With the lights dimmed, a bowl of freshly popped popcorn, and the family cuddled beneath a blanket, there’s nothing quite like the experience of watching a movie from the comfort of your own couch. But to truly get that immersive theater experience, the sound needs to be brilliant. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the process of creating a home theater setup that’s right for your budget, space, and viewing habits—from choosing the right soundbar, to adding deep impactful bass, to creating a complete 5.1 surround sound setup.
The idea of setting up a home theater may conjure visions of tangled wires drilled into walls, stacks of complicated receivers, multiple remotes, and a price tag in the thousands. While this might have been true in the 80s, getting theater-quality sound in your home has never been easier or more valuable. (As TVs have become thinner and thinner, the sound they’re able to produce has gotten worse and worse.)
And yet, the number of decisions you have to make in order to set up a home theater that works for you can be overwhelming. With that in mind, we put together this guide to walk you through a few simple decisions you can make in order to experience theater-quality sound at home.
First, let’s talk numbers.
As you begin building your home theater, you’ll likely see the numbers 3.1 or 5.1 tossed around. Before you scratch your head in confusion, these numbers are simply how you refer to different surround sound setups.
The first number describes how many speaker channels are present in your setup, while the second number describes the addition of a subwoofer (more on that later). So, for example, in a 3.1 home theater setup, the “3” represents the three channels of the speaker—left, right, and center—and the “.1” represents the addition of a subwoofer. If you add two rear speakers, then you create a 5.1 setup, which is considered standard surround sound.
Now that you understand the basics, let’s get started.
Start with a soundbar
The single most dramatic improvement you can make to how your favorite shows, movies, and games sound on your TV is to add an external speaker. The sound will be fuller, the dialogue crisper, and the bass bolder.
All of our home theater speakers were tuned by Oscar- and Emmy-winning sound engineers to ensure that you’re hearing your favorite films and shows as they were meant to be heard, by the people who created them.
For cinematic sound that surrounds you in the story, choose Arc. Arc’s upward-firing drivers allow you to experience shows, movies, and games with the precise and immersive sound of Dolby Atmos. When you’re not watching TV, you can use Arc to stream music from hundreds of music services including Apple Music, Amazon Music, TIDAL, Spotify, and much more. And with a soft profile and seamless facade, it blends beautifully in your home, either mounted underneath your TV or placed on furniture. Arc automatically pairs with your remote and can be controlled with the Sonos app, Apple AirPlay 2, your favorite music app, or your voice.
Shop Arc here.
For smaller to medium-sized rooms (and TVs), consider Beam. Our best-selling smart soundbar does it all. It provides high-definition sound for shows, movies, and games; offers the 3D experience of Dolby Atmos; and, like Arc, when you step away from the screen, Beam can play your favorite music, podcasts, and more with rich, room-filling sound. It also has built-in support for Audible and Calm for quieter moments. It’s simple to set up, automatically pairs with your remote control, and is incredibly easy to control—use the Sonos app, Apple AirPlay 2, music apps, or your voice. Beam can be placed on furniture in front of your TV or mounted on the wall.
Shop Beam here.
For apartments, studios, and other smaller spaces, there’s Ray. Our most compact and affordable soundbar brings the drama but won’t blow your budget. Designed with maximum versatility in mind, its all forward-facing acoustic components make it ideal for tucking into a TV stand without any impact to the sound quality. (In other words, you don’t have to worry about your furniture interfering with the sound.) Plus, it connects to virtually any TV and works with your existing remote. Enjoy movies, shows, and music with crisp dialogue and natural, balanced bass. Like all our soundbars, Ray works with the Sonos app, Apple AirPlay 2, and all your favorite music services.
Shop Ray here.
If you’re not sure which soundbar is best for your TV, you can learn more about setup requirements here.
All of our home theater speakers come equipped with features designed to improve your listening experience. With a quick tap in the app, you can make dialogue even clearer or improve the sound for lower volume levels.
Speech Enhancement: Tap the speech bubble icon on the Now Playing screen to emphasize dialogue so you won’t miss a word—even when the action gets intense.
Night Sound: Tap the half moon icon to balance the sound so you won’t wake the rest of the house (or your neighbors). No more turning up the volume when characters whisper and then frantically turning it down when things explode.
Add a subwoofer
If you want to extend your viewing experience from hearing the story to feeling every emotion, consider adding a subwoofer to your setup. Sonos offers two options: Sub and Sub Mini.
More than just “more bass”
In addition to providing bolder bass for your shows, movies, and music, adding a subwoofer to your setup actually improves your speaker’s performance. (Bear with us, we’re going to get a bit technical here.) Our home theater speakers play high frequency sounds, like dialogue, through a “tweeter.” And they play both midrange and bass frequencies through a “woofer.” By offloading the lowest frequencies to a subwoofer, your speakers are freed up to deliver more midrange sounds. So when you add a subwoofer, not only will you experience deeper bass, but you’ll also experience better sound from your home theater speaker.
Bass without buzz
It’s quite possibly the number one question we hear from people considering a subwoofer: Will it rattle? While subwoofers are notorious for emitting so much power that they can shake pictures hanging on the wall, Sub and Sub Mini were specifically designed to eliminate the vibration associated with traditional subwoofers. The holes at the center of Sub and Sub Mini (called “tunnels”) aren’t just aesthetically pleasing—they house dual-facing woofers that help minimize rattle by force-canceling the vibrations.
So, which Sonos subwoofer should you add to your setup? If you’re looking for powerful bass that can fill a large room, look no further than Sub. However, if you’re wanting to add bold bass but live in a smaller space, such as an apartment or simply a bedroom, go with Sub Mini. Note that we recommend choosing the subwoofer that pairs best with your soundbar for an optimal sound experience. You can find our recommended speaker and subwoofer pairings here.
A setup with both a home theater speaker and a subwoofer is called 3.1. The “3” represents the three channels of the speaker—left, right, and center—and the “.1” represents the addition of the subwoofer.
Connect two rear speakers for 5.1 surround sound
You have a home theater speaker, and a subwoofer. How much of a difference can two more speakers make? Plenty. To completely immerse yourself in the drama of TV shows, the action of movies, and the joy of music, 5.1 surround sound is the way to go.
A new world of sound
When you add two matching rear speakers to your home theater setup, you allow the sound to completely expand to its full potential. You’ll discover new elements of songs you’ve been listening to your entire life. And you’ll find yourself completely enveloped in what you watch. You can even control whether the rear speakers provide full sound or ambient sound when you’re playing music.
Speakers for every setup
Choose from a wide range of Sonos speakers to complete your perfect surround sound setup. We recommend Sonos One SL, which strikes the perfect balance between compact size and high-quality sound. If you prefer your speakers to blend discreetly with your home decor, all of our soundbars also work beautifully with the SYMFONISK speakers we created with IKEA. Or for the highest-quality sound possible, add two Sonos Fives to your system.
Like all Sonos products, you can set up your new surround speakers in minutes. Just plug them in and use the Sonos app to pair them with your soundbar. Want to add voice control to your setup? You only need a single Sonos One—pair it with a One SL (a microphone-free speaker) to unlock voice control for your entire system.
Shop rear surrounds and Immersive Sets here.
One of the tricky parts of adding rear speakers to a home theater setup is where to place them. We’ve made it easy with a variety of speaker stands and mounts. Choose what works best for your viewing room here.
Add Sonos Voice Control to your system in the Sonos app to turn on your TV and adjust your home theater settings hands-free.