Science & Tech

Best Surround-Sound Systems in 2022

Setting up a surround-sound system used to mean buying multiple sets of speakers, an AV receiver, and accepting the fact that you’d need to string several cables around your room to connect each component together. That’s still an option, but advancements in technology have allowed surround-sound systems to get smaller and smarter. 

This guide includes surround-sound systems designed for homes with enough space for full home theaters, apartments, and every space in between. There are some tradeoffs with opting for a smaller system (we’ll get into them later), but in general, it’s possible to get a great experience from a more compact system. If you’re interested in setting up a surround-sound system, these are the best surround-sound systems to get.

Best Overall: Klipsch Reference R-625FA Home Theater Pack
Best Budget: Monoprice HT-35 Premium Home Theater System
Best Surround Soundbar: Sonos Arc
Best for Computers: Logitech Z906
Best Wireless: Enclave CineHome II

How We Picked The Best Surround-Sound Systems

Our surround sound system recommendations are based on a mix of hands-on testing and research. 

Number of Speakers: Surround-sound systems come in several configurations, but the level of immersion you experience is generally proportional with how many speakers are in your system. Multi-speaker systems will *literally* surround you with sound, because speakers are placed in front of you and behind you. 

Single-speaker surround-sound systems rely on multiple drivers (the part of a speaker that produces sound) that are pointed toward you and upward, so sound hits you from two different directions (in front and above) simultaneously. This guide contains surround-sound systems that contain one, five, or seven speakers. 

Active vs. Passive Speakers: The speakers that comprise your surround-sound system can come in one of two styles: active (powered) and passive (unpowered).

Active speakers have an amplifier built into them, which means they don’t need to be connected to an AV (audio video) receiver. Using a surround-sound system with active speakers means you won’t have to use any speaker wire while setting it up. The drawback to using active speakers is that each speaker needs to be plugged into an outlet, which limits your placement options. If you live in a space without many outlets, you should stick to passive speakers, which do need to be physically connected to an AV receiver, but don’t need an outlet. Another benefit to using passive speakers is that they won’t overheat, and you don’t need to worry about an amplifier breaking down inside of them. In terms of convenience, active speakers are the best, but passive speakers pull ahead when talking about longevity. 

AV Receivers: If you’re getting a surround-sound system with all passive speakers, you’ll need to hook them up to an AV receiver. We recommend getting one that supports a seven-speaker system, which gives you the ability to add more hardware to your rig over time. You’ll also want to get an AV receiver with a wide array of ports, so you can plug all your components (game consoles, media streamers, etc.) in at the same time. If you listen to records, you should get an AV receiver with a phono input, so you can plug your turntable directly into it instead of using a separate preamp. Check out our guide to the best AV receivers if you’re starting a surround-sound system from scratch.

Speaker Size: Speakers come in two basic styles: bookshelf and floor-standing. Bookshelf speakers are relatively short (about a foot and a half tall at most) and need to be placed on stands or a bookshelf to sit at the optimal height for music listening, movie watching, and gaming. Floor-standing speakers are tall enough (roughly four to five feet) to be placed directly on the ground. 

Most of the multi-speaker surround-sound systems we recommend in this guide contain two bookshelf speakers, a pair of floor standing speakers, a center-channel speaker, and a subwoofer. If you’re building your own system, you can design it with four floor-standing speakers or four bookshelf speakers depending on how much space you have.

Upgradability: Setting up a surround-sound system can require a big financial and space commitment, which is why you should consider getting a system that can be added to over time. One of the surround-sound systems we’re recommending can be upgraded, but you can start yours with a pair of bookshelf speakers and an AV receiver, picking up additional parts as your budget and space constraints change. 

Best Overall: Klipsch Reference R-625FA Home Theater Pack

Total Immersion. Klipsch

Why It Made The Cut: This is the most traditional looking surround sound system we recommend, but it’s also the most technically advanced option.

Specs:
Number of Speakers: Six
Speaker Type: Passive
Upgradable: No

Pros:
— Full-sized speakers
— Dolby Atmos support
— Luxe-looking design

Cons:
— Expensive

Klipsch’s R-625FA Home Theater Pack is the ultimate surround-sound system. It comes with a set of full-sized bookshelf speakers, floor-standing speakers, a center-channel speaker, and a subwoofer. Some companies have opted to make their surround-sound systems smaller to accommodate people with space constraints — we’re respectful of this and have systems that suit those needs, too — but that’s not the case with this set. 

We’ve had the opportunity to try a couple of individual components from this system, and really liked what we heard. Klipsch took the time to optimize audio quality by using the highest quality materials, and designing the floor-standing speakers with outward and upward firing drivers. This is what allows this surround sound system to play music and movies with a Dolby Atmos mix natively. Dolby Atmos is the next generation of surround sound; sounds come at you from all angles and above you, so objects (think a helicopter overhead) sound like they’re in 3D space. This is far more impressive than a traditional 5.1 surround-sound system. 

All of Klipsch’s recent speakers have impressed us, but we’ve been especially taken by the company’s subwoofer. A subwoofer is typically an afterthought in a surround-sound system since all it does is provide extra bass. That’s not the case here; Klipsch’s subwoofer really rounds out the sounds of its speakers, providing enough additional low-end to make big explosions sound like they’re actually happening in your room without being overwhelming. If you turn the subwoofer off, you’ll immediately notice the difference, and rush to turn it back on.

The downsides to Klipsch’s Home Theater Pack are its space requirements and expense, but this is a no-compromise surround-sound system, so it’s absolutely worth the price of admission. The inclusion of integrated Dolby Atmos speakers actually future proofs this speaker system pretty well, so you shouldn’t think of upgrading for a long time, if ever. If you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated home theater room, and want an audiophile-grade surround-sound system to complement your big screen TV or projector, you’ve found it here.

Best Budget: Monoprice HT-35 Premium Home Theater System

Mini but Mighty. Monoprice

Why It Made The Cut: Monoprice’s HT-35 Premium Home Theater System may be small, but it’s competitive with options that cost twice the price. 

Specs:
Number of Speakers: Six
Speaker Type: Passive
Upgradable: No

Pros:
— Compact size
— Light weight
— Price

Cons:
— Smaller speakers produce less sound

Monoprice’s HT-35 Premium Home Theater System proves you don’t need a lot of space to set up a surround-sound system, if you’re fine with a few compromises. 

This surround-system’s greatest strength is the compact size of its speakers. The front, rear, and center-channel speakers are all smaller than your typical set of bookshelf speakers, which gives you a lot of flexibility when you’re deciding where to place them. Monoprice says you can even wall-mount these speakers if you want. All five of those speakers are passive, so you will need to be mindful of where you’re able to string speaker cables, though. If you’re in a small room, including a dorm, this surround-sound system makes a lot of sense. 

The small size of these speakers does mean you won’t get the level of audio fidelity you’d get from larger ones. Bigger speakers have larger drivers, which can produce louder, clearer sound. We’re not saying you’ll get muddy sound from the HT-35 Premium Home Theater System; in fact, the difference between these speakers and the ones built into your TV will be a night and day difference, but this is something to be mindful of. 

If you watch a lot of movies, or play a lot of video games, we feel that the jump from a stereo audio system to this surround sound audio system is well worth the highly reasonable investment. Monoprice hasn’t cut any corners when it comes to the quality of its audio gear, so if size is your main concern, this is the surround sound system for you.

Best Soundbar: Sonos Arc

One and Done. Sonos

Why It Made The Cut: Sonos’ Arc is the dream surround sound system for anyone who cares about audio quality but doesn’t have very much space.

Specs:
Number of Speakers: One
Speaker Type: Active
Upgradable: Yes

Pros:
— Excellent audio quality
— Dolby Atmos support
— Upgradable

Cons:
— Can’t quite match the performance of a multi-speaker system on its own

It might seem strange to see a soundbar in a guide to the best surround-sound systems, but Sonos has achieved something truly special with the Arc

The company designed its soundbar with enough forward-facing drivers to replace the left, right, and center channels of a traditional surround-sound system, plus upward-firing drivers that allow the Arc to play Dolby Atmos audio. Under the right circumstances, the Arc’s surround-sound capabilities are very impressive, but its overall performance blew us away. 

Sonos designed the Arc from the ground up using custom-designed components rather than off-the-shelf parts. The result is a soundbar that sounds perfectly balanced, which means that sounds in the bass, midrange, and treble frequencies sound clear, and never get it one another’s way. If you’re listening to an intense scene in an action movie that has dialogue, you’ll be able to hear what the characters are saying without them being drowned out by the sounds of vehicles, weapons, or other loud noises. If you generally need a little extra help hearing people speaking, Sonos designed a mode that boosts the sound of dialogue without sounding artificial. 

One technical problem soundbars typically have is a distinct lack of stereo separation, which means your ears perceive sound coming from a single direction rather than the right and left. The Sonos Arc is long enough that there’s plenty of distance between the drivers on the right, left, and in the center, so the stereo image is actually quite good. The addition of upward-firing drivers is also a good touch, but the Arc’s surround sound performance will depend heavily on the room you’re in. 

For the best experience, your room’s ceiling will need to be tall enough for the sound to hit it at the correct angle, so it hits you directly from above. If the ceiling is too short, you probably won’t be sitting in the sweet spot, so the effect won’t sound as good. Conversely, if your room is too small, there’s a chance sound from the upward-firing drivers will hit the back wall and bounce towards your ears instead of hitting them from above.

These technical details are important to note because this guide is about the best surround-sound systems, and you should know the Arc’s limitations. That said, you can mitigate these issues significantly by setting up an audio system consisting of the Sonos Arc and two additional Sonos speakers. If you set up a pair of the company’s One speakers, they can become the rear channels of your surround sound system. If you add a Sonos Sub to the mix, you’ll end up with a full, Dolby Atmos-compatible wireless surround sound system. The nice thing about this scenario is that you’re able to build the setup over time. 

The Sonos Arc is so good, both as a soundbar and single-piece surround sound system, that you probably won’t even think about augmenting it with additional speakers. If you want the benefits of a surround sound system, but want a clean setup that’s as wire-free as possible, this is the one to get.

Best for Computers: Logitech Z906

All Inside. Logitech

Why It Made The Cut: Logitech’s surround sound system comes with its own AV receiver and remote, so everything you need to get started is in the box.

Specs:
Number of Speakers: Six
Speaker Type: Passive
Upgradable: No

Pros:
— Includes a receiver
— Wireless remote
— Compact design

Cons:
— Smaller speakers produce less sound

If you primarily watch movies and play games using a PC or Mac, Logitech’s Z906 is the surround-sound system you should get. Logitech’s system includes four smaller-than-bookshelf speakers, a subwoofer, and a receiver. All of the speakers get connected to the subwoofer, which is then connected to Logitech’s AV receiver. 

We’re really pleased that Logitech includes a receiver with this system because it means everything you need to set this surround-sound system up is in the box. The speakers are all passive, but you don’t need to worry about amplification since it’s provided. Logitech even includes a remote, so you can control the volume of this system from across the room. It’s worth noting that you *can* hook this surround sound system up to a TV, but Logitech’s gear is primarily designed to be hooked up to a computer. 

One of the receiver’s coolest features is the LED on its front side that lets you know whether you’re listening to music or movies in stereo or surround-sound. This visual indicator means you can check whether your surround-sound settings are correct at a glance. The receiver has LEDs for each speaker in this system, too, so you’ll be able to check that they’re all working. Finally, Logitech’s AV receiver has multiple inputs built into it, including an HDMI ARC (audio return channel) port, so you shouldn’t have any trouble hooking up all your components to it at once. 

Smaller speakers may not be able to provide the same level of audio quality and volume as larger speakers, but the all-in-one nature of Logitech’s Z906 is very appealing. Everything you need to get started is in the box, so you can start watching movies and listening to music as quickly as possible.

Best Wireless: Enclave CineHome II

Wireless and Tireless. Enclave Audio

Why It Made The Cut: Enclave Audio’s CineHome II is a totally wireless surround sound system that’s easy to set up and maintain; plus, it sounds great.

Specs:
Number of Speakers: Six
Speaker Type: Active
Upgradable: Yes

Pros:
— Audiophile audio quality
— Totally wireless
— Upgradable

Cons:
— No Dolby Atmos support

If you want a glimpse into the future of connected surround-sound systems, look to Enclave Audio’s CineHome II. In our tests, the wireless surround-sound system was rock solid, and delivered excellent audio quality without exception. 

The CineHome II includes a pair of compact rear speakers, two slim bookshelf speakers, a short center-channel speaker, a subwoofer, and a wireless hub. Each piece of the system operates independently of one another, though it needs its own outlet for power, which is a tradeoff to consider. 

Setting this system up using Enclave Audio’s “EnclaveRemote” app — available for iOS and Android — took about 10 minutes, part of which was spent familiarizing ourselves with the app. Each speaker will wirelessly find the surround system’s hub, which receives audio from your TV’s HDMI port. We were skeptical that a totally wireless surround-sound system would work well, but the CineHome II surprised us in several ways.

First, the speakers remained connected to their hub, even after several days of inactivity. If we unplugged a speaker, it’d re-pair itself automatically within a minute or two of being plugged back in. We played games, watched movies, streamed TV shows, and listened to music during our tests, and the CineHome II worked every single time. Our audio and video stayed in sync, too, without any perceptible delay. The CineHome II’s overall audio quality was also impressive, pumping out well-balanced sound at every volume level. We noticed that this surround-sound system’s center channel was especially clear, which made it easy to dialogue in movies and video games. 

If you have enough outlets, and can discreetly hide each speaker’s power cables, the Enclave Audio CineHome II is the right surround-system for you.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Surround-Sound System

Your source: Setting up a surround-sound system is all well and good, but you’ll need content with a surround-sound mix to take advantage of it. Most DVDs and Blu-rays of movies and TV shows have a discrete 5.1 surround-sound mix, but require you to keep physical media around, which can get annoying. Thankfully, modern video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Peacock, Paramount+, and Apple TV+ offer surround-sound versions of popular shows and movies.

Even music streaming services like Amazon Music and Apple Music have begun offering select albums in surround-sound. In some cases, the streaming services you use will recognize your surround-sound system and default to playing the appropriate audio mix, but that’s not always the case. Make sure to double check that you’ve selected the 5.1 surround-sound or Dolby Atmos mix on the service you’re using.

Room size: A surround-sound system *can* sound incredible, but packing a bunch of speakers in a small space may not be the best idea. For the ideal experience, you’ll want each speaker in a multi-speaker surround sound setup to be pointed directly at one  point, called the sweet spot. If the speakers are too close together, your ears will have a harder time discerning which direction certain sounds are coming from, which defeats the purpose of surround-sound. 

Number of outlets: As we mentioned earlier, each active speaker in a surround-sound system requires its own outlet. This makes this type of system a no-go for most people in apartments, where outlets are scarce. Active speakers also eat up more electricity than passive ones, so they’re less eco-friendly.

FAQs

Q: Can I use an old pair of speakers as part of a custom-built surround-sound system?

Yes. Any passive speakers can be integrated into a surround-sound system. 

Q: How long will a surround-sound system last?

For the average person, substantial changes in the world of audio are few and far between. Speaker makers are constantly updating and optimizing the design of their gear to improve audio quality, but the year-over-year differences are extremely subtle. 

Because of that, a surround-sound system can easily last a decade or more before you’ll need to make an upgrade. If you’re an audiophile or really into AV equipment, you’ll probably upgrade more frequently, but certainly not every year. 

Q: How do I responsibly dispose of my old surround sound system?

If you’re replacing an old surround-sound system, we recommend reading our guide on how to responsibly dispose of e-waste

Q: What type of speaker cable should I use?

If you’re setting up a surround-sound system with passive speakers, you’ll want a high-quality cable running from each speaker to your AV receiver. Any cable will work, but we recommend Austere’s III speaker cable because it’s made from conductive, oxygen-free copper, has a thick outer coating that won’t fray, and can be used with banana connectors, which makes plugging them into your AV receiver a lot easier.

Q: Are wireless surround sound systems reliable?

Yes. In our experience, a wireless surround-sound system offers the same level of performance as a wired one. Wireless surround-sound systems were designed in such a way that the amount of latency (lag) is imperceptible. Just be mindful of the fact that this type of surround sound system requires an active WiFi connection to work.

Q: What are the best speaker stands for bookshelf speakers?

If you’ve wall mounted your TV, or use a projector, you may not have a surface for your bookshelf speakers to sit on. If that’s the case, we recommend getting a set of stands from Perlegear. They can accommodate any bookshelf speakers up to 22 pounds, and have a thick, wide base that’ll keep your speakers from tipping over accidentally.

Final Thoughts on Surround-Sound Systems

To be honest, setting up a surround-sound system wasn’t worth it for most people until recently. They always required a lot of money and space, and it wasn’t easy to find content mixed in surround sound. When they worked properly, surround-sound systems offered a far better movie watching experience than a stereo audio system — or using the speakers built into your TV or computer.

The amount of space you’ll need is still the same (damn you, laws of physics), but the price of systems has come down quite a bit, and most modern videos have a surround-sound mix. A surround-sound system is still a luxury, but it’s far more accessible than before, so if you’ve been curious about setting one up, now is an excellent time.

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.