When watching TV, many people simply use the built-in speakers for listening. While adequate, because of the flat design of modern TVs, this doesn’t offer anywhere near the optimal listening experience.
With the right surround sound system, not only is the audio rich and vibrant, but also your ears are able to pinpoint the exact location of each individual sound -- right, left, high, low, near, far, in front of, or behind.
In this guide, we've spotlighted our top surround sound system choices for 2020. Our new short list includes one long-standing favorite as well as two fresh picks. To discover which models made the cut, keep reading.
3. JBL Bar 5.1: JBL's 5.1 surround sound system delivers epic sound at a reasonable price, which is more than enough to boost it onto our list.
For full reviews of these products, scroll to the bottom.
What you need to know before buying a surround sound system
If there's one aspect of surround sound systems that you need to understand when shopping, it's the numbers. Every sound system has two or three numbers separated by a period. For instance, you could have a 2.0 system or a 5.1.2 system. If you understand what these numbers mean, you understand how to purchase a surround sound system.
The first number indicates how many regular speakers you have. These are most easily thought of as old-fashioned stereo speakers. For a 2.0 system, you get that old-fashioned stereo system -- two speakers in front of you with part of the sound coming out on the left and part on the right. When you move to 3.0, you get that all-important center channel where the dialogue sits. After that, the numbers move up by twos: 5.0, 7.0, 9.0. As the number increases, the amount of speakers increases, basically creating a circle around the listener.
The second number indicates how many subwoofers are in the system. This speaker is the one that carries all the low frequencies, the ones that make the house rock when there's an explosion in a movie you're watching. Typically, this number is 1, but in some instances, you can have a left and right subwoofer. A system with 5 regular speakers and 2 subwoofers would be a 5.2 system.
The third number indicates how many speakers are located in the ceiling (or at least pointed up). This makes the sound feel high or low, allowing you to take advantage of Dolby Atmos. This third number is usually 2 or 4. A system with 7 regular speakers, 1 subwoofer, and 4 overhead speakers would be a 7.1.4 system.
It's important to note that there are speakers designed to provide virtual surround sound. These are usually systems that have the speakers tilted in different directions, so it simulates surround sound. If you're a purist, you likely won't be happy with virtual surround sound, though it's a cost-effective solution for some.
Speaking of price, even budget-level systems can cost $400. To get a mid-range surround sound system -- something good for someone who loves being immersed in a movie or game -- you need to spend $500 to $1,000. If you want the best high-quality speakers, Dolby Atmos, and more, you can spend as much as $2,000 for a high-end surround sound system.
A. As a rule of thumb, most (but not all) of the speakers should be pointed toward the listener. There are directions on how to do this in the owner's manual. However, remember that you're the listener, so only you know when the speakers are positioned just right. Use the manual as a guide but trust your own ears for the details.
Q. What is Dolby Atmos?
A. In short, Dolby Atmos is a technology that allows you to add height to the sound. In essence, with Dolby Atmos you can distinguish the difference between an arrow being shot overhead and one landing by your feet.
What we like: This surround sound system features Dolby Atmos and DTS:X technologies. It comes with enough speakers to fully immerse you in multidimensional cinematic audio that takes your entertainment to the next level.
What we dislike: As long as you can afford this top-shelf item, you'll have no complaints.
What we like: This is one of the most cost-effective ways to get true cinema-quality sound in your home. This versatile system can connect to a total of six devices and it comes with an infrared remote.
What we dislike: Some users noted that they would have liked more control over the bass end sounds.
What we like: The speakers on this model deliver a massive sound, large enough that you can feel the air pressure hit you with low-end frequencies. The ease of setup makes the unit even more desirable.
What we dislike: As with other surround sound models, this one doesn't offer a great deal of control when it comes to the EQ.
Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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