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 it provides 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. 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. Its 5.1.2 setup with a dedicated wireless subwoofer as well as a soundbar with integrated side and upwards-firing speakers help to 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.
Both the subwoofer and the bar itself feel quite well-made as the bar is 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 makes dialogue clear and easy to hear, while its up-firing speakers do a decent job at creating a fairly immersive Atmos experience. As this bar can get loud, you can also turn up the volume to hear it in crowded or large rooms.
Without dedicated satellite speakers, its surround performance is sub-par, even though it has side-firing speakers. Its wide size can also be difficult to fit between a 55" TV's stand legs. The soundbar doesn't support Apple AirPlay or Chromecast, although you can transmit your music via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or through the Samsung app. Overall, if you want a versatile soundbar that provides a decent surround sound experience that can be upgraded later, this is a great choice.
If you want something more affordable than the Samsung HW-Q80R, go for the Vizio SB36512-F6. 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. While you can buy separate satellite speakers for the Samsung, 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're limited on space, the Sennheiser AMBEO is the best standalone 5.1 soundbar we've tested to date. Its unique 13-speaker design is built into its huge body, making this 5.1.4 setup a soundbar that delivers on the sound while taking up less space.
Its integrated design uses a 3D audio mode to create an immersive listening experience without down-facing satellite speakers. To further enhance your audio, this soundbar comes with a room correction microphone that listens to how the sound is delivered in your room and makes adjustments to give you a better sound. It can also get very loud, which is good when you want to be immersed in your movies. Its connectivity options are great too as it has Bluetooth and Chromecast built-in, making it easy to stream your favorite music. You can even use this soundbar as a hub for all your devices as it has three HDMI In ports.
On the downside, this bar is big and heavy. It can be hard to position as it can cover the bottom part of your screen. It also lacks bass, although with AMBEO mode activated or when using the EQ in the companion app, it shouldn't be too much of an issue. All in all, this soundbar is a great choice for those who want a unique but simplified setup.
If you're looking to save money here or there, the Samsung HW-Q60T is the best budget 5.1 soundbar that we've tested to date. Although it looks similar in design to the Samsung HW-Q80R, it doesn't use side-firing speakers. Instead, it uses Samsung's Acoustic Beam technology to simulate up-firing speakers, which helps create a more immersive sound.
Right out-of-the-box, it has a punchy but dark sound profile. However, if you're not a fan of its sound, it also has a graphic EQ that you can better tweak to your liking. There's even several EQ presets that are better designed for particular audio content like 'Pro Game' mode, which is handy if you don't have the time to play around with the graphic EQ. It can reproduce voices fairly clearly, and there's an auto-night feature to further improve dialogue clarity too. It can also get loud enough to fill a large room or crowded environment, but there are a few compression artifacts and thumping present at max volume.
Although it's the newer model of the Samsung HW-Q60R, its center and surround performances aren't as good when compared to its predecessor's, especially as its surround performance sounds dark and bass-heavy. It also doesn't have a companion app, and it doesn't support eARC. It can't play Atmos content either, but it can still play DTS, which is good if you watch a lot of Blu-rays. That being said, if you're on a budget, this is a wallet-friendly choice that doesn't sacrifice too much on performance.
The LG SL10YG is the best decent 5.1 soundbar we've tested to date. While this well-built soundbar doesn't perform as well as the Samsung HW-Q80R, it's still a reasonable choice, especially if you're looking for something a little more affordable. It has a wireless subwoofer capable of producing a punchy bass, and the bar can get loud enough for large rooms or crowded environments.
It has an excited V-shaped sound profile, as it over-emphasizes bass and treble, making it suitable for music genres like pop or EDM. It's decent for dialogue-centric content too, and you can stream your favorite audiobooks or podcasts to the bar via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, which is nice. There are also bass and treble adjustments so you can better fine-tune it to your liking, or you can use its EQ presets for more controlled sound customization. It has a USB input as well, so you can listen to audio held on a USB thumb drive or on an external hard-drive.
Even though it supports Dolby Atmos content, it has disappointing surround and height performances, which can impact your immersion into your films. Due to the positioning of its stereo speakers, its soundstage is also perceived as narrower than the bar itself. That said, this soundbar has a lot of connectivity options, and you can use it as a hub between different devices and your TV. It's well-suited for music, so if you're looking for a 5.1 set up that offers a good overall value, consider this one.
07/23/2020: Replaced Samsung HW-Q60R with Samsung HW-Q60T for best 'Budget 5.1 Soundbar' pick.
04/24/2020: Minor text and structure changes; added Vizio SB46514-F6 to 'Notable Mentions'.
01/06/2020: Added LG SK10Y to 'Notable Mentions'.
11/01/2019: Added the Vizio SB36512-F6 as a 'More Affordable Alternative' to the Samsung HW-Q80R.
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.