit above or below that is acceptable.

Frequency Response

The frequency response in speakers pertains to all the notes on the spectrum your speakers can reproduce. To get the ideal music and movie experience, you will need a speaker with a wide frequency range. This characteristic isn’t impacted by size, but the hardware and components involved in your new device will greatly affect it.

For example, a soundbar without a subwoofer will not be able to produce the bass tones you want or like and depict the low rumbles accurately. Conversely, without good tweeters, the high tones in your content won’t be audible either.

Since the full system is a full set of components with no need to add rear speakers or subwoofers, it is able to produce better sound with big effects, but you might still see impressive or even better soundbar frequency ranges on the specs.

Power Handling in Watts

Power handling is what the name suggests — how much power the speaker set or soundbar is capable of. However, our experts wish to remind that there are two figures manufacturers mention regarding power handling: peak power and RMS (root mean square).

There is a difference between the two and how it can fill the room with sound. Size does matter in this section, so soundbars are at a slight disadvantage. However, this won’t matter if you have a small space.

Peak power refers to how much power the speakers or soundbar can handle in short bursts. This figure is usually higher than the RMS. RMS is the measurement for how much power your speakers and soundbar can pump out consistently over a long period. The RMS is usually lower than the peak power.

The higher the figures are, the louder and more powerful your device is. So if you want loud and far-reaching sound, our experts would suggest you buy a full speaker system. If you have a small space or don’t require loud sound, then buy a soundbar because it can still do quite well.

Speaker Impedance

The impedance is another more technical aspect we’re looking at in our sound bars VS surround sound speaker system comparison. The impedance is how much resistance the sound bars and speakers have against the electrical current.

Impedance is referred to in ohms [1], and the number that accompanies this unit of measurement shows you how much energy your sound bars or speakers will draw from the external or built-in receiver.

The lower the ohm is, the more power and energy it takes, making it a less efficient device. High quality sound bars and speakers will have a higher ohm. Our experts say 4, 6, and 8 ohms are ideal, with 8 being the best. 

Connectivity

To be sure your sound bar and speakers are compatible with your setup, you need to take a look at the connections. Home audio devices like Bose Soundtouch 120 usually have both wired and wireless connections. This may not have been true years ago, but with advancements in technology, we can enjoy the convenience of a wireless setup.

The wired connections are located on the back of the device. You can find both digital and analog connections present for different purposes. You just have to double check if the same connections exist on your external receiver, soundbar or surround systems and your TV.

The inputs and outputs shouldn’t be too close together, because this will limit your access and prevent you from connecting and disconnecting cables easily. An HDMI connection is our experts’ top recommendation for connection since it supports the highest quality relays and is easy to set up.

For wireless connectivity, you can have Bluetooth, WiFi, or both. WiFi usually offers a stabler connection and Bluetooth requires the devices to be close together. The Bluetooth outranks WiFi in some opinions because it’s more ubiquitous among electronics and makes for easy streaming. You can get all these connections in both types of speaker systems. 

Sound Bar and Surround Sound Installation

The setup of these systems have been made easier over time. Big companies and manufacturers have learned that people do not want or like systems that take too long to get up and running. That’s why a lot of the new systems are plug-and-play designs.

All it takes is connecting your components together with the right cables that come with the package when you buy your device. Since a soundbar is just a single component, it’s easier to hook up compared to a full system. It will take up less time to figure out and you can go from unboxing to enjoying your music in a matter of minutes.

A bigger system is more time-consuming to set up. This is especially true if you need to get an external receiver if you have a passive system. You need to locate all the connections for each part and to ensure the connection is stable. With more parts come more problems, increasing the potential to run into issues down the line.

A soundbar is a great and easy to keep out of the way because most of these devices are wall-mountable to save space. You also won’t need to give the setup and placement too much thought. On the other hand, a surround sound system is a big and more bulky option that requires some planning. Where each part goes in the room for a better listening experience will take more time to decide. 

When you buy a new audio device, think about the setup, placement and size to be sure it fits in nicely in your home.

Customization of the Sound Bar and Surround Sound

A soundbar isn’t very customizable because it’s a predesigned device that is already finely tuned and created to be a great match to your TV. With more components, a surround sound system has more customizable choices.

Passive options for a soundbar and surround sound system allows for more customization. A passive device will typically require an added receiver, while an active device has the receiver built-in already.

Sound Bar and Surround Sound Price

The price is a big consideration for consumers. There are very high end soundbars out there that can match the price of lower-end surround sound options, but generally for the best quality in both types of audio systems, a soundbar is much more affordable. 

If you are on a budget, a soundbar is a better choice, especially since it can come with almost all the bells and whistles of a surround sound but in a smaller profile.

FAQ

What is better a sound bar or surround sound?

Surround sound is better than a soundbar for audio quality. For space-saving options and a great budget, a soundbar is a better option. Take a look at your living space and consider the type of audio experience you want to make the right choice for you.

Is a soundbar considered surround sound?

A soundbar is considered surround sound if it comes with the technology to simulate it virtually. However, true surround sound cannot be achieved by a soundbar alone without added components like a subwoofer and rear speakers.

Overall Winner: Surround Sound

Our experts have deemed surround sound as the winner into this sound bar VS surround sound comparison. Although it’s larger and more expensive, surround sound systems offer more customization options, more power and a true surround experience with the right advanced audio technologies.

Willie Greer

Willie Greer is the founder of The Product Analyst. A cinephile, he has made it a personal quest to achieve the awesomest home theater possible. He now shares what he has learned through the years on the site, and has enlisted the help of tech-savvy colleagues in providing more insight about today’s most sought-after gadgets.
Willie Greer

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