The 6 Best Wireless Surround Sound Systems
This wiki has been updated 15 times since it was first published in October of 2018. Setting up a surround sound system in your home theater can be a pretty big hassle, especially when you consider all the wires you have to run to get the signal out to at least six different places. A wireless set does away with all the cables, sending your audio through the airwaves to most, if not all, of your speakers without creating any lag or discrepancy among units. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 11, 2020:
Many of the models included in our last ranking have seen updates, like the JBL Bar 9.1 Channel, which took a 5.1 surround system and nearly doubled its audio picture by adding upward and offset drivers to its satellites that are meant to bounce around your space, creating both height virtualization and a three-dimensional experience. The fact that you can easily charge these satellites' internal batteries by plugging them into the soundbar is an added bonus.
Anyone looking to utilize their set for more than just movies, however, might want to consider something like the Sony HT-Z9F, which has simple modes you can select to change the equalization to the ideal setting for applications beyond just film dialogue enhancement. The Bose Lifestyle 650 Home Entertainment is also a great choice for music lovers, though it really needs to be noted that only its rear satellites are wireless, and they require the use of wireless receiver units to function as such.
For a classic surround environment that is expandable within the company's well-regarded system, the Sonos Beam 5.1 is a fine choice, especially considering its force-canceling subwoofer drivers that balance each other out to prevent the kind of unwanted vibration you often get from the bass port on less well-designed models.
October 31, 2018:
This category remains a little on the thin side as it's a relatively new technology that allows a Bluetooth signal to travel simultaneously without lag or discrepancy to this many speakers. Names you might expect are at the forefront, like Bose and JBL, but there are some new players working specifically on this kind of system, like Damson or Enclave, that have very competitive offerings.
Why You Need A Wireless Surround Sound System
The last piece is your subwoofer, which gives you a range of low frequencies, some of which you can hear, while others you can only feel.
With the proliferation of fantastic speakers for the home, it would be understandable if you found yourself upgrading from the built-in speakers in your television to a nice soundbar, and appreciating the difference so much that you stop there. Lots of high-end soundbars in the right configuration can actually do a decent job giving you a stereo experience.
Stereo, however, is just the beginning. If you find yourself giddy at the thought of a top-tier soundbar or a powerful pair of freestanding or bookshelf speakers, then upgrading to a surround sound system will turn every movie into Christmas morning. That is, of course, if you can manage to install it properly. This is where surround sound systems truly enter the 21st century. But before we get to that, let’s establish how surround sound functions.
A surround sound system consists most commonly of six speakers. These are called 5.1 systems, which refers to their five standard speakers and one subwoofer. In a traditional setup, the five mains consist of your center channel, which conveys film dialogue and music mids; your left and right channels, which create a complete stereo image; and two rear channels on each side, which give the technology its name as it effectively surrounds you with a three-dimensional audio environment. The last piece is your subwoofer, which gives you a range of low frequencies, some of which you can hear, while others you can only feel.
With a wired setup, those rear speakers require that you run cable all the way from the back of your receiver (which is commonly located on or around your TV stand) to a space behind your primary seating area. That’s either going to create an unsightly run of wires or you’re going to have to drill into your wall or ceiling to run the speaker cable through there.
Most wireless surround sound systems solve this problem for you by outfitting you with wireless satellite speakers for your rear channels, and occasionally wireless subwoofers, as well. These are often equipped with built-in rechargeable batteries, and connect to your receiver via Bluetooth. Rarely will a system also offer wireless center or side channel speakers, as their proximity to the receiver negates a lot of the benefits of wirelessness with some small sacrifices in sound that would come from a connection without wires. However, some contemporary systems employ wireless soundbars in place of center, left, and right speakers.
Choosing The Best System For You
Figuring out which wireless surround system is right for you will have a lot to do with its intended space, as well as your most likely uses for it. There are a few things that would differentiate a smart choice for music from a wise selection for a home theater, for example.
Generally speaking, though, the more input options you can see, the more flexible your system is going to be.
We briefly got into a discussion of 5.1 systems above, but you’re liable to see systems labeled 7.1, 7.2, 9.2, and so on. Often, any system 9.2 or above will be designed with a split space in mind, in which you can have a traditional 5.1 or 7.1 array in something like a theater room, and another 2.1 or 4.1 setup in an adjacent room. These kinds of setups are ideal for hosting large parties where you want guests to be able to enjoy the same tunes in multiple rooms. The most straightforward setup is a 5.1, however, and it will be compatible with the widest range of media, so you don’t have to worry about your receiver trying to split a stereo signal into eight channels. You might only get the most out of a 7.1 system or higher if you're a dedicated gamer.
What you can actually put into a given receiver is as important as what comes out of it, and looking at the backs of some of these units can immediately make most consumers go cross-eyed. Generally speaking, though, the more input options you can see, the more flexible your system is going to be. Ideally, you want to be able to switch from your TV to your Blu-ray player, and later to a video game console or streaming box without touching anything more than the source button on your remote. Multiple HDMI inputs are important here, as is a phono input if you want to use a record player, since these require dedicated preamps to function at their best.
Will You Tune Your Room?
Depending on what model of receiver comes with your surround sound system, there’s a good chance that it will come with its own little microphone. These mics are usually meant to be placed in the exact center of your speaker array, so they can help ensure you perceive the most realistic sound balance possible.
And if you move something around or want to start from scratch, you can use the mic again.
Now, to call this room tuning is a little bit of an overreach, as room tuning is when a professional technician combines behind-the-wall audio insulation with foam squares, partitions, and other architectural tools to create a sonically neutral (or specifically designed) space in a recording studio. Your theater doesn't need that. What it does need is a good sense of how acoustically reflective your walls are, how far apart your speakers are from one another, and how far apart everything is from the receiver itself.
These mics are actually designed to hear in 360 degrees, so when you place one in the middle of the room and it hears exactly what it needs to hear pumping through your system, it’ll know precisely what was coming from where. At least the best ones will. As the feature becomes more desirable, lesser brands have included cut-rate versions of it in their kits. Denon and Yamaha probably have the best room tuning mics in the business.
Just make sure you allow for discrepancies between the room as your receiver sees it and how you want it to sound. After you let the mic do its job and it makes adjustments to your EQ and balance, you can put it away and tweak those parameters to your heart’s content, even adding outboard equalization if you like. And if you move something around or want to start from scratch, you can use the mic again.