Your TV room may be pre-wired for surround sound speakers, thanks to a fancy builder's upgrade. That's a HUGE convenience that will spare you the difficult task of installing wires in your ceiling. But it doesn't include the speakers or components to turn your room into a theater. Don't worry, you only need a few things, it's very DIY friendly, and the experience will be worth it!
What is 5.1 surround sound?
For the uninitiated, the '5' means five channels (center, front left, front right, back left, back right), and the '.1' means subwoofer. This is the traditional setup for a complete speaker system that allows movies or music fill your room. Most discs and apps play movies with these 6 channels, so the actor's voices come through the center channel, with music and sound effects on the lefts and rights. And the sound is mixed to move from channel to channel, so when a spaceship flies across your screen, the sound moves around the room too. There's also 7.2 surround and other configurations, but we'll focus on 5.1 for now. It's a huge, huge upgrade from your TV's built-in speakers (which are terrible), or a soundbar (which wants to be good, but is still terrible. True surround sound the only way to watch a big loud movie or rock show.
What do you need to buy?
Thankfully, it's a small list and the entry-level pricing is very reasonable. Here's my recommendations, based on customer reviews, third-party tests, and my own installations. You'll need a few pieces to complete your system:
- 1 Receiver (with a big volume knob, it's the hub for all your speakers and components)
- 4 surround speakers and 1 center channel speaker (either a la carte or bundled)
- 1 subwoofer (get low)
- And of course, your TV or projector, Apple TV, Blu-ray player and other existing omponents – and wire or mounts (lots of generic options at Ace or Amazon)
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When you plug all of your sources into this box, it sends the right signals to your TV and speakers, with fancy settings and levels for fine-tuning the sound. For a solid entry-level option, go with this Denon or Yamaha, boasting 4K, HDR and great reviews. You simply don't need to spend more:
There's a huge field of options here, whether you want them on the floor, walls or ceiling. Even cheap speakers can sound good when powered with the right receiver, and I think anyone would be happy with my entry-level pick. But if you spend more, you will get nicer materials and a nicer sound. If you want white, hanging speakers, get this set:
If you want all-white all-flush-mount speakers in your walls or ceiling (even the subwoofer), try this budget set:
Or you can buy them in pieces:
The all-black options are usually cheaper, like this excellent set from Yamaha. Or you can splurge for a more epic setup:
That's the basics, but let me know in the comments if you have any questions or custom requests. Happy to help!