Surround vs Stereo: A Side by Side Comparison


If you’re relatively new to the world of home theaters, it won’t be surprising that you might not know the difference between surround and stereo sound and choosing between either of them can seem like a massive challenge.

But you’re not alone, most other people too can’t accurately judge between the surround and stereo. To help you out, here is a side-by-side comparison of surround vs stereo to explain both in some details. Read on.

Surround vs Stereo: Definition

A surround sound system, also known as a multichannel sound system, is a type of speaker system that improves the sound reproduction of audio using extra audio channels from high-quality speakers that surround the listener – hence, the name surround sound.

The surround sound system is designed to provide a sound-field in front of you, to your side, behind you, and even above you. This system usually features a subwoofer and about five to seven speakers.

The main aim of a surround sound system is to plunge you into a sonic surrounding that is suggested by what you’re watching on your TV.

A stereo sound system, on the other hand, is a type of speaker system that requires just a front right and a front left speaker. Unlike the surround system, this system develops a soundtrack that mimics that of a performance stage located in front of you.

Except when playing via a home theatre, you’re basically enjoying stereo sound when you listen to a DVD player, MP3 player, or TV.

The front right and front left speakers are always at equidistant and are most times complemented with a subwoofer to reproduce sound or music from the low bass range.

Surround vs Stereo: Features

Surround SoundStereo Sound
A multichannel systemA two-channel system
5 speakers2 speakers
All audio is mixed to produce a sound-fieldAudio is mixed into two tracks
Best for recorded moviesBest for recorded music

So, how does surround sound differs from stereo sound? The major difference between the two sound systems is the number of speakers that each has. The stereo sound system has only two speakers (right and left) while the surround sound system has five or more.

More so, all surround sound systems always come with a subwoofer, not all stereo sound systems do. Basically, these two sound systems also differ based on how sound is manipulated, segmented, and distributed in a given space.

Surround vs Stereo: How They Work

  • How Surround Sound System Works

The surround sound uses about five or more speakers to produce sound. This system is engineered to create an all-encompassing sound field around you – front, both sides, back, and sometimes above you.

It creates the Doppler Effect and gives you a perception of depth – the kind of volume and intensity that makes you feel like you’re in a live event. It also gives you the 360° cinematic experience, making you feel as though you’re a part of the scene.

Hence, the surround sound system gives you a better ambient quality as compared to stereo. Your home theatre is a perfect example of a surround sound system.

  • How Stereo Sound System Works

The stereo sound system, also known as the Stereophonic system, typically uses two speakers (right and left at equidistant) to produce sound. You may complement the sound by using a sub-woofer, which reproduces sounds from a low-bass range.

Stereo uses a front right and a front left speaker to create what appears like a performance stage in front of you. Sound mixing for stereo usually varies between the right and left channels.

As stated above, DVD players, portable CDs, MP3 players, headphones, earphones, computers, and so on usually use stereophonic sound, so the stereo sound system is more predominantly used than the surround system sound.

Surround vs Stereo: Ideal Use

The stereo sound system is ideal for listening to music. Music and most audio sounds are typically recorded for playback in stereo and do not need directional sound.

Though some newer music is recorded in multichannel sound, the stereo sound system still emerges victorious for listening to music.

More so, stereo sounds are more affordable and convenient because most present technologies already have just two audio channels, and the stereo speakers are inbuilt.

The surround sound system is ideal for action movies, or film in general and would enhance your viewing experience significantly. This is because most movie soundtracks these days are recorded to accommodate surround sound.

A surround sound system is replete with optimum features such as ambient or point-source surrounds effects, a wide dynamic range, a center channel for dialogue, and deep-bass capabilities.

Factors to Consider When Deciding Between Surround and Stereo Sounds

When choosing between stereo sound and surround sound, there are some important factors that you should consider. These factors will help you to make a better choice.

Available Space

The first thing to consider when choosing between surround and stereo sound is the available space you have in your home. Do you have enough space to conveniently accommodate the surround sound system? Or your space can only contain the stereo sound system.

Bigger space requires more power from your sound system – usually, a surround is better.

Purpose of Use

Another factor to consider is what you intend to use your sound system for. Do you listen to music more than you watch movies? Then, a stereo is better. But if you watch movies than listen to music and love placing yourself into a more immersive experience, get a surround.

If you enjoy listening to music as much as watching movies, you may be in a big dilemma while deciding. While music is generally not recorded for multichannel playback, a surround sound system can still be great for music. Though, different elements won’t come from different speakers aside from the front right and left speakers.

Value for Your Money

In terms of cost, the two-speaker stereo sound system is usually assumed to offer more value for your money than the five-speaker surround sound system of the same cost – the stereo is expected to have higher quality speakers because the manufacturer is only selling two speakers.

In terms of sound distribution, expect the five-speaker surround sound system to deliver better.


By now, you already know the significant differences between the surround sound system and stereo sound system, and where each is ideal for use. Although there are lots of assumptions that surround sound is better than stereo, this is not necessarily true.

The surround system has more speakers and wider area coverage compared to a stereo system. In fact, there are also some enhanced surround sound systems that can play high-quality stereo music.

This fact, however, doesn’t diminish the value of stereo sound in delivering appreciable sounds.

Before you end up making a choice, try to test the waters. Do some thorough research and read reviews.

Remember choosing either of the systems is still an investment that requires mindfulness.

So, depending on your needs, budget, and preferences, you can decide which system works best for you and your family.

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