Though the price tags of these speaker packages can be initially jarring, remember than you’re paying for six separate pieces of equipment (seven, if the package also includes a receiver) designed to work in tandem but equally capable of working independently if you upgrade or replace individual components in the future. Here are the 4 best 5.1 speaker systems on the market:
Klipsch Gallery G-16
Designed with a home theater in mind, this speaker system (see full specs) includes three Gallery G-16 speakers, two Gallery G-12 speakers, and a BIC Acoustech PL-200 subwoofer. Gallery speakers are specifically designed to complement flat-screen televisions and are some of the thinnest speakers available, which gives them a sleek, modern look and allows them to fit comfortably on most TV stands. The drivers use the horn technology Klipsch is known for, projecting sound waves directly toward your ears to reduce sound reflection while maintaining a surprisingly warm upper frequency. The speakers can be individually configured to be either a right, left, center, or surround speaker, giving you more options to get the perfect sound from your home theater. These are easily among the best 5.1 speaker systems.
At around $700, this truly modern surround sound package is an excellent value. It comes equipped with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth receivers and includes subscriptions to a variety of internet radio and music streaming services. Onkyo is best known for their high-quality receivers, and while that is the star of this package, the speakers are equally powerful and versatile. The front speakers are Dolby Atmost-enabled to give you theater quality sound, with a special driver for height effects gives you the feel of being truly surrounded by sound. Especially great for larger rooms, which the system can fill with articulate and authoritative sound. These should be on any list of the best 5.1 surround sound speakers for the money.
Polk Audio TSX550T
This speakers in this set are from the TSX550 line, a Bic PL-200 subwoofer, and a Harman Kardon AVR 2700 receiver, all equipment at the top of their respective product lines. This system (see full specs) is designed to fill any room with powerful enveloping sound produced by the Polk-exclusive Dynamic Balance drivers. The cones in these are made of fiber-infused polymers layered together in a bi-laminate design which forms a lightweight and effective cone that eliminates distortion in the sound. These are likely the best 5/1 speakers if you want a multi-use set-up that’s equally as effective playing music as it is with movies and video games. The cherry finish on the cabinets makes them an attractive addition to any room’s décor.
Boston Acoustics SoundWareXS5.1B
Stylish, compact, and affordable, this is the best 5.1 speaker system on the list for those with budget or space limitations. The satellite speakers are small enough to fit in one hand, and weigh only one pound each. The sound engineers at Boston Acoustics took a page from the car stereo design book and mounted the tweeter in front of the midrange driver for a crisp and clear sound without any distortion, leaving the bass tones to the 8” subwoofer. Though not as powerful as some other systems, the sound favors quality over quantity. It’s ideal in smaller rooms, and could even work in a college dorm, something few other 5.1 systems can claim.
What is 5.1?
Speaker systems are classified by a two-part number. The first represents the number of speakers; the second, the number of subwoofers. By that logic, then, a 5.1 system simply means there are five speakers and one subwoofer, typically arranged with three speakers in the front (left, right, and center) and two in the back (left and right surround). A good 5.1 system is the foundation of any home theater set-up. It’s relatively easy to expand the system to a 7.1 or even a 9.2 in the future, provided your receiver has the capability for more channels, but for most rooms and listeners, five speakers produce all the sound you need.
Setting Up Your Speakers
The placement of speakers in a room affects the sound imaging or your brain’s interpretation of the three dimensional space based on how the soundwaves hit your ears. Though this is important in the placement of all speakers, it’s especially crucial in effective surround sound.
Your front speakers will be centered on your television. The center channel should go directly above or below the screen, as close to the middle as you can get it. If this puts the tweeters significantly higher or lower than your ear level when seated, tilt it accordingly toward your listening position. Position your left and right channel speakers so they form a slight arc, pointed toward the seating area. Ideally, you want the tweeters in these speakers to be at ear level when you’re seated and listening. Tower speakers have typically been designed with this in mind, but for shorter speakers this may mean putting them on shelves or poles to raise them to the correct height.
Your surround speakers will be centered on your listening position. Place them to the left and right of your seating area, either directly to the side or just behind. If your space doesn’t allow for side placement you can put them behind you facing front. The purpose of these rear speakers is atmospheric, so unlike with the front speakers, you don’t want to put the tweeters level with your ear, and if possible should have them higher on the wall, at about head level when you’re standing.
Lower frequency waves are omnidirectional, so you don’t have to worry too much about where you put the subwoofer from a sound perspective, and can simply place it wherever in the room is most convenient. Sound waves have a tendency to reflect off of hard surfaces, which can distort the sound. Combat this by using softer materials wherever possible in the décor, whether that means fluffy couches and arm chairs as furniture, tapestries hung from the walls, or favoring wood over metal as a construction material. With the best 5.1 speakers thoughtfully placed within the room, any home can be set up with theater quality sound. Good luck!