What to Look for When Selecting a Surround Sound System

Sitting room surround sound system
DISCLOSURE: The author, Ellen Parker, has commercial partnerships with the brands mentioned and linked to in this post. See disclaimerOpens in a new tab. for more information.

Did you hear that rasping sound? Hmm. There it is again! It sounds like it’s coming from the back. No, wait, the front! Now it’s behind again, now the right…it’s everywhere!

And that is how you’ll feel with surround sound. True to its name, surround sound literally surrounds you with sound with 5.1 channels:

  • Center speaker located above or below the television —> provides the soundtrack and dialogue
  • Left and right front channels —> provides the musical score and sound effects
  • Rear left and right channels —> provides additional sound effects for atmosphere and ambiance
  • Subwoofer placed near the television —> adds the extra 0.1 sound and provides the bass

There are other variations, such as 7.1 and 9.1 surround sound, that include additional two and four speakers, but the gist is that this setup provides 360° sound that completely envelops you and recreates the experience of going to a movie theater or watching your favorite artist perform live.

Now that you’re familiar with surround sound and what it provides, it’s time to focus on choosing the best one for you.

Budget and Space

Whatever you buy in life, be it a wireless surround sound system, a television, a car and even a sandwich, you’ll always be tied to your budget. If you have $5 to spend on a sandwich, you simply can’t buy one that costs $6.

With this in mind, what’s your budget? If you’re strapped for cash and still want 5.1 surround sound, consider trading in the three front speakers for a single soundbarOpens in a new tab. that provides the same benefits — center speaker and left and right channelsOpens in a new tab. — at a lower cost.

Related: Five of the Best Gadgets you can GiftOpens in a new tab.

Similarly, if you live in a small NYC studio with barely enough space to fully open your closet door, then a soundbar will also be of great use to you because you can mount it above or below the TV. So instead of setting up three separate speakers, you only have to contend with one device.


Decided on a budget? Good. Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to focus on placement. Remember, the point is to surround yourself with sound, so do just that by following these directions (illustrated in the image above):

  • You, the listener: You belong in the center
  • Center Speaker: Place this directly in front of you
  • Left and Right Front Speakers: Place these -30° and 30° in front of you
  • Rear Left and Right Speakers: Place these -110° and 110° behind you
  • Subwoofer: Place the subwoofer right next to the television (-22° or 22° in front of you)

The instructions above are for the 5.1 setup with 5 speakers and a subwoofer. If you’re opting for the 5.1 setup that utilizes the soundbar, do the same, just ignore the front speakers and instead place the soundbar above or below the television.

Connectivity: Wired vs. Wireless Surround Sound

Last but not least, are you looking for a wired or a wireless surround sound system? Before you choose wired because you think that it breeds superior quality, keep in mind that this was the case 10 years ago, not today. Rapid advancements in wireless technology, such as the advent of WiFi speakers, have spurred wireless forward, so don’t knock it until you try it.

That being said, wires are annoying; they get in the way, they trip you up, and you have to arrange furniture around them. If you do get a wired system, though, check your electronics’ A/V connections and make sure that they’re compatible with new system.

If you go for a wireless option, some brands like DenonOpens in a new tab. offer wireless speakersOpens in a new tab. that have both Bluetooth® and WiFi connectivity, which allows you to sync with other speakers throughout your home for a multi-room listening experience. Another plus, you can use the HEOS app to control everything from the palm of your hand, and stream from your favorite music streamingOpens in a new tab. service like Spotify®, TIDAL, SoundCloud, iHeartRadio and more.

Final Thoughts and TL;DR

Too busy to read the whole article? No worries, all you have to know is that surround sound gives you a 360° sound experience, exchanging a soundbar for the three front speakers is for you if you’re strapped for cash or space, placement comes down to degrees (you really should take a look at the placement image above for this one), and wires are annoying, so go for Wireless.

Enjoy your surround sound!

Related: How Researchers Transmit Sound Using Light

J Robert

Hello. I started writing about satellite TV about 5 years ago. My work is to create resources that will help us learn more about Digital Media and how they can best serve us.

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