In recent years there has been a change of requirements from customers looking to purchase the best and most suitable surround sound system for their homes and the VIZIO S5451w-C2 5.1 Channel Sound Bar with Subwoofer and Surrounds is the perfect example why. Previously people were looking for bulky systems where the impressive look of the purchase represented the quality of the sound that the surround sound system projected. Now the products that are most in demand are compact, sleek, easy to use and arrange surround sound systems that do not compromise on anything. This VIZIO S5451w-C2 ticks all of those boxes and more with its quality sound, ease of use and visually pleasing look.
However, for someone looking for a surround sound system that is designed specifically for spacious rooms and for someone who is also willing to spend more for a name that stands for quality, there is the Bose Acoustimass 10 Series V Theater Speaker System.
This Bose product packs a punch in a very compact design that impressively fills a larger sized home theater with excellent surround sound. As a very recent release, the Bose Acoustimass 10 has fixed some of the shortcomings in its previous editions and has made its module and speakers more powerful. This surround sound system is an investment, but definitely worth every penny.
Moving on from Bose to a much more reasonably priced option. For someone on the look out for a less expensive surround sound system, that also gives them peace of mind that they are getting the best possible product for their budget, there is the Onkyo SKS-HT540 7.1 Channel Home Theater Speaker System. This 7.1 surround sound system surprises with how much it has to offer for the lower price. This Onkyo is a perfect pick for someone looking for a first taste of the surround sound experience and the purchase will most likely lead to larger investments in the future. The Onkyo SKS-HT540 is guaranteed to give you the surround sound bug and there is no turning back once you’ve caught it.
Table of Contents
- What is surround sound?
- What is the difference between 5.1 and 7.1 Surround Sound?
- Why should I invest in a Surround Sound System?
- Top Pick
- The Runner-up
- The Budget Pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- What is the best surround sound system for gaming?
- Which AV receiver should I pick for my surround sound system?
- Wrapping it up
What is Surround Sound?
As the term suggests, surround sound is audio that surrounds the listener from all sides. The term is mostly used to describe movie theater and home theater speaker systems that send sound from several audio channels in speakers that are placed in a way so that the listener experiences a 360 degree audio landscape, making the sound not only more impressive but also realistic. Surround sound enhances the intricate details that are usually inaudible in two channel systems and makes it possible for it to feel like the listener is in the middle of it all and part of the action. The effect that is achieved when one finds the perfect placement of the speakers and sound that they send is called the ‘sweet spot’. This term describes the experience of the listener hearing the sounds the exact way that the person mixing it had designed it to be heard.
According to an article published in 1941 by John Schmul, the first successful commercial attempt at achieving surround sound was Disney’s Fantasia. The set up included 54 speakers and was called Fantasound.
A surround sound system these days is much easier to set up than it was in 1941. To achieve surround sound you need to use three or more sound sources. The most popular home theater surround sound systems today are 5.1 and 7.1.
What is the difference between 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound?
The difference between 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound is purely in how many sources the sound is coming from. 5.1 surround sound functions using five channels of sound ‘ right, left, right surround, left surround and center. The 5.1 systems have one channel for low frequency effects which works through a subwoofer.
Accordingly, a 7.1 surround sound system uses seven channels ‘ right, left, right surround, left surround, right rear, left rear, center and just like the 5.1 technology, it also has one channel for low frequency effects which is sent to the subwoofer.
The subwoofer is responsible for low bass frequencies that does not require specific placement instructions as long as it can freely fill the space that it is put in. The size of the subwoofer depends on the size of the space that you have chosen to set up your home theater in. The larger the room, the larger and more powerful the subwoofer as it will need to fill more space with bass.
Going back to the difference between 5.1 and 7.1, the more sources of sound you have, the higher the number. There is a specific, recommended way of how to place the speakers around the room for the ultimate effect for each number of speakers. Surround sound system manufacturers themselves recommend the user to play around with the set up to see what works best for them as the way sound travels depends on the size of the room and whether there are bare floors and walls in the space among other things. It is your home theatre, so make it work as you prefer. However, if you feel like you need some guidance there are websites that can advise you on how to do so, such as this guide by Dolby Digital for a home theater with up to 9 speakers, and this article by SVS for an even more elaborate home theater set up.
Why should I invest in a Surround Sound System?
As more and more people are watching movies, listening to music and catching up on TV series on their laptops, the standards for quality sound have dropped significantly. Our laptop speakers and smartphone headphones do not project nearly enough details and nuances that we should hear when being entertained. The soundtracks, sound effects, musical intricacies and voices are all part of why we are using our entertainment devices, so why are we cheating ourselves out of having the best, most immersive version of whatever we have chosen to watch or listen? Most of the time we settle for this lack of quality just because we take sound quality for granted. After all, sounds surround us everywhere we go.
And still, we all have this magical pull toward movie theaters. The feeling of getting swept away to a different world where everything is new and exciting. When we are at the movies, the colors are brighter, the smells sweeter and the sounds crisper and clearer. We still go to live concerts, because that is where the music engulfs us. A surround sound system will change the way you experience home entertainment forever. It won’t just be a quick fix every day so you can switch off for a little while. It will be a treat. It will be something that you will look forward to and once everything is all set up and running, you will try to find any excuse just to use your surround sound system.
Whether you think that a surround sound system is a worthy investment or not is up to you. But after watching a film at your own home theater or hearing your favorite album through several speakers that allow you to hear details that you hadn’t even noticed before when listening on your smartphone, you will not want to go back to the old sound standards that you used to have. A home theater does not necessarily have to cost you a fortune, you can start out with a small set up just to see if you are home often enough to enjoy those moments or care enough about what you hear coming from your speakers. But never allow the idea of a surround sound system being a luxury stop yourself from at least giving it a go. You will most likely fall in love with it right away.
Top Pick: VIZIO S5451w-C2
Previously, a surround sound system not only took days to set up, it would also come with complicated instructions that made it exhausting to simply turn everything on, let alone synch it to all the devices the customer wanted to use it with. What we want now is everything to run seamlessly and switch between devices and their functions without having to use seven different remote controls. That is where VIZIO has stepped in and changed practically everything that was tedious and complicated about a surround sound system.
The VIZIO S5451w-C2 offers a minimal yet thorough set up that is easy to arrange and integrate into your room. It consists of a 54′ 5.1 sound bar, two rear satellite speakers and a wireless subwoofer so you can place it at the back of the room without worrying about finding sockets or running cables across your room. The rear satellite speakers connect to the subwoofer with provided cables and also save you the hassle of connecting them to the front of the room with cables that would be in your way. The sound bar is a little over 4 inches high so you can either fit it in your TV unit or there is always the option of mounting it on the wall. For streaming, there is built-in Bluetooth featuring aptX’ technology which connects to all smartphones and tablets for crystal clear sound. VIZIO is clearly a leader in the market thanks to the single most important reason that its competitors seemingly ignore, which is that VIZIO has taken all the complaints that surround sound system buyers had and decided to fix them. The company has addressed and resolved difficulties in setting up and wiring the system, sorted the specific requirements of placement and most likely the worst of them all: cost. This surround sound system offers a combination of quality and value, it is aesthetically pleasing and easy to work with. VIZIO has built a strong and loyal following since it arrived in 2002 and its customers truly approve of our top pick. The VIZIO S5451w-C2 is the top pick for anyone who is looking for a reasonably priced surround sound system that does everything that you expect of it and more.
Flaws but not Dealbreakers
Even though the VIZIO S5451w-C2 is beautifully designed, the sound bar is quite long. The 54′ inch sound bar fits beautifully with 55′ and larger TV screens, but it might look a little overwhelming with smaller TV screens. However, the length of the sound bar is one of the reasons why this system is one of the few that manage to create a genuine surround sound experience thanks to more stereo separation. If you have a large TV then the fact that the sound bar is on the longer side will not be an issue, however, for a smaller TV it depends on how you work with the design as it can easily be placed in a way that will not look too enormous in comparison with the screen.
Usually the reason why people are looking into getting a sound bar system is because the are getting an all-in-one system, at most with a subwoofer. Some might find that the rear speakers no longer give them the ‘no clutter’ feel that they were looking for when buying a sound bar. However, the rear speakers and subwoofer are the ones who guarantee you the surround sound experience. There is only so much a single, excellent sound bar can do as it cannot send sound from the back of the room, so this VIZIO S5451w-C2 approaches the issue by adding very non-invasive and compact additional speakers and a wireless, powerful subwoofer to guarantee the ultimate experience.
Runner-Up Pick: Bose Acoustimass 10
The runner-up is the recently released and pricier Bose Acoustimass 10. This Bose system is designed for larger rooms even though the system is incredibly compact and will not take over your space aesthetically. This high performance surround sound system contains four Direct/Reflecting’ Series II speakers, one horizontal center channel speaker and one Acoustimass module. For this recent release, Bose have updated the look of the speakers, making them fit the design of most of today’s TVs. The four Direct/Reflecting and center speakers are surprisingly small yet manage to project a rich sound that seems impossible coming out of such a compact design. The updated Acoustimass module is the most powerful one out of the entire Bose home theater system selection. The speakers connect to the Acoustimass module which then connects to your receiver. The Bose Acoustimass 10 is the runner-up due to two reasons: the price is high and the set up not as easy as the VIZIO S5451w-C2. The buyer will need to spend a lot more time setting up the surround sound system. The best way to experience what the Bose Acoustimass 10 has to offer would be with mounted speakers. This means that it will also be necessary to buy wall mounts. Also, everything is connected with cables, so you would need to think of how to run the cables from the front of the room to the module.
This Bose Acoustimass 10 system is a step up from their previous Bose Acoustimass 6 Home Entertainment Speaker System. This previous model, released in 2006, contains five cube speakers and one Acoustimass module. The 2006 version is designed to suit medium and small spaces, but that does not mean that the sound that the small speakers project is compromised, it is still a quality product simply meant for a different set up. Of course, there have been new innovations in the field and it was time for Bose to come out with a new Acoustimass Home Theater system, so the series 10 is a more refined, more powerful system that is built on an already excellent product that was developed further.
Usually buyers fall into two categories when looking into Bose products, there are those who do not believe that the cost reflects the quality and those who do. It is undeniable that the cost is usually very high which comes with high expectations and there is no coming back after those expectations are not met. This is very obvious in customer reviews where Bose Acoustimass 6 and Bose Acoustimass 10 are both praised and criticized.
Budget Pick: Onkyo SKS-HT540
After seeing beautiful and sleek designs it might be hard to look in any other direction. However, if someone is looking for a product that will not cost as much as Bose or VIZIO there are some good options out there, in particular the Onkyo SKS-HT540. This surround sound system is a full kit that will not break the bank. The system consists of two front speakers, four surround speakers, one center speaker and one subwoofer. The most obvious downfall of the Onkyo is that the speakers are a little larger. Yes, you do get a good surround sound experience with this purchase, but it is best to set up your home theater that is not in a small room if you are choosing this Onkyo or else it will take over the space. The sound is surprisingly good for this price, but unfortunately the design is where the system is lacking. If the look of the product does not concern you, which in theory it should not if you are looking for a good surround sound system that is cheaper than most in the market, the Onkyo is the one. This surround sound system is not a recently released one, but it still sells very well despite the competition out there. The quality of sound is worth the small compromise of it not being as sleek and compact as some its other competitors in the same price range. As a budget pick, the Onkyo SKS-HT540 definitely stands out as it offers an abundance of quality for the price.
What is the Best Surround Sound System for Gaming?
Gaming is an industry that is truly based on having the most realistic experience possible, but you also do not what to break the bank when getting a surround sound system just for this reason. This is where the Yamaha NS-SP1800BL 5.1-Channel Home Theater Speaker System comes in. This pick is very reasonably priced but offers a very good system that includes four satellite speakers, one center speaker and a subwoofer. All of the speakers have magnetic shielding to avoid interference, the set up is surprisingly easy despite the fact that all of the parts are connected by cables. We were quite skeptical at first because of the low price of this surround sound system, but the Yamaha NS-SP1800BL blew us away with its quality of sound. What more can one ask for when looking for a surround sound system for gaming, low price and a good sound?
What is the Best Surround Sound System for a small room?
If you are looking for a surround sound system to go into a small room a good idea is to start with a sound bar as it is much easier to incorporate it into a small room rather that several speakers. Whether you add a subwoofer to the sound bar is up to you, but this very reasonably priced
VIZIO SB3821-C6 38-Inch 2.1 Channel Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer is compact enough to not feel like it takes over your room and the subwoofer is not only small but also wireless so you can hide it anywhere in the room without having to worry about cables cluttering up your small space. Usually the trouble with sound bars is that they do not give you the true 5.1 experience unless you have rear right and rear left speakers. However, if the space that you are working with is small enough, it might be enough to have only the sound bar and subwoofer, especially if it is important to you to keep the space as clutter free as possible.
If the VIZIO 2.1 Sound Bar is not available, there are a couple other options out there that have a similar set up, such as the
LG NB3532A 300W Sound Bar Audio System with Wireless Subwoofer & Bluetooth Streaming or the
2.1 Soundbar w 8.0″ wireless subwoofer and MAXBASS chip by Sound Appeal are both just as compact and convenient.
Which AV receiver should I pick for my surround sound system?
If you do not have an AV receiver yet, you will need to get one for your surround sound system. If you are looking into buying a sound bar instead, an AV receiver might not be necessary if it is an all-in-one system, but you should always check the specifics of the product that you are buying to avoid any misunderstandings and delays.
An AV receiver that does everything and more that you expect it to is the
Yamaha RX-V479BL 5.1-Channel MusicCast AV Receiver with Bluetooth. This AV receiver delivers a lot for the price – Wifi, multiroom music player, Bluetooth, 4k video for higher resolution content and Spotify Connect, to name a few.
A great alternative if the Yamaha is not available is the Onkyo TX-NR646 7.2-Channel Network A/V Receiver, a similarly priced AV receiver that also offers an abundance of features along with great surround sound technology.
Just like surround sound systems, AV receivers can also vary drastically in price, but before you decide to buy one you should be very clear about what you need it for and the rest is entirely up to you. You might need it purely for your movie watching experience or you might be looking for a device that will have all the latest features, that is where the price will increase, but the cost will also deliver what you ask for.
The market has plenty to offer if you are looking for a surround sound system. Quite often the overwhelming choice options are enough to utterly confuse and put someone off getting a home theater altogether. But if you know what specific features you are looking for, it should be possible to break the mass down to a few potential picks. Here are a few surround sound systems that would also be worth looking into.
If you are looking for a budget pick that not only includes speakers and a subwoofer an alternative option to the original budget pick is the Onkyo HT-S3700. This Onkyo is a great pick if you need to replace your entire home theater audio system, all you need to add is a TV!
If you are looking for more options for sound bars, this
Klipsch HD Theater SB 3 Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer is one to consider. It is built with Klipsch horn-loaded technology that allows the sound bar to deliver extra clear and powerful sound while the subwoofer takes care of the bass. It is not the cheapest sound bar out there, but it is definitely worth every penny.
Another option for a high quality sound bar is this SONOS PLAYBAR. Yes, the price is rather high, but this elegant Sonos delivers a sound worth what you’ve paid for and more.
If you are looking for a budget surround sound system that is an excellent deal for the price, this Leviton AEH50-BL Home Cinema Speaker System is worth a look. The small speakers and subwoofer are surprisingly powerful for such a low price. This product is also a great option if you are looking to try out a surround sound system, but are not ready yet to invest a lot of money in it just yet.
Wrapping it Up
When it comes to choosing the best surround sound system for your home, all you need is clarity on what you would like to experience when using it. It can be one specific thing or everything all at once in one system. Also, remember that your surround sound system should work for you and not the other way around. If you find the specifics, descriptions and manuals of the product too complicated, if the set up is a long and strenuous process, if it is too much work to include the surround sound system in your entertainment experience, go for an option that is easy to understand. Don’t be afraid to admit that you do not what the latest high-tech technology, and also don’t be ashamed of going for the best, most advanced and innovative option out there. It all purely depends on what you want your surround sound system to do for you.
The top pick VIZIO S5451w-C2 5.1 Channel Sound Bar is the one to definitely consider if you need great quality sound, ease of use and an aesthetically pleasing design. It is very much an all-in-one surround sound system that fits perfectly in a modern home.
If you very specifically would like to use your surround sound system for movies and would like to feel like you are in a real cinema – go for the one that will give you just as much sound, bass, clarity and surround sound as a real movie theater, such as the runner-up pick Bose Acoustimass 10. This surround sound system will give you the ultimate movie experience, especially if you have a larger living room.
And also, if you perhaps don’t really know what you are looking for just yet, but would just like to give a surround sound system a try without having to spend a ton of money, you might want to consider the budget pick Onkyo SKS-HT540. With the budget pick you will get the full kit and great surround sound without breaking the bank.
How much you are willing to spend is up to you and very often you need to try a few surround sound systems to decide which one works best for you. Just remember that it is all about your ultimate entertainment experience.