The 10 Best 5.1 Speakers
This wiki has been updated 15 times since it was first published in May of 2016. You have just about finished building out your awesome new home theater -- the TV is hanging on the wall and the 5.1 receiver is ready to deliver truly immersive entertainment. All you need now is a set of these surround sound speakers. They will blow you away with their booming bass, crisp highs, and clear midrange audio for all your TV shows, sports, movies, music, and games. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best 5.1 speaker on Amazon.
December 16, 2019:
While soundbars have become increasingly popular in recent years, we found that only the Sonos Playbase Home Theater offered sufficient drivers angled properly enough to work effectively for center, front left, and front right channels. The rest of the options in our ranking rely on dedicated center channel speakers, as well as bookshelf or tower units to provide the left and right front channels.
Some of the higher-ranked items on our list earned their spots, at least in part, thanks to wireless capabilities, whether that means the whole system is wireless or just the sub. Ultimately, a wholly wireless system is an installation convenience, but you will have to make sure they're consistently powered to survive the length of a long film, TV binge marathon, or gaming session.
Ultimately, you're always going to get better sound out of bigger speakers, but bigger speakers aren't always going to be right for every theater space. Users should seriously take the floor plan of their screening room into account before signing up for something like the Klipsch Reference RP-250S, which is phenomenal, but rather large, and the Elac Cinema 5 Home Theater, which is tiny and effective, despite lacking bass response in bigger rooms.
Why Are They Called 5.1 Speakers?
The numbers in home theater systems are often regarded with confusion among customers.
The number to the left of the decimal represents the number of full channels the theater receiver can provide.
The numbers in home theater systems are often regarded with confusion among customers. From 2.1 to 11.2, it is easy to think that the number denotes a ratings system of some sort. The truth is easier to understand, yet does require some explaining.
The number to the left of the decimal represents the number of full channels the theater receiver can provide. Each of these channels has the ability to produce the normal range of audio frequencies the human ear can hear, from the high ringing of some action effects to even some normal bass notes in music. It is curious to note that our interpretation of this psychoacoustic range of sounds actually shapes our reality, which may shine some light into why surround sound speakers sound more real than normal speakers.
The number varies from two all the way to 11, meaning there are between two and 11 channels available. It is important to get a receiver that matches with the number of speakers the user would like. If a 2.1 receiver is purchased, yet the user is hoping to use five full channel speakers, they will be quite disappointed, as there will be three extra speakers that cannot be used. They would have had to purchase a 5.1 receiver to utilize all of them.
The number to the right of the decimal represents a different channel called the low frequency effects channel. This channel only produces extremely low frequencies ranging from 3 to 120 Hz, and is for a designated subwoofer. Because there is usually only one subwoofer, most speaker systems end in .1.
There are a few uncommon cases of speaker systems that have two low frequency effects channel outputs. This could be for left and right subwoofers, or for large areas like auditoriums which need more than one subwoofer to fully fill the space. In these cases, the speaker system would be marked 5.2, for example. It is not a requirement to use both of the channels, but can be beneficial if one subwoofer does not provide enough output. To simplify the concept, the 5.1 can be read as five full channels, one low channel.
Things To Look For In 5.1 Speakers
The most important aspect to consider when shopping for 5.1 speakers is the build quality. After spending a few hours setting up, installing, and programming the surround sound system as you want it, it would be a waste if the speakers blew within the first few uses. This is why it is so important to check for good cabinets like wood or high quality plastics, and to inquire about the diaphragms used in the speakers.
The cabinets will also have some sort of vent to allow pressurized air to exhaust in order to prevent damage to the cabinet.
The price will also be a factor for some. Speakers are finely tuned acoustic instruments, and the highest quality items will obviously cost more. However, it is possible to do some research and come away with quality speakers that do not break the bank.
Another thing to consider is the subwoofer cabinet. The quality of the cabinet design is important to keep from hearing rattling noises or distorted sounds over time. To be sure of this, the enclosure should be capable of withstanding the air pressure the speaker will provide while resisting deformation over time. This usually involves creating cabinets made of various types of wood which are the most sturdy and affect the sound less than other options.
The cabinets will also have some sort of vent to allow pressurized air to exhaust in order to prevent damage to the cabinet. There is a lot of pressure created by speakers, and woofers especially, so be wary of any cabinet that does not have some sort of vent.
Understanding The 5.1 Speaker Setup
There is a reason that the 5.1 speaker setup has been the industry standard for over 20 years now, and that is because it works very well. Having five full range channels provides enough of a spread for most rooms, and allows the sound to fill the space while providing enough dynamic sources to make people feel as though they are part of the event.
When a 5.1 speaker system is first opened up, it may look confusing and intimidating. There are a few different components which need to be understood before installing any home theater system. Once they are fully comprehended, the speaker system will provide endless hours of entertainment.
The rear left and right channels or the surround channels are where much of the immersive feeling comes from.
Advancements in television technology have brought us closer than ever to feeling as though we are in the action. While much of this has to do with the empathetic nature of humans when watching movies, that nature is definitely influenced by the realistic experience provided by well-produced movies on a life-sized screen. This visual experience is accented perfectly by the depth provided by a 5.1 channel speaker system.
It is key to understand how each of these channels works together to deliver that experience though. The center channel of the speaker system will provide an anchor point for the sound. This channel is usually where the spoken dialogue or musical lyrics will come out, and helps to keep most of the attention towards the television. The left and right front channels are the immediate accents to this channel, and provide the soundtrack information, backing tracks, or left and right audio for any stereo tracks. The rear left and right channels or the surround channels are where much of the immersive feeling comes from.
When designing sound production for 5.1 surround sound, sound technicians have the unique opportunity to pan sound from one end of the room to the other by having it start in one channel and move to another. This can create the sound of a car passing by or fill the room with different ambient sounds from the crowd at a live event. Capping it all off is the subwoofer, which provides the extremely low frequencies. Rumbling motors, explosions, and the bass notes of an amazing concert can all be felt with ease. Together, the six speakers work in harmony to make heartfelt songs more moving, and horror movies even more scary. This makes some researchers question if it leads people to be desensitized to violence or not. One thing is for certain, the experience is immersive.
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