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 25 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 you 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 like the 5.1 setup of the Samsung HW-Q80R but want something cheaper, the Vizio SB36512-F6 is a decent choice. You won't sacrifice much in terms of sound, as the Vizio is capable of handling any type of content admirably. While it doesn't get as loud as the Samsung, the addition of rear speakers does create a more immersive experience, provided that you have enough room for a proper setup, as the rear satellites can't be connected wirelessly. Chromecast is built into the soundbar, which lets you stream content and even control it through the Google Assistant.
If 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.
The best standalone 5.1 soundbar we've tested so far is the Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar. This unique soundbar doesn't come with a separate subwoofer — instead, it has a unique 3D mode that takes advantage of its top and side-firing speakers to deliver an impressively immersive experience. It has a full set of physical inputs and supports virtually all surround audio formats, including Dolby Atmos.
Since this standalone bar doesn't deliver a lot of bass, its default sound profile is a bit on the bright side. This won't be too much of a problem if you watch a lot of dialogue-heavy movies or TV shows, but will be disappointing during action movies or when listening to music with lots of bass. The 3D mode is rather impressive, though, especially with surround content.
While it's convenient to not have to worry about where to place a subwoofer, this soundbar is very large and heavy. You'll need to carefully plan where you want to place it, since it's wider than most 55 inch TVs and might not fit between the stand legs. That said, if you have space and don't mind the lack of bass, it's an interesting standalone 5.1.4 soundbar to consider.
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 upwards 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.
01/06/2020: Minor text and structure changes; added LG SK10Y to 'Notable Mentions'.
11/27/2019: Minor text and structure changes, no change in recommendations.
11/01/2019: Added the Vizio SB36512-F6 as a 'More Affordable Alternative' to the Samsung HW-Q80R.