If you want to enjoy your favorite movies, video games, or even music in surround sound but don't have space for a full home theater setup with satellite speakers, a 5.1 soundbar setup may be what you're looking for. You can generally expect a 5.1 soundbar system to come with a fairly wide 5-channel bar and a separate subwoofer, but some models integrate the sub directly into the bar. This kind of setup won't sound as natural as a more traditional home theater speaker system, but will provide a more immersive listening experience than a regular 2 or 3-channel soundbar. Some 5.1 soundbars even have up-firing speakers to give the impression of height with Dolby Atmos content, which some Blu-rays and streaming services support.
We've tested over 30 soundbars so far, and below you'll find the best 5.1 soundbars to buy in 2020. See our recommendations for the best soundbars, the best budget soundbars, and the best Dolby Atmos soundbars.
The best 5.1 soundbar that we've tested to date is the Samsung HW-Q80R. It's a 5.1.2 setup with a wireless dedicated subwoofer and side and upwards-firing speakers on the bar itself to help create an immersive listening experience. The bar is compatible with Samsung's optional satellite speakers, so you can upgrade this soundbar to a full 7.1.4 setup if your needs change, which is nice. Both the subwoofer and the bar itself feel quite well-made, with the bar being made of dense plastic with a metal grill, though unfortunately, the subwoofer is covered in fabric which could get dirty or rip.
The sound reproduction is quite well-balanced, and has a low LFE, ensuring good, thumping bass. The dedicated center channel means that dialogue is clear and easy to hear, and its upwards-firing speakers do a decent job at creating a fairly immersive Atmos experience. Unfortunately, without the dedicated satellite speakers, the surround performance is sub-par, and while the bar has side-firing speakers, they don't do the best job at making sounds appear to come from beside or behind you.
Unfortunately, if you have a 55" or smaller TV, it'll likely be difficult to fit this soundbar between your TV's stand, as it's very large. The soundbar also doesn't support Chromecast or Apple AirPlay for wirelessly streaming your music, though luckily you can transmit your music via Wi-Fi through a streaming app on your phone (such as Spotify) or through the Samsung app, and it also supports Bluetooth. Overall, if you want a versatile and upgradable soundbar that provides a decent surround sound experience, but don't have room for the rear speakers, this is a great choice.
If you want something more affordable than the Samsung HW-Q80R, go for the Vizio SB36512-F6 instead. It might not be as well-built and doesn't get as loud, but the Vizio has dedicated rear speakers, which results in a slightly more immersive experience. However, note that you can buy separate satellite speakers for the Samsung as well. Nevertheless, the Vizio offers one of the best performance-to-price ratios from all soundbars we've tested. There's also the bigger 46 inch Vizio SB46514-F6, which has two additional up-firing speakers for Atmos content. It's noticeably more expensive than the 36 inch model, but it can also be a good alternative if you enjoy watching movies.
If your budget allows, the Samsung is still a better choice, but for an affordable option without compromising too much on sound quality, the Vizio can hold its own.
If you don't have the room for a subwoofer or a full surround soundbar 5.1 setup, then the best standalone soundbar we've tested is the Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar. It doesn't come with a sub and rather has 13 speakers built-in its massive body, for a unique 5.1.4 configuration. The system has a 3D mode that helps to create an immersive listening experience by making sounds come from around and over you.
The bar can get very loud, which is great for movies, and it also supports pretty much every high-end audio format, regardless of the input you want to use. It also features three Full HDMI In ports, meaning you can easily use it as a hub for your various devices. The bar also comes with a microphone that can be used to apply corrections to the sound delivery based on your room.
However, even if you like the idea of not having rear satellites or subwoofer, consider that this bar is rather big and heavy. You might have to wall-mount your TV and place the soundbar on a table underneath it, or it'll cover the bottom part of your screen. If you want a unique product that's impressive and will certainly get people asking questions, the Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar is a good choice.
The Samsung HW-Q60R is one of the cheapest 5.1 soundbar setups we've tested so far. It has a similar design to the Samsung HW-Q80R but doesn't have side-firing speakers. It has what Samsung calls their Acoustic Beam, which helps with surround content but acts more like up-firing speakers. It won't result in very accurate localization of objects with surround content, but it does help create a more immersive feel that a typical 3.1 system. It still sounds alright, though, and has all the connection options you'll need to set it up with most home theater systems.
You'll still be able to watch different content such as TV shows and movies, as this soundbar has a fairly neutral and well-balanced sound profile. It'll get loud enough for casual listening, and you won't hear any compression or distortion at a normal volume. Some might be disappointed by its subwoofer performance, as it has trouble reproducing the deep rumble and thump of bass, which isn't good for bass-heavy music and action movies.
While this soundbar supports the most common surround sound formats, Dolby Digital and DTS, it doesn't support any lossless formats or object-based surround like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. That said, it's a lot more affordable than some of the more premium models we've tested that can support more surround options. If you're fine with basic surround formats and are looking for something less cost-prohibitive, this soundbar is a solid choice.
The LG SL10YG is a decent 5.1 soundbar. It shares a similar design to its main competitor, the Samsung HW-Q80R, with a dedicated wireless subwoofer, and a wide soundbar the delivers surround Atmos content via its upward and side-firing speakers without the need for rear satellites. While it doesn't perform as well overall as the Samsung, it's often on sale for a lot cheaper, making it a decent overall choice.
This soundbar setup has an excited, v-shaped sound profile with overemphasized bass and treble that makes it a good choice for listening to music like EDM, pop, or hip-hop; it also offers EQ presets, as well as bass and treble adjustments to fine-tune the sound to match your personal preferences. While the soundbar supports Dolby Atmos, unfortunately its lack of dedicated rear satellites means that its surround and height performance is disappointing, and objects will sound as if they're coming from in front of you as opposed to from above and behind or around. On the upside, its dedicated center channel produces clear and easy-to-understand dialogue.
While it's lacking a 3.5mm aux-in port, this is common with many current soundbars, and it still has a ton of connectivity options, including two HDMI-in ports, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Chromecast built-in, so you can easily share your music wirelessly from anywhere in the house. Overall, if you want a decent 5.1 setup that's great for music and offers good overall value, especially when on sale, this is a good choice.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best 5.1 soundbars for most people to buy. We factor in the price (a cheaper soundbar wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors, and availability (no soundbars that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).
If you would like to choose for yourself, here's the list of all our reviews of soundbars with 5.1 channels. Be careful not to get caught up in the details. No soundbar is perfect. Personal taste, preference, and listening habits will matter more in your selection.
02/24/2020: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendations.
01/06/2020: Minor text and structure changes; added LG SK10Y to 'Notable Mentions'.
11/01/2019: Added the Vizio SB36512-F6 as a 'More Affordable Alternative' to the Samsung HW-Q80R.