Soundbar vs Surround Sound

Trying to decide between using a soundbar or a home theater system for your home? We’ve listened to your requests and put together this overview to ease your mind and open your ears to the difference in set up and sound quality.

As you know, soundbars are all the rage with their sleek design, easy installation process, wireless set up, and ability to produce a form of surround sound. Does this mean you’ve found a replacement for a separate-piece surround sound system with front, rear, and center speakers? No, of course not. Nothing can replace a full-blown Klipsch home theater setup…BUT a soundbar can be the ideal solution for those seeking an upgrade to their wimpy TV speakers.

Let’s break down the pros and cons of each so you can decide what’s best for you.

Soundbar Overview

Pros:

  • Easy installation and connectivity
  • Minimal wires
  • Modern design
  • Great for small-medium living spaces
  • Excellent virtual sound, which simulates the surround sound experience

Cons:

  • May need to buy separate subwoofer (although many Klipsch systems include a sub, such as our HD Theater SB 3, R-10B Soundbar and R-20B Soundbar)
  • The placement of the soundbar creates specific “sweet spots” in your listening experience
  • Does not produce complete surround sound, especially in larger living environments

Surround Sound System Overview

Pros:

  • Full range surround sound
  • Able to place speakers in multiple stations for optimal acoustics
  • Maximum bass
  • Audiophile theater system presentation

Cons:

  • Most quality systems require running wires from the receiver to each individual speaker
  • Takes up more space
  • More involved installation process
  • More expensive

Q: Does Bigger = Better?

Big speakers may provide the look of a major sound producing machine, but remember, looks can be deceiving. While it is true large speakers have the ability to produce eardrum pounding sound and are an excellent choice for a large room, soundbars and smaller speaker systems are more than capable of producing quality sound. Make an informed decision and learn how to ensure a quality set up by reviewing the following section.

How Do I Compare a Soundbar to a Surround Sound System?

As with any audio product, there are varying levels of quality and associated performance depending on the device. The best soundbars will overpower and outperform the run-of-the-mill surround sound system. So, the question is, what performance standards do you look for? We’ll make this part easy on you. Just refer to the below list on how to understand the specs to find the quality speaker system you desire.

  • Sensitivity

The speakers’ effectiveness of converting power (watts) into volume (decibels). The higher the sensitivity, the less power the speaker needs to deliver the effective sound. To put it quite simply – a higher sensitivity rating = loud, clear, high quality sound.

Speaker

Sensitivity Rating

Power Needed To Produce High Volume

Speaker A

85 dB

100 Watts

Speaker B

89 dB

50 Watts

Speaker C

92 dB

25 Watts

*less power to produce higher volume is key for speaker longevity

  • Frequency Response

The range of frequencies that are audible to humans lies between 20 and 20,000 Hert (Hz). Some of the lowest frequencies (below 35 Hz) are more felt than heard (like an earthquake in an action movie), and are produced by the subwoofer. Review the frequency response range to understand what kind of listening experience you will gain with the associated highs and lows that the speaker produces.

  • Power Handling

How much power, in watts, a speaker can handle before it is damaged. Simply put, the higher the power handling, the more likely you are to piss off the neighbors.

  • Impedance

How much electrical resistance is presented against the current flowing from your outputs. Impedance will fluctuate since the speaker will produce sounds at varying frequencies, but all manufacturers will publish a nominal impedance figure. 8 ohms is the norm, though some speakers can handle a 4ohm load (just make sure your receiver matches this load).

SUMMARY

Hopefully this helps to answer some of your questions on how to choose the right speaker system. Remember, much of it comes down to personal preference, but be sure to do your homework when it comes to reviewing the specs and associated performance standards of each sound system. We’re sure that either choice will amplify your current set up and make PWK proud.

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11 thoughts on “Soundbar vs Surround Sound”

  1. My question is, I already have the klipsh subwoofer, and need a nice but reasonable speaker system to go with it. Which choice would you recommend? ?

    1. It depends a bit on your budget and space, but do keep your eye on our Reference series system packages. For a smaller space such as an apartment, you can’t go wrong with one of the bookshelf system packages. If it’s a house, we have a pretty good range of possibilities in floorstanding system line. The system packages listed on our site, when added to your shopping cart, will add all the individual components separately, so you could then remove the subwoofer from the cart to get an idea of your cost. What subwoofer do you have?

      1. 15 years ago I went to the audio shop having considered the space that i had at the time, I made up my mind to get a RSX package. I initially had the smaller versions in mind, then while i was in the shop i kept moving to the next bigger one, i ended up coming out with a full sets of RF 7 and RSW12 in all in cherry. I had a small lift at my apartment that could only hold 4 people, i still remember the moment when i slided the first big RF 7 box and the lift was bouncing. One by one i got them in and fitted them into my tiny home. They were like part of my family. 2 years later i got a much bigger house to accommodate them. Of course it had to be a place where there are no many neighbours close by. I went the other way around. Find the speaker that i want first, then look for the type of home that would be suitable for it. Lol.

        Oh, and i forgot to mention. Then there was the K horn that was twisting my brain when i was walking out of the shop.

  2. We have set up all 4 lines of Klipsch products in the last 4-5 months. Everything in this article is simple and accurate. The Klipsch Icon SB1 is simple surrround and LOUD with a wireless sub. The Reference series in wall/in ceiling create a fantastic, dynamic listening environment with discreet speakers (both were in the same home btw). The HD series, while small, offer a real surround effect in a compact speaker that a soundbar can’t match (with an equal-sized sub too. The Reference ii towers/bookslelf/surround setup offers the ‘truest’ surround.

  3. There is no comparison between 5.1 and 7.1. Those extra channels make so much difference in sound immersion and in positional audio.
    7.1 is far more appealing, to the point that downgrading is unbearable.
    The same goes for a soundbar vs freestanding surround speakers. Having a speaker actually behind you, versus having it in front of you; i don’t see how there could be confusion as to which makes the sound actually come from behind.
    Sound bars just can’t physically accomplish that. They can’t place speakers AROUND a user, thus the “surround” is noticeably less surrounding.
    As for space and wires. Many many good systems, and even the cheap ones can be mounted, tucked away or are designed to use minimal space and look attractive. Those issues only occur if you spend $5,000 on a 4200 watt overkill system (more power than anyone not living in a stadium needs) with giant tower speakers. Most homes, 250 watts or less works just fine, especially if the speakers use that power well. Wires can be concealed as well, easily.
    Point is, we’ve used bars, giant expensive monstrosities and even 7.1 pc speakers. A good quality, small system with real speakers on surround produced the best all around. In fact, our creative 7800’s stand as champions in our collection, even up against our Kon stand up system. One was $200 and is like 90watts, the other is $6500 and 2800 watts. Go figure. You put too much power in too small a space, and the sound quality drops.

    1. I agree. Next surround sound system I’m getting when my current 5.1 AVR dies will be 7.1. the majority of blu rays and streaming movies support up to 8 channels of lossless surround soundn

  4. I have theater room I building. It is 22 feet long and 13 feet wide. Is it possible to use 7 good sound bars and two sub woofers and still have a good quality sound like a 7.2 theater system.

    1. In theory you could, but we would not recommend it.

      It’s not common that a soundbar has binding posts for you to run speaker wire to each soundbar from the receiver.

      Also, each speaker in a 7.2 system is typically designed to serve a specific purpose with controlled directivity – working together to delivery the ideal, surround sound listening experience. Most soundbars are designed to distribute audio throughout a room as a single unit, so you may lose some clarity by setting up soundbars only.

      If the flat panel, minimalist look is what you’re trying to achieve, consider something like our Gallery Series: http://www.klipsch.com/gallery-home-theater-systems

  5. I’m looking to buy a Klipsch setup specifically for my TV, I’d like to spend 800 or less. And I read somewhere that some people had problems with the IR remotes for the soundbars and/or the subwoofer not pairing easily. Anyways, what’s a good start? If you tell me that I can spend 1000 bucks and a substantially better set-up then that’s also an option.

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