The Ultimate Guide to a Sonos Home Theater

A couple on the couch watching a movie with a Sonos Arc surround sound setup

Caitlin Scott

Copywriter, Global Brand Creative

With the lights dimmed, a bowl of fresh popcorn, and the family cuddled on the couch, there's nothing quite like movie night from the comfort of your own home. But to truly get that theater-quality experience, the sound needs to be extraordinary. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the process of creating a home theater — from choosing the right soundbar and why you'd want to add a subwoofer to creating a complete surround sound system.

The idea of setting up a home theater may conjure visions of tangled wires, holes drilled into the walls, stacks of complicated gear, and multiple remotes. While this might have been true in the past, getting theater-quality sound in your home has never been easier or more valuable.

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 help you make a few simple decisions so you can experience theater-quality sound at home.


Start with a Sonos soundbar

The most dramatic improvement you can make to how your favorite shows, movies, and games sound on your TV is by adding a soundbar. The sound will be fuller, the dialogue crisper, and the bass bolder. All of our soundbars are 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. Our soundbars automatically pair with your existing TV remote and can also be controlled using the Sonos app, Apple AirPlay2, your favorite music app, or your voice. And when you’re not watching TV, stream music from hundreds of services including Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify, and much more.

A black Sonos Arc soundbar


For the ultimate home theater experience, choose Arc. Our most premium smart soundbar delivers an ultra-wide soundstage that easily fills a large space. Its advanced acoustics project sound all around the room to immerse you in your shows, movies, and games with the astonishingly realistic sound of Dolby Atmos. And with a soft profile and seamless facade, it blends beautifully in your home, either mounted underneath your TV or placed on furniture. Shop Arc here.

A black Sonos Beam soundbar

Beam (Gen 2)

For smaller to medium-sized rooms, and TVs, consider Beam (Gen 2). Our compact yet powerful smart soundbar does it all. It provides high-definition sound for shows, movies, and games; offers a virtual spatial audio experience (more on that later); and, like Arc, when you step away from the screen, Beam can play your favorite music, podcasts, and more with rich, room-filling sound. Place Beam on furniture in front of your TV or mount it to the wall using a custom Sonos Wall Mount. Shop Beam here.

A black Sonos Ray soundbar


For apartments, studios, and other smaller spaces (as well as smaller TVs), there’s Ray. Our smallest and most affordable soundbar delivers surprisingly detailed sound despite its compact form. Designed for maximum versatility, its all forward-facing acoustics make it ideal for tucking into a TV stand without impacting the sound quality. (In other words, you don’t have to worry about your furniture blocking any soundwaves.) Shop Ray here.

If you’re not sure which soundbar is best for your TV, you can learn more about setup requirements here.

Pro Tip

All of our soundbars feature TV settings designed to improve your listening experience. With a quick tap in the Sonos app, you can make dialogue even clearer or improve the sound for lower volume levels when watching late at night.

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.

A black Sonos Sub next to a couch while a father and daughter watch TV


Add a subwoofer

Not only can a subwoofer (also known as a “bass speaker”) produce more immersive and cinematic sound, but it also improves your soundbar’s overall performance. Your soundbar produces mid-range and high frequency sounds, like dialogue, with exceptional clarity. But because of its slim and compact design, it’s limited in its ability to produce deep, powerful bass. By adding a dedicated bass speaker to your setup, your soundbar is able to offload the lowest frequency sounds — like a rumbling engine — and focus on delivering crisper midrange sounds and cleaner highs. Ultimately, a subwoofer helps widen the soundstage to create a greater sense of dimension and depth.

Choosing your Sonos subwoofer

A black Sonos Sub


If you’re looking for clean, pulse-pounding bass that can fill a large room, look no further than Sub. Our iconic subwoofer pairs best with a powerful soundbar like Arc or Beam (Gen 2) for truly immersive sound. Its versatile design lets you find the perfect fit for Sub in your home: face it forward to put it on full display; turn it to its profile for a more discreet look; or lay it flat and slide it under your couch so it’s completely out of sight. For a truly cinematic experience at home, you can add a second Sub to Arc for even more balanced and impactful bass. Dual Subs work in harmony to engulf your space with the deepest rumbles of a fiery explosion and powerful roars of a crashing wave. Shop Sub here.

A black Sonos Sub Mini

Sub Mini

If you’re wanting to add bold bass to a smaller space, such as an apartment or simply a bedroom, go with Sub Mini. This compact interpretation of our premium subwoofer features advanced processing that helps reproduce the full-toned bass of a much larger subwoofer but at a smaller scale. Its minimal footprint and unique cylindrical design fits nicely all around your home. Display it in plain sight or slide it under a desk for a more discreet look. For the best bass experience, we recommend pairing Sub Mini with Ray or Beam (Gen 2). Shop Sub Mini here.

A pair of black Sonos Era 300 speakers on stands in a living room


Connect two rear Sonos speakers for surround sound

You have a soundbar, and a subwoofer. How much of a difference can two more speakers make? Plenty. When you add two matching rear Sonos speakers to your home theater setup, you’ll uncover greater details in songs, and you’ll find yourself completely enveloped in what you watch. But not all surround sound setups are created equal. Ultimately, you’ll want to choose rear speakers based on two factors: your Sonos soundbar and the surround sound experience you’d like to create in your home.

Understanding surround sound

Starting with the basics: What are “channels”?

As you dive into the world of home theater, you’ll likely see a lot of numbers like 5.1 or 7.1.2. If you’re confused, don’t worry. We’re here to help it all make sense.


Essentially, these figures indicate how many points of audio — or “channels” — are within a home theater system. The first digit indicates the number of ear-level channels. The second digit indicates the addition of a subwoofer. The third digit indicates the number of channels above ear level (but we’ll get to that later). If you need a general rule to follow, the greater the numbers, the more immersive the listening experience.

First, let’s start by looking at the traditional 5.1 surround sound system, which includes a soundbar, two surround speakers, and a subwoofer. In this setup, the soundbar renders three front channels (left, center, and right) while the surround speakers render an additional two channels (left surround and right surround). The .1 indicates the presence of a single subwoofer. If you remove the two surround speakers, you’re left with a 3.1 home theater system. Alternatively, removing the subwoofer would give you a 5.0 system. You can see how a 5.1 surround system comes together in the image below.

A couple watching TV with a Sonos Beam surround sound setup
With standard surround sound, audio is delivered on a horizontal plane, meaning all the sounds you're hearing are happening at ear-level, or your seated position.

In a more advanced home theater system, like a 7.1.2 setup, you'll notice the addition of a third digit, which represents the number of channels that are above ear level. This provides the sensation of “height.” But with spatial audio technology, like Dolby Atmos, and innovative surround sound techniques, you no longer need to position speakers directly on your ceiling to feel like rain is falling overhead or a plane is soaring high in the sky.

Innovating more immersive sound

So there’s the basics, and then there’s the not-so basics. The advancement of psychoacoustic surround sound — commonly referred to as “virtual” surround sound — has taken home theater to the next level.

Virtual surround sound is an audio rendering technology that allows a single speaker to place audio in the room virtually without the need for additional speakers. This is made possible using a combination of advanced acoustics, sophisticated algorithms, and sound reflections.

Say you pair a Dolby Atmos-supported soundbar, like Beam (Gen 2), with two Sonos Era 100 as rear speakers. Because Era 100 is a stereo speaker (instead of a mono speaker, like Sonos One), sound is projected outward and evenly dispersed across the room. By projecting sound into your space, sound waves are reflected off the walls and other surfaces to create a more expansive soundstage.

So while, in basic terms, it may appear that you have a 5.1 home theater system — a soundbar, subwoofer, and two rear speakers — your setup is actually rendering a 7.1.4 surround sound experience when watching Dolby Atmos content. The image below helps visualize how this works.

A traditional 7.1.4 surround sound system normally requires a minimum of six rear speakers: two placed at head height — typically on either side of your couch — plus four additional speakers placed above you, which help reproduce vertical sounds like a helicopter swooping overhead. But you can achieve this same surround sound experience with only two Era 100 surround speakers.

Animation of a 7.1.4 surround sound setup with Arc, Sub, and two Era 300 speakers
Traditional 7.1.4 system
Animation of a 7.1.4 surround sound setup with Beam, Sub Mini, and two Era 100 speakers
Virtualized 7.1.4 system

Choosing your surround sound speakers

Now that you understand surround sound, it’s time to choose your rear speakers. To make things easier, we broke down which speakers are best for your current setup, as well as the recommended pairings for your perfect home theater.

A black Sonos Era 100 speaker

Sonos Era 100

Our most versatile and compact smart speaker delivers rich, impactful surround sound when paired with Arc, Beam (Gen 2), and Ray. Just note that your home theater experience will vary depending on the soundbar you pair with Era 100.

If you pair Era 100 with Ray, your home theater will render 5.1 surround sound.

If you pair Era 100 with Beam (Gen 2) or Arc, your setup can render 7.1.4 surround sound using virtualization techniques (as discussed above).

Best pairing: Beam (Gen 2) and Sub

Other recommended pairings: Arc and Sub, Beam (Gen 2) and Sub Mini, or Ray and Sub Mini

A couple on the couch watching TV with a Sonos Ray surround sound setup
Ray + Sub Mini + Era 100
A black Sonos Era 300

Sonos Era 300

If you want the ultimate Dolby Atmos experience at home, choose Era 300. You’ll feel the bass pound deep in your chest. You’ll hear the dialogue as if the characters are standing right in the room. And you’ll feel completely enveloped in the story.

When paired with Arc and Sub, Era 300 offers true multi-channel surround sound without the need for multiple overhead speakers or complex wiring. The upward and side-firing drivers project sound all around the room to create a soundstage that completely immerses you, with sound coming from forward, behind, and above.

Best pairing: Arc and Sub

Other recommended pairings: Beam (Gen 2) and Sub

You can learn more about surround sound pairings here. Shop home theater sets featuring Era 300 and Era 100 here.

A couple on the couch watching a movie with a Sonos Arc surround sound setup
Arc + Era 300 + Sub

Seamless integration

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.

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.

Pro Tip

Add Sonos Voice Control to your system in the Sonos app to turn on your TV and adjust your home theater audio settings hands-free.

Sonos Home Theater pairings


Arc + Pair of Ones (or 2x Five, 2x Ikea SYMFONISK) + Sub

5.1.2 (front height channels virtualized)

Beam (Gen 2) + Pair of Ones (or 2x Five, 2x Ikea SYMFONISK) + Sub

7.1.4 Rendering (rear sides and rear height virtualized)

Arc + Pair of Era 100s + Sub


Arc + Pair of Era 300s + Sub

7.1.4 Rendering (front height is virtualized)

Beam (Gen 2) + Pair of Era 300s + Sub

7.1.4 Rendering (front height, rear sides, and rear height virtualized)

Beam (Gen 2) + Pair of Era 100s + Sub

Once you’ve set up your home theater, it’s easy to make sure it sounds its best in your unique space by fine-tuning it with Trueplay™. It’s also easy to add additional speakers in other rooms of the house. That way, you won’t miss any of the action when you head to the kitchen for more popcorn. In fact, the most difficult thing to do will be deciding what you want to watch or listen to next.

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