Tech Tuesday: Surround Sound vs. Soundbars


Disclaimer: Everything in this post as well as all future posts reflect my opinion after a decade in the A/V industry some of which go directly against popular opinion.

Today I want to talk about the most over used term in the AV industry: “Surround Sound”. Everybody thinks they want it, but is it really right for you?

Almost everyone I know has asked me about installing “surround sound” at their house but what they really mean is they want to hear the sounds coming from the TV louder and more pronounced. Surround sound is a wonderful thing in the right circumstances with the correct setup placed according to where the codec (Dolby Digital or DTS) wants them to be. Those are not the same place, by the way. Dolby wants your surrounds on the sides while DTS wants them in the rear. You can get around that part with 7.1 and install speakers in both places, but from my experience, most rooms are not long enough to place the rear speakers where they should go & receive optimal sound. If the placement or quality of the equipment is sub par, most of the time what you end up with is “muddied” sound that is actually pretty difficult to understand speech through without keeping it at a high volume.

My recommendation to resolve these issues is a quality soundbar because placement will no longer be an issue.  Simply mount it centered, above, or below the TV. Assuming that you have a well-engineered bar, you’ll get great stereo separation even if the TV is in the corner of the room (something that can be a serious challenge with surround). With the soundbars that I use consistently (Yamaha and Sonos) you can expect amazing speech intelligibility and a hefty dose of volume when needed. Recently, I used a Yamaha YAS-103, which is an all-in-one bar with no extra subwoofer, in a workout room for a client. The client had a big Sony component system in the room; 4 foot tall speakers with a glass faced cabinet. I mounted the soundbar below the TV. I tied the audio from the TV to both systems (the customer wanted to keep the component system for when she wanted to really jam). After we listened to both, she said she would be removing the Sony system because as weird as it is, the soundbar was a good bit louder and far clearer than the component system, which honestly surprised me too!

Now with all that said, I still love surround sound when it is the appropriate system for the need, but I’ve come to realize that the majority of the time it is not. Soundbar for the win!

Thanks for reading and please give us a call 205-588-8118 if there is anything we can do to make your life sound better.