With the Sonos Arc, Sonos has solidified itself as the soundbar king. And with the way that the Sonos ecosystem works that also means it is now closing in on the title of surround-sound king as well. The Dolby Atmos equipped Arc can, paired with a few other Sonos speakers, make a great Sonos surround-sound system. But how does it compare to the other Dolby-Atmos surround sound alternatives?
If you’re looking for a Dolby Atmos equipped soundbar surround system, some great alternative to Sonos include:
- Sony HT-ST5000 7.1.2 System
- Samsung 7.1.4 HW-Q90R Kit
- LG SN11RG 7.1.4 System
- Yamaha YSP-5600 7.1.2 Soundbar
- Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4
Below, we’ll look at all these units in detail. They have unique features that may make them a better option than the Sonos system, and all of them come in at a more reasonable price than all the Sonos equipment. But then again, what equipment do you need for a Sonos surround system?
Defining the Sonos Arc Sound System
The new Sonos Arc is an amazing product, packing in a ton of functionality at an extremely fair price. Check out our full review here. This soundbar can stand alone on its quality and functionality, but it shines even more as the heart of a surround sound system. But in the context of an Arc, there are a few more pieces of Sonos kit required to make it a true surround system.
For a true Sonos surround sound system, there are four components. The most obvious ones are the Arc soundbar and the Sonos Sub (on Amazon). With just these two components, you get an impressive 5.1.2 channels of surround sound. Let’s break that down real quick, so we can better understand how the other systems will compare.
From just the Sonos Arc, we get 5.0.2 channels of sound. The “5” is from the soundbar’s front-firing speakers that are aimed to produce a center channel, two front-firing left and right channels, and two side-firing left and right channels that bounce off the walls. The “2” on the end is referencing the upward-firing speakers that bounce off the ceiling, giving the system it’s “Dolby Atmos” sound component.
Adding the sub, then, will bump that middle zero up to a 1: 5.1.2. But there’s something missing from this setup that you’d need for true surround sound: speakers in the back that fire forward. As advanced as the Arc’s technology is, there still isn’t a good way to simulate rear speakers, so you have to add two more physical speakers behind you to bump this up to a 7.1.2 channel setup.
There are plenty of options, like adding two of any of the following: Sonos One SL, Sonos One, or even the Sonos 5. Any combination of these can be used to supply those rear channels because of the Sonos ecosystem’s flexibility. But it’s pretty clear that, at this point, a Sonos surround setup is getting quite expensive. Now that we know just what that setup entails, we can better understand the alternatives.
1. Sony HT-ST5000 7.1.2 System
The Sony HT-ST5000 (on Amazon) is a great 7.1.2 channel alternative. With support for Dolby Atmos and DTS-X, this soundbar can handle all of the high-quality audio codecs. Cosmetically, the upward-firing speakers are well hidden in the corners of the unit, and the front-firing drivers are clearly shown on the front of the soundbar. This will divide customers, with some preferring a cleaner look like the Arc, which has no visible drivers.
The I/O situation is really a dream, with this soundbar capable of pulling full A/V receiver duty. It has Ethernet, digital optical in, AUX (3.5mm) in, and USB for playing local files if that’s what you’re into. And then there’s the impressive HDMI suite: there are not one, not two, but four HDMI ports on this unit, three for input, and 1 eARC compatible HDMI output. That means this unit can handle all your inputs no problem.
There’s a great suite of connection capabilities in this unit as well. With wifi and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as Chromecast audio support, it should be generally pretty easy to actually get sound on the thing. Whatever the main content source is, the one with the highest quality audio stream, you’ll want to connect that over HDMI, but you can rest assured you’ll be able to stream music from your phone with only a little coordination required.
- The price for this unit comes in well below that of the equivalent Sonos setup, which is really only a pro in the context of this article. In a standalone review, the price would be a knock against this system, since it’s, well, extremely expensive by any normal standard.
- The simplicity of not needing the rear-firing speakers is really nice, but it should be taken with a grain of salt…since there are no physical speakers behind you, this is simulated rear speaker sound, and it may sound simulated.
- There isn’t any integration like that of the Sonos ecosystem’s – you’ll be wiring this system up and then it’s “brain” will be whatever is delivering the sound system. So, it won’t be near as plug-and-play as Sonos, or as flexible when it comes to streaming wireless music, etc.
- Reviews of the unit tend to agree that the Dolby Atmos sound is just not as impressive as you’d expect. This may be because the upward-firing speakers are underpowered, or the processing behind them is not as smart as in the Sonos unit.
2. Samsung HW-Q90R 7.1.4 Kit
The Samsung HW-Q90R 7.1.4 Kit (on Amazon) is another great option, with the linked kit including the soundbar, sub, and two more wireless speakers. Although the Sony setup above compares with the Sonos system on paper (with the same number of channels), this Samsung kit actually includes those extra wireless rear speakers, making it a more apples-to-oranges competitor.
The connectivity situation is just fine, with Wifi and Bluetooth allowing for relatively easy wireless connection to phones and other devices. Connectors include digital optical, and three HDMI ports – two of those are for HDMI inputs, while the third is an HDMI ARC output to the Television. And this HDMI ARC connection is being wirelessly upgraded soon to support the eARC standard, which is great for this unit’s future-proofing.
This unit has a great, streamlined look, with the drivers hidden behind mesh grills, and although there is a screen on the soundbar used to access most of the features, it’s small enough to not be too noticeable when not in use.
- The price is compelling when compared to the Sonos system, but, again, this is only when compared to Sonos. The value proposition may be higher here than the Sony unit, since there are an extra two channels tacked on the end.
- Not two, but four upward-firing speakers mean nothing has been left to chance with the Dolby Atmos experience. Within the niche of Dolby-Atmos enabled soundbars, this unit will have no problem delivering a higher quality sound experience than any 2-driver Dolby Atmos soundbar.
- Although this soundbar is available in a 5.1.4 configuration that is powered by only the soundbar and the wireless subwoofer, getting that first number up to “7” requires purchasing two more speakers, either separately or as the kit that’s discussed above.
- The size of this unit can make it hard to fit into some home theater setups, because it’s whopping 20 lb weight and 48 inch width means it can be a pain to mount and will overhang the TV on either side. This may limit placement options for some.
- The two HDMI inputs could be a limitation for those who have more inputs to manage.
3. LG SN11RG 7.1.4 System
The LG SN11RG 7.1.4 (on Amazon) is another entry on our list that sports not two, but four upward-facing drivers. If you want to lock in Dolby Atmos sound quality, those two extra drivers will do that for you. And the price, which trends slightly lower than the Samsung unit, make it another compelling option. Compared to the Sonos system, this is a real bargain.
Connection wise, we’re on par with the Samsung unit with a couple HDMI in, one HDMI eARC out, Bluetooth, Wifi, and optical. There’s also Google Assistant and Chromecast built-in though, which is really impressive. At this price range, compared to the Sonos system, they could forgo some of those features but instead have a really well-rounded package here.
There are some creature comforts like a night mode and LCD dimming to make sure the unit doesn’t distract from your screen, and easy setup through a remote app (iOS and Android support) makes interacting with the unit a breeze.
- Cosmetically, this unit has an absolutely fantastic look, sporting a low profile and drivers hidden behind mesh grills. The satellite speakers and subwoofer are also cosmetically neutral: nothing to write home about, but nothing that sticks out too much either.
- App support and a few other creature comforts, along with Bluetooth low energy, help this soundbar feel more like something as easy to use as a Sonos system.
- The connection options are a bit annoying. Similar to the Samsung unit above, the total of two HDMI ports here is disappointing, with only the two HDMI in and 1 HDMI eARC out. It’s not bad, it’s just a limitation to people who have more than two inputs. If you are buying a soundbar at this price level, you likely have three HDMI inputs to route.
- If the width of the 48 inch Samsung unit was surprising, this unit is close to absurdly wide at 57 inches. You will definitely want to measure your setup and plan ahead to install this unit without it becoming an eyesore. Luckily the slim form factor will help here.
4. Yamaha YSP-5600 7.1.2 Soundbar
The Yamaha YSP-5600 7.1.2 Soundbar (on Amazon) is the most unique entry on our list. Not only does it have Airplay and offer more connection options than any other unit on the list, it also packs more drivers and channels into the soundbar itself. Even the subwoofer is in the soundbar, which is a little dubious (more on that below), but gives this soundbar a few points for simplicity and minimalism.
The port situation puts all the other soundbars to shame. Not only is there a full suite of dedicated audio management ports (see below), the HDMI situation is remarkable. There are four HDMI inputs and an HDMI Arc output here, meaning that you will have no problem routing all of your HDMI inputs to the soundbar before connect it to the TV.
And the cable management of getting four inputs to this soundbar should be approachable since it’s form factor is better suited to being placed on the bottom shelf of an entertainment center (more on that below too).
- This is another soundbar that pulls double-duty as a full-service A/V receiver replacement. With Ethernet, optical input and output, and even a few RCA ports for left and right channel satellite speakers (not included), there’s no shortage of audio management ports. HDMI ports discussed above, a whopping four, help this unit stand out further.
- To go with the Wifi and Bluetooth, this unit also has Apple Airplay baked in, so it will be easier to use with iOS devices. This is especially interesting if you’re looking to simulate the seamlessness of the Sonos system.
- The form-factor here is, to use a polite word, unique. It’s not as wide as a typical soundbar, it’s taller than a typical soundbar, and it has sloped corners and angles that make it feel more like a modern art sculpture than a soundbar. It’s going to be just fine in some setups, but this unit risks being eye-catching in a decidedly bad way.
- The “.1” in the channel description can be a little misleading. Although the soundbar claims to include a subwoofer and follows through with that claim using a two-driver “subwoofer array”, it doesn’t pack the punch of a traditional external subwoofer. As if to prove this point, the soundbar has a connector for an external subwoofer.
5. Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4
The Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 (on Amazon) is perhaps one of the more compelling options on our list from a purely value-based perspective. Just looking at that channel count: 9.2.4, starts to make you wonder just how much more this unit must cost than the comparatively paltry 7.1.2 Sonos system we described at the top of the article. Low and behold, it is actually hundreds of dollars less.
And not only is this unit less than the Sonos system, but it’s also priced competitively with the other units on the list as well. And it has more channels than all of them. If you’ve seen our review, you know that we like this soundbar package, and not just because it has channels coming out of its ears.
There are no ethernet ports like some of the other options on the list, but there are enough HDMI ports (3) that, paired with the 1 HDMI Arc port this unit can act as the main A/V hub for your home theater setup. There’s also optical, and USB for the odd local file situation. There’s also Bluetooth, but no wifi, Chromecast, Airplay…none of that. That’s just not what this unit is for.
- The channel count is off the charts here, with not two but four satellite speakers. If you’re going for surround sound, look no further. Even the subs seem to be almost overdone in this package, with two external wireless subwoofers.
- There is absolutely no question that this unit will be the closest thing to theater-quality sound you can get compared to anything else on this list, and compared to the Sonos system. The dual subs and satellite speakers are not something that any amount of whiz-bang algorithms can compete with.
- There’s definitely a look to the soundbar itself. It’s not decidedly bad, but it’s not elegantly simple either. The stylized look is kind of like a Razer laptop or a Honda accord with a spoiler: kind of noticeable and calling attention to itself. Some will hate it, others will want to add RGB lighting…
- With all those satellite speakers, you now have a speaker mounting problem. They all (subwoofers included, so six speakers on top of the soundbar) will need power, which means this setup is far from “wireless”.
Although all these soundbars have their own unique bells and whistles, the Sonos system has them beaten by the power of the ecosystem, but also the hefty price-tag. Choosing the right system for you is important, but you honestly can’t go wrong with any of the options we’ve discussed.