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Understanding Surround Sound and Sonos

  • 10 December 2019
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Understanding Surround Sound and Sonos
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This article will help clarify what surround sound is, and answer some common questions about using Sonos surround sound setups. So if you’re wondering: Why don’t I hear anything from the rear speakers? How do I make surrounds louder? My surrounds aren’t working? Or something of that nature, this thread might be for you.


What is surround sound anyway?

Surround sound is TV and movie content that surrounds you with the audio based on how it’s intended to be heard. When talking about 5.1 audio, surround sound is dedicated mixing for six channels. You’ve got the front left and right channels, along with the front center, and the rear surround channels as well. When it’s working correctly, you should hear the audio mixed for each specific channel play out of that side.


Surround sound does not mean the front and rear speakers are mirroring the same audio. We’ve heard some requests to make a mode or setting to allow this in the future, but don’t have any announcements around doing so.


What should be playing out of those channels?

Audio that is already mixed into 5.1 channels will play from each channel as intended. Most audio comes out of the front channels, especially dialogue and the audio for what action is happening on screen.

If the source you’re playing isn’t in 5.1 already, your Sonos home theater speakers will perform an audio up-mix of the stereo signal to create a simulated surround sound. This means you’ll still hear most audio out of the front channels, but the rear left and right speakers will play what we determine to be ambient audio. This is most obvious in action scenes and with movies that have intense soundtracks.

Turning up surrounds:

If you’d like to get more out of your rear channels, you might just need to turn up the sound. You can turn up the TV level on the settings described in the article here ‘Set up Surround Sound with Sonos Home Theater speakers’


What about surrounds for music?

Sonos doesn’t currently support any 5.1 music formats, but you do have settings for music playback when using a Sonos 5.1 system. For music, you can set your system to play Full or Ambient sounds out of your rear speakers. This setting is found and explained in the article here ‘Set up Surround Sound with Sonos Home Theater speakers’

Having your system set to “Full" will have the rear speakers mirror the front channels for any music sources (including music library, Spotify, TuneIn, AirPlay 2, etc.). Anything coming from HDMI-ARC or Optical connections (TV) will still sound the same as if it’s on Ambient.

For most things Home Theater and Sonos, including troubleshooting tips and suggestions, check out our Home Theater Megathread here.

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