Best Surround Sound Systems

Updated September 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

79 Models Considered
45 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
151 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best surround sound systems

Last Updated September 2019

When it comes to home theaters, 4K TVs get hyped a lot, but if you ask us, a good surround sound setup is just as important to the viewing experience as a high-resolution screen. Surround sound takes the multichannel audio from whatever you’re watching — cable box, Blu-ray player, or streaming box — and separates each channel into a different speaker, so you can hear dialogue more clearly, and you can hear explosions, vehicles, and crowds throughout the whole room. With the right surround sound system, you can add a whole new dimension to your video enjoyment.

Finding the right surround sound system can be tricky because there are so many different approaches across the market. While some people love the simplicity of all-in-one bundles, others prefer the massive sound of multi-speaker packages with speakers that are so big they’re basically furniture. Still others prefer surround sound speakers designed for computers because they’re so good at creating big sound in small spaces.

Whatever your preferences, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know to pick out the perfect surround sound system for your home theater, as well as some of our favorites.

Experiment with subwoofer placement. While it’s true that subwoofer audio is directionless (meaning it’s impossible to tell where it’s coming from), that doesn’t mean you can put yours just anywhere. Trying your subwoofer in various locations will give you a sense of what it can do — in some cases, the right corner placement can make all the difference.

Key considerations

Before you do any shopping, there are two big questions to answer.

Do you want a receiver and speakers or a home theater in a box?

To create proper surround sound, you’ve got two choices: you can go with a traditional receiver-and-speakers model and purchase each separately, or you can buy a preconfigured “home theater in a box” that includes everything you need for a modest, typical surround sound setup. If you opt to buy everything separately, you get a lot more choice, but bundles are usually a lot more affordable. Our take: if you’re outfitting an apartment, dorm room, or other small space, a home theater in a box is your best bet. If you’re building a home theater or need the absolute best audio quality available, plan on buying a receiver and speakers separately.

Which surround sound configuration is right for your space?

There are a number of ways you can set up a surround sound system, but the most popular configurations are 5.1 and 7.1 speaker systems. In a 5.1 speaker system, you have a center channel, left and right channels, side left and right channels, and a subwoofer (which is the .1 in 5.1). In a 7.1 speaker system, you have two additional rear channels. (And if you opt for latest-and-greatest audio technology like Dolby Atmos, you can add up to four additional channels in your ceiling.) Not sure how to decide? Here’s all you need to know: if you mostly watch streaming content or cable TV, a 5.1 system is perfect (they don’t broadcast in more than 5.1 anyway). If you watch a lot of Blu-rays or 4K Blu-rays, or you plan on building a system that supports Dolby Atmos, start with a 7.1-speaker system.

The best of both worlds (and six channels)

Yamaha’s home theater in a box is the perfect surround sound setup for a medium-sized room. It works with 4K HDR systems, supports Dolby Vision, and it’s got Bluetooth on board. We love that it’s compact but still delivers enormous sound. Owners love that it comes with everything you need to get up and running.

Surround sound system features

So, what can you expect in the box? That depends on what kind of surround sound system you buy.

Speaker sets for use with receivers

These include five or seven speakers and a subwoofer. Speakers in these sets are big and bulky and can get quite loud. We definitely recommend buying surround sound speakers together because they’re often designed to match one another’s sonic qualities. When you’re ready to buy speakers for your home theater, plan on getting them all at the same time. Speaker sets for surround sound systems can range from $300 to $1,500, depending on how many speakers are included and the speaker quality.

Home theater in a box and gaming surround sound speakers

These typically include five speakers and a subwoofer. The key difference here is in how much smaller these speakers are and how much quieter they are. “Quiet” may not be accurate here, though, because even the most modest home theater in a box or gaming speaker set should be enough for an apartment or small room.

Surround sound system prices

Inexpensive: Entry-level surround sound systems cost between $250 and $400. Systems in this price range are the best values in surround sound — they cut a few corners but still bring enough power and audio quality to drastically improve your home theater experience. If you’re looking for a basic 5.1 surround sound system for a small- or medium-sized space, you’ll find your best options in this range.

Mid-range: Surround sound systems that cost between $400 and $1,000 are great for larger rooms or users who care a lot about high-end audio formats. If you watch a lot of action or sci-fi movies, or you like watching live concerts, it’s worth it to invest in a more expensive setup. You’ll get speakers that can deliver outstanding clarity at high volumes.

Expensive: Systems that cost more than $1,000 are usually for hard-core home theater enthusiasts. Systems beyond this price point are typically sets of massive speakers coupled with receivers that have enough power to fill an entire basement or ballroom with sound. If you’ve got the money and you want a professional-quality home theater, plan on spending at least this much on your surround system.

EXPERT TIP

If your system comes with a calibration microphone, use it to go through the automated setup processes. Many systems include apps that walk you through using the microphone, which then adjust the settings based on the sonic properties of your room. Make any needed manual adjustments once that’s done.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Decide ahead of time where to put your rear speakers and how to connect them. Different setups use different methods for placing side and rear surround speakers around you. Most include speaker wire for you to wire everything yourself. Pricier models include wireless speakers, but the technology isn’t perfect (and you still have to plug each speaker into a power source). For a seamless look, consider in-wall surround speakers.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

If you want to stream music from your smartphone to your surround sound system, get a receiver or a home theater in a box that includes Bluetooth. Bluetooth wireless technology is still the easiest, most prevalent way to stream audio from phones and tablets, so why mess with a good thing?


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Trust your own ears. When it comes to anything audio related, experts can often exaggerate about audio quality because it’s so subjective. What’s most important is that your surround sound system sounds good to you. If you don’t like how one sounds, return it and look for a better one. Conversely, if you find a system that works for you, go with it even if you’ve never used that brand before.

  • Invest in banana plugs to connect speakers to your receiver. Most modern receivers work with banana plugs, which are adapters for speaker wire that make connectivity easier. We are big advocates of banana plugs: they keep your speaker wire from corroding, they reduce the risk of accidental electrical shorts, and they make hooking everything up much easier.

  • Boost the volume of the center channel speaker if you have trouble hearing dialogue. All surround sound systems allow you to manually adjust the volume levels of each different audio channel, and dialogue always comes through the center channel. If you often struggle to differentiate the sound effects from dialogue, or if you just want to make dialogue louder than everything else, adjust it in the settings.

Computer speakers good enough for your home theater

Logitech speakers are among the best in the computer speaker industry, and they’re starting to invade the surround sound market now, too. That’s a good thing. The Z906 system has enough inputs to connect anything, packs enough power to shake apartment walls, and it’s one of the most affordable systems we’ve found. Think “small but mighty.”

Other products we considered

We found a couple other choices if the ones in our matrix don’t suit you.

The Rockville 5.1 Channel Home Theater System is a great entry-level setup because it covers the basics: it’s loud and it’s affordable. It’s not the best surround available — it takes multichannel audio through a stereo cable and then plays those two channels through five speakers (as opposed to playing back five separate channels) — but at this price point, and with this many inputs (not to mention Bluetooth), we have no complaints. If you’re looking for an affordable, easy-to-set-up solution for an apartment or dorm, this is one of your best bets.

If you just need a solid set of speakers for a 5.1 surround sound setup, we recommend the Harman Kardon HKTS Home Theater Speaker Package. Harman Kardon is one of the big names in audiophile-quality gear, and this offers a straightforward 5.1 configuration at a healthy price point. If you’re ready to take a step toward big home theater audio but you’re on a budget, start with this set.

We strongly recommend getting a universal remote for use with your surround sound system if you don’t already have one. A surround sound system means separating the devices that handle video from the ones that handle audio, which means multiple remotes. Save yourself the headaches and control everything from one remote.

FAQ

Q. Do surround sound systems sound better than soundbars?

A. Yes. Soundbars are useful for providing improved TV audio in situations where space is limited, but most soundbars aren’t able to produce the depth and quality of sound that a surround sound system can. Surround sound works best when the speakers are set up to literally surround you, and while many soundbars can emulate surround effects, in most cases, there’s just no comparison: surround sound systems are better.

Q. What is Dolby Atmos?

A. Dolby Atmos is a new audio surround sound concept that’s becoming popular on both 4K Blu-rays and many streaming devices. Dolby Atmos takes an existing 7.1 soundtrack and adds two or four “height” channels; that is, it uses additional ceiling speakers to position sounds at specific places in your room, creating a much more immersive audio effect. To get Dolby Atmos, you’ll need a content source and playback device that support it and a surround sound system that’s compatible. In situations where it’s not feasible to use ceiling speakers, some users opt for “up-firing” speakers, which sit on top of existing speakers and play upward. At the end of the day, Dolby Atmos is worth it — in the right room it can make you feel like you’re in the middle of a rainstorm, and it sounds like the action is happening right in your viewing space.

Q. Is it important for all the speakers in a surround sound system to match? Can I mix and match speakers from different brands?

A. While you technically can mix and match speakers from different brands in any surround sound system, we recommend against it. Surround sound systems use multiple speakers that are built to work with one another, and that typically means that they sound best together (and not great when third-party speakers are introduced). Unbalanced audio can be really distracting, so it’s worth it to buy a surround sound system with a complete speaker set.

The team that worked on this review
  • Alvina
    Alvina
    Photographer
  • Amos
    Amos
    Director of Photography
  • Branson
    Branson
    Videographer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Production Assistant
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Jaime
    Jaime
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor
  • Vukan
    Vukan
    Post Production Editor

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