The Best Surround Sound Systems 2020: Affordable Starter Sets - Rolling Stone
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The Best Beginner Surround Sound Systems

Not only will a surround system enhance modern music, movies and games, but a great setup can breathe new life into your old media too

Subwoofer Speaker On Focus; Shutterstock ID 1144309376; Purchase Order: 2520; Job: sub; Client/Licensee: spy

Shutterstock / Moises Bissu

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When trying to recreate the theater experience in your home, there’s really nothing quite like a surround sound system. Movies are immediately more immersive, games become realistic, and songs slap harder when you’ve got 360 degrees of sound pulsating and vibrating through your house and body.

What You Need to Know When Shopping for a Surround Sound System

From the stock photos, these systems can look pretty simple – just a subwoofer on the floor, and 4-6 other speakers scattered around the room. But finding the best surround sound system requires some research first.

Components: Normally, a regular two-speaker stereo setup with a left and right channel is simply called a 2.0 system. Once you add in a third, center-channel speaker, it becomes 3.0. This third speaker is where surround sound starts, and is the most important component of the setup, handling most of the heavy lifting.

The LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel, better known as the subwoofer, is where you’ll get all the bass-y low end punch to really rumble and rattle the room. Adding in the ‘woofer now makes it a 3.1 system, while adding in dual LFEs brings it up to a 3.2.

Finally, surround speaker placement is crucial. You’ll need at least two (bringing it up to a 5.1 system, or a 7.1 with two more additional speakers) for a true surround-sound experience, and these are typically placed off to the side, slightly behind where you’ll be sitting.

Audio Configurations: Knowing the different audio configurations is necessary too, such as DTS or Dolby Digital. Both are companies that make the digital sound signal that’s sent to your receiver, and help direct certain sounds out of certain speakers – for example, bass going to the subwoofer, or a car driving up from behind you going to the rear speakers. There are varying levels of sound quality signaling, and it all depends on how you’ll be watching or listening to your media. Dolby Digital and DTS are fine for DVDs and some games, but for streaming and especially for Blu-Rays, you may want to consider a system with a higher signal capability.

Sizing: We’ve rounded up some of our favorite surround sound systems here, with both large setups and all-in-one units too. The system you pick will depend on the space you have allocated to it at home. The larger surround sound systems come with speakers you’ll want to liberally space out around the room. For those in smaller apartments, or looking for something for their office, a more compact unit could be best.

Not only will a surround system enhance modern music, movies and games, but a great setup can also breathe new life into your old media too, letting you hear your soundtrack and effects like never before.

We’ve selected four systems here to get you started as you search for your perfect surround setup.

1. Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1.4 Sound System

This Nakamichi system takes home audio to the next level, with powerful performance in a feature-rich system.

For starters, Nakamichi says just the soundbar alone projects a 35% wider soundstage area than conventional soundbars. Then there’s the powerful 8-inch wireless subwoofer. This baritone beast delivers a bass-y boom that’ll shake the room. Feel the impact of low frequencies rattle in your bones, as this down-firing ‘woofer blasts bass effects onto the floor, where it spreads equally in every direction to envelop you in an immersive experience.

Nakamichi’s exclusive tech enhancements include three advanced audio processing engines, which work together to pinpoint directionality and give a large sense of spaciousness, letting you discover even the smallest extra details of any audio. The 7.1.4 channels of moving audio flows all around and through your home theater, taking your sonic experience to new heights with 105dB of room-filling sound that’ll stand up to anything you’re listening to.

Don’t forget about the back, too; Nakamichi’s two-way rear speakers produce rich and sweeping surround sound from behind, and are an industry first. They connect directly to the sub through RCA wires, and are built with a tweeter that reproduces high frequencies clearly and effortlessly. It also has a full-range driver for powerful effects too.

An excellent and enveloping audio experience. Comes with everything you need, including a remote to control your entire home theater, and ports to connect to six devices. And no need to hide the speakers around the room — they look sleek and modern and can stand on their own.

Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1.4 Channel 600W Dolby Atmos Soundbar with 8" Wireless Subwoofer

Courtesy Amazon

2. Bose SoundTouch 30 Wireless Speaker

If you’re looking to go fully wireless, one of the most popular companies in the home audio space offers an excellent option.

The Bose SoundTouch 30 works wirelessly through WiFi and Bluetooth to play music from your fave streaming service, Internet radio station, or stored collection. Not only is it wireless, but hands-free as well: the new Bose Skill for Amazon’s Alexa means you can sync the SoundTouch speaker to your Echo Dot and activate it purely by voice.

Though wireless, the speaker itself is pretty powerful, enough to fill up even the largest room in your house with deep and full sound.

This isn’t a true surround sound system, though you can always add on to it with another Bose wireless speaker and grow your multi-speaker home theater setup.

Portable and powerful. Also comes with a handy remote featuring six presets for your favorite playlists, stations and podcasts, and an OLED display for time, song, station information and more.

Bose SoundTouch 30 wireless speaker, works with Alexa - Black

Courtesy Amazon

 

3. LG XBOOM XBOOM Bluetooth Audio System

One of the most common, and most infuriating, issues with modern tech is that with every new generation, the convenient features we know and love seem to vanish in the big push to minimalism. They’re either gone forever, or force you to shell out an additional few hundred dollars on an external device.

But LG has found a nice balance of new age and old school in one great system. The XBOOM features the things you’d expect nowadays, such as Bluetooth wireless connectivity and USB ports, but they haven’t forgotten about your (or your parents’) CD collection either.

This is one of the few new options out there to include a CD player, so if that’s a must-have for you, this is your go-to choice for sure. There’s even an “auto-DJ” feature to cut out the blank seconds of silence between songs and keep the party flowing. You can also transfer songs from one USB to another, harkening back to the days when you would dub a cassette copy of your buddy’s mixtape. Plus an FM radio tuner is included too, for those of you who still enjoy a live broadcast instead of a podcast every now and then.

The system goes way beyond just the novelty nostalgia though. With 700 watts of total power, the XBOOM lives up to the name, and will fill any room in your house with deep, crisp sound. This is a 2.1 channel configuration.

LG CM4590 XBOOM XBOOM Bluetooth Audio System with 700 Watts Total Power

Courtesy Amazon

Courtesy Amazon

4. Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System

Logitech’s 5.1 digital surround sound system brings theater-quality acoustics to your music, movies, and games, and will have you hearing each and every detail just the way the artist or director intended – at up to 1000w of peak power. The THX-certified speakers deliver crisp cinema sound, and the compact control console connects effortlessly to all your devices (up to six). 

The low end in the small 165-watt woofer is plentiful and deep, giving a thunderous shake to the room. The wireless remote lets you instantly control and personalize your home theater experience to enhance whatever you’re watching or playing.

Revisiting old movies and games is just as enjoyable as playing new ones too. The five Z906 speakers automatically convert the two-channel stereo sound from your favorite old media, and spins them into a new all-encompassing surround sound experience.

Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System

Courtesy Amazon

Courtesy Amazon

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