Best surround sound systems 2024: home cinema speakers and soundbars put to the test

If you want the best home cinema experience possible, then a surround sound system is an essential purchase.

Having reviewed audio since the 1970s, trust us when we say whether it’s a soundbar, basic stereo, 5.1, 7.2 or full Dolby Atmos speaker setup, a good surround sound system will elevate any movie, sports or gaming experience. 

We say good because, while we’ve reviewed plenty of fantastic surround sound and home theatre systems over the years, for every five-star package there’s been a sea of terrible performers passing through our test rooms.

Common issues can include weak low end, poor handling of high frequencies, and a lack of detail. As an added complexity, simply paying more doesn’t always guarantee positive results and if you’re mixing and matching then simply adding a bunch of five-star products doesn’t mean you’ll get good audio – you need to pair complementary speakers if you want to get the best results.

Here to help you get the best home cinema experience possible for your specific needs, space and budget, we’ve created this guide detailing the best surround sound systems we’ve reviewed. Every system in this list has been fully tested in our dedicated London listening/viewing room, so you can trust our advice. You can get a more detailed breakdown of how we test surround sound systems at the bottom of this page.

The quick list

Lewis Empson author profile image
Lewis Empson

As one of What Hi-Fi?’s main home cinema testers I know how important decent audio is if you want the best experience possible. Whether you’re watching regular TV, movies, sports or playing games, a proper, well-set-up surround system can truly take immersion and your enjoyment levels up a notch. The tricky part is finding the right one for your specific needs, budget and space. To help with that, I and the What Hi-Fi? team make sure to keep a constant stream of surround sound systems covering every budget passing through our test rooms – the best of which make it into this list!

Recent updates

26th March 2024: New intro, top tip, also consider, how we choose, how we test and FAQ sections added.

The best speaker package

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 Product of the Year. A practical yet incredibly mighty home cinema speaker package


Channels: 5.1
Subwoofer: 200W
Finishes: Black, white, oak

Reasons to buy

Detailed and insightful sound
Excellent warmth and richness to vocals
Brilliantly dynamic and energetic

Reasons to avoid

Could sound slightly more spacious

It is an indisputable fact that the best way to achieve the most convincing surround-sound experience is by placing individual speakers all around your room. Usually that would consist of a ready-made home cinema pack (HCP) put together by the manufacturer, but there’s nothing to stop you creating your own as long as you include all the necessary components.

B&W doesn’t sell this particular setup as a bundle but multiple retailers do. It consists of a pair of 606 S3 speakers for the left and right channels, a couple of 607 S3 speakers for the surrounds, an HTM6 S3 for the centre channel, and a ASW610 subwoofer, but don’t forget you’ll also need stands for the front and surround speakers.

Why this exact combination? Because all of the components are compact and well crafted, and collectively they deliver a spectacular performance. The sound is brilliantly dynamic and energetic, but also detailed and insightful, with excellent warmth and richness to the vocals. It can’t match the sonic scale of physically larger packages, but it’s still full-bodied and engaging.

It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that combining these five-star speakers would be so successful, but it’s still impressive just how well this DIY surround-sound package works.

Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins 606 & 607 S3 speaker package

Space is a factor
Alastair Stevenson What Hi-Fi profile
Space is a factor
Alastair Stevenson

When buying a surround sound system, you need to factor in the space you’re putting it in. The team and I all love a proper Atmos system with speakers galore, including ceiling firing units. But, the fact is not everyone has the space for that. This is why we often view a 5.1 system as a happy medium between that and a basic soundbar. A good 5.1 system, like the Bowers & Wilkins 606 and 607 S3 speaker package delivers all the heft you need for a properly immersive home cinema experience without taking up too much space. Just remember you’ll still need to plan appropriate placement and spacing when setting it up and factor in the cost of speaker stands on a system like this. 

The best soundbar

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 Product of the Year. Powerful and muscular room-filling Dolby Atmos from a single soundbar


Connectivity: eARC, 2*HDMI 2.1, optical, USB, WiFi, Ethernet
Sound format support : Dolby Atmos/ Dolby AudioTM/ DTS:X/ DTS-HD/ PCM
Streaming : Chromecast, Bluetooth 5, Apple Airplay 2, WiFi
Voice control : Google Assistant, Alexa
Dimensions (hwd) : 8 x 130 x 14 cm
Weight: 8.7kg

Reasons to buy

Robust low-end
Excellent Atmos performance

Reasons to avoid

No VRR or ALLM at launch
EQ controls would be nice
Slightly confused styling

Sony has excellent form with soundbars, and the flagship HT-A7000 is no different. A 7.1.2 slab of sound, this Dolby Atmos soundbar packs two up-firing speakers, two beam tweeters, five front-facing drivers and a built-in dual subwoofer into a single chassis. Using a combination of driver placement and psychoacoustic techniques, the Sony HT-A700 delivers a broad and high soundstage, whether you’re watching immersive content or not, while retaining musicality, presence and detail.

In terms of height and precision, the performance is similar to that of the Sonos Arc, but the width of the soundstage and its forward projection is more convincing. Of course, you're never going to get quite the same experience that you would by having actual speakers placed above you and to the sides, but the A7000 delivers an effective and immersive soundscape that significantly enriches the viewing experience. The integrated sub is also particularly impressive with a taut, controlled and powerful performance.

In terms of supported audio formats, the A7000 excels itself and includes Dolby Atmos (in both the Digital+ and TrueHD formats), DTS:X, LPCM, hi-res wireless audio and Sony 360 Reality Audio.

Sony insists that the HT-A7000 doesn’t require any additional speakers to deliver immersive soundscapes. However, if you have the money and space there’s a choice of two optional subwoofers, the 300W SA-SW5 priced at £699 / $700 / AU$899, and the 200W SA-SW3 costing £449 / $400 / AU$599. A pair of surround SA-RS3S speakers costs £449 / $350 / AU$649 and, slightly disappointingly at this price, they only have front-facing drivers.

However, the Sony HT-A7000 is an outstanding, future-proofed, all-in-one performer with excellent integration if you have a newer Sony Bravia TV.

Read the full review: Sony HT-A7000

The best affordable speaker package

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. Wharfedale’s Diamond 12.1 speaker package is pure class for the masses


Channels: 5.1
Subwoofer: 200W
Finishes: Black, white, walnut, light oak

Reasons to buy

Impressive insight and composure
Taut, melodic sub
Wide, uniform soundfield

Reasons to avoid

Nothing at this price

With poise, effortlessness, cut-glass diction and charisma, the Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 HCP is essentially the Audrey Hepburn of home theatre speaker packages.

The package is made up of a quartet of the excellent, mid-sized Diamond 12.1 bookshelf speakers for fronts and surrounds with the 12.C in the middle and the SW10 powered subwoofer supplying the bass.

The SW-10 sub is in some ways the star of the show: taut and dextrous, it's exceptionally musical and blends seamlessly with the system's speakers, thanks in no small part to they themselves having an impressive low end. The result is a rich and lively sound.

The SW10 delivers rich bass, but it never overpowers the midrange or treble. And, as a whole, the system sounds mature, impactful, agile and detailed.

The Diamond 12.1 system is an excellent choice for both music and film, and its combination of cinematic scale, relatively small physical dimensions and affordable price make it ideal for people who might otherwise not have considered a 'proper' home cinema setup.

For an appropriate AVR, we'd suggest trying the Denon AVR-X2800H. If we had to use one word to describe the sound of this receiver, it would be ‘confident’. The AVR-X2700H doesn’t try too hard to impress, as a nervously underpowered budget amp might. 

It’s an easy and effective listen. No matter how hectic the action becomes, this Denon never misses a beat. It passes the laser blasts from speaker to speaker in a wonderfully coherent manner and, no matter the scene, creates a genuine sense of place. 

Read the full review: Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 HCP

The best wireless speaker system

A convincing Dolby Atmos home cinema sound system


Sound formats: Dolby Digital and DTS surround and height formats
Connectivity: 1 x HDMI, 1 x eARC, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth, Chromecast
Voice control: Works with Amazon Alexa and Google, Assistant
Dimensions: Speakers: 31 x 16 x 14.8cm; control hub: 5 x 15 x 15cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to buy

Not fussy about positioning
Entertaining, detailed, cinematic
Strong feature set

Reasons to avoid

The additional sub is pricey
Slightly bright with stereo music
Appearance is a bit bland

Sony’s HT-A9 Wireless Home Theatre System encourages users to position its speakers arbitrarily, promising an even, uniform and immersive soundfield regardless of the symmetry of your set-up.

How does it achieve this wizardry? The HT-A9 supports Sony's 360 Spatial Sound Mapping which calibrates your room's height size and combines it with speaker distance and relative location. The aim is to create an Atmos-like dome of sound from 12 ‘phantom’ speakers notionally placed around that audio bubble.

Talk of phantom channels and sound bubbles often elicits a raised eyebrow from the likes of us, there's no denying the effectiveness of the HT-A9's delivery. It makes for a refined precision and texture that is more immersive than any soundbar package we’ve tried. No matter how haphazard our speaker positions, the sound design never feels off-kilter or detracts from the action on-screen and that makes the HT-A9 an excellent choice for people not prepared to sacrifice their furniture arrangement at the altar of surround sound.

If you want more punch you can add a choice of two optional subwoofers, the 300W SA-SW5 priced at £699 / $700 / AU$899, and the 200W SA-SW3 costing £449 / $400 / AU$599.

It might not have the same fidelity and transparency we would expect from a traditional speaker package but it's an excellent compromise between performance and practicality. This is a system that we expect to appeal to many.

Read the full review: Sony HT-A9

The best cheap soundbar

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. The dinky Sonos Beam delivers a refined sound and excellent Dolby Atmos interpretation


Sound format support: Dolby Atmos DP / Dolby Atmos True HD / Dolby Digital / Multichannel PCM/ Dolby Multichannel PCM / stereo PCM
Connectivity: 1 x HDMI eARC, Wi-Fi, Ethernet
Voice control: Works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Dimensions (hwd) : 7 x 65 x 10cm
Weight: 2.8 kg

Reasons to buy

Effective handling of Dolby Atmos
Warm, refined sound
Streaming smarts

Reasons to avoid

No additional HDMI ports
Doesn’t support DTS:X

Delivering Dolby Atmos from a small chassis is no mean feat yet the Sonos Beam Gen 2 achieves a convincing, immersive performance without so much as a vertical speaker in sight. Instead, when watching Atmos content, two of the soundbar's five front-facing arrays are dedicated to reproducing overhead and surround sounds. The soundbar then deploys its significant processing power to give the impression of height using psychoacoustic HRTF (head-related transfer function) technology.

While genuine overhead sounds are perhaps a stretch too far for this petite performer, its virtual delivery of the Atmos format outstrips any similarly priced soundbar and even a few that are more expensive. All told, the Beam Gen 2 delivers a spacious, enveloping soundscape that is full of detail and features three-dimensional effects with tangible motion.

Want an even more impressive soundstage? You can add two One SL rear speakers (£358 / $358 / AU$538) and a Sub (£699 / $699 / AU$999) for a more traditional surround set-up.

Not that many soundbars at this price point come with networking capabilities, but this being a Sonos product, the Beam Gen 2’s ability to integrate into a wireless multiroom system is fundamental to its design. This means you can stream to the Beam Gen 2 from a handheld device using Apple AirPlay 2, and Spotify Connect is built-in too. It also supports Amazon Music Ultra HD audio, which gives you access to lossless 24-bit/48kHz tracks as well as Dolby Atmos Music.

Despite the lack of upward drivers, if space and budget are limited there isn't a better Dolby Atmos soundbar that we'd recommend.

Read the full review: Sonos Beam Gen 2

The best compact speaker package

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023 winner. Wharfedale’s smallest surround-sound package still delivers big sound.


Channels: 5.1
Subwoofer: 70W
Finishes: Black, walnut

Reasons to buy

Detailed and crisp sound
Punchy dynamics
Competitively priced

Reasons to avoid

Lacking some warmth and richness

If you’re in the market for something more substantial than a soundbar but don’t have space to scatter speakers the size of wheelie bins around the place, Wharfedale’s DX-3 home cinema pack is right up your street.

The successor to the What Hi-Fi Award-winning DX-2, this pint-sized package is perfect for smaller rooms, with the two-way closed box design of the surround speakers meaning they can be placed close to a wall, while the centre channel will sit comfortably under the TV. The 70W subwoofer is relatively petite, too.

The diminutive dimensions of each component might suggest you’re going to get a small-scale sound from the DX-3, but it’s pleasingly cinematic, with punchy dynamics and plenty of detail. It doesn’t sound quite as rich or warm as its predecessor, but with the right amplifier that can probably be rectified. 

It might not look or feel quite as premium as the DX-2 package did, and the RRP is £50 more expensive, but this is still a very affordable and hugely practical way to graduate from a soundbar setup.

Read the full review: Wharfedale DX-3

Also consider

  • Q Acoustics 5040 5.1 Home Cinema: If you have space for floorstanders and want a 5.1 system that isn’t astronomically expensive, then the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Q Acoustics 5040 5.1 package is a solid choice. Our only minor quibble is that some of the others systems on this list deliver a more full-bodied sound. 
  • Dali Oberon 5 5.1: The What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Dali Oberon 5 5.1 speaker package is a great surround system that delivers unparalleled performance. If you have money to spare and the space for it, it’s an excellent option well worth considering.  
  •  Wharfedale Evo 4.4 5.1: If money is no object then the Wharfdale Evo 4.4 5.1 speaker package is well worth a look. During our checks, it delivered brilliant, dynamic sound with great rhythmic precision. Just be warned, if space is tight, the central channel is outright huge. 
  • Sonos Arc: If you don’t have space for a speaker package, but want a great surround sound experience from a soundbar instead, and don’t fancy the Sony HT-A7000, then the Sonos Arc should be your next port of call. It offers some of the best audio you’ll find on a soundbar and comes with the added flexibility of the Sonos ecosystem, which makes it easy to pair it with some of the brand’s other speakers and subwoofer. 

How to choose the best surround sound system for you

The first big question is whether to go for a speaker package or a soundbar. It really depends on how much space you have for a system, what your budget is, and what other devices you want to plug into it.

A speaker package will give you true surround sound, as the speakers will be placed all around you in a 360-degree arrangement. But a full surround sound system will cost more than a soundbar and requires more boxes in your room, including an AV receiver.

For most homes, a soundbar is the best option. It's a simpler, more elegant solution, as it combines speakers and amplification into a more discreet package. A lot of soundbars come with Dolby Atmos, which does a very good job of replicating surround sound and can be upgraded with the addition of extra speakers into a true multi-channel system. Or there are soundbar packages that already come with wireless surrounds and a sub, which are smaller and easier to position than full-size speakers, but will still need to be placed near a power outlet.

Many soundbars have similar benefits to an AVR and can enhance your system with streaming options such as Airplay 2 and Chromecast, as well as supplementing your physical inputs with extra HDMI passthrough ports.

Similar to these soundbar packages, wireless-powered speaker systems do away with a central soundbar and instead offer a miniature version of a full-size 5.1 system without the need to run speaker cables around your room.

Whichever surround sound system you're considering, do your research and make sure it will fit your space and accommodate your games console, 4K Blu-ray player, set-top box, and whatever else you're planning on hooking up. And that you can afford it, of course. Happy listening!

How we test

We test surround systems using a set methodology focussed on direct comparisons and real-world listening.

Specifically, all surround sound systems are tested in our dedicated home cinema room in London. The room is acoustically treated and has been measured and marked to accommodate multiple configurations, including 5.1 and 7.2, as well as Atmos set-ups.

When testing we ensure we directly compare the home theatre surround sound system with any rival or alternative products we think the reader would also be considering. 

We’ll plug and unplug the systems as we run each test so we can make direct performance comparisons. Our reviewers never rely on memory when comparing performance. The speakers will also be run with our room’s reference Arcam AVR31 AVR.

When testing the surround sound system we’ll run a variety of checks using a selection of test discs and streaming services to gauge various aspects of its performance. The specific movies and tracks we use are constantly updated to reflect current trends.

For example, if we want to check low-end performance we’ll use a scene like the iconic car chase in The Batman, or the second scene of BladeRunner 2049, which features an incredibly powerful pounding low end that many systems struggle to deal with. We’ll also check how deals with specific audio formats, like Dolby True HD, Atmos and Digital Plus, where applicable.

Though surround sound systems are generally focused on movies, we will see how they handle music and will stream tracks covering a variety of genres during our review. Here again, we will make direct comparisons with rivals using the same comparative testing methodology we do for films. 

In every review, we will make sure at least two people have tested the surround sound system to make sure the findings are never based on a single person’s opinion. This lets us ensure we never let unintended bias creep into our reviews.

Recent updates

Updated 22/03/24: Added new intro, author block, top tips, also consider section and how we test synopsis. 

Surround sound systems FAQ

What do the numbers mean with surround sound systems?

The numbers next to a surround sound system refer to how many channels it has. The first number refers to the number of speakers, the second how many subwoofers while the third details how many height speakers there are. For example, the most common 5.1 speaker packages will have five speakers and one subwoofer; 5.1.2 Atmos systems add two “height” speakers to the mix, which is how they create the “dome of sound” experience.

Do more speakers mean better audio?

Based on our experience reviewing surround sound systems for over half a century, the answer is a firm no. A 7.2 system will not automatically be a better performer than a 5.1 set-up. Audio quality is defined by more specific factors, including the speakers’ engineering, sonic character (if they’ve been matched correctly) and general quality. That’s why you need to check reviews of the specific packages or products in question even after deciding the configuration you want.

Can a soundbar provide surround sound?

Lots of soundbars are currently being marketed as offering “proper surround sound”. There are plenty that go so far as to promise Atmos. In our experience, although there are plenty of soundbars that can replicate the experience to a degree, they cannot fully match the performance you get from a good, proper speaker package.

How do you place surround sound systems?

Surround sound systems, like all speakers need a certain amount of space to work. On top of that, if you’ve opted for a surround sound package you need to place the speakers and subwoofer at specific locations to let them accurately deliver movie audio as the director intended. For obvious reasons, you won’t get proper surround sound if you place the rear channels in front of you, for example.


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Lewis Empson
Staff Writer

Lewis Empson is a Staff Writer on What Hi-Fi?. He was previously Gaming and Digital editor for Cardiff University's 'Quench Magazine', Lewis graduated in 2021 and has since worked on a selection of lifestyle magazines and regional newspapers. Outside of work, he enjoys gaming, gigs and regular cinema trips.

With contributions from
  • HisDudeness
    Although I recently sold my YAS-207 and upgraded to a stereo B&W 603 set, I still carry warm feelings for the Yamaha Sound bar. In a previous (smaller room) the soundbar only lacked in music performance, but in a bigger and more open room it gave a solid performance there as well (albeit in Virtual DTS:X mode to boost the sound stage).

    I only found one real reason to avoid, namely the crossover between the bar and the sub. During movie dialogues with a continuous background noise (e.g. a stationary car), the system hesitated whether to process the sound on the bar or the sub. This resulted in the background noise fading in and out during the dialogue.

    It would also be nice if it'd support 7.1 channels to allow for sound processing on the soundbar itself more often.

    Otherwise I'm convinced that this might be the best value for money soundbar on the market.