Beginner’s Guide

How to Get 5.1 and 7.1 Surround Sound with Your Sonos System

Couple sitting on a couch watching tv with a black Arc, Sub, and Era 300 pair

Whether you're a movie buff, sports fanatic, gamer, music lover, or all of the above, a surround sound system allows you to experience your home entertainment in the most immersive way, right from the comfort of your living room. And when it comes to creating a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system, no one makes it as easy to achieve — or gives you as many options— as Sonos.

Not sure where to start? This comprehensive guide will tell you everything you need to know about how to choose speakers, set them up, and make sure you’re getting the best 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound experience possible.

What are 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound?

Before we dive into the specifics, let's establish what 5.1 and 7.1 mean. These different figures refer to the number of audio channels involved in a surround sound system. The number before the decimal represents the main ear-level audio channels, while the number after the decimal refers to the presence of a subwoofer, which produces low-frequency effects.

A 5.1 system traditionally consists of five speakers and one subwoofer, while a 7.1 system includes seven speakers and one subwoofer. The more channels you have, the more directions the sound can come from, creating a more immersive sound experience. You can learn more about these configurations in our 5.1 vs. 7.1 surround sound guide.

How Sonos does 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound differently

While 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound systems usually require as many speakers placed around the room as channels, Sonos innovation delivers the same immersive surround sound experience with less hardware. For example, a Sonos soundbar does the work of three speakers by reproducing the center, front left, and front right channels. This means a Sonos home theater system is not only easier to set up, but also fits and looks better in your space.

Another standout feature for Sonos is the ability of select speakers to render additional height channels for spatial audio. In the past, height channels could only be achieved by placing speakers overhead, usually by installing them in the ceiling. Speakers like Arc and Era 300, however, feature upward-firing drivers that create a similar effect for spatial audio content, such as movies and music mixed in Dolby Atmos. When you see a figure such as 5.1.2, the third number, or the number after the second decimal, indicates the height channels.

Close up of white Sub Mini
Couple sitting on a couch watching tv with a white Beam, Sub Mini, and Era 100 pair

How to get 5.1 surround sound with Sonos

To achieve 5.1 surround sound with Sonos, you’ll need the following products:

  1. A soundbar for the center, front left, and front right channels.
  2. Two rear speakers, one for the rear left channel and another for the rear right.
  3. A subwoofer for the low-frequency effects channel.

This configuration will deliver crisp dialogue from the center, deep bass from the subwoofer, and a three-dimensional sound experience all around you.

Here are some possible product combinations:

Ray + Era 100 rear speakers + Sub Mini

Beam (Gen 2) + Era 100 rear speakers + Sub Mini (With Dolby Atmos content, this setup simulates 7.1.4 surround sound. Read more on that below.)

Visit Sonos Support to learn more about possible surround sound pairings with older Sonos products.

From left to right: Beam (Gen 2), Ray, Era 100 Stereo Pair, Sub Mini black
From left to right: Beam (Gen 2), Ray, Era 100 Stereo Pair, Sub Mini

How to get 7.1 surround sound with Sonos

For even more immersive Sonos surround sound, you don’t actually need more speakers. You just need the right speakers that support spatial audio. Speakers like Arc and Era 300, for example, have the acoustic architecture to create a wider soundstage and the processing power to precisely render individual sounds all around the room. When you play Dolby Atmos content through these speakers, you will feel as though you have two additional side speakers — one to your left and another to your right — as well as four speakers overhead. It’s not just 7.1 surround sound. It’s 7.1.4.

Here are some possible product combinations:

Arc + Era 100 rear speakers + Sub (Gen 3)

Arc + Era 300 rear speakers + Sub (Gen 3)

Note that Beam (Gen 2) and Era 100 use advanced psychoacoustics-based algorithms to simulate additional height and rear side channels for virtualized 7.1.4 surround sound. Arc and Era 300, however, both have upward-firing drivers and side-firing drivers that support a truer 7.1.4 experience.

From left to right: Arc, Era 300 Stereo Pair, Era 100 Stereo Pair, Sub black
From left to right: Arc, Era 300 Stereo Pair, Era 100 Stereo Pair, Sub

Setting up surround sound in the Sonos app

Once you have your speakers positioned, you can set up surround sound in the Sonos app:

  1. Start by plugging in your soundbar and following the instructions in the app for connecting your TV and syncing your remote. Then plug in your subwoofer and add it to the same room as your soundbar.
  2. Add your rear speakers to your system one at a time, giving them each their own name, like Left Surround and Right Surround. Ideally these should be placed at ear level behind your listening position and angled inward.
  3. Choose the room where you have your soundbar and subwoofer set up, then select Set Up Surrounds. The app will detect your rear speakers. All you have to do is select them, and in minutes your system is ready.

To make sure you’re getting the best experience, you’ll want to use Trueplay™ to fine-tune the sound for your space. You can also adjust your surround sound settings from within the app by choosing the room where you home theater is set up and selecting Advanced Audio > Surround Settings. From there, you can adjust the TV level and music playback according to your preference.

For music playback, you can set your surround speakers to Full or Ambient mode. These are set to Ambient mode by default, which means the rear speakers will perform as they do for home theater, producing low-volume audio within a limited frequency range optimized for the seated position you’d have when watching TV. If you select Full, the rear speakers will act as a stereo pair for more powerful and immersive sound that fills more of the room.

Diagram illustrating a typical 5.1 home theater setup

Selecting the right media type

Your Sonos surround sound experience depends on your TV connection and content. Most shows and movies are mixed for 5.1 surround sound, so you can expect to get a 5.1 experience from any Sonos surround sound system.

For 7.1.4 surround sound, you need two things. First, your TV should support HDMI eARC. (You should be able to verify this from the manual or a quick Google search.) Second, your streaming service will need to have Dolby Atmos content, which is available from services like Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. You can check the home theater audio format from the Now Playing screen in the Sonos app.

Some content, especially music, will default to stereo playback through your surround sound system, so you’ll experience stereo sound from both the front and back of the room. If you have Beam (Gen 2) or Arc, you can enjoy a more immersive spatial audio experience on your system by listening to Dolby Atmos Music from Apple Music and Amazon Music Unlimited. Just look for the Dolby Atmos badge next to the track or on the Now Playing screen. You also have the option to turn off spatial audio for music playback in the app.

Explore Sonos surround sound sets

Investing in a surround sound system with Sonos allows you to bring the theater-experience to the comfort of your home with fewer components and hassle-free installation. If you’re ready to create your Sonos home theater system and feel fully immersed in your home entertainment, explore our ready-made speaker sets for 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound.

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