The best surround sound systems bring a level of immersion and power to your movies that only the cinema can rival. Having serious speakers with some real heft to them firing from all directions elevates movie soundtracks in ways that other solutions just can't match.
But actually buying one of the best surround sound systems can seem like a daunting challenge – as with all serious hi-fi buys, you'll face a complex world of different ranges, models and accessories needed to make it work. So we've designed this guide around making that simple.
We'll take through a number of the best surround sound packages, ranging from affordable to high-end. But in all cases, we're recommending a whole package: all the speakers you need in one purchase. Easy! And further, we'll recommend the ideal AV receiver to power it, chosen from our guide to the best AV receivers – so you don't need to go and do a whole second set of research.
If you want to go even simpler, some of the best soundbars come with rear speaker options and can create convincing surround effects as a result, and we've highlighted the best of those as well in our list.
But we'll assume that if you've made your way here, it's probably the full-fat version of surround sound you're interested in, and if you've invested in one of the best TVs and best 4K Blu-ray players, these systems are the way to get audio that's just as epic as your pictures.
What is the best surround sound system?
When it comes to that winning combination of performance and price, no surround sound speaker system can match the Q Acoustics 3050i 5.1 Cinema Package. The company has been working miracles for years, applying its audio prowess to competitively priced systems, and this is another great example. Incorporating technologies first introduced on Q Acoustics' high-end Concept 500 speaker, this impressive 5.1-channel system delivers stylish looks, solid construction, and a serious sonic performance.
For a more budget-friendly system, we recommend the Wharfedale DX-2 which delivers high-quality 5.1 sound from a hi-fi specialist, at a stunningly affordable price.
And for Dolby Atmos sound, the Focal Sib Evo is a compact surround system from one of the best speaker makers in the world, with upfiring Dolby Atmos speakers built right into the other speaker units, making life easy.
Best surround sound systems: the list
This surround sound speaker system produces the best overall performance, thanks to a pair of impressive and musical floorstanding speakers sitting either side of an equally accomplished centre speaker. As a result, dialogue is crystal clear no matter how frenetic the soundtrack. At the rear, two smaller bookshelf speakers are on surround duties, providing pin-point effects, while the slimline subwoofer handles the low end, giving blockbusters greater bass impact.
The build quality is exceptional considering the price, with precision-cut curved cabinets and rigid bracing developed for the high-end Concept 500 speaker. The resulting delivery is tighter and more cohesive, while identical drivers create a tonally balanced sound field. The performance is dynamic and engaging, making this system hard to fault – although while the subwoofer is flexible in terms of positioning, it doesn’t go as deep as some of the competition. We can live with that. Here's our full Q Acoustics 3050i 5.1 Cinema Package review.
These speakers would be an ideal match for the best-in-class Denon AVC-X3700H AV receiver, which has sufficient power to make this system shine with both movies and music, while also retaining additional channels of amplification for potential expansion later.
This surround sound system delivers the best value for those on a tighter budget, with four identical speakers for the front and rears, a dedicated centre speaker, and a separate active subwoofer. The DX-2 is easy to install and very flexible in terms of placement, which means you’ll have everything set-up in no time, and with the minimum of fuss. There’s a choice of black or white to suit your decor, but admittedly the faux leather finish on the cabinet is an acquired taste.
These speakers deliver plenty of enjoyable home cinema thrills thanks to a nicely balanced soundstage that steers effects seamlessly around the room. The centre speaker does a great job of delivering clear dialogue, while the subwoofer is well integrated and provides a solid bass foundation for the entire system. The sub could go deeper, and this system is better suited to smaller rooms, but at this price the DX-2 is hard to fault.
If you partner these speakers with the similarly affordable Sony STR-DH790 AV receiver, you’ll have a very capable surround sound system for a lower price than the cost of most soundbars that include rear speakers and a subwoofer.
This surprisingly compact surround sound speaker system creates the best immersive audio experience with object-based Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks thanks to dedicated upward-firing drivers built into the top of the front left and right speakers. There’s a centre speaker that can be installed vertically or horizontally, and matching speakers for the rear channels. The set-up is completed by a small but powerful ported subwoofer that does a great job of boosting the overall bass response.
The use of identical drivers in all the speakers results in a tonally balanced delivery, with effects smoothly steered around the room, while the well-integrated bass ensures a cohesive sound field. The upward-firing drivers are effective at creating the two front overhead channels, but the lower and flatter the ceiling, the better. The speakers use a contemporary design, are well made, and easy to set-up. In fact, the only real complaint at this price are the fiddly speaker terminals. Here's our full Focal Sib Evo review.
Matching these speakers with the excellent Denon AVR-X2700H AV receiver will produce a genuinely immersive experience, allowing you to enjoy Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio with the minimum of fuss and at a wallet-friendly price.
Multi-box soundbar systems have become a popular alternative to surround sound systems with separate speakers, in no small part because they can offer a lot of complex speaker features but in a way that's much easier to set up and manage. Our favourite of these is the Samsung HW-Q950A, which features 22 speakers squeezed into four separate boxes: a large front soundbar, two small rear speakers, and a subwoofer.
Samsung notes that it produces 11 channels of surround sound and four channels of height for Dolby Atmos, and while you shouldn't expect it to deliver the same effect that having 11 real speakers around you would, it certainly hits the same level as having five speakers around you, and that's what we're after. The four up-firing drivers also add not just height, but some positioning to that height. At its best, Dolby Atmos creates a 'dome' of sound around you, and that's what you get here.
The sound is powerful and really feels three dimensional – small effects and voices come through clear, and when it needs to ramp up for action scenes, it truly astound you that you're not surrounded by bigger speakers. Our full Samsung HW-Q950A review goes deeper into all the ways the sound impresses.
And to set it up, you just plug the soundbar section directly into your TV over HDMI – it beams the audio wirelessly to the other speakers, so it's probably the single easiest of all the units here to set up. And it has two HDMI inputs as well as its HDMI eARC connection to the TV, which means that you can plug Blu-ray players/games consoles/etc into the soundbar – this is great if your TV doesn't support Dolby Atmos, because the soundbar can then still receive Atmos audio from those devices.
The only real downsides here are that the size of the soundbar may not be ideal for all TVs (it needs a 55-inch set or bigger), and that it's very much tuned for movies rather than music – if musicality is a priority too, the other systems here will likely fare better for you.
This surround sound speaker system from Sony represents a hybrid design that combines the plug-and-go convenience of a soundbar with the experience of a full multi-channel separate speaker system. The HT-A9 is based around four active speakers that use built-in amplification, multiple drivers and Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound Mapping tech to generate the effect of additional ‘phantom’ speakers around the room, immersing you in an acoustic dome. The speakers all connect wirelessly to a central hub, while built-in microphones optimise the sound field, thus maximising the performance and minimising the fuss.
The system doesn’t require an AV receiver, is easy to install, and highly flexible because the Spatial Sound Mapping adapts the processing to your specific environment and speaker layout. The basic system isn’t cheap, and you’ll need to add a Sony SA-SW3 subwoofer to get the full bass impact, but the results are phenomenal.
There’s no dedicated centre speaker (though if you connect to support Sony BRAVIA TVs, the TV itself will act as the centre), but the four other speakers ensure a cohesive and tonally matched system. There’s support for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based audio, and only the limited number of inputs disappoints.
When it comes to audio quality, the best soundbar for surround sound from a single unit (as is: no subwoofer, no rear speakers) is undoubtedly the Sonos Arc, which allows you to enjoy a fully immersive experience with the minimum of fuss. In fact this soundbar is really easy to install and start with immediately, but you have the option of expanding it in the future – and thanks to the Sonos wireless ecosystem, the cabling is kept to a minimum.
You could start with the Arc itself, which immediately gives you three front channels, two angle channels to replicate side/rear sound, and two upward-firing drivers for the Dolby Atmos overhead channels. But this will be very front-focused, with little in the way of deep bass extension, since there's no real subwoofer. However, for creating a wide and tall soundstange that's packed with detail, and can dynamically hit delicate dialogue and powerful explosions a fraction of a second from each other, it's best-in-class.
But Sonos has a simple solution if you want to upgrade: you can add a pair of Sonos One or Sonos One SL rear speakers, and a Sonos Sub to create a fully immersive 5.1.2-channel system. The wireless integration is seamless and easy to set up through the app, the bass digs deep, and the powerful Class D amplification can handle the largest of rooms.
The lower and flatter the ceiling, the better the overhead effects, but apart from the cost, the only major downsides are the lack of DTS:X support, and the lack of HDMI passthrough, so you'll effective lose the use of one HDMI port from your TV by connecting this (unlike any system with an AV receiver, or the Samsung HW-Q950A system mentioned above, which features two HDMI inputs that can pass video through to your TV).
This surround sound speaker system actually represents the entry-point for the B&W line-up, but given the 600 S2 Series incorporates technology from the company’s higher-end models, you’ll find that hard to believe. These speakers are attractively designed and beautifully made, with the big 603 S2 floorstanding speakers looking particularly impressive. The HTM6 S2 centre speaker has been voiced to match the floorstanders, thus creating a cohesive front soundstage. A pair of 606 S2 bookshelf speakers handle the surround duties, while an ASW610 subwoofer fills in the low-end.
The result is an impressive high-end surround sound speaker system that’s as solid as a rock. Partner them with an AV receiver that’s got some genuine power under the hood and these speakers produce a powerful and accomplished soundstage that surrounds you in a tonally balanced and utterly compelling sonic environment. This system definitely performs best in a larger room, but if you give it some space you’ll be rewarded with serious low frequency slam and an overall sense of scale that will help make blockbuster movies sound suitably epic.
Partnering these speakers with the awesome Arcam AVR30 AV receiver produces an energetic and enjoyable surround sound system that benefits from the powerful Class G amplification and best-in-class Dirac Live room correction of that receiver – in particular, the room correction ensures that the speakers perform at their very best. And this even leaves you open for options to expand the setup later by adding more speakers.
How to buy the best surround sound system for you
Almost all the recommendations in this guide are speaker packages, which means you have all the speakers you need to get your surround sound system up and running – as long as you remember to add an AV receiver and cabling.
But if you’re thinking of building your own 5.1-channel setup, you’ll need left, right and centre speakers at the front, two speakers at the rear and a subwoofer. You can always add side and overhead speakers later, but a basic multi-channel system is a good place to start.
If you have a favourite pair of stereo speakers, and simply want to expand your system to include centre and rear channels, it’s always best to look at options from the same manufacturer. The reason for this is that speakers in the same range will share similar designs, which in turn should mean they should have the same sound profile. This results in better tonal balance, allowing audio effects to be steered from speaker to speaker without sounding noticeably different.
Some of the systems in this guide are based around floorstanding speakers, while others use smaller satellite speakers for all five channels. Regardless of what you’re using, when running any room correction make sure you set all the speakers to ’small’. This allows the dedicated subwoofer to handle the lower frequencies, and you can choose the appropriate crossover for each speaker. This is the point where the AV receiver’s processing transfers the lower frequencies from the speakers to the subwoofer, ensuring a smoother bass response.
Speaking of subwoofers, you don’t necessarily need to use one from the same manufacturer as your speakers because a sub is only handling the lower frequencies below 150Hz. Since these frequencies aren’t directional, you don’t have to worry about tonal balance and can thus consider manufacturers that specialise in subwoofers, such as SVS and REL. When positioning the sub you may be limited by the room layout, but in general one of the front corners should work best.
Dedicated surround speakers come in a variety of flavours: monopole, bipole, or tripole. This may sound confusing, but in reality these different types of surround speaker are actually fairly simple. A monopole is basically a regular speaker with a direct-firing driver – all the surround speakers in this guide use a monopole design. A bipole speaker uses forward and rear firing drivers to create a more diffuse surround sound field, while a tripole combines forward, rear and direct firing drivers to create both diffusion and precision for object-based audio.
A number of the systems in this guide support object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and an ideal Dolby Atmos system will include upward-firing drivers, because a key part of these formats is adding height. If you’re thinking of building an immersive audio surround system you can either use overhead speakers or, if you don’t fancy cutting holes in your ceiling, upward-firing add-on modules. Once again, try to match these modules with the other speakers in your system, and since this type of design bounces sounds off the ceiling, the lower, flatter and more acoustically reflective it is, the better the results.