Nowaways, the trend is to use 5 small surround sound speakers for aesthetic reasons and ease of home decor. These puny speakers MUST be supplemented with a subwoofer.
However, if one retains the old 70 and 80 era speakers in big wood cabinets, then these 3-way or 4-way speakers have 12-inch woofers or even 15-in woofers in them. They pack a lot more punch than the newer little subwoofers, unless you talk about a subwoofer the size of a small refrigerator that not too many people buy these days.
PS. On the other hand, these old-style speakers may be lacking in the high end. I saw some with their mid-range and tweeter drivers deteriorated to the point the sound becomes muddy and dull.
It also occurred to me that the new 5.1 receivers may cut-off the bass going to the L/R front speakers, to prevent from blowing them out, and sends all the bass to the subwoofer. If so, using the larger and old-style speakers may not help getting the bass. Hmm... something for me to experiment with, if and when I get bored.
"Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man" -- Leo Tolstoy