The 5 Best Surround Sound Speakers of 2021

Bring the movie theater experience into your living room

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The Rundown
The system sounds better than most traditional surround sound speaker configurations.
The ELAC Debut surround sound system includes floor-standing and bookshelf speakers that produce high-quality sound.
If you're looking to get a home theater audio system but don't want to break the bank, check out the Vizio 5.1.2 system.
If money is no object, there’s no shortage of options that can range into the thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars.
The best part is that it’s wireless, giving you the flexibility to place it wherever it fits and sounds best in your room.

The best surround sound speakers play sound from all around you, creating an utterly immersive home theater experience. For anyone who values sound quality in their TV room, game room, or home theater, good surround sound speakers can make you feel like you're right up in the action, as everything sounds more lifelike. 

While the overall sound quality is obviously important, there are other considerations when picking out surround sound speakers. Surround sound systems come in different configurations, such as 5.1, 7.1, and 9.1 setups. A 5.1 system includes a woofer and five speakers— a front left, front right, front center, surround right, and surround left—while larger setups include even more speakers. Connectivity can be a huge issue when trying to connect several speakers to a single source, so it’s essential that you make sure your chosen speakers will work with your receiver. If not, make sure to take a look at our top picks for the best stereo receivers to round out your setup.

Best Soundbar: Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2.4

What We Like
  • Supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X

  • Excellent bass with two wireless subs

  • No receiver needed

What We Don't Like
  • Bluetooth only (no Wi-Fi)

If you want full surround sound with booming bass, but you don’t want to invest in an expensive home theater receiver, the Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite soundbar is a smart choice. With a total of 14 drivers (including two down-firing wireless woofers with the Elite version), this system has a lot of power. In the package, you get the Dolby Atmos soundbar along with two eight-inch wireless subwoofers and two (two-way) rear surround speakers. Together, the system sounds better than most traditional surround sound speaker configurations. Our reviewer Bill Loguidice, who looked at a similar model, was impressed by the surround sound simulation and powerful audio output that worked well with his home theater system.

The soundbar has an HDMI ARC port, three additional HDMI ports, an optical port, as well as a coax input, so you can easily connect your gaming console, TV, projector, or Blu-ray player and get started. With Dolby Vision and HDR pass-through, you get a clean picture to go along with your surround sound. Bluetooth connectivity also lets you wirelessly stream music, while the system’s sleek and compact design will make your theater room look awesome.

Channels: 7.2 | Wireless: Yes | Inputs: 3in/1 out (ARC)| Digital Assistant: None | Number of Speakers: 2

“Nakamichi has streamlined usage of their advanced surround sound system in a way that doesn’t sacrifice features or quality.” Bill Loguidice, Product Tester

Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro

Lifewire / Bill Loguidice

Best 5.1 System: Elac Debut 2.0-5.1 System

What We Like
  • Excellent build quality

  • Amazing sound

  • Attractive design

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

The ELAC Debut surround sound system includes floor-standing and bookshelf speakers that produce high-quality sound. The woven Aramid-Fiber woofers, cloth dome tweeters, and bass reflex enclosures make for excellent sound clarity. Emily Ramirez who reviewed the ELAC praised the clean and detailed sound and low distortion rates, particularly given the price range.

The surround sound system includes two F6.2 floor-standing speakers (which are similar to ELAC’s F5.2, but slightly more powerful), a C6.2 center unit, two B6.2 bookshelf units, and a SUB310 woofer. The floor-standing units have a frequency response of 39 to 35,000 Hz, with a nominal impedance of 6 ohms and a sensitivity of 87 dB. The woofer is a 10-inch high excursion doped paper cone woofer with a frequency response of 28 to 150 Hz, an auto EQ feature, and Bluetooth control. You can mix and match if you want, choosing a stereo (two speaker) configuration, a 5.1, or a different configuration.

Channels: 2.0-5.1 | Wireless: No | Inputs: None | Digital Assistant: None | Number of Speakers: 5

“If you want detailed sound perfect for movies and acoustics, you should consider the ELAC Debut 2.0 F5.2 speakers.” Emily Ramirez, Product Tester

: ELAC Debut 2.0 F5.2 Floorstanding Tower Speakers

Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

Best Budget: Vizio SB36512-F6

Vizio SB3851-C0
What We Like
  • Includes satellite speakers and woofer

  • Wireless connectivity

  • Good value

What We Don't Like
  • Small woofer

If you're looking to get a home theater audio system but don't want to break the bank, check out the Vizio 5.1.2 system. This home theater system includes a 36-inch soundbar, two rear satellite speakers, and a wireless six-inch subwoofer. The soundbar features upward-firing drivers, so your music and movie audio doesn't get lost in furniture or muddled by bouncing off the walls. Emily found the sound to be clear and precisely tuned for film during her testing. With the Vizio Smartcast app, you can turn your smartphone or tablet into a remote control for the speakers and stream your favorite songs, shows, and movie audio to different rooms when used with compatible Vizio components. 

With Chromecast built-in, you can stream music from apps like Spotify and Pandora. You can also connect your Google Assistant device for hands-free voice controls and smart home integration. With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, you can listen to your favorite songs from your phone or tablet. Each speaker features a compact design for better placement options and to fit almost any modern decor. They also use DTS Virtual X technology to produce the cleanest audio possible.

Channels: 5.1.2 | Wireless: Yes | Inputs: None | Digital Assistant: Google Assistant | Number of Speakers: 2

"The Vizio SB36512-F6 5.1.2 Soundbar system is an incredible value system for film enthusiasts who want the Dolby Atmos experience without the Dolby Atmos price tag." — Emily Ramirez, Product Tester

Vizio SB36512-F6 5.1.2 Soundbar System

Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

Best Splurge: Definitive Technology Pro Cinema 800

Definitive Technology Pro Cinema 800
What We Like
  • Intelligent engineering

  • Powerful bass

  • Clean design

What We Don't Like
  • Some distortion on loudest volume levels

There are undoubtedly more expensive surround sound speaker options, all of which would be deemed a “splurge.” If money is no object, there’s no shortage of options that can range into the thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars. However, for the sake of practicality, we’re focusing on “splurge” options for everyone. Our top choice, the Definitive Technology ProCinema 800, is a top performer that punches well above its pay grade.

The design catches your eye right off the bat, even if at first glance it appears to be just another speaker set available in black. Both movie dialogue and the respective soundtracks produced a deep bass that was definitely better than other options around the high price point. Unfortunately, the Definitive subwoofer won’t rattle your bones like some higher-end Bose or Klipsch models, but the experience is still immersive and wildly enjoyable. On a similar note, Definitive’s speakers won’t take you to full volume without distortion kicking in, but there’s a handful of cinematic moments we just want to hear as loud as possible.

Definitive’s best described as detail-rich, preserving the fidelity of a soundtrack while allowing for all the simultaneous effects to be heard and enjoyed. The 300-watt subwoofer paired with the center speaker and satellites are all well regarded on their own, but together they create an incredible value in high-performance audio. There’s little question you’ll end up feeling like the ProCinema 800 offers both value and a high-end experience that belies its price tag.

Channels: 5.1 | Wireless: No | Inputs: 3 HDMI | Digital Assistant: No | Number of Speakers: 5

Best Design: Klipsch Reference Theater Pack

What We Like
  • Excellent build quality

  • Great sound

  • Gorgeous aesthetic

What We Don't Like
  • Small front and rear speakers

The Klipsch brand is well known for its premium audio hardware, and their Reference Theater Pack delivers a pre-matched 5.1 surround sound experience that’s truly stunning, both visually and acoustically. The pieces are compact, with a minimal footprint that fits nicely in a small to medium-sized room. But while the set can blend in size-wise, especially with the grills on, you can also opt to leave them off and let Klipsch’s signature spun-copper woofers catch the eye. The center channel and four satellite speakers all feature this unique construction, which, along with the horn-loaded tweeters, minimizes distortion and produces clean, detailed sound.

Delivering the low end is a down-firing eight-inch subwoofer with surprisingly powerful bass output for its size. Its frequency response ranges from 38 to 120 Hz, and its amplifier is rated for 50-watt RMS (continuous power) and 150-watt peak power. The best part is that it’s wireless, giving you the flexibility to place it wherever it fits and sounds best in your room.

Channels: 5.1 | Wireless: Yes | Inputs: 3 HDMI | Digital Assistant: No | Number of Speakers: 5

Final Verdict

The Bose Acoustimass 10 Series V (view at Best Buy) is an attractive and easy-to-install system that will sound great in both large and small spaces. If you’re looking for plug-and-play surround sound without an AV receiver, you’ll like the Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite system (view at Amazon), which includes a soundbar, two satellite speakers, and two subwoofers.

About Our Trusted Experts

Erika Rawes has been writing professionally for more than a decade, and she’s spent the last five years writing about consumer technology. Erika has reviewed roughly 125 gadgets, including computers, peripherals, A/V equipment, mobile devices, and smart home gadgets. Erika currently writes for Digital Trends and Lifewire. 

Bill Loguidice has been writing for Lifewire since 2019. H has over 20 years' experience covering consumer technology, home entertainment systems, gaming, and more. He's previously been published in TechRadar, PC Gamer, and ArsTechnica.

Emily Ramirez is a tech writer who studied game design at MIT and now reviews all sorts of consumer tech, from VR headsets to tower speakers.

FAQs

Where should you place your surround speakers?
The ideal surround sound placement will depend on your room and whether you're using a 5.1, 7.1, or a 9.1 setup. However, there are a couple of evergreen rules to follow regardless of how many speakers you're using. You should try to have your speakers equidistant from each other with surround speakers placed in the corners around your listening area. You should also try to keep your speakers free of obstructions and away from alcoves, and if you can safely mount them on a wall, even better.

Will the distance of your speakers from the receiver affect sound quality?
Yes, while it's not always possible, for the best audio quality, you'll want to keep the length of cable tethering your speakers to your receiver as short as possible, although your sound quality won't suffer very much unless they're 25 feet or more from your receiver. For any wired speakers, you should use a 14-gauge cable, and potentially use a 12-gauge cable for any speakers extending past 25 feet from the receiver.

How many subwoofers do you need?
This all depends on the size of your room, but more subwoofers give you a better bass quality and offer you more flexible placement when looking for the best spot for optimal sound quality. However, having more than a single subwoofer in a very small listening area may be overkill.

Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1.4 Sound Bar

Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

What to Look For in a Surround Sound Speaker

Room Size

Before you look at the power output of a set of speakers, consider the size of your room. If it’s on the small side (7x10 feet), you might not need too much power and you can save a bit of money by buying a compact system. If, however, you have an expansive room (15x20 feet) to fill, don’t hold back. Go for a full-size, full-range system with more than one woofer.

5.1 vs. 7.1

A 5.1 channel setup consists of five small speakers and a subwoofer, while a 7.1 channel setup includes two additional speakers. The additional speakers provide richer sound, but can get pricier. In most cases, a 5.1 channel setup is more than enough, but if you’re looking to splurge, a 7.1 channel setup can sound very impressive. Take a look at our overview of 2.0, 2.1, 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 channel systems if you're not sure about what you have or what you want.

: ELAC Debut 2.0 F5.2 Floorstanding Tower Speakers

Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

Wired vs. Wireless

A wired setup will have an edge when it comes to sound quality, but if you don’t mind sacrificing sound in the name of design, go for a wireless setup. (For tips on hiding those unsightly wires, read this.) Wireless connectivity is typically offered through Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth. Most home theater systems also come with wireless subwoofers that pair automatically with the rest of your devices for improved bass.

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