If the top priorities in your home audio upgrade are sound quality and immersive experiences, home theater surround sound has the upper hand on soundbars for a number of reasons.
Frankly, anything sounds better than TV speakers and soundbars would be included in that. People like soundbars because of their sleek, wall- or furniture-mountable design, ideal for smaller spaces and minimal visual impact. The issue though is when one compares soundbars to a 5.1 or any other home theater surround sound array is that they are lacking in the ability to deliver a convincing full-range, head-spinning audio experience.
When comparing home theater surround sound and soundbars based on sound quality alone, here's what you need to know:
Pinpoint Soundstage Accuracy Across the Front Stage
When directly facing the TV screen and a truly immersive experience is desired, sound should feel like it's coming from specific points in front of you, and not solely right at you. Properly placed high performance front, center and/or right/left speakers are more adept at pinpoint imaging and spaciousness in the front stage compared to a soundbar that has all the speakers enclosed in one unit.
You never want to be thinking, "What did they say?" We can all agree the human voice is an important part of the music or home theater experience. Up to 70% of dialogue audio content runs through the center channel and having a dedicated speaker to anchor the front stage between the front left and right main speakers makes a significant sonic difference. Having a devoted center channel speaker to render conversation and vocals with crisp clarity releases the full meaning and impact of every word.
Accurate Frequency Response
Truthful reproduction of source content with minimal compression, coloration or inaccuracies gets more difficult with challenging material. You want to crank it up? Home theater surround sound has more cabinet volume and more tweeters, drivers and woofers working to maintain pinpoint accuracy across the frequency spectrum. When you have a 5.1, 7.2, 11.4.4 or any home theater system with multiple loudspeakers performing in unison, the capacity to recreate accurate sound that is faithful to how the content was originally produced is greater at any drive level when compared to any standalone soundbar
Deep and Powerful Bass
Soundbars are designed to be slim and discreet. If you've ever heard an amazing powered subwoofer, you know it won't fit in a soundbar's cabinet. To compensate, many soundbars come pre-paired with a "subwoofer" to try to get to the richness and deepness of sound that the soundbar alone won't give you. We may be bass fanatics at SVS, but the subwoofer you're getting packaged with a soundbar or even a5.1 home-theater-in-a-box, is not a real subwoofer. In fact, these lesser subs are one of the main reasons SVS exists.
Any subwoofer can play bass, but a real subwoofer delivers a level of deep low frequency extension that goes to the limits of human hearing and below with stunning power you can actually feel. A great subwoofer also maintains pinpoint accuracy and speed in transients at all drive levels. The ability to stop and start with precision when a bass guitar string is plucked or to render every subtle and explosive detail as an action scene unfolds with no blurring or muddying of the soundstage. These are trademark qualities of SVS subwoofers that "throw-in" subs simply can't match.
Diffuse Accurate Rear Surround Image
The sensation of sound coming from all around is a hallmark of truly immersive home audio experiences. The door closing behind you, a jet soaring overhead, indistinguishable conversations happening to the left and right of you 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 convincing than what any soundbar might attempt to create, if it even tries at all. Plus, with immersive new audio formats like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D providing overhead "height effects" to the soundfield, the potential for head-turning experiences is greater than ever.
Sweet Spot Adjustments
As compact as they are, there's actually 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 positioning will mostly always be the same thus sweet spots cannot be taken advantage of
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 showing your guests that you have the setup required to ensure they're going to be hearing every detail and feeling every sonic moment?
Once you decide on a home theater surround sound system, the fun begins. There's 5.1, 7.1…dual subwoofers, height effects and countless ways to enhance the audio experience to breath-taking levels.