Surround Sound Vs. Stereo: What Makes Them Different?

Are you curious about the differences between surround sound vs stereo? If yes, this article can be of great help! Check it out to know more!

by Derrick Reeves | Updated: June 24, 2021

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What is the difference between surround vs. stereo?  If you’ve decided to install a new home sound system, you’re probably asking this question.

Stereo and surround sounds are popular methods of sound reproduction that are familiar with home use. Even when you don’t have any dedicated purpose, they’re worth the money to make your entertainment experience better.

Some people feel like there aren’t many differences between them. They find both systems are acceptable with the same quality.

How To Distinguish Surround Sound Vs. Stereo?

The surround sound system will have five or more than five channels, and it can reproduce the more vivid and vibrant (higher quality) sounds. About the stereo sound, it usually has two channels only and delivers the standard sound for conventional needs .

Comparison: Surround Sound Vs. Stereo 

The Definition

Surround Sound

The Definition Surround Sound

Have you ever paid attention to the sound you heard in the movie theater? Was it clearer, deeper, and better than when you were watching TV at home?

Theater’s sound is the typical example of this type. Surround sound is a popular technique that enhances the fidelity and depth of the sound produced.

In a theater,  speakers are positioned in at least three directions: left, right and center. That’s why you’ll feel the sound is really loud, clear as it covers you.

Stereo Sound 

What you hear from TV, earphones, or headphones is all stereo sound.  It is the most popular type that many electronic devices can produce.

Since 2000, stereo sound has become the standard for music or movies. As it’s easy to create, mix, and reproduce, it’s gained more and more popularity.

This type can be expanded or enhanced by using some extra accessories such as a subwoofer to improve sound quality.

speakers Sound Quality

Sound Quality

Sound quality is the key factor to consider while deciding on the type of sound you want. Each sound system has its outstanding features that you should compare and find out  which best suits you.

Some people assume that a system with more speakers will convey higher-quality sound.  However, the fact remains that surround sound can easily be distorted or muffled.

  • Surround sound: It’s always appreciated for high-quality sound. You’ll feel like you’re in a movie theater right at home with this system.

This system delivers a smoother and more vivid sound, taking your entertainment experience to a higher level with more comfort.

  • Stereo sound: It’s still of high quality if you choose the suitable product. Although this type can perform music clearly as surround sound, it works well with streaming music or watching TV in small rooms.


Surround Sound

People can classify surround sound into categories based on their standards.  Below are some outstanding types.

  • 5.1 surround sound: If you don’t have any prior experience using surround systems, this one is worth your consideration.

5.1 type is popular for most home theaters as it has a simple and easy-to-set-up configuration. The outcome it creates will be the standard, which is true and vibrant.

Another advantage of this type is that it costs you less than others. That’s why you shouldn’t miss it at all!

In the 5.1 system, there are two widely set up modes: Dolby Digital and DTS. Dolby Digital. The latter is slightly better as it can produce clearer and more vivid sounds.

With the 5.1 system, you’ll need five channels:  three of them should be placed in the front with reasonable distances, and two others at the back are the left and right surround speakers.

  • 6.1 surround sound: Compared to the 5.1  system, this type has superior sound quality.

It has the same configuration as 5.1 but with one more center speaker at the back. For that reason, it will create deeper sounds with a broader coverage.

Sound electronics of 6.1 surround consist of three main kinds: DTS-ES,  THX Surround EX, and Dolby Digital EX. DTS  consistently gives you the best results.

  • 7.1 surround sound: This model will give listeners the full sound quality with an extra speaker.

You’ll be able to listen to studio-quality sound, usually referred to as “lossless”.  Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio are the two experts in producing this type of audio-quality sound.

types of surround sound

Stereo Sound

There are two main types of stereo sound: natural and artificial sound.

  • Natural sound: It will be created by recording the real sounds from our lives. The producer will prepare many dedicated microphones to capture every natural reverberation.

After that, they will eliminate the background noise, mix, and reproduce the sound. The result is the sound we usually listen to on TV or other electronic devices.

Artificial type is clear, vivid, and even better than natural sound. In the normal condition, we can’t distinguish the two types as their qualities are quite similar.

Room Size

Some people usually bring home either a surround sound or stereo system without taking suitability into consideration.

What can affect the sound quality?  The answers can be the original sound, the speaker, or accessories such as a subwoofer or connecting wire, but not many think about the room size.

When your space isn’t suitable,  the sound can be distorted easily and worse than you think. If your room is too big, the sound won’t be loud and clear enough. On the other hand,  small spaces might be overwhelmed by a too powerful sound system.

Follow this guide to learn how to measure suitable speaker size.

Surround Sound System

It has more requirements for room size or space. As with five or more speakers, your small space can be overloaded and can’t produce what you expected.

Your theater room must be at least 15 ft. wide and 20 ft. long if you want to set up a surround sound system. Apart from it, you will need space for the television or projector, chairs, etc.

If you have a smaller room than that dimension,  the surround sound system may not be the perfect choice for you. On the other hand, you can set up more speakers for your bigger room.

Stereo Sound

Stereo Sound system

This type is more flexible for different room sizes. You can set it up if your room is at least 9 ft. wide and 10 ft. long.

Besides, you also need to pay attention to the distance from the ceiling to the ground. It must be at least 6 to 9 ft.

Speaker Setup

Each system will require different devices such as speakers, subwoofer, etc. Obviously, the surround sound system will need more accessories to create a better outcome.

Surround Sound

  • Center channel: Some people only prepare side speakers and ignore the center channel as they think it isn’t necessary. However,  the center channel is responsible for balancing the sound produced by other speakers.
  • Left and right front speakers: It would be better if you have full-range speakers. When you place the speaker’s tweeter at the same level with your ears, you can listen to the best quality.

They will deliver the outcome directly to the audience. That’s why their quality is worth considering.

  • Surround speakers: There is no limited number of speakers you can set up in your house. You can customize based on your needs, but you’ll need at least two devices. It would help if you placed them evenly in your room or around your sitting area.
  • Subwoofer: It is a must-have if you want to have better low-frequency sound (bass).  The subwoofer helps your front speakers perform better with mid or high-frequency sounds.

Stereo Sound

Different from the surround system, the stereo one is more simple and easier to set up. You need to prepare two front speakers and place them in suitable positions.

Subwoofer in this situation is a matter of personal choice. As mentioned above, it takes the responsibility to make your bass better and support other frequencies.


Before making a decision, ask yourself, “Why do you want to buy it?” first.  By asking this question, you can figure out which system that you truly need.

Surround Sound

If you want to have a theater room at home, surround sound is the way to go.  The only thing you have to make sure is that your room is big enough and suitable for the whole system.

Surround sound is the best choice for delivering the most vibrant and clearest sounds. You can easily feel and listen to even the slightest movement in the movie, like footsteps,  falling leaves, etc., as if it was happening in reality.

A surround sound system will give you a better experience of watching movies, streaming music, or playing games.

That said, it doesn’t mean we affirm that you aren’t allowed to choose stereo sound. It is an acceptable solution when you don’t set the bar high for sound quality, or your room is too small to place a surround system.

Stereo Sound

If you have a limited space, stereo sound will be a perfect fit. It only comes with a pair of speakers and a subwoofer (if needed),  which don’t take a lot of space.

Some music producers will invest in the best stereo sound system instead of purchasing a surround one. It will support them better in analyzing and reproducing the music.

Stereo sound is suitable for normal entertaining such as watching TV, listening to music, etc. Some premium products even produce a  higher sound quality than the surround systems.


Budget of Surround Sound and stereo

How much are you willing to spend on a sound system?If you don’t have a big budget or don’t want to spend too much money on a sound system, the stereo option seems to be the right choice for you. Its price ranges from a few dozen to a few hundred dollars.

Some high-quality products even cost up to a few thousand dollars.  The wide price range gives you more flexibility to find the best system based on your budget.

Purchasing a surround system means you have to pay a large amount of money. Most models are over 100 dollars, and it can cost more depending on the number of channels.

Anyway, remember that the sound quality is what you should consider first. You’ll get what you pay for, so don’t fall for the cheapest option and ignore other factors.

Surround Sound

What We Like

  • Higher sound quality: You can have the best experience with surround sound as if you’re at the movie theater. Vibrant, clear, and vivid sound is what a surround system can give users without fail.
  • More flexible: As it comes with many channels, you can turn off one of them or adjust everything freely to suit your needs.
  • Perfect for big rooms: A stereo system can’t satisfy you as much as a surround sound setup can.

What Should Be Improved

  •  Slightly high price: A full system of surround sound costs you two or three times more than their stereo counterparts.
  • Needs more space: With at least five channels, your room must be big enough to accommodate them and other devices.
  • Complicated to set up: You may need a considerable amount of time to set up the system since many parts are time-consuming and difficult to put together.


What We Like 

  • Affordable: The stereo system is an economical choice as it’s much cheaper than a surround sound system.
  • Saves space: You don’t need to have a big room to store everything, thanks to the compact design. Some models can fit neatly on the shelf.
  • Easy to install: Installation can be done quickly in as little as ten minutes.

What Should Be Improved

  • Lower sound quality: Stereo system can’t produce the best sound quality as surround sound does.
  • Not for big rooms: Some sound systems with small capacities can’t deliver clear and vivid sound to the whole room.


Finally, we’ve provided you with all the necessary information about the differences between stereo vs. surround sound. We hope that you’ll find it helpful for your decision-making process.

Their differences come from the sound quality,  usage, installation, the room size needed, and budget. Don’t forget to check these features to find out the best one for you.

Last but not least, consider carefully and be a smart buyer!