Soundbar vs surround sound - a vintage room with contemporary home cinema system

Soundbar vs surround sound: Which is better for home audio setup?

Comparing soundbar and surround sound systems based on sound quality, space requirements, device compatibility, and more.

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Key Facts

  • A soundbar is a compact audio device that enhances TV sound quality through a single speaker unit.
  • A surround sound system consists of multiple speakers placed around a room to create immersive, multi-dimensional audio experiences.

Tired of missing dialogue in movies? Do you wish your home theatre explosions had the same rumble as the cinema? You're not alone. The key to an amazing viewing experience lies in your choice of sound system, but with so many options on the market, it's tough to know where to start.

When it comes to elevating your home cinema to that next level, the choice often boils down to soundbar vs surround sound. But which is the best fit for you? This guide will help you weigh the pros and cons so that your next movie night hits all the right notes.

What is a soundbar?

Soundbar vs surround sound - Part of the interior of the living room with a TV on the wall, sound bar, gray cabinet and a large indoor flower

A soundbar is a sleek, long speaker designed to sit pretty under your screen. It boosts the TV's audio without turning the living room into a mini cinema. But are soundbars worth it? Absolutely.

Now, you might wonder, how do soundbars work? To put it simply, they use acoustics to bounce sound off walls to give the illusion of a wider sound field from a single spot. This means that even without multiple speakers, you still get richer, more immersive sound.

What does a soundbar do, then? It transforms the audio from your TV to make dialogues clearer and sound effects more impactful. Overall, it gives your favourite shows and movies the sound quality they deserve. 

What is a surround sound?

Soundbar vs surround sound - Home theater system with widescreen HDTV and surround sound systemSurround sound systems involve multiple speakers placed around the room. This setup creates a sound experience that comes at you from all directions, giving you the sensation of being right where a show or movie is happening.

Did You Know? A recent study found that using a multi-channel surround sound system for educational content can make it more engaging for kids. So, if you're using your TV to teach your children, setting up a surround sound system could make educational programming come alive in a more dynamic, participatory way.

Surround sound systems can include various speaker configurations, which are referred to by numbers like 5.1, 7.1, or even 9.1.2. The first number tells you how many speakers are in the setup, while the second number refers to the subwoofer (that's the part that brings the boom and bass). Lastly, the third number (if there is one) is for speakers that add height effects. The last ones make things like helicopters flying overhead sound ultra-realistic.

Surround sound vs soundbar: Which is the ideal choice for your home theatre?

Choosing between a soundbar and a surround sound system for your home theatre setup can be tricky. After all, you're looking to capture that immersive, cinematic experience in your living room—or maybe even for an outdoor cinema night under the stars.

Both options have unique advantages and cater to different needs and spaces. But don't worry—we'll explore the key factors that could sway your decision. From audio quality and space considerations to the type of entertainment you enjoy most, we've got you covered. 

In terms of sound and audio quality

Soundbar vs surround sound - Professional hi-fi speaker box

Soundbars and surround sound systems are in totally different leagues. In fact, a study from BBC established that even two soundbars can't replicate the sound quality that surround systems offer.

A soundbar, because of its streamlined design, might not separate sounds quite as distinctly as a surround system does. On the other hand, a surround sound setup divides audio across multiple channels, so you're enveloped in a more dimensional and accurate representation of your movie or music.

If you're keen on soundproofing a room, a surround sound system might push you to go the extra mile. Since it involves speakers scattered around the room, soundproofing might help minimise sound leakage and enhance your audio experience. 

Recommendation:  Choose a surround sound system for the ultimate home cinema experience.

In terms of space requirements 

When it comes to sound systems for homes, the choice between soundbars and surround sound systems heavily depends on your available space. A soundbar's compact, all-in-one design makes it a no-brainer for those with limited room. It can sit neatly under your TV without requiring extra space for speakers around the room.

On the other hand, surround sound systems require a bit more room to spare. To get that immersive audio experience, you'll need to position multiple speakers in specific spots and strategically place each component for the best sound. 

Recommendation: A soundbar is the ideal choice for those with limited space. However, if you have extra room to accommodate speakers and components, go for a surround sound system.

In terms of design flexibility

Soundbar vs surround sound - Modern living room with an HDTV and a soundbar

When you're eyeing the aesthetics of your space, a soundbar can be a simple addition. It's designed to blend in right below your TV without taking up too much space or sticking out. You can also mount it on the wall, which is perfect if you're after a minimalist vibe.

Surround sound setups, on the other hand, offer different kinds of flexibility. You can spread out the speakers to perfectly match your room's acoustics and design preferences. It's great because you're not stuck with one layout. You can tweak the setup until it sounds right and looks good in your space.

But remember, all those speakers and wires can clutter up a room if you're not careful. It's a bit of a balancing act to find spots for each component that won't mess with your room's flow. 

Recommendation: If you want a hassle-free addition to your space, go for a soundbar. But if you are willing to put in the effort to find the perfect layout for your room, a surround sound setup may be the better option.

In terms of their setup process

Getting a soundbar setup is generally straightforward. You'll just plug it into your TV and maybe a power source, and you're good to go. This simplicity is a big plus for those who aren't tech-savvy or just want to avoid a complicated setup.

Setting up surround sound components requires a bit more work. Each speaker must be strategically placed in the right spot to create that enveloping audio experience. Sometimes, wires need to be hidden or managed. It's definitely more time-consuming, so professional help might be worth considering.

To strike a balance, you can go for soundbars with surround sound. This is often easier to install than a full-blown surround system but can mimic their immersive experience. You won't need to run wires all over the place, but you'll still spend a bit more time on setup than with a basic soundbar. 

Recommendation: For easier setup, opt for a soundbar. 

In terms of device compatibility

Soundbar vs surround sound - Wires of a sound system

When deciding whether to get a soundbar or surround sound for your TV, it’s also essential to consider how well the sound system will play with your other devices. You should be able to connect anything from MP3 players, computers, and smartphones to microphones, instruments, and amplifiers.

Most soundbars are often plug-and-play, so they can easily connect to various brands and technologies. However, they might not have as many ports. That limits your ability to connect multiple devices simultaneously. 

Meanwhile, a surround sound setup can connect to multiple inputs and outputs. Meaning, you can integrate it into gaming consoles, streaming devices, and even old-school vinyl players. Just make sure to check compatibility more carefully to prevent any issues. This is especially the case if you’re incorporating components from different manufacturers.

Recommendation: Opt for a surround sound system if you want to connect to multiple devices.

In terms of cost

Soundbars are affordable for both budget-conscious shoppers and those willing to splurge on high-end models. In the UK, the range is around £15 to a hefty £1,149.

As for surround sound systems, they're generally more expensive due to their complexity and the sheer number of components involved. It's not just buying multiple speakers. There's also the cost of receivers, possibly more cables, and the occasional additional remote control to consider. Some standalone speakers can cost anywhere from £32.99 to £94. Meanwhile, high-end sets can be priced from £249 to £1,599. 

Recommendation: Soundbars are more affordable.  

Streamline your sound system installation with Airtasker

Whether you're leaning towards the simplicity of a soundbar or the immersive experience of a surround sound system, the setup can really be a daunting part. Luckily, there’s an easier way to get things done.

By posting your task on the Airtasker platform, you can find professionals ready to tackle everything from home theatre setups to sound system installation. They've got the skills and know-how to make the process seamless. All that's left for you to do is enjoy your enhanced audio experience without any of the hassle.

Why not take the guesswork out of installation? Post a task today and connect with skilled Taskers who can bring your home audio dreams to life. 

Soundbar vs surround sound

Surround Sound
Sound Quality
Good quality, but less separation of sound channels
Immersive sound quality with superior sound separation
Space Requirements
Minimal, compact design
Requires more space for multiple speakers
Design Flexibility
Sleek, unobtrusive design
Flexible layout; can be adjusted for acoustics
Setup Process
Easy to install; simple setup
Complex setup; may need professional help
Device Compatibility
Limited ports, but can easily connect to other devices
Has more ports, but requires checking for device compatibility

Generally cheaper

More expensive due to multiple components

FAQs on soundbar and surround sound systems

A soundbar is a single unit with multiple speakers to simulate surround sound. Meanwhile, speakers refer to individual units that can be arranged to create a true surround sound experience.

The main argument against buying a soundbar is its inability to deliver the same level of immersive, high-quality audio experience that a properly configured surround sound system can offer.

Wireless surround sound systems offer good sound quality and the convenience of a cable-free setup. This is why they're a popular choice for a tidy and flexible home audio solution.

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