Attempting to put together a surround sound system in your home can be more than a little overwhelming. Do you go with separate speakers, an all-in-one system or a soundbar? Which sounds better? How do you connect your set-top box, games console, 4K Blu-ray player and all the rest? Never fear; we're here to help with a selection of the best home cinema sound options currently available.
How to choose a surround sound system
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In this guide, we'll look at everything you need to consider and suggest the best home theatre systems available. By the end you'll know all you need to start buying with confidence.
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 place 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 will 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!
If you want a true home theatre experience, this is the very best surround sound system when it comes to performance-per-pound value. These Dali speakers sound full and warm, bringing out the best in any soundtrack. The sound is transparent but fun, powerful yet at the same time subtle. It won our coveted Product of the Year last year. Need we say more?
If you're wondering what to partner it with, you can't go wrong with the Denon AVR-X3700H AV amp - it can be set up for 5.2.4 or 7.2.2 Dolby Atmos, or add an extra amp and you'll have a 7.2.4 arrangement, so it covers all your bases. Add in eight - eight! - HDMI inputs, and you've got an absolute beast of a system.
Read the full review: Dali Oberon 5 5.1 Speaker Package
A good partner for 55in TVs and above, the Arc can be placed straight on your furniture or wall-mounted with the optional £79/$79/AU$99 mount. Who needs loads of boxes?
The Sonos Arc uses 11 drivers to create your surround soundfield, a number of which are upfiring and angled into your room to bounce sound off your walls and ceiling. It all adds up to an impressive surround sound performance for a soundbar.
If you want to use the Arc in a larger surround system it can be expanded through the addition of two One SL rear speakers (£358 / $358 / AU$538) and, if required, a Sub (£699 / $699 / AU$999).
You're transported to the heart of the action. Those surround effects are expertly placed and there's great dynamism and good weight to the sound too. Tonally, it's nicely balanced if you just want to listen to music, although it could sound a tiny bit more direct. But, there's no doubt this is a hugely impressive soundbar for the money.
Read the full review: Sonos Arc
With poise, effortlessness, cut-glass diction and charisma, the Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 HCP is essentially the Audrey Hepburn of home theatre speaker packages. It offers rich bass without sacrificing or overpowering the mid and treble, presenting a mature sound that’s rich in impact, agility, detail and sensitivity.
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 tautness and dexterity of the SW-10 is remarkable. It's an incredibly musical sub blending seamlessly with the smaller speakers, which themselves have an impressively well-integrated low end. The result is a rich and lively sound.
Large enough to provide cinematic scale with a wide soundfield, but discreet and affordable enough to be accessible to a variety of audiences, the Diamond 12.1 system proves to be an excellent choice for both music and film.
For an appropriate AVR, we'd suggest trying the Denon AVR-X2700H. 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
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 the that audio bubble.
While we reserve a healthy dose of scepticism regarding phantom channels and sound bubbles, the wide dispersion of the HT-A9’s speakers is instantly striking and undeniably effective. 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.
And 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 of performance and practicality. This is a system that we expect to appeal to many.
Read the full review: Sony HT-A9
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. With its hefty processing power, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 uses psychoacoustic HRTF (head-related transfer function) technology to give the impression of height without needing to get vertical.
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. The Beam Gen 2 offers an enveloping, spatial soundscape with rich, detailed audio as well as tangible motion and depth.
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. There will also be a forthcoming upgrade to add support for Amazon Music Ultra HD audio, which will give 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
It’s easy to baulk at the thought of introducing a full 5.1 surround sound package into your home when you have limited space – but Wharfedale has just the solution.
A follow-up to the excellent DX-1HCP and DX-1SE speaker packages, the Wharfedale DX-2 is a tiny, charming and extremely capable 5.1 surround speaker package that has already had a significant reduction on its launch price.
Go up the price scale and you’ll find speaker packages (such as the Q Acoustics 3010i 5.1 Cinema Pack) that are more articulate, more precise and bigger-sounding. But they cost double what the Wharfedale does. The entertaining performance, the compact-yet-stylish build and appealing price tag – it’s impressive how much Wharfedale has bundled into the petite DX-2 package. It’s a great solution for AV fans tight on budget and space.
Read the full review: Wharfedale DX-2
Sony has excellent form with soundbars, and the flagship HT-A7000 soundbar is no different. A 7.1.2 slab of sound, this Dolby Atmos soundbar packs in 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. It’s not the same as having direct audio from the speaker above or the side, but it’s effective and dramatically enticing, enriching the viewing experience. The integrated sub is also particularly impressive with a taut, controlled and powerful performance.
The A7000 is as packed with streaming smarts as it is stuffed with speakers with Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast all on board and integration into a multi-room system – with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Home all supported.
Alongside two HDMI 2.1 pass-through sockets capable of handling 8K@60Hz, 4K@120Hz, and Dolby Vision HDR, there are ports for eARC, analogue and optical audio inputs and USB type-A. There’s also an analogue output for Sony’s Acoustic Center Sync, which lets a compatible Bravia TV become part of the soundbar’s centre channel when the two are connected using the supplied cable.
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
This speaker package makes for a listen that's straight-up fun, but with plenty of low-end rumbles to boot. The timing is snappy, making for fast but natural-sounding performance, while the centre speaker (which handles the all-important dialogue) is effortlessly dynamic and engaging.
If you want a real step up in performance, you'd have to spend around double, which just shows what great value this represents.
Pair it up with Yamaha's well-specced, entry-level RX-A2A. Sonically it's impressive and incredibly responsive, delivering punchy transients, spacious surround sound and plenty of musical drive.
Read the full review: Q Acoustics 3050i 5.1 Cinema Pack
The LG S95QR is LG’s flagship Dolby Atmos soundbar for 2022, boasting a massive 17 drivers in a 9.1.5 configuration; it’s a multi-speaker package comprising a primary soundbar, wireless subwoofer and two wireless rear speakers. It ups the ante on the brand’s previous models with the addition of side-firing drivers on the rears and an upward-firing centre channel that LG claims is a world first.
The main soundbar contains ten drivers, with left and right channels handled by two 20mm silk dome tweeters and two 52 x 99mm woofers. A pair of 50mm drivers on either end of the soundbar deliver surround side effects, while two 63mm units on the top surface supply height effects for immersive sound formats.
A 63mm driver faces forward in the centre, coupled with a 20mm silk dome tweeter on the top surface. Unlike the system’s other height drivers, this tweeter does not produce Atmos effects. Instead, it supplements the traditional front-facing driver for better dispersion and increased dialogue clarity. In a change from previous models, the wireless sub has an upgraded cabinet and a larger 20cm driver, while the rear speakers have a new apex design to distribute sound from its front, side and overhead driver more evenly across a claimed 135-degree space for more forgiving placement.
LG is as ever generous with the connectivity options on its flagship soundbars. The S95QR offers Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2 and Chromecast onboard. You can control your streaming service, adjust the volume and change sound modes with your voice, thanks to Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa support. There are eARC, optical and USB inputs for hardwired connections and two additional HDMI passthrough ports that support gaming features such as (VRR) and (ALLM). However, 4K HDR signals are only handled at up to 60Hz.
The S95QA not only handles Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive sound formats, but it’s LG’s first soundbar to include IMAX Enhanced support, which uses a modified version of DTS: X. If you hate unsightly cables running between your TV and soundbar, you can pair it with the new LG WOWCAST audio dongle (sold separately) to enjoy lossless multi-channel audio wirelessly.
Sonically the LG 95QR isn't musical or strong at delivering overhead effects, but for home theatre, it has a broadly balanced, spacious soundstage that is detailed, cinematic and engaging.
Read the full LG S95QR review
Two grand is a lot to spend on a soundbar, but this Sennheiser is something special. It's bigger than its rivals, but then it has much larger drivers and a built-in subwoofer, capable of delivering much more impactful sound. We're talking a genuine one-box home theatre solution.
The downside? Its size and driver placement means it can be a little tricky to situate. You're best off wall mounting it.
But if you can make space and are willing to make the investment, this soundbar will reward you in spades. It has a wealth of options when it comes to connections and supported wireless tech, and the sound quality will blow you away.
Read the full review: Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
Platin may not be a familiar name in home entertainment, but the Danish-American company’s Monaco 5.1 WiSA-enabled surround package is positioned as a cable-free (apart from power), compact, affordable and straightforward way to add hi-res 3D sound to your TV-viewing and gaming.
What is WiSA? WiSA is an audio standard, and to achieve accreditation, products must follow strict protocols for latency, synchronisation and compatibility. This means that systems such as the Platin Monaco 5.1 are able to send and receive audio at 24-bit/48kHz or 24-bit/96kHz sample rates with 5.2ms or 2.6ms of latency, respectively – all without connecting to your wi-fi network. It does so by way of a small hockey puck-shaped hub that attaches to your sound source (most likely a TV or games console) and transmits wirelessly to the five included speakers and subwoofer.
The Monaco 5.1 system can handle up to eight channels of uncompressed 24-bit/48kHz audio, and will support Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital+, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos and Dolby Atmos Virtual. Should you wish to create a 5.1.2 system, you can purchase an extra pair of satellites.
This is a straightforward-sounding system that delivers a lot of detail with less sonic compromise and a more immersive soundfield than most soundbars costing similar money could produce. In general, across films and music, there’s also a separation, clarity and directness, at least in part by virtue of the fronts and rears being equally considered and balanced.
Platin is currently available only at US stockists, but the company will deliver worldwide from its official site. Buyers in most countries will have to pay an import charge, though. Because it’s made for the US market, overseas shoppers should be aware that the included figure-of-eight power cables will need replacing with plugs appropriate to their region. Other than this, setting up the Monaco 5.1 system is surprisingly simple. Once the speakers are in place, and the WiSA hub is connected to the smart TV's ARC/eARC, all that’s required is to download the WiSA SoundSend app (available for iOS and Android).
Read the full Platin Monaco 5.1 WiSA speaker system review
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