You’ve got the flashy new TV, and your eyes have never been happier. But you know you need the best surround sound system to unlock the ultimate experience for your ears. As any good film buff or gamer will tell you, the image is only half the picture, and if you don’t have great sound to go with it, the magic is gone.
So if you’re looking to perfect your home cinema experience – especially at a time when the local multiplex isn’t a go-to option, you’re going to need a great sound system, too.
Surround sound gear has come a long way in recent years. The mess of cables and discrete speakers and stands that used to dot around our living rooms have given way to much tidier single-unit soundbars that sit underneath our TVs and beef up what the slim flat panels can’t produce themselves.
And yeah, there’s still a lot to love about having speakers dotted around your room. Still, now they’re usually wireless in form and often offer upwards-firing Dolby Atmos sound, too, for an audio track that lives and breathes all around you – including from above.
If you’re looking to make a surround sound upgrade, we’ve assembled some of the best options for you below. Of course, if you’re not so sure you need multiple speakers, you can check out our guide to the best soundbars.
- 1 The best surround sound systems in 2021
- 1.1 1. Sonos Arc Soundbar
- 1.2 2. Samsung HW-Q950T/XU 9.1.4 Wireless Sound Bar
- 1.3 3. Sony HTST5000 7.1.2-Channel Soundbar
- 1.4 4. Sennheiser 5.1.4-Channel AMBEO Soundbar
- 1.5 5. JBL BAR 9.1-Channel 820W Soundbar System
- 1.6 6. LG SN11RG 7.1.4-Channel 770W Soundbar System
- 1.7 7. Klipsch HT50 Home Theater Surround Sound System
- 2 How to choose the best surround sound system for your home
- 3 What is the best surround sound system?
The best surround sound systems in 2021
Sonos essentially invented the idea of a connected, multi-room sound system – the type where you can choose to control music from speakers dotted all around your house from one central device. Of course, everyone’s ripped it off now, from Google to Amazon (and often at lower prices too), but still, nobody does it better than Sonos.
And with its increasing interest in home cinema, with devices like the Sonos Arc, it’s comfortably finding itself worthy of a spot under your TV too.
A great Dolby Atmos soundbar, first and foremost
The Sonos Arc can do a lot, but let’s get the critical stuff out of the way first – is it a good soundbar? Absolutely. Its handling of overhead Dolby Atmos sounds exemplary, delivering clear positional audio, and with the weight and dynamism that its high-end audio heritage is suggestive of.
Sonos’ trademark ‘TruePlay’ technology makes set up a piece of cake too, using a microphone to pick up the audio qualities of the room you’re in and then tailoring the sound to match the environment.
All the world’s music
But that’s just the start of the Sonos Arc’s abilities. Suppose you pine for an authentic surround sound experience. In that case, you can buy additional wireless Sonos speakers at your leisure and use them to create distinct audio spots around your viewing environment. Of course, this can get pricey – Sonos equipment comes at a premium – but it’s worth it for the true cinephile.
Those speakers aren’t just limited to TV audio, either. Sonos speakers come in all shapes and sizes and can be connected over your home’s Wi-Fi network. You can then choose to have different music playing in different zones of your house from your phone or set them all to synchronize for the mother of all house parties.
Sonos’ intuitive software makes it easy to tap into basically every audio service out there in the world, too, from local and internet radio stations to practically every streaming service. Admittedly, it’s a pricey package to live the full Sonos lifestyle, but there’s nothing more satisfying if you can afford the investment.
Our favorite multi-speaker set-up, the Samsung HW-Q950T, is a modest and compact system that provides a brilliant surround soundscape without taking up too much space around your living room.
Consisting of a soundbar equipped with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, two upfiring rear speakers for overhead audio, and a wireless subwoofer. Still, it is a winner when it comes to audio. In addition, the tech allows it to tailor the sound to what you’re watching in Adaptive Mode, and Game Pro mode will do the same for console players in your household.
There’s a bonus for Samsung devotees, too, as the soundbar is compatible with the Q-Symphony feature of Samsung QLED TVs. In-built Alexa smarts tops things off, allowing you to control the system using just your voice.
If you spare no expense on your AV equipment and have a penchant for Sony TVs, the perfect audio match for your television will be Sony’s HT-ST5000. Packed full of features, it’s an audio powerhouse with a few surprises up its sleeve, too.
Great Dolby Atmos
Sony’s HT-ST5000 is one of the best Dolby Atmos soundbar systems we’ve tried. It’s making use of an ambitious 7.2.1 speaker configuration which means that not only does it give the impression that sound is coming from seven distinct spots to the front, sides, and behind your seated position, but from two overhead points too – that Dolby Atmos magic – with one separate subwoofer speaker for delivering rumbling bass.
It’s well equipped when it comes to ports, too. There are three 4K HDR-supporting HDMI inputs and another HDMI output and USB, Bluetooth, and NFC connectivity. NFC (near field communications) is the same wireless technology you find in contactless bank cards and means you can instantly transfer whatever music is playing on your phone to the speaker with just a tap.
There’s also a dedicated ‘Music Service’ button for Spotify listeners, which can be pushed to instantly pull whatever you’re listening to from Spotify on another device to this primary, powerful speaker system instead.
It doesn’t just sound good either – it’s also a super-smart soundbar. With Chromecast built-in, you can quickly find videos on your phone and have them beamed to your TV via the soundbar, too. Google Assistant support lets you talk to the device, too, letting it take control of things like your home’s lighting, set reminders, or play music with just spoken commands.
There’s even support for high-resolution music services like Tidal built-in – though we have to admit you might need to take a bit of time to get used to the HT-ST5000’s slightly clunky remote control.
It doesn’t come cheaply – and you’re going to need a couple of weightlifters to help you carry it back from the shops – but if you want the very best surround sound sound bar money can buy, you’ve got to pick up the Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar. If your back holds out, that is…
It’s an exquisite system, one that brings the cinema experience to your home and does it all from just one (albeit large) speaker cabinet.
The Ambeo 3D soundbar packs in a full 13 separate drivers – comprising six woofers and three tweeters on the front side, plus another couple of tweeters facing out to the left and right on each end of the speaker and finally two upward-firing drivers found on the top of the soundbar.
It’s these top-pointing ones that are the secret weapon – while the other speakers make it feel as though the sound is coming all around you, the top ones use Dolby Atmos technology to bounce audio off your ceiling, making it feel as if it is coming from above you, too.
A roll of thunder, a storm, or a helicopter overhead – Dolby Atmos brings it to your living room with vivid detail.
Gigantic sound from a massive cabinet
Is your AV cabinet sturdy? If not, you might want to start reinforcing it if you’re hoping to get the Ambeo in your home. Along with its wallet-whopping price tag, it comes with an equally gigantic footprint, too.
Weighing in at a hefty 18.5kg (around 40 pounds) and measuring 127cm wide, 14cm tall, and 17cm deep (49 x 5.3 x 6.6 inches, W x H x D), this is the sort of soundbar that dominates the space it is placed in, so be ready to make room for it.
It’s worth considering, too, that, unless your TV is wall mounted above the surface you expect to place the soundbar on, it is big enough that it could well obscure your view of the lower half of your TV. So check how high your TV’s feet lift it off your cabinet, and keep that tape measure handy.
If you can make it fit, though, the Ambeo’s wide range of connection options make it worth the hassle. It comes complete with three HDMI ports (including support for eARC – the future-proof audio standard that will support high-bandwidth, high-resolution audio streaming as it increasingly becomes available), Ethernet, and optical connectivity.
Pair that with its 500W amp, and this room-shaking soundbar has the power to blow your mind (and your windows out).
The JBL Bar 9.1 is perhaps the most interesting option on the list and the most creative. What at first looks like a standard soundbar hides a secret – its ends snap off, revealing themselves to be battery-powered, fully-featured wireless rear speakers!
Soundbars in disguise
It’s an ingenious trick from the JBL Bar 9.1, with its central unit not only acting as your center, left, right, and two overhead sound channels, but also a charging dock too. Moreover, with the speaker ends attached, you get two additional front-facing and overhead Atmos channels.
But when they snap off, you can position them behind you, and they’ll intelligently know to change their output to match the rear and rear-height ambient sound of a given scene. Note there’s a separate subwoofer included that completes the package.
With support for Chromecast (with limited Google Home control), Apple AirPlay 2, and the most useful HDR formats (HDR10 and Dolby Vision), as well as an auto-calibration feature, it’s a brilliant system.
There had to be one. Though the JBL Bar 9.1 is an ingenious design and is worthy of a place in your living room for that reason alone, it does have some slight faults. For example, its front channels feel a bit narrow and don’t always give a clear sense of audio information flowing in from the left and right.
Likewise, the audio from the rear channels can sometimes sound a bit lacking in definition, while it’s one of the stingiest bars on the list when it comes to its single HDMI input.
And yet, it’s hard not to find yourself enamored by its clever design. It’s fun, a talking point, and a damn-sight better sounding than anything that’s going to come out of your lowly TV speakers, even if it’s not quite up there with what the top bars on this list would offer. It still comes recommended.
Though the Sennheiser Ambeo does a great job of making it feel like the sound is coming from all around you from one central spot, the LG SN11RG offers rear speakers as part of its package to truly envelope you in sound. So not only do you get audio coming from in front, to the side, and above you then, but with the LG SN11RG, you get two dedicated speakers to put behind you to blast you from that angle, too, as well as adding additional overhead audio oomph.
Convincing cinema experience
As a result, it’s one of the most breath-taking sound setups of any package on this list. With booming bass coming from its separate subwoofer, the extra discrete channels allow the LG system to nail a sense of direction from its sound stations.
It’s got plenty of other surprises too. Upscaling low-quality audio sources is masterfully handled, eARC support makes it future-proofed for the high-resolution audio sources to come, while 4K and Dolby Vision pass-through make it an excellent match for any high-end TV that supports the rich HDR format. There’s even Google Assistant support built-in for controlling smart home gadgetry – though we’d like to have Alexa in there, too.
A big one
As if its price wasn’t enough of a signal, this is one big soundbar. Measuring a little over 144cm, it’s going to dwarf any TV below a 65-inch size, meaning you might need to think about your options if your TV is smaller. Just two HDMI inputs feel a bit mean, too. It’s not as enormous as the Ambeo – the separate rear speakers spread some of the load in that regard and help deliver superb surround sound. But it’s still got width to spare – and a price tag to match.
True surround sound systems are fantastic for boosting your home theater experience, but building one can get a little expensive over time. If you want something that will deliver you results straight away without needing to add rear speakers, external subwoofers, and more at a later date, this offering from Klipsch is one to consider.
It comprises five speakers in total – one center channel and four speakers to place around your space – it’s more customizable than some other surround sound systems simply because you have control over where you put them. In addition, the system contains an aluminum tweeter and high-excursion aluminum woofer cones for high-quality sound.
Of course, the trade-off for the price is that the Klipsch HT50 doesn’t include Bluetooth connectivity or compatibility with smart home systems like Google Assistant and Alexa. However, if this doesn’t matter to you, then it’s a good starter pack for the less tech-savvy among us who don’t want to miss out on excellent audio.
How to choose the best surround sound system for your home
There are several things to consider when picking the best surround sound system for your needs. Chief among those is placement – do you have much room beneath your TV? And how about behind your sofa – is there room to set up the rear sound channels and plug sockets to power them from?
If so, great – any of the picks above will suit your needs. If not, you might want to focus on the single-bar solutions up top, which virtualize the surround sound elements by bouncing audio off of the walls in your viewing room. Of course, mileage will vary depending on the uniformity of the space (a nice square room usually works best). Still, all the systems above have intelligent ways of tricking your ears into thinking sound is coming from all around you.
Perhaps worth equal consideration is the broader feature set. If you’re planning on playing lots of music through the soundbar, a built-in voice assistant, like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, might be helpful, letting you speak to the speaker to command it to play your favorite tunes at a whim.
Also, think about the TV you’re pairing it with – not just in terms of whether it’ll obscure the screen, but also what connection you’ll need. True audiophiles will be looking out for HDMI connections with an eARC feature – that lets your cables deliver uncompressed multi-channel audio, giving you pristine sound from all directions.
What is the best surround sound system?
Speaker systems come in all shapes and sizes for all different types of rooms. Suppose you’re feeling particularly flush with cash and have the space to indulge your cinematic delights to the nth degree. In that case, you could consider a custom cinema installation, with wall-mounted speakers and overhead Dolby Atmos channels, too hooked up to a beefy receiver to connect all your devices. But the mess of cables, space required, and sheer expense makes that an unrealistic option for all but the uber-rich.
Instead, you can get great, cinema-like results with a great soundbar and wireless speaker combo like the sets listed above.