Why Home Theater Surround Sound is Better Than a Soundbar

Why Home Theater Surround Sound is Better Than a Soundbar

If sound quality and immersive experiences are the top priorities in your home audio system, surround sound will always be superior to soundbars. But the reasons are less obvious than you might think.

Soundbars are sleek, easy-to-install, and ideal for smaller spaces with minimal visual impact. And frankly, anything sounds better than TV speakers. Where soundbars lack compared to a 5.1 surround sound system or other home theater speaker array is the ability to deliver a convincing, full-range, head-turning audio experience.

Why is surround sound better than a soundbar for home theater?

Soundbars are better than TV speakers for improving dialogue volume, clarity, and even surround effects to some degree, but soundbars offer no comparison to a properly set up surround sound speaker system.

Pinpoint soundstage accuracy across the front stage

When a screen is taking up all or most of your field of vision, voices, ambient noise, and effects should feel like they’re coming from specific points in front of you, and not just right at you. Properly placed front right/left and center channel speakers are more adept at pinpoint imaging and creating spaciousness in the front stage compared to a do-it-all soundbar.

Getting the human voice right

Muffled dialogue can make it hard to follow what’s going on in a show or movie. Capturing the texture, tone, and emotion of a human voice is also part of what draws us further in to the experience.

The best center channel speakers render dialogue and vocals with crisp clarity from the highs of Whitney Houston to the lows of Barry White. It releases the full meaning and impact of every spoken word. Up to 70% of audio content runs through the center channel at any given time and having a dedicated speaker to anchor the front stage between the front left and right main speakers makes a significant sonic difference.

For more on the topic, check out Why the Center Channel is the most Important Home Theater Speaker.

Accurate frequency response, especially at high volumes

Truthful reproduction of source content without any coloration or inaccuracies gets more difficult with challenging material. You want to crank it up? Surround sound systems have more cabinet volume and more tweeters, mid-range drivers, and woofers working to maintain accuracy across the frequency spectrum.

Soundbars tend to distort at high volumes. When you have a 5.1, 7.2, 11.4.4 or any multi-channel home theater system with many loudspeakers performing in unison, the capacity to create accurate sound is greater at any drive level, but especially when you crank it up.

Deep and powerful bass you can feel

Soundbars are meant to be slim. If you’ve ever listened to (and felt) a world-class powered subwoofer, you know it can’t fit in a soundbar-sized enclosure. To compensate, many soundbars come pre-paired with a "sub woofer". We may be bass fanatics at SVS, but the subwoofer you’re getting packaged with a soundbar or a 5.1 home-theater-in-a-box, is not a real subwoofer. In fact, these subs are one of the main reasons SVS exists.

Any subwoofer can play a few notes of bass, but a real subwoofer must do 5 things well.

  1. Deliver deep low frequency extension to the limits of human hearing (about 20 Hz) where you start feeling bass
  2. Play at the output levels you desire and not struggle right when the energy and excitement ramps up
  3. Maintain flawless tonal accuracy playing the right notes at the right output levels
  4. Crisp speed in transients - the ability to stop and start on a dime to render every subtle and explosive low frequency effect with no blurring or muddying of the soundstage
  5. Blend seamlessly with the other speakers so the powered sub sounds like it’s providing bass for each individual speakers

These are hallmark qualities of SVS subwoofers that “throw-in” subs simply can’t match.

Diffuse and truthful rear surround image

The sensation of sound coming from all around is a hallmark of truly convincing home audio experiences. The crack of a twig behind you, a jet soaring overhead, voices in a crowded room; these effects need to be conveyed with spatial imaging to emphasize what is happening off-screen and where sound is coming from all around you.

Not surprisingly, placing surround speakers behind you is more effective than any soundbar virtualization or tinny throw-in speakers. Plus, with immersive new audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X providing overhead "height effects" to the soundfield, the potential for head-turning experiences is greater than ever.

Sonic sweet spot adjustments

As convenient as they are, there’s not a lot of installation flexibility with a sound bar. It’s generally mounted on the wall or placed on furniture below the TV. This produces a single listening spot where the sound quality and dynamics are best.

“Sweet Spots” also exist with home theater systems, but they can be optimized more easily based on the placement and angling of multiple speakers relative to listening positions. With soundbars, the installation is nearly always below the TV, so the sweet spot will always be the same.

Theater-style presentation and impact

While slightly outside the realm of sound quality and audio performance, there’s something to be said for making a visual statement with a home entertainment experience. A home theater surround sound system shows you enjoy entertainment to the fullest. There’s so much hi-res music, streaming HD video, Blu-ray movies and concerts, and on-demand content available now, why not unleash the full potential of what technology allows by hearing every detail and feeling every sonic moment?

Once you decide to build a home theater surround sound system, the fun begins. There’s 5.1, 7.1…dual subwoofers, Dolby Atmos Speakers, and countless ways to enhance the audio experience to breath-taking levels.

Not sure where to start? Contact the SVS Sound Experts via email, 877.626.5623, or chat.

You can also check out featured SVS owner systems here and learn about their home theater experiences.

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Sep 22, 2023