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Best Surround Sound Systems for Beginners in 2021

We’ve researched the best surround sound systems for beginners and compiled this guide to help you shop.

Best overall

Price: $6,146.00
Subwoofer: 12" (x2)
Receiver: included

Best bang for your buck

Price: $1,829.90
Subwoofer: 10"
Receiver: sold separately

Best for small spaces

Price: $1,069.90
Subwoofer: 8"
Receiver: sold separately

Best for mid-sized rooms

Price: $999.99
Subwoofer: 12"
Receiver: sold separately

Best budget system

Price: $206.87
Subwoofer: 8"
Receiver: sold separately

Data effective as of 11/20/20.

Is a surround sound system worth it?

In TV and film, sound adds dimension to a scene. It lets you know where sounds are coming from, drawing you deeper into what you’re watching. So good on you for upgrading your to surround sound—your home theater is about to sound more like a real cinema.

Here’s a preview of our picks from most expensive to most affordable. Click the links to jump straight to each system’s section.

What’s surround sound?

A surround sound system makes watching movies at home like watching movies . . . at the movies. Systems consist of five or more speakers and a subwoofer, and they require an audio/video receiver (AVR)—sold separately—to function.

Surround sound system components

  • Audio/video receiver (AVR): This splits your TV’s audio signal into separate channels and sends it to its matching speaker.
  • Center speaker: This carries sounds that come from the center of your screen (like dialogue).
  • Front speakers: These play sounds coming from the corresponding sides of your screen.
  • Rear speakers: These play sounds that appear to come from behind you.
  • Subwoofer: It’s all about the bass.

There are many possible speaker configurations, but the most common is 5.1 channel, consisting of five speakers and a subwoofer. A 7.2.2 channel system has seven speakers and two subwoofers—and the third number tells you that two of the speakers (not the subs) should be installed above ear level for a 3D effect.

We discuss configs more below in the section about audio/video receivers.

Top surround sound systems for beginners

With sound systems, you get what you pay for. But just because you can’t spend a fortune doesn’t mean you can’t get a great sound system.

Then again, if you have the extra money, there are some sweet setups out there that’ll enhance your home theater experience and shake your neighbors’ teeth loose.

What about soundbars?

A soundbar is an all-in-one speaker that sits in front of, and plugs directly into, your TV—no AVR required. Some offer “virtual surround sound” with an included subwoofer or the ability to add extra speakers.

Actual surround sound systems, however, have superior sound. And you can find surround systems like the Monoprice 10565 Premium 5.1 for the same price as some higher-end soundbars.

If you can handle self-installation (or the cost of pro installation), we recommend going with a surround sound system instead of a soundbar.

Learn more about soundbars vs. surround sound

Price: $6,146.00
Subwoofers: 12″ (2)
Receiver: included

Pros

  • 7.2.2 channel Dolby Atmos for 3D surround sound
  • Marantz receiver included

Cons

  • High price

This Klipsch surround sound system is the biggest and baddest on our list—and the only one to include an A/V receiver. But its price makes it the best pick for only the most well-heeled home theater junkies.

We could’ve recommended a bigger and more expensive rig, but this 7.2.2 Dolby Atmos configuration is already an awesomely ridiculous starter setup.

Included components:

  • (2) Klipsch RP-8060FA floorstanding speaker with Dolby Atmos
  • (1) Klipsch RP-504C center-channel speaker
  • (2) Klipsch RP-502S Reference Premiere surround speakers
  • (2) Klipsch R-120SW 12″ subwoofers
  • (1) Marantz SR7013 9.2-Channel 4K Ultra HD AV Receiver with Amazon Alexa and HEOS

Best bang for your buck: ELAC Debut 2.0–5.1 System

Price: $1,829.90
Subwoofer: 10″
Receiver: sold separately

Pros

  • High quality for a great price

Cons

  • Higher price (for most budgets)

Moderately priced for such an advanced sound system, the ELAC Debut 2.0 sound system brings together some of the highest-rated ELAC speakers on Amazon. It’s also the best system for those who want premium power for a good price—even if that price is still a little high.

At nearly $2,000, it’s still on the expensive end—but the quality justifies the price. It’s probably a much better choice for your first system. Save the extra $4,000 for your next one.

Included components:

  • (2) 6-½” F6.2 floorstanding speakers
  • (1) 6-½” C6.2 center speaker
  • (2) 6-½” B6.2 bookshelf speakers
  • (1) 10” Sub3010 subwoofer

Best for small spaces: Paradigm Cinema 100 CT 5.1

Price: $1,069.90
Subwoofer: 8″
Receiver: sold separately

Pros

  • Great for small apartments and dorms

Cons

  • No dedicated center-channel speaker

It can be hard to find a surround sound system that’s not too cumbersome or loud for apartments, dorms, and roommate situations. But this compact and robust system offers the best of both worlds.

It comes with five identical satellite speakers that can work in any position, including center channel. We’d prefer that it had a dedicated speaker designed expressly for the center channel instead of the same speaker in every position—but this is fine for starters.

Included components:

  • (5) 3-½” Cinema 100 satellite speakers
  • (1) 8” Cinema Sub subwoofer

Best for mid-sized rooms: SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 Speaker System

Best for mid-sized rooms

Price: $1,069.90
Subwoofer: 8″
Receiver: sold separately

Pros

  • Power enough for mid-sized rooms
  • Bigger subwoofer than comparable systems

Cons

  • Possibly too powerful for smaller spaces

Another compact system, the SVS is similar to the Paradigm in that it’s great for smaller spaces—but maybe a little too loud for them since it has a bigger, more powerful subwoofer.

That beefy sub means that the SVS will be fine for apartments and dorm rooms—but it’s gonna get loud. To keep the peace in your building, use this in a house instead of an apartment.

Included components:

  • (5) Prime Satellite speakers
  • (1) 12” SB-1000 subwoofer

Best budget system: Monoprice 10565 Premium 5.1

Price: $206.87
Subwoofer: 8″
Receiver: sold separately

Pros

  • Incredible sound for low, low price

Cons

  • Enough power to bug the neighbors

Like its two predecessors, the Monoprice 10565 Premium 5.1 rig is also perfect for smaller spaces—but it’s also great for smaller budgets since it’s about $800–$900 less expensive. Students should dig that.

It’s still plenty powerful, though, so maybe don’t crank it to 11 ‘cause it’ll trigger your neighbors.

Included components:

  • (4) 3” satellite speakers w/ ¾” dome tweeters
  • (1) 3” center channel speaker
  • (1) 8” subwoofer

Necessary accessories

When you level up your home theater sound system, you’ll need some extra gear: an audio/video receiver (AVR) and some speaker wire.

Audio/Video Receiver (AVR)

Now that you’re home-theater-ing on a whole ‘nother level, you should know something: surround sound systems aren’t plug-and-play. You’re managing extra speakers, all of which perform different functions and operate on individual channels. That’s where an AVR comes in handy.

For a 5.1 system, which has five speakers and one subwoofer, you’ll need at least a 5.1 channel AVR. But you could use a 5.2 or 7.1 channel AVR with a 5.1 channel system if you plan to add speakers or subwoofers later on.

What does 5.1 channel surround sound mean?

  • First number: This tells you how many of your system’s speakers should sit at ear level. So 5.1 has five, while 7.2 has seven.
  • Second number: This counts subwoofers—5.1 has one, and 7.2 has two. These go on the floor.
  • Third number: This tells you how many of the included speakers should sit above ear level to create a 3D effect. Our recommended Klipsch 7.2.2 channel system has two.

Speaker Wire

Surround systems don’t include speaker wire—and you’re gonna need that to connect speakers to your AVR.

To see how much wire you need, use this checklist:

Length

Measure distance (and, if wall-mounting, height) from your AVR to each speaker location. Add a couple of extra feet to each measurement so you’ll have some slack to work with during installation. Add all the numbers, plus an extra 20% in case you ever need to move a speaker or repair a connection.

Wire type

If you plan to hide your wires under carpet, you’ll need to buy flat, insulated wire. If you intend to run your wires behind your walls, you’ll need UL rated (CL3) wire.

In these cases, most beginners will want to hire a professional to do the installation.

Gauge (thickness)

For most installs, the most common wire gauge is 16-gauge. But the following situations require thicker-gauge wire:

  • Speakers that sit further than 50 ft. from your AVR
  • Low-impedance speakers
  • Higher-powered systems

Again, since you’re a beginner, we recommend that you consult a professional if any of the above apply to your system.

Pro tip: Yes, wireless surround sound systems are a thing. Wired systems have better, more dependable sound than wireless ones. When the technology improves enough, we’ll include wireless recommendations.

But if your heart’s set on wireless—or you can’t stand the idea of pulling up carpet or baseboards, or drilling holes in your walls to run wire—try the Klipsch Reference Theater Pack 5.1 ($537.94).

What to look for in a surround sound system

There are a few things you should consider before dropping hard-won dough on a surround sound system.

Budget

With speakers, you usually get what you pay for. Still, an inexpensive sound system is loads better than your TV speakers.

As far as AVRs go, conventional wisdom would suggest you can cut costs by going with a cheaper one. The differences between cheap and expensive AVRs are less noticeable than the differences between cheap and expensive speakers.

Room size

For smaller rooms, you’ll be fine with a 5.1 surround sound system. Larger rooms might require an additional subwoofer, so a 5.2 system would work. For really large spaces, consider 7.2 or higher.

Install and setup

Setting up your first surround sound system can be tricky—it entails taking multiple measurements, drilling holes, running wires (possibly in sneaky places).

You can find beginner-friendly guides on YouTube, and self-installation can save you a good chunk o’ change. But there’s no shame in asking a handy friend or relative for help—or even hiring a pro.

Ports

Make sure your receiver of choice has enough ports to connect all your gear. Many modern options also offer wireless connectivity, such as Bluetooth, which makes streaming music from your phone super simple.

Final take

With a new sound system, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got plenty of great shows to enjoy in your home theater. Imagine being fully immersed in Game of Thrones—and hearing Tyrion Lannister’s booming voice—on the big screen with surround sound.

And if you’re gonna watch Game of Thrones, you’ll need HBO® or HBO Max. We can help you find a great deal on a new  cable (or satellite or fiber or streaming) TV package. Enter your zip code below to find a provider in your area.

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TV sound system FAQ

What is a good cheap surround sound system?

The Monoprice 10565 Premium 5.1 ($206.87) providers a lot of power for one of the best prices we’ve found.

What is the best sound system for TV?

The best sound system for TV depends on your room size. A 5.1 channel surround sound system—with five speakers and one subwoofer—will do nicely for most rooms. The Monoprice 10565 Premium 5.1 ($206.87) is a good bet at a great price.

For larger rooms, try a 5.2 channel system, which includes an additional subwoofer. If your room is really large, consider a 7.2 system like the Klipsch 7.2.2 Reference Premiere Home Theater System with Marantz Receiver ($6.146.00), which has an extra subwoofer and two more rear speakers.

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