Sound Bars vs Surround Sound: The Break Down
Trying to decide between using a sound bar 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, sound bars 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 sound bar 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.
Sound Bar Overview
- Easy installation and connectivity
- Minimal wires
- Modern design
- Great for small-medium living spaces
- Excellent virtual sound, which simulates the surround sound experience
- May need to buy separate Subwoofer (although most Klipsch sound bar systems come equipped with a Subwoofer, including the Cinema 400, Cinema 600, Bar 40, Bar 48, and R-4B II)
- The placement of the sound bar creates specific “sweet spots” in your listening experience
- May not produce complete surround sound, especially in larger living environments*
*Newer sound bars do offer surround sound options, including the Cinema 600 Sound Bar + Wireless Subwoofer. This sound bar and wireless Subwoofer combo also comes with a set of Surround 3 speakers to create an immersive, high-quality home theater experience.
Surround Sound System Overview
- Full range surround sound
- Able to place speakers in multiple stations for optimal acoustics
- Maximum Bass
- Audiophile theater system presentation
- Most quality systems require running wires from the receiver to each individual speaker
- Takes up more space
- More involved installation process
- More expensive
Read our comprehensive surround sound guide here.
Question: 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, sound bars 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 Sound Bar 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 sound bars 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.
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.
Power Needed To Produce High Volume
*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.
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).
“Some of the Klipsch new sound bars have an option to add two surround speakers,” says Klipsch Director of Technology and Innovation Matt Spitznagle. “A sound bar can provide a simulated surround effect for a limited seating area. When you add discrete left and surround speakers in locations to the side or behind you, you get a much better surround effect over a much larger seating area.”
While a sound bar, even with surround sound, won’t necessarily produce the monster noise of a full home-theater set-up, they are a fantastic option if you live in close quarters with your neighbors and don’t necessarily want to get a noise complaint filed against you. You still get amazing, crystal-clear quality and won’t have to resort to placing your drink on a speaker because you can’t fit any furniture in your living room.
Think of sound bars and surround sound speakers like chocolate and peanut butter - they are great alone, but when together - they are better.
Matt Spitznagle is the Klipsch Director of Technology and Innovation. Spitznagle has been with Klipsch for 15 years, serving in various engineering roles. He has an Electrical Engineering degree from Purdue University and holds a patent for signal processing in wireless speaker tech.