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 theatre 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 theatre 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 2019. See our recommendations for the best soundbars, the best budget soundbars, and the best Dolby Atmos soundbars.
The Samsung HW-Q80R is the best 5.1 soundbar setup we've tested so far. It consists of the main soundbar coupled with a wireless subwoofer. Samsung also made it possible to upgrade to a 7.1 system down the line by adding the optional rear speakers, instead of having to replace the entire setup, which is great.
On the soundbar itself, we'll find three HDMI ports, one of which is the audio return channel, or ARC. There is also an optical input but no 3.5mm analog input if you like it old school. You can, however, stream your music to the soundbar through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Like many soundbars on the market, Samsung achieves the surround sound experience in Dolby Atmos content by adding upward firing speakers, where the sound will then bounce off the ceiling to create an illusion of height. The overall sound profile is great, versatile enough for movies, gaming, music, or just plain dialogue.
Overall, if you don't have the room for rear speakers, this soundbar provides great overall performance for any content, while still leaving the door open for future upgrades.
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 sattelites 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 setup 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 theatre 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. Its main competitor is the Samsung HW-Q80R, and it shares a similar design, with a wide soundbar that features side and up-firing speakers as well as a dedicated wireless subwoofer. It doesn't perform as well overall, but it's still a decent choice if you're looking for a 5.1.2 set-up, especially since it's often on sale for a lot less than the Samsung.
This soundbar has a punchy, exciting sound that makes it best for listening to music, especially pop, hip-hop, or EDM due to its overemphasized bass and treble. If you don't like this V-shaped sound profile and want something more neutral-sounding, this soundbar has a few sound customization features, so you can make it sound the way you like. It also supports various surround formats, including Dolby Atmos, but its surround sound performance is rather poor compared to the Samsung or the Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar.
While this soundbar has a ton of connectivity options, like two full HDMI-in ports, one HDMI ARC, optical-in, and even USB for file playback, it doesn't have a regular audio jack. This shouldn't be a big issue, especially since it supports wireless playback via Bluetooth and WiFi and has Chromecast built-in, but if analog audio for you is a must, you'll want to check out the LG SK10Y instead.
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.
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.