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The best wireless surround sound systems in 2023 | PopSci

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If you just replaced your TV with a flagship flatscreen so you can see every detail, the one thing you don’t want to see is a bunch of cables—and that’s where a wireless surround sound system comes in. When it comes to cinematic magic, you don’t want to be taken out of the moment by a speaker array in disarray. Whether you’re considering upgrading from a single soundbar to enhance dialogue or starting from scratch to build an enveloping home theater setup, our picks for the best wireless surround sound systems don’t compromise on audio quality and create less clutter.

How we chose the best wireless surround sound systems

I have previewed and reviewed products—both in the pro audio and home audio realms—on and off throughout most of the 21st century for outlets including Mix, Maximum Tech, DJ Tech Tools, Bob Vila, and some defunct publications printed on paper called magazines. Between the PopSci staff, we’ve tested variations of these wireless surround sound systems firsthand. Beyond our own favorable experiences, these wireless surround sound systems have all proved popular with expert reviewers. Each of these systems offers something a little different from the others, but they all include rear satellite speakers because we wanted to limit this list to systems that actually surround you with speakers. Some soundbars and soundbar/subwoofer combinations do an impressive job creating virtual surround sound environments (you can read about the best Dolby Atmos soundbars and excellent budget choices that support object-based sound formats if you want some maximized minimalism). Still, this list is for those who want the full experience.

The best wireless surround sound systems: Reviews & Recommendations

From a massively powerful two-subwoofer system to a soundbar that detaches rechargeable battery-powered rear speakers, these wireless surround sound systems address different desires for how deep into the immersive sound you want to go. If filling a single room with sound just isn’t enough, some options also let you expand into a multiroom system. The common thread is no speaker wire but no loss of physical speakers that bring true surround sound to your home.

Best overall: Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 eARC SSE Max

Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 eARC SSE Max is the best best wireless surround sound system overall.

Why it made the cut: This 2022 update to an already proven and powerful system piles on hardware improvements and new software processing to make your wireless home theater a literal and figurative blast. 

Specs

  • Audio channels: 9.2.4 with 18 total speaker drivers
  • Total power/SPL loudness: 1300W/113dB 
  • Frequency response: 20Hz-22kHz
  • Connectivity: HDMI 2.1 input x3, HDMI 2.1 eARC output x1, optical digital audio input x3, coaxial audio input x1, RCA audio input x1, USB, Bluetooth 5.0 aptX HD 
  • Format compatibility: Dolby Vision with 4K HDR, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X

Pros

  • Loud and clear sound with full-spectrum detail and realism
  • New and exclusive audio processing improves the performance of immersive Dolby Atmos and DTS:X playback
  • Plentiful HDMI 2.1 connections with eARC for supporting the latest TVs and game consoles

Cons 

  • No room-calibration function for setting up
  • Extra speakers mean plugging in extra power cords

Even before a March 2022 update, the popular Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2 wireless surround sound system (which is still available) would have made this roundup list for its immersive, realistic sound, clarity of audio, and massive bass rumble from its twin 10-inch powered subwoofers. Customers and critics alike have showered it with adoration since 2017. 

But the new Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 eARC SSE Max system goes further in nearly every conceivable way with hardware and software upgrades. It now has HDMI 2.1 connections with eARC to the TV to enable the highest quality lossless audio, 4K HDR and Dolby Vision video, and features like variable refresh rate (VRR) for next-gen gaming consoles. It also has Bluetooth 5.0 with Qualcomm aptX HD—rare for a soundbar system—and that lets you stream Bluetooth audio at up to 24-bit digital quality.

The SSE Max designation refers to Nakamichi’s new technology—currently exclusive to this system—for creating realistic 360-degree immersive audio in a home theater. It’s the combination of Shockwafe’s three Spatial Surround Elevation audio processing engines for enhancing the sense of spaciousness to the soundstage, balancing the surround-sound mix across all the speakers, and creating audio height effects for object-oriented formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. 

Upgraded hardware includes redesigned extended-range twin-cone drivers in the soundbar, new high-output amplifiers and upgraded drivers in the subwoofers, and 2nd-generation two-way Quad Modular Surround Speakers with new silk dome tweeters and extended-range twin-cone drivers. A new matte-black finish and 2nd-gen backlit remote round out the updates, which Nakamichi based on customer surveys, beta tests, and customer review feedback. The $1,899 MSRP Shockwafe Ultra 9.2 eARC SSE Max requires a lot of space, power outlets, and experimentation to find the right setup for the four surround speakers, but it rewards your effort with a powerful and life-like cocoon of sound. (And an even more intense, more expensive ultra-flagship we hope to try out, the quad-sub Dragon, was announced at CES 2023.)

Easiest setup: JBL Bar 9.1

JBL Bar 9.1 wireless surround sound system has the easiest setup.

Why it made the cut: JBL cuts even more cords out of your life with its Bar 9.1 system, which uses the soundbar to charge detachable battery-powered rear surround speakers that don’t even have to plug into wall outlets. 

Specs

  • Audio channels: 5.1.4 with 10-inch wireless powered subwoofer
  • Total power/SPL loudness: 820W/103dB 
  • Frequency response: 34Hz-20kHz
  • Connectivity: HDMI 2.1 input, HDMI 2.1 eARC output, optical digital audio output, USB, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2
  • Format compatibility: Dolby Vision with 4K passthrough, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Chromecast, AirPlay 2

Pros

  • Detachable battery-powered rear speakers recharge from the base soundbar.
  • Dolby Atmos and DTS:X height effects from four up-firing speakers.
  • Crisp, balanced sound appropriate for all uses.

Cons 

  • Speaker batteries not replaceable

If you’re looking for a wireless surround sound system with a simple setup, it doesn’t get much simpler or more truly wireless than the JBL Bar 9.1. While the wireless component of most systems means you don’t have to attach speaker wire, you usually still need to find a power outlet to plug in all your satellite surround speakers. Not so with the Bar 9.1. Its rear surround speakers detach from the main soundbar unit and work on battery power for up to 10 hours. When you’re finished, dock them in the soundbar so they can recharge in about three hours. (Or you can charge them independently via MicroUSB.) While the rear speakers recharge, you can still use the full system for virtual surround. When you detach them again, they detect their distance to the soundbar to calibrate the sound. But you can also use the auto-calibration tool to optimize the sound mix for your room upon your initial setup or any other time you move the rear speakers. 

For the immersive 3D audio formats that send overhead sounds like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, the Bar 9.1 has two up-firing speakers on the soundbar and one each on the satellite units, which also have front-firing speakers. Combining those surrounds with the subwoofer, the 5.1.4 Atmos performance is very satisfying for a relatively compact system like this, but the Bar 9.1 also has a neutral and balanced sound that works well for the whole gamut of audio, from listening to spoken word material to watching the most explosive of big-budget movies. A mid-2023 refresh of the JBL soundbar line—one of which, the JBL 700, we’ve had a chance to audition—promises to take this expandable all-in-one concept to new, well, heights (and lengths and depths) and introduces the JBL 1300X as the new flagship. That doesn’t mean the JBL Bar 9.1 is obsolete, however.

Best sound quality: Bluesound PULSE system

Bluesound PULSE SOUNDBAR+ in front of TV displaying Apple Music

Why it made the cut: Audiophile-grade sound combines with powerful internal processing in a system that can expand to multiroom audio. 

Specs

  • Audio channels: 7.1 with 11 total speaker drivers
  • Total power/SPL loudness: W/ dB 120W soundbar, 25W Flex
  • Frequency response: 22Hz-20kHz
  • Connectivity: HDMI 2.1 eARC, optical digital audio input, 3.5mm analog audio input1, USB Type-A, Bluetooth aptX HD, WiFi, Ethernet
  • Format compatibility: 24-bit/192 kHz audio, Dolby Atmos, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Pandora, Amazon Music, MQA high-res audio

Pros

  • Supports 24-bit/192 kHz high-res audio, including MQA decoding and Roon Ready
  • Can expand to a multiroom audio system
  • Excellent preset audio modes for different scenarios

Cons 

  • Not sold with bundled pricing

If you’re willing to piece your purchases together, the Bluesound PULSE “by audiophiles for audiophiles” wireless surround sound system is technologically very versatile and the first multiroom system to support the MQA format that “folds” and “unfolds” digital data to stream high-res audio without a ton of bandwidth. With the SOUNDBAR+ as its centerpiece (shown above), combined with a dual-band WiFi 802.11ac-equipped PULSE SUB+ and two equally wireless PULSE FLEX 2i or PULSE M satellite speakers, the system can expand two-channel stereo content into a spacious soundstage thanks to Bluesound’s audiophile-grade drivers, high-performance digital-to-analog converter, and clean, powerful Class D amplification. The eight-speaker forward-facing configuration of a 1-inch tweeter, 2-inch mid-range driver, 4-inch woofer, and 4-inch passive radiator—one set left and one right—is optimized for music streaming thanks to a powerful quad-core ARM processor that handles high-quality audio with blazing speed. The resulting, authoritative sound handles vocals with visceral detail, while the overall tonality is balanced, never artificial. Lows and mids sound warm yet not fuzzy, and the treble is precise without sounding harsh. 

If you have a wealth of advanced-resolution downloads/personally ripped digital music, Bluesound can be used as a Roon endpoint if you’ve set up a compatible music server on your local network. Otherwise, you can stream lossless music directly from iOS devices via AirPlay 2 on WiFi and/or higher-bitrate, though still lossy transmissions via any device that supports Bluetooth (compatible Android devices can even connect via aptX HD). If you subscribe to Spotify and/or TIDAL, both services have a natively supported “Connect” service, so the highest quality stream will go directly via WiFi to the SOUNDBAR+, bypassing your phone. The BluOS app consolidates source control, as well as offers some EQ. Connected to the TV via a single HDMI (e)ARC connection, the dimensionally tall, but aesthetically unobtrusive Bluesound PULSE SOUNDBAR+ decodes Dolby Atmos material directly but with nuance, although with more subtlety in its height rather than in its width due to the lack of up-firing drivers. It presents music compellingly without any processing, although there are some interesting audio modes and upmixing options with which to experiment.

According to our managing editor, who has experienced a complete Bluesound PULSE set-up, adding in a pair of FLEX 2i speakers allows sonic textures to be even more open and expressive—most impactful when watching demo-worthy Atmos films like Mad Max: Fury Road and Baby Driver or while playing a selection of spatial audio from Apple Music on the Apple TV 4K. Music, especially, feels authentic, a well-rounded presentation from a flat facade—the SOUNDBAR+ with surrounds assures every track’s scope is fully conveyed without losing anything granular as it unfurls. And if you have high ceilings or a wider, open viewing space, adding in physical surround speakers makes a world of difference when compared to soundbars that use reflections to convey dimensionality.

On the other end of the spectrum, the SUB+ offers versatile, visceral LFE reinforcement, its 8-inch long-throw driver and 150-watt amplifier taking the 70Hz cap of the SOUNDBAR+ down to 22Hz. Capable of laying flat under a sofa or sitting up against a wall, the sealed enclosure is easily integrated physically into any room layout (wall outlet allowing) and digitally via home network and the BluOS app. As for what the SUB+ adds sonically … it’s tunefulness. It’s a subwoofer that’s far more about nimble pluck than unchecked pump; though it can reach dynamically deep, the SUB+ impressed far more with its dexterity. If you value realism as much as rumble, the SUB+ is another amazing addition to the Bluesound ecosystem.

Not watching anything or wanting to restrict your soundtrack to a single room? You can relocate an ultra-compact mono PULSE FLEX 2i or even more expressive omni-hybrid stereo PULSE M speaker around your home (or just get extras for other zones). As long as they are all on the same WiFi network, you pass whatever music you’re streaming from speaker to speaker if you move to specific areas or have it play simultaneously throughout the house—wherever the action is.

Best for Samsung TVs: Samsung HW-990C

A close-up look at the grate on the Samsung Q900C soundbar

Why it made the cut: Crystal clear dialog (especially if you have a current Samsung TV) cuts through the ample bass to make movies and TV shows easy to hear without resorting to subtitles or cranked volume. 

Specs

  • Audio channels: 11.1.4
  • Total power/SPL loudness: N/A
  • Frequency response: N/A
  • Connectivity: HDMI ARC, optical digital audio input, Bluetooth 5.0 
  • Format compatibility: Dolby Atmos and DTS:X

Pros

  • Super-crisp voice reproduction makes actors easier to understand
  • Samsung TV users can get a wireless Dolby Atmos signal that eschews a cable
  • Excellent overall sound quality augmented by wireless side speakers with up- and side-firing drivers
  • Very easy setup

Cons 

  • Non-Samsung TV users miss out on some features

We rated the Samsung WH-Q900C stand-alone soundbar one of the best we’ve heard to date. The WH-990C ups the ante by adding a pair of wireless satellite speakers that contain both up- and side-firing drivers. They connect easily and wirelessly, just like the subwoofer, but they dramatically improve the system’s overall ability to create immersive 3D sound.

If you have a current (2022 and after) Samsung TV, then you get several notable extra features from this setup that other TVs can’t provide. Samsung TVs can beam a wireless Dolby Atmos signal to the soundbar, which eschews the need for a hardline connection. The Samsung Q Symphony feature integrates the TV’s built-in speakers into the mix in order to create an even more immersive sound with more pronounced center channel performance. Plus, only Samsung TVs get access to the robust automatic room calibration feature, which listens back to the system’s performance and tweaks it to match the space.

Even if you’re not using a Samsung TV, however, this is still one of the best-sounding soundbar systems around. The bass thumps and rumbles with vigor, but it doesn’t drown out the rest of the mix. Emphatic sounds have impact, but they don’t get too harsh in such a way that you need to constantly manipulate the volume. It’s a great system that sets up without much fuss and provides everything most listeners will need.

Best wireless connection: Enclave CineHome PRO

Enclave CineHome PRO Bundle on the floor

Why it made the cut: Brilliant sound and an elegant design that puts each audio channel into its own speaker without occupying too much space make the CineHome PRO a joy to use. 

Specs

  • Audio channels: 5.1 with 14 total speaker drivers
  • Total power/SPL loudness: N/A
  • Frequency response: N/A
  • Connectivity: HDMI ARC, optical digital audio input, 3.5mm analog audio input, Bluetooth 5.0 
  • Format compatibility: THX and WiSA certified, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS 5.1 Digital Surround

Pros

  • Lovely, detailed sound, supported up to 24-bit/96kHz high-res digital audio
  • WiSA wireless transmission won’t interfere with WiFi or Bluetooth bandwidth
  • Eye-catching design with a separate unit for each audio channel

Cons 

  • No Dolby Atmos or WiFi streaming
  • No firmware update to HDMI eARC yet

The WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio Association) technology may not be a huge buzzword in home audio, but it’s worth your attention. It allows the transmission of up to eight channels of uncompressed 24-bit/96 kHz high-res audio (twice the resolution of CD audio) on wireless frequencies that won’t interfere with Bluetooth or your WiFi bandwidth. And the WiSA audio is so low-latency (5.2 milliseconds) that it will appear perfectly synced with your TV’s picture. The Enclave Cinehome PRO 5.1 wireless surround sound system is the first THX-certified WiSA system with its level of surround-sound support, which includes Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, DTS Digital surround, Dolby Pro Logic II, and may add Dolby Atmos support at a later date through a firmware update.

While only a 5.1 system, the CineHome PRO puts out beautiful audio with attention to detail. Each audio channel gets its own speaker unit that can sit horizontally or vertically to save surface area. With 3-way center and front left/right units, and 2-way rear left/right units, the system balances the entire frequency range extraordinarily well. It also gets very loud, but the audio stays clean regardless of the volume level. A helpful control app puts different sound modes at your fingertips, including the excellent Whole Room Stereo mode, which makes the CineHome PRO an impeccable system for music listening on top of its immersive surround sound performance for home theater.

Best design: Sonos Arc with Sonos Sub and Era 100 or Era 300 surround speakers

Sonos Arc soundbar in front of a TV flanked by HomePods

Why it made the cut: Combining the Sonos Arc soundbar with the Sonos Sub (Gen. 3) and two Sonos surround speakers makes for a stunning ensemble both visually and audibly. 

Specs

  • Audio channels: 5.1.2 with 17 total speaker drivers
  • Total power/SPL loudness: N/A 
  • Frequency response: apprx. 32Hz-19kHz
  • Connectivity: HDMI eARC, WiFi, Ethernet 
  • Format compatibility: Multiroom audio, Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Apple AirPlay 2, Siri, Amazon Alex, Google Assistant

Pros

  • Very spacious surround sound imaging and good Atmos performance
  • Smart speaker features and WiFi streaming
  • Sleek styling with touch controls on the soundbar and surround speakers

Cons 

  • Limited connectivity and no Bluetooth
  • Room calibration only works through the iOS app

This intelligent wireless surround sound combination can be purchased as a single bundle for just over $2,000. But if that feels like too much upfront and you want to assemble components piecemeal, it’s worth it to procure the Sonos Arc soundbar, Sub subwoofer, and a pair of Era 100 surround speakers gradually to create a formidable home theater system that you can also easily connect with your TV and any number of Sonos products to make a multiroom audio setup. The Arc gives you Dolby Atmos playback through two top-firing speakers, as well as an HDMI eARC connection (which enables high-resolution audio), Apple AirPlay 2 streaming, and smart speaker features like built-in voice control with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. The Sonos app lets you connect most other streaming services, and the iOS version can run auto-calibration to tune the speakers’ response to your particular space.

The Arc’s minimal aesthetic has limitations, such as a single HDMI connection and an app-only remote control. However, it emits precise mid-range and high frequencies, and the smooth, rattle-free bass from the Sub’s two force-canceling drivers adds weight to the low end while relieving pressure on the other speakers, allowing for more finesse throughout the frequency range. Touch controls for volume, play/pause, and track skipping (by swiping left or right) on both the Arc and the Era 100 surround speakers can come in handy when you’re locked to the couch, and those extra LS/RS channels take the impressive performance of the Arc into the next level of genuine surround sound.

If you’re looking for the absolute best design for Dolby Atmos content, however, upgrade the rear speakers to a pair of the Era 300, which are purpose-built with six multidirectional drivers to unfurl the full immersive potential of spatial audio. Whether it’s an album on Apple Music or Mad Max: Fury Road, the full $2,500 7.1.4 setup lets you experience instant gratification and ongoing exhilaration. (A single Era 300 also works as a standout standalone speaker if you’re just looking to turn any old room into a multidimensional performance.)

Best with 4K video compatibility: Sony HT-A7000 with SW3 subwoofer and RS3S rear speakers

The Sony A7000 complete setup.

Why it made the cut: Besides being very well built and good at basically everything, the Sony HT-A7000 has two HDMI 2.1 inputs and an HDMI 2.1 eARC output for ready compatibility with the best 4K TVs and even 8K sets.

Specs

  • Audio channels: 7.1.2 with 16 total speaker drivers
  • Total power: 900W
  • Frequency response: 28Hz-22kHz
  • Connectivity: HDMI 2.1 input x2, HDMI 2.1 eARC output x1, optical digital audio input, 3.5mm analog audio input, USB, Bluetooth 5.0
  • Compatibility: Dolby Vision HDR, 8K video at 60Hz, 4K at 120Hz, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Sony 360 Reality Audio, Chromecast, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Amazon Alexa

Pros

  • Well-balanced, clear, and detailed sound complements both movies and music
  • Good Atmos performance and effective Immersive AE up-mixing mode
  • Big bass power with the SW3 subwoofer

Cons 

Many people may assume that any wireless surround sound system they purchase will work great out of the box with any TV, game console, or other devices they have. But, unfortunately, to get everything possible out of your other electronics, you may need to make sure that your home theater sound system has the highest level of HDMI connection, which the Sony HT-A7000 has. Its two HDMI 2.1 passthrough inputs and HDMI 2.1 eARC output support 8K video at 60Hz, 4K at 120Hz, and Dolby Vision HDR, which makes it perfectly suited for the highest-resolution video and audio.

If your content hub is a next-generation game console like the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, you might want a Sony Bravia XR TV and to plug the console directly into that, with the soundbar attached to the eARC port, to take full advantage of game-centric protocols like VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) and ALLM (Auto Low-Latency Mode). However, no matter how you’ve got everything patched in, what comes out of this soundbar will astound you. The HT-A7000 with SW3 subwoofer and RS3S rear surround speakers is just a highly impressive system with a simple, wireless setup and a moderate-sized footprint. It’s built very solidly and has an auto room calibration tool. The soundbar’s side- and top-firing drivers along with the rear speakers create a large sweet spot for native immersive content in the Atmos or DTS:X formats, and the Immersive AE up-mixing effect does a credible job of making any audio source more 3D. 

It’s also a powerful system for almost any sized living room. Even though the SW3 subwoofer doesn’t dip quite as low into the frequency range as some others, it is very powerful, so keep your picture frames securely attached to the walls and alert the neighbors if you have to. Fortunately, the remote control has dedicated volume controls for both the subwoofer and rear surround speakers.

More invested in the Samsung ecosystem but equally obsessed with high-definition video as you are with immersive audio? You can get a similar setup, with the surrounds and subwoofer, that plays nicely with a new Q-Series TV when you invest in the similarly $1K+ 11.1.4-channel Samsung HW-Q990B.

Denon Home Soundbar 550, subwoofer, and 150 speakers on the floor

Why it made the cut: Denon Home’s wireless, multiroom audio system offers a less-expensive option for starting small but eventually building a whole-home speaker empire. 

Specs

  • Audio channels: 5.1 with 11 total speaker drivers
  • Total power/SPL loudness: N/A
  • Frequency response: N/A
  • Connectivity: HDMI 2.1 input x1, HDMI 2.1 eARC output x1, optical digital audio input x1, minijack audio input x1, USB, Bluetooth, dual-band WiFi 
  • Format compatibility: 24-bit/192kHz audio, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Dolby Vision w/HDR 10, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, AirPlay 2,

Pros

  • Modular system expandable to as many speakers in as many rooms as you want
  • Rear speakers include controls, Bluetooth pairing, and audio inputs
  • Good aesthetic appearance with matching cloth speaker coverings
  • Clear, balanced sound

Cons

  • Some HEOS app setup snafus and instability with the rear speakers
  • No up-firing drivers for spatial audio formats
  • No Chromecasting for sending Atmos music from mobile devices

When you may not have the funds to purchase the wireless surround sound system you most want responsibly, you could compromise and buy a lower-end system … or you could play the long game, exercise a little patience, and buy components one at a time until you’ve built something great. The Denon Home family of wireless speakers lets you do the latter at lower prices than the other multiroom capable systems. While the Denon Home Wireless 5.1 Home Theater System is available in one fell swoop, you can also pick up the Sound Bar 550, the Subwoofer, and 150 Wireless Speakers individually, or start with a bundle of the soundbar/subwoofer or soundbar/wireless speakers.

“Budget” is in the eye of the beholder. Still, ultimately, the Denon Home components should total around $1,500 and save you several hundred over comparable purchases from the Sonos or Bluesound multiroom systems. Denon Home also has 250 wireless speakers and 350 wireless speakers, which are larger speakers with more driver units inside, better suited for being the sole audio source in their own room, like an office or bedroom.

The Denon Home system uses the HEOS app to link all the speakers together, update firmware, and control what audio or music is playing from which room, if you have speakers in multiple rooms. HEOS also consolidates all the compatible music services and sources available into one place, such as Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, SoundCloud, Amazon Music, music stored on your phone, and more. In our firsthand testing of the Denon Home Wireless 5.1 Home Theater System, setup caused some frustration with failed firmware updates and the app not pairing at first with the wireless speakers and subwoofer to the soundbar. Unlike many other wireless systems where the soundbar recognizes and pairs with the sub and surround speakers automatically, you have to connect each Denon Home speaker individually to your home network via HEOS and then pair the speakers to the soundbar. After several attempts to do so with HEOS showing that pairing failed, the subwoofer and wireless speakers eventually just started working with the soundbar. After that, the system worked together, but the 150 Wireless Speakers did experience a connection problem where the audio crackled or flickered on and off. However, cycling the power solved that.

The compact Sound Bar 550 measures only 26 inches wide and looks living-room-ready with its attractive fabric-lined enclosure and illuminated touch controls on the top panel for volume, play/pause, and muting the built-in Alexa voice control function. Its small remote has separate level controls for overall volume and bass, audio mode and source, and a Bluetooth pairing button. When tested as a standalone speaker, the soundbar’s forward-facing six drivers and two passive radiators do a decent job of downmixing surround-sound sources into a spatially separated mix. You do get a real sense of separation between, say, the characters and their environment in a movie.

Denon Home doesn’t disclose any wattage or SPL numbers for its units, but the Sound Bar 550 isn’t extraordinarily loud for its size. It can suffice as the TV’s soundsystem in an average-sized living room, but if you like high volume, the Sound Bar 550 distorts some when you crank it up to the max, so it’s better for more modest listening. Its sound, however, is clean and well separated in the frequency ranges. Dialog in movies and TV shows pierced through the mix in most cases, and music shimmered with a stereo soundstage belying the soundbar’s size. In the right sweet spots, it does have more impressive bass power than expected but does benefit greatly from adding the Denon Home Subwoofer.

It is Atmos and DTS:X compatible; however, without up-firing speakers, the object-based immersive audio effects don’t fully translate to your 3D environment the way they were originally intended. Adding the 8-inch, downward-firing subwoofer and two 150 Wireless Speakers to the mix made big improvements both aurally and functionally. Each 150 unit has its own volume and play/pause touch controls that work for the entire system they’re paired to, so it’s quite convenient to reach over the couch to a rear speaker and flick the volume if needed. The 150s also let you initiate Bluetooth pairing and have USB storage inputs and minijack audio inputs, which will also send their audio to the entire system.

While the system as a whole still didn’t reach the decibel levels of many others in this guide, it made watching “event” movies like the Atmos-ready Thor: Love and Thunder an immersive good time, even though the spatial Atmos effects aren’t fully supported with height-based drivers. Switching to the Movie (DTS Virtual:X) preset gives Atmos material a slightly more expansive sound. During PlayStation 5 games like Horizon Forbidden West, the Denon Home system tracked the character movements well, keeping the surround mix believably positioned and clearly representing the mix of sounds from playable and non-playable characters, the natural environment, and the crucial rumblings and fumblings of enemies in the distance.

For music, the full system can become a single stereo powerhouse with all the speakers working together as a stereo system. Pairing various Bluetooth devices was easy and smooth, with no dropouts in our testing. For audio fidelity, however, streaming over AirPlay 2 sounds markedly better (Denon does not list a Bluetooth codec for the system, which could be baseline SBC). When comparing the same audio sources played over Bluetooth and then AirPlay 2, the AirPlay signal sounded much more full and vibrant overall, with deeper, rounder bass.

Overall, the Sound Bar 550 is a wonderful upgrade from internal TV speakers, even if the soundbar can’t pretend to offer anything other than virtual surround sound. The 150 speakers still don’t have any up-firing drivers for Atmos material. However, adding two wireless surrounds and the subwoofer resulted in full-spectrum audio that satisfied the need for a booming surround sound experience. And the ability to keep more rooms full of sound without fully emptying your pockets is attractive, indeed.

Things to consider before buying the best wireless surround sound systems

Maybe you enjoy unspooling many feet of speaker wire across your media room and crawling behind a cabinet to route everything through an A/V receiver. But if you’d prefer to enjoy full-room, real surround sound with speakers behind or beside you minus any messy entanglements, we’ve got you. The best wireless sound systems deliver audio as vivid as that new OLED TV, and they do it without any noticeable latency between sound and image. Many of these systems also include mobile device sharing via Apple AirPlay 2 and/or Google Chromecast and support voice control from smart assistants. They let you stream music wirelessly over Bluetooth and/or WiFi. While wireless surround sound systems still cost a few bucks more than wired equivalents, this guide shows you the best options across a variety of price points and feature sets.

Remember, however, that calling a surround sound system “wireless” means that you don’t have to attach any speaker wire to the speakers. They also let you stream audio and/or video wirelessly from devices over Bluetooth, WiFi, or both. But that doesn’t mean zero cables. To use them with a TV, you need to connect the main soundbar or base unit via HDMI to the TV, and then the rest of the speakers receive an audio signal wirelessly. Each speaker also has to plug into a power outlet, unless they’re battery-powered (as in the case of the JBL Bar 9.1’s rear surround speakers). And you might need to crawl around a little to find the perfect place for your subwoofer.

Budget 

Wireless surround sound systems tend to be more expensive than equivalent wired systems because you still pay a bit of a premium for the extra convenience and tidiness of a wireless system. The systems here range from about $1,100 (JBL Bar 9.1) to about $2,400 (both the Bluesound PULSE and the Sony HT-A7000 system with all their listed components). Prices may fluctuate somewhat from month to month because of chip shortages/supply chain issues, and there are brands like Vizio that make even more approachable budget options, but don’t expect wireless surround sound systems to plummet in price too much anytime soon. 

Sound quality 

Whether a surround sound system is wireless or wired does not really determine its sound quality. Other factors matter, such as the quality of the source audio and the construction and materials of the speakers. Most people will not notice much difference between a modern-day wireless system and a wired alternative. However, connoisseurs of audio quality seeking out a wireless surround sound system may want to ensure that it supports 24-bit digital audio so that it’s compatible with high-resolution formats. The Bluesound PULSE system here supports 24-bit/192 kHz digital audio, a resolution limit so high that you’d have to search specific niches for audio material that maxes it out. The 24-bit/96 kHz Enclave CineHome PRO system meets a high-res audio standard good enough for even the most discerning ears, and the CineHome PRO’s WiSA audio transmission standard also ensures that it won’t interfere with your WiFi network’s bandwidth.

Do you want a multiroom system?

A wireless surround sound system for your TV room may be all you’re into for now. Still, if you’re thinking about expanding to a multiroom speaker system where you can share/pass source audio between different rooms in your abode, there are two options here. Both the Bluesound PULSE system and the Sonos Arc with Sub and Era 300 speakers support building multiroom systems with a variety of different add-on units. 

FAQs

Q: Are soundbars simulating surround sound as good as true surround-sound systems?

Soundbars simulating surround sound are just simply not as good as true surround-sound systems, meaning systems that have satellite speakers that go most often behind you, sometimes to the left and right sides of you, and occasionally even above you—in the case of high-end Dolby Atmos home theaters. Today’s advanced soundbars with high-tech immersive audio processing can offer a decent illusion of surround sound that is definitely a big step up from internal TV speakers. However, the best surround sound systems still actually have to surround you with physical speakers.

Q: How do I connect my TV to a wireless surround sound system?

You most often connect a TV to a wireless surround sound system with an HDMI cable that passes both video and audio to and from the TV to either the main soundbar or otherwise some small base hub unit. In the rare case your TV does not have an HDMI ARC input, you can connect the TV to the sound system using both HDMI and digital optical audio cables. 

Q: Is there a completely wireless surround sound system?

There is not a completely wireless surround sound system if you consider wires to include power cords and HDMI cables, because the term “wireless surround sound system” means that you do not have to connect any speaker wire to any of the surround speakers or the subwoofer, the way you have to connect speaker wire to the speakers of some home theater systems that are powered by amplifiers. Today’s wireless surround sound systems still need to connect to a TV with an HDMI cable, and you need to plug in a power cord to various components such as a soundbar or a subwoofer. You can find some options, such as the JBL Bar 9.1, that have rear speakers powered by rechargeable batteries, eliminating two power cords from the setup. However, there’s not a wireless surround sound system yet that doesn’t need at least an HDMI cable and a couple of power cords.

Final thoughts on the best wireless surround sound systems

Due to its powerful and clear sound, its wealth of state-of-the-art technology—like HDMI 2.1, eArc, and Dolby Atmos—and the sheer size of its 9.2.4 speaker configuration for less than $2,000, the Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 eARC SSE Max gets the nod as the best overall wireless surround sound system. It may not be cheap, but it is still a great value compared to some of the competition. However, its dual subwoofers and four surround speakers are a bit of overkill for some people’s needs or available space. 

By contrast, options like the JBL Bar 9.1 or Enclave CineHome PRO accomplish full-room surround sound with smaller footprints. If perhaps you’d like to start even smaller and build from there, the Sonos, Bluesound, Sony, and Denon systems on this list all let you start with an outstanding soundbar and add to it with subwoofers and surround speakers. You really can’t go wrong with any system on this list once you conclude how much power, how many speakers, and which technological extras you want with your wireless surround sound system.

Why trust us

Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.

Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.


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