Ready to dive into the world of cinematic audio?
The line between the movie theater experience and home entertainment is getting blurrier by the minute. But how do you bring that surround sound thrill into your living room and take your movie nights to a new level?
If you only know a little about home cinema, it can seem daunting.
So in this fun guide, I’m going to explore surround sound home theater systems and explain how to create an audio experience that’ll blow your mind.
You’ll learn what a multi-channel home theater system is, the different types of audio channels and speaker layouts, and all those fancy audio formats out there.
I’ll also guide you through setting up your very own surround sound home theater system. You’ll get tips on room acoustics, speaker placement, and even calibration.
You’ll then learn about different system options and the extra equipment you might need and make some recommendations based on your budget and room size.
So if you’ve always wanted to know how to get surround sound in your room, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started with the fundamentals.
- What Are Audio Channels?
- What Are the Common Multi Channel Speaker Layouts?
- Surround Sound Audio Formats
- Setting Up a Multi-Channel Home Theater System
- What Type of Home Theater Audio System Should You Buy?
- What Else Do You Need for a Home Theater?
- Top Home Theater System Manufacturers
- Recommended Products for Different Budgets
- Wrapping Things Up
What Are Audio Channels?
Audio channels are the individual streams of sound that make up an audio signal. They’re designed to play from different speakers in a home theater system, creating that oh-so-important sense of depth, direction, and immersion.
To understand the difference, let’s dive into the various types of audio channels, from basic mono to those fancy multi-channel configurations.
Mono audio is a single-channel format that plays all sound through one speaker or output device. You’ve probably come across it during phone conversations or in public address systems.
Although it’s less impressive than stereo sound, mono audio still has its place in the audio world. In fact, some music recordings use mono audio to create a raw and authentic sound without the added depth of stereo.
So, while stereo might be more popular, mono audio is still an important part of the audio landscape!
Stereo sound is the most common audio channel configuration for music and TV shows.
It’s short for stereophonic, consisting of just two channels – left and right – that get played through two separate speakers.
The cool thing about stereo sound is that it can provide a sense of width and direction, just like how we perceive sound in the real world.
That’s because the left and right channels can convey different sounds or intensities, giving you a more exciting listening experience.
You can use a stereo system for home theater, and it’s a great way of improving the sound in your room. Use it to replace the disappointing audio experience from your television speakers.
But you won’t get the immersive effect of surround sound, which is more fun with movies.
If you want to crank it up a notch, multi-channel audio systems use extra speakers to create an even better experience.
There are a few types of multi-channel setups, like surround sound and object-based audio systems like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
Surround sound systems are like a warm, auditory hug, with multiple speakers placed around you to create a more enveloping sound field.
The most common setups are 5.1 and 7.1, which use five or seven main speakers (you guessed it) and one subwoofer.
These systems offer a greater sense of depth and direction than stereo, accurately placing sound effects and music within the soundstage.
Ready for the big leagues? Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are advanced multi-channel audio formats that use object-based audio technology.
Instead of relying on traditional channel-based sound, these formats place audio objects within a three-dimensional sound field.
Therefore 3D audio creates a more immersive and accurate sound, including overhead effects that are impossible with traditional surround sound systems.
To experience Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, you’ll need compatible speakers, AV equipment, and content encoded in these formats. Time to upgrade that home theater!
What Are the Common Multi Channel Speaker Layouts?
Creating surround sound system involves choosing the right speaker layout to match your desired audio experience.
Here are the most common multi-channel configurations, so you can make an informed decision when building your system.
5.1 Channel: A Solid Foundation
The 5.1 speaker layout is your basic surround sound setup. It has five main speakers and one subwoofer, making six audio channels.
The arrangement includes a center channel, front left and right channels, and surround left and right channels.
This setup is a big improvement over stereo sound and really makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the action.
7.1 Channel: More Speakers, More Immersion
For those seeking an even more immersive audio experience, a 7.1 configuration may be the way to go.
This setup includes two additional surround back or rear channels, which help to create a more precise and accurate sound field.
A 7.1 layout is ideal for larger rooms or those who want to take their home theater experience to the next level.
9.1/11.1 Channel: Even More Speakers, Even More Immersion
If you want to go all out, the 9.1 and 11.1 speaker layouts add even more speakers for a highly immersive audio experience.
A 9.1 setup adds two additional front-wide or height speakers to the regular 7.1 setup, while an 11.1 configuration takes it a step further, adding four extra speakers: two front-wide and two height channels.
These setups offer greater precision and a more expansive soundstage than 5.1 and 7.1 configurations, but they also need more equipment and space.
5.1.2, 5.1.4, and 5.1.6 Channel: Dolby Atmos and DTS:X Integration
These speaker layouts mix Dolby Atmos or DTS:X technology into a 5.1 base configuration.
The number at the end tells you how many overhead or height speakers are used for creating a three-dimensional sound field.
So, a 5.1.2 setup adds two height speakers, a 5.1.4 setup adds four height speakers, and a 5.1.6 setup adds six height speakers.
Adding more overhead speakers makes for an even more immersive experience, with sounds coming from above you too.
7.1.2, 7.1.4, and 7.1.6 Channel: Taking Atmos to the Next Level
Just like the 5.1.x configurations, the 7.1.2, 7.1.4, and 7.1.6 layouts bring Dolby Atmos or DTS:X technology into a 7.1 base setup.
By adding two, four, or six overhead or height speakers, these setups create an even more enveloping and immersive audio experience, giving you a true three-dimensional sound field to enjoy.
When choosing a speaker layout for your home theater, think about things like room size, budget, and how immersed you want to be in your audio experience.
That way, you can find the perfect setup for your needs.
Surround Sound Audio Formats
Now you understand the different types of surround sound speaker layouts. Next, you should take a minute to learn the audio formats available when playing content.
The audio formats you can use will depend on your speaker configuration and your hardware’s capabilities, like the player and amplifier.
Each format has unique features and capabilities that contribute to the overall sound quality and immersion.
These are some of the most popular multi-channel audio formats.
Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1
Dolby Digital and DTS are two popular formats for 5.1 surround sound.
They’re similar, but there are some differences between the two. They both compress audio data to deliver multi-channel audio with limited bandwidth.
Dolby Digital, also known as AC-3, compresses the audio more, leading to smaller file sizes but reducing sound quality. On the other hand, DTS has a lower compression rate, meaning larger file sizes but better audio quality.
But the difference in quality will be insignificant for most people, so don’t worry about it.
Dolby Digital Plus
Dolby Digital Plus, or Enhanced AC-3 (E-AC-3), is like Dolby Digital on steroids.
It supports up to 7.1 channels, offers better audio quality if required, and is more efficient with compression.
This makes it perfect for streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ since it uses less bandwidth.
It can also handle Dolby Atmos’ metadata, usually only available with high-resolution audio formats on Blu-ray discs.
Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio
Dolby and DTS have lossless audio formats that mainly appear on Blu-ray ray discs.
Lossless audio means although the data is compressed, none of the original data is removed. This differs from lossy Dolby Digital and DTS, where some audio quality is lost in the compression process.
Both support up to 7.1 surround sound channels and 24-bit audio depth, meaning you can enjoy immersive audio exactly how the creators wanted you to.
Can you hear a difference between these high-resolution formats and standard lossy 5.1?
You can, but you will need a good-quality sound system to appreciate the improvement. You won’t hear it if you have a budget all-in-one system.
If you are picky about sound quality, you will appreciate the difference. But for most people, it won’t be a big deal.
For example, your Mum/significant other/neighbor/postman will unlikely notice!
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are the kings of immersive sound.
They allow sound engineers to place audio objects in a 3D sound field, making everything appear so much more real, especially when it comes to height and overhead effects.
It’s like your favorite movie characters are right there with you!
Now, to experience the excellence of Dolby Atmos, you’ll need some compatible speakers (at least two overhead or up-firing speakers), an amplifier, and content encoded in its format.
It’s like putting together your own superhero team (but for sound)!
On the flip side, DTS:X is a bit more relaxed with speaker configurations.
Don’t have overhead speakers? No worries! It can adapt the audio mix to whatever layout you’ve got going on.
But having them takes the experience to a whole new level.
Like with Dolby Atmos, you’ll need the right gear and content to enjoy all that DTS:X offers, although most recent AV receivers will support both formats.
Auro-3D might be less well-known, but it’s still worth checking out.
It uses a unique approach to create an immersive sound field.
It relies on a layered speaker configuration with height and ceiling channels in a 9.1 or 10.1 layout – including the optional Voice of God channel.
It’s less widely used than Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, and you will only find support in the more expensive receivers, but it’s a solid option if you’re looking for a 3D audio experience.
Which Audio Formats Should You Use?
Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 are widely supported and provide a solid surround sound experience.
These are standard surround sound formats on many TV shows and streaming services, and you will also find these when you play a DVD or Blu-ray disc.
Some content, especially older DVD movies and TV shows, may only have stereo soundtracks.
If so, even with a surround sound system, you will only hear the sound in the front left and right speakers.
However, more advanced systems can use processing formats like Dolby Surround or DTS Neural:X to spread the stereo sound around your multi-channel speakers.
Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio files are too large for streaming services to deliver, so the only way you can enjoy these high-resolution audio formats is by buying a device that plays Blu-ray discs.
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X offer the added benefit of object-based audio, resulting in a more immersive and precise audio experience.
These high-resolution audio formats are mainly found on Blu-ray discs, although Atmos is becoming more available on streaming channels where it sits on top of a Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack.
You will also need a player and amplifier capable of playing this type of audio.
Auro-3D, while less common, provides an alternative approach to three-dimensional audio using a layered speaker configuration. However, discs with Auro-3D are scarce, and it’s mainly the high-end AV receivers that can decide this type of audio.
In many cases, you won’t have a choice of which to use.
You will hear the best format provided by the content source and supported by your hardware.
For example, if your AV receiver doesn’t support Dolby Atmos, the Netflix app on your TV will not give you the option for Atmos audio. It will send standard Dolby Digital 5.1 automatically.
The best format for your home theater system will depend on your speaker layout, hardware compatibility, content availability, and personal preferences.
Setting Up a Multi-Channel Home Theater System
Creating the perfect home theater system involves more than just purchasing the right equipment.
You’ll also need to carefully consider your room’s layout and acoustics, correctly position your speakers, and calibrate your system for optimal performance.
So what are the key factors to consider when setting up your home theater, and what should you do to achieve the best possible sound?
Room Acoustics and Layout Considerations
Before diving into speaker placement and calibration, it’s important to assess your room’s acoustics and layout.
The shape and size of your room and the materials used in its construction can significantly impact the quality of your audio experience.
Here are some factors to consider when assessing your room’s acoustics:
- Room dimensions: Ideally, your home theater room should be rectangular, with the seating area along the shorter wall. If you can, avoid square rooms or rooms with irregular shapes, as they can mess with the acoustics.
- Wall and floor materials: Hard surfaces, like concrete or hardwood floors, can cause sound to bounce around the room, leading to poor audio quality. Try using carpet or area rugs to help absorb sound and minimize reflections. Similarly, heavy curtains or acoustic panels can help dampen sound reflections on walls.
- Ceiling height: A higher ceiling can improve audio quality by reducing issues like standing waves. If possible, aim for a ceiling height of at least 8 feet. If not, the automatic calibration will have to do more work to get a balanced sound – or you can try installing some acoustic treatment.
- Seating position: As a rule of thumb, place your main seating area around two-thirds of the room’s length. This will ensure you are not too close and not right up against the back wall. However, for a more accurate figure, use a TV distance calculator to work out the best viewing distance
It might not seem important, but the more you do to fix these issues at source, the easier it will be to get a great sound in your room.
Speaker Placement Guidelines: Main Speakers and Subwoofers
Once you’ve figured out your room’s acoustics and layout, it’s time to put your speakers in place.
Proper speaker placement is crucial for an immersive audio experience. It helps create a realistic soundstage and ensures that audio effects are accurately positioned.
Here are some general guidelines for placing your speakers:
- Front left and right speakers: Position these speakers equally from your main seating area, angled inward toward the listener. However, if you need to accommodate a larger audience or cover a wider area, keep the speakers facing straight ahead, which will create a broader soundstage.
- Center speaker: Place the center speaker centrally above or below your display, aligned with the front left and right speakers. If above, angle the speaker towards the listening position.
- Surround speakers: Position the surround speakers to the side and slightly behind the main seating area, raised slightly above ear level.
- Rear surround speakers (for 7.1 systems): Place these speakers directly behind the main seating area, slightly above ear level.
- Height or overhead speakers (for Dolby Atmos or DTS:X systems): Mount these speakers on or in the ceiling, or use upward-firing speakers to reflect sound off the ceiling.
- Subwoofer: The placement of the subwoofer can vary depending on room acoustics. Experiment with different positions to find the spot that delivers the most balanced bass response. Avoid the corner of the room as it can make the low-end boomy and difficult to balance, although you can use this to your advantage if the bass is lacking.
For more on this subject, check out the article about surround sound speaker placement.
Calibration and Fine-Tuning Your System
After you’ve got your speakers in place, it’s time to calibrate your system to make sure you’re getting the best possible audio quality.
Most modern AV receivers have automatic calibration features that use a microphone to analyze your room’s acoustics and optimize the system accordingly.
These are some of the calibration platforms used by popular AV receivers:
- Audyssey: Denon and Marantz. Audyssey MultEQ, MultEQ XT, and MultEQ XT32 are some of the different versions available, with XT32 being the most advanced. Audyssey is the most effective room calibration platform I have used to date, especially for the low end. You can buy the separate Audyssey MultEQ editor app for Android and iOS for even more fine-tuned control.
- YPAO (Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer): Yamaha. YPAO has different levels, including basic YPAO, YPAO-R.S.C. (Reflected Sound Control), and YPAO 3D with R.S.C. and Multi-Point Measurement.
- MCACC (Multi-Channel Acoustic Calibration System): Pioneer. There are different versions like MCACC, Advanced MCACC, and MCACC Pro, with the Pro version being the most sophisticated.
- AccuEQ: Onkyo. AccuEQ Advance is an upgraded version that offers more precise calibration.
- Dirac Live: Arcam, NAD, and some other brands. A high-end room correction technology that is available in select AV receivers. Dirac Live is widely considered to be the pinnacle of room correction software. But it’s generally only available on expensive, high-end receivers. Although, Denon and Marantz are beginning to make it available on their more affordable models.
- Anthem Room Correction (ARC): Anthem. There are different versions of ARC, such as ARC Genesis, their latest and most advanced version.
Even so, it’s a good idea to manually fine-tune your system by checking speaker levels, sizes, distances, and crossover settings after automatic calibration.
It doesn’t always get everything perfect, so double-checking everything is essential.
You might need trial and error to find the perfect balance, but the results will be well worth the effort.
Some of the more expensive soundbar systems, like Sonos (Trueplay) and Bose (ADAPTiQ), also have auto-calibration tools for adjusting the audio to your room.
Calibrating the audio to compensate for unwanted peaks or troughs in specific frequencies can make a massive difference in sound quality.
You should take the time to do this where possible, as you won’t get the best performance from your equipment otherwise.
It’s a pro tip that will set you apart from most others, so don’t skip this part.
Some folks like to manually calibrate their systems instead of relying on software. I wouldn’t suggest this if you’re new to the game, but if you’re cool with tinkering around, you could give it a shot.
The main downside here is that you’ll miss out on the frequency equalization that software offers.
That can make a massive difference in how your system sounds, particularly for the low bass frequencies.
For more detail on putting your system together, check out the surround sound installation guide.
Besides your speaker’s system, you may also want to invest in additional equipment to enhance your home theater experience.
Here are a few items to consider:
- Acoustic treatments: Adding acoustic panels, bass traps, or diffusers can help improve your room’s acoustics and provide a more balanced audio experience.
- Seating: Comfortable seating is essential for an enjoyable home theater experience. Look for seating options that provide plenty of support and comfort, like recliners or theater-style seating with cup holders and built-in storage.
- Universal remote: A high-quality universal remote can help streamline your home theater setup by consolidating all your devices’ controls into one easy-to-use interface.
- Cable management: Keep your home theater neat and organized using cable organizers, cable covers, or in-wall cable routing to hide unsightly wires.
- Surge protector: Protect your valuable home theater equipment from power surges and voltage fluctuations using a high-quality surge protector or power conditioner.
By carefully considering your room’s acoustics and layout, correctly positioning your speakers, calibrating your system, and investing in additional equipment, you can create a multi-channel home theater system that provides an immersive and enjoyable audio experience.
What Type of Home Theater Audio System Should You Buy?
I get it; you’re ready to set up your home theater with fantastic surround sound, right?
But hold on a sec. There are different types of systems to choose from, and you want to avoid ending up with something that doesn’t fit your needs.
So before you get out your credit card, let me help you figure out which one’s right for you.
Here are the main categories you’ll see when shopping around:
Speakers Only: Be Careful
Watch out for “surround sound systems” that only give you a bunch of speakers.
You’ll need a multi-channel amplifier to make these babies sing.
If you have an AV receiver or plan to get one, go for it. But if you’re new to this, don’t accidentally buy speakers that won’t work without spending more on an amp.
AV Receiver + Speakers: Most Flexible
This is my preferred option for setting up surround sound. An AV receiver is a multi-channel amplifier that will power a package of surround sound speakers.
AV receivers have numerous input connections for connecting various devices to your sound system. If you want to upgrade, it’s easy to swap out some or all of your speakers while keeping the same amplifier.
The downside of using an AV receiver is that it’s the most complicated option to set up, so it might not be suitable for someone with little experience in this field.
But it’s relatively easy if you take your time, and it’s the most versatile solution.
Soundbar System: A Sleek Option
A soundbar-based system is a terrific way to get into immersive audio. It’s more discreet than traditional speakers, often comes with wireless speakers, and doesn’t need a separate amp.
But it might have limited inputs for devices, is less flexible to upgrade, and often doesn’t sound as immersive as a traditional system.
For example, here are the rear connections for the Sonos Beam Gen 2 soundbar. It’s a great compact design, but the only input connection is a single HDMI eARC port for connecting to your TV.
This will be enough for many people, but be careful if you are planning on wiring other devices to your soundbar.
You can still do it, mainly via the spare HDMI ports on your television. But this can make things more difficult to set up.
There are also many different types of soundbars, so pay attention to what you’re getting!
A standalone soundbar can be stereo-only or contain multiple speakers for improved dialogue clarity or Dolby Atmos 3D effects.
Other options to look out for are a wireless subwoofer for better bass and dedicated surround and Atmos speakers for a more 3D sound.
All-in-One System: Everything You Need
These used to be called home-theater-in-a-box systems and included everything you needed, including a DVD player and wires.
You’ll find plenty of all-in-one systems today that have an amplifier, speakers, and inputs for external devices – but you’ll have to buy the DVD or Blu-ray player separately.
These are usually cheaper and super easy to set up, but you might sacrifice some quality compared to the other options.
You can still find some great options if you’re willing to spend a bit more.
What Else Do You Need for a Home Theater?
Alright, you’ve got the basics down for choosing a multi-channel system. But to complete your setup, consider these things:
TV or Projector: Big Screen Dreams
Your visuals are super important for that immersive experience. You can choose a television or projector depending on your room size, space, and budget.
- TV: Modern TVs come in various sizes, with high-resolution displays like 4K and 8K, offering stunning image quality. OLED and QLED televisions provide excellent contrast and color reproduction, making them great choices for your home theater
- Projector: A projector can be attractive if you have a larger room and want a more authentic cinema experience. Projectors can project images onto large screens, creating an immersive, cinematic feel. However, they typically require more careful setup, including proper mounting, screen placement, and light control in the room.
Cables and Interconnects: Connect It All Together
Get some quality cables to make sure everything’s connected properly.
The trick here is to spend your money wisely. Don’t get cheap cables that will fall apart at the drop of a hat and affect the sound and picture quality.
But you also don’t need to spend a fortune on super-expensive brand cables. Any medium-priced, well-made cable will be fine.
Some of the cables you may need include:
- HDMI cables: Connect your devices (Blu-ray player, media streamer, cable box, etc.) to your television or projector and AV receiver.
- Interconnects: all the other cables you need to connect your devices to your amplifier if you can’t use HDMI; like optical audio, coaxial audio, composite and component video.
- Speaker cables: Connect your speakers to your amplifier.
- Subwoofer cable: Connect your subwoofer to your AV receiver.
- Ethernet cable (optional): If you have wired internet connectivity in your home theater, you may need an Ethernet cable to connect your streaming devices or AV receiver.
External Devices: More Movies, Please
Consider adding some of these external devices to enjoy all sorts of content. These will give you access to tons of movies, shows, and games.
- Blu-ray player: A Blu-ray player allows you to watch high-definition and UHD movies and TV shows on Blu-ray discs. It’s an excellent addition to your home theater if you’re a movie enthusiast who wants the best audio and video quality. A DVD player is OK too, but it doesn’t support high-definition pictures and high-resolution audio formats – so you won’t get the best experience.
- Streaming sticks: Devices like Roku, Amazon Fire TV Stick, and Google Chromecast provide easy access to popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.
- TV apps: If your TV has built-in apps for streaming services, you can access content directly through your TV without needing a separate streaming device.
- Cable box: If you still use cable TV, you’ll need a cable box to watch your favorite shows and movies.
- Media streamer: Devices like Apple TV 4K and NVIDIA SHIELD offer advanced streaming capabilities, gaming support, and smart home systems integration. These devices can enhance your home theater experience by adding more functionality and content options, including allowing you to share content from other devices in your home.
When you add these extra components, you’ll be able to craft a truly immersive home theater experience that’s much more than just a tremendous multi-channel audio system.
Top Home Theater System Manufacturers
If you’re interested in a high-quality multi-channel surround sound system, the good news is you have several well-known and reputable brands to choose from.
In fact, some of the most popular brands offer high-quality systems that can take your home theater experience to the next level.
Here are a few of my personal favorites:
If you plan on buying separate speakers to go with your AV receiver, there are some brands you can trust to deliver top-notch quality.
These brands specialize in speakers, so you can be sure you’re getting a great system, whether you buy a complete package or individual speakers.
- KEF: a leading British speaker manufacturer since 1961, is renowned for innovative engineering and design. Known for breakthroughs like the Uni-Q driver, KEF offers a range of high-quality audio products, including floor-standing, bookshelf, and home theater speakers, as well as wireless and multi-room systems.
- Focal: a distinguished French speaker manufacturer since 1979, excels in producing innovative, high-quality audio equipment. Known for exceptional sound and design, Focal offers a diverse range of speakers for hi-fi and home theater.
- Klipsch: a legendary American speaker manufacturer since 1946, is celebrated for high-quality audio equipment featuring signature horn-loaded technology.
- SVS: an esteemed American speaker manufacturer since 1998, is recognized for high-performance audio equipment offering exceptional value, including powerful subwoofers, home theater speakers, and accessories.
- Bowers & Wilkins: a distinguished British speaker manufacturer since 1966 celebrated for high-quality audio equipment featuring innovative engineering and craftsmanship. Acclaimed for cutting-edge technologies, B&W offers all types of excellent home theater speakers.
- Other popular speaker brands to consider are Polk Audio, Sony, Yamaha and ELAC.
AV Receivers, Soundbars and All-in-one Systems
- Denon: With a long history in the audio industry, Denon offers a range of high-quality AV receivers and home theater systems.
- Yamaha: As a leading manufacturer of AV receivers and home theater systems, Yamaha offers a wide range of products to cater to different budgets and needs.
- Onkyo: Onkyo is known for its AV receivers and home theater systems that provide excellent performance and value for money.
- Sonos: Sonos is renowned for its wireless multi-room audio systems and offers home theater products that integrate seamlessly with its ecosystem.
- Samsung: Known for diverse consumer electronics, including home theater products like high-quality soundbars and wireless multi-room audio systems.
- Other popular brands to think about are Marantz, Sony and Bose.
Recommended Products for Different Budgets
To help you choose the right multi-channel home theater system, here is a list of recommended products for different budgets and room sizes.
These are ideal if you want to keep the cost down.
1. Yamaha YHT-4950U
This 5.1-channel home theater system includes an AV receiver, five speakers, and a subwoofer. It’s an excellent choice for small to medium-sized rooms. Yamaha knows its stuff when it comes to home theater receivers, so it’s a solid entry-level choice.
2. Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System
This 5.1-channel home theater system with five speakers and a subwoofer offers good performance for its price. If you want a place to start with surround sound without spending too much, or a small system for your computer, this could be a good option.
3. Denon AVR-S660H AV Receiver + Monoprice HT-35 Premium 5.1-Channel Home Theater System
This alternative is perfect for dipping your feet in the water with a low-cost surround sound system. It includes a fully-fledged AV receiver in the shape of the entry-level Denon AVR-S660H and a budget 5.1 surround speaker package from Monoprice. A bit more complicated to set up than some options here, but not much.
- Includes four satellite speakers, a center channel speaker and an 8-inch subwoofer
- Compact design for a discreet look
- Great value
- Ideal for a low-cost introduction to surround sound
- Not for large rooms
- No speaker wires included
Spend a little more and you will get a big step up in sound quality and performance.
1. Denon AVR-S970H + Fluance Elite 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System
The fantastic mid-range Denon AVR -S970H is a great choice for anybody who wants to go up a level with their home theater sound. The Fluance 5.1-channel package includes two tower speakers, two satellite speakers, a center channel, and a subwoofer, providing excellent sound quality for medium-sized rooms.
- HDMI: 6-in/2-out
- 3x HDMI 2.1 8K input
- 90 watts power rating
- Audyssey MultEQ room calibration
- Dolby Surround, Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization Technology, DTS Neural:X
- Only supports two Dolby Atmos speakers, so not suitable for larger layouts.
- Includes 1x center speaker, 2x tower speakers, 2x surrounds and one subwoofer
- Good value for a good quality package
- You don't have to buy each component separately
- Plenty of output for all but the largest rooms
- The tower speakers might be too big for some rooms
2. Sonos Immersive Set with Beam
This wireless home theater system includes a Sonos Beam soundbar, two Sonos Era 100 rear speakers, and a Sonos Sub Mini. It suits medium-sized rooms and offers seamless integration with other Sonos products.
- Includes: Beam (Gen 2), Sub Mini and 2x Era 100 surround speakers
- Supports Dolby Atmos audio
- Compact size for small to medium-sized rooms
- Integrates with the Sonos ecosystem
- It might not have enough power for larger spaces. If so, consider the immersive set with Arc soundbar
3. Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2 eARC
This Nakamichi soundbar system is perfect if you want a soundbar-based setup that won’t take up too much space at the front of your room. However, that’s where the space-saving ends, as you also get four surround speakers and two 10-inch subwoofers for a room-filling sound.
If money is not a problem, these systems will knock your socks off. You just need to decide the type of system that suits your room.
1. Denon AVR-X4800H + SVS Prime Tower 5.0 Surround System + SVS SB-2000 Pro Subwoofer
This high-performance system includes an outstanding Denon AV receiver, 5 SVS surround sound speakers and a powerful subwoofer providing a detailed audio experience for large rooms.
- 9.4 channels with four individual subwoofer outputs
- Supports Dolby Atmos layouts up to 5.4.4 out of the box (support for 11.4)
- 125 watts per channel for larger rooms
- HDMI: 7-in/3-out with 8K support
- Excellent Denon sound quality
- It might be too powerful for smaller rooms, so the cheaper AVR-X3800 might be enough.
- Includes 2x Prime tower speakers, 1x Prime center channel speaker and 2x Prime satellite surrounds
- Excellent sound quality
- The tower speakers will work very well for music too
- Matching appearance for a professional look
- A subwoofer isn't included. You must buy one separately if you want one, and SVS offer a range of great subs.
2. Yamaha RX-A6A and Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Home Cinema System
This high-performance system includes a powerful 9-channel Yamaha AV receiver, top-quality Focal speakers and Dolby Atmos capabilities, providing an immersive audio experience for medium-sized rooms.
- Support for 9.2, 5.2.4 or 7.2.2 speaker layouts out of the box
- HDMI: 7-in and 3-out with eARC
- Zone 2 and 3 for other rooms in your house
- Powerful 150-watts per channel
- If you don't want a 9-channel speaker layout, the 7-channel Yamaha RX-A4A is cheaper
- 5 satellite speakers for a more discreet look
- Upfiring Dolby Atmos modules built into the front two speakers
- Excellent stereo imaging with a clean sound
- A fast 8-inch subwoofer that complements the smaller satellite speakers
- You might want larger speakers for a big room
3. Sonos Ultimate Immersive Set with Arc
This premium 5.1 home theater system offers excellent sound quality and stylish design, suitable for larger rooms or those who prioritize aesthetics. This set includes the Arc soundbar, a Sub (Gen 3) and two Era 300 smart speakers for surround sound with spatial audio.
- eARC HDMI connection
- Audio Formats: PCM (Stereo & Multichannel), Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS
- Voice Control: Sonos Voice Control, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant
- Spatial audio with the Era 300 speakers
- Limited input connections
- The complete package is expensive for a soundbar-based system
Choosing products from reputable brands and considering your budget and room size can create a multi-channel home theater system that enhances your movie-watching experience.
Wrapping Things Up
To wrap things up, setting up a multi-channel home theater system can be a truly rewarding experience. Not only will it enhance your movie-watching and music-listening experiences, but it’ll also immerse you in sound like never before.
You must understand the components and formats involved to make the most of your system. You should also check out the top brands and products available to make informed decisions when selecting your ideal system.
It’s essential to keep in mind your budget, room size, and personal preferences while making your choices.
But don’t worry. With the right combination of equipment, you can create a home theater that delivers impressive performance and transforms your entertainment experience. Trust me. It’s worth the effort!
About The Author
Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has been a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment. You can find out more here.