If you want to have a truly immersive sim racing experience, you don’t just want the best wheel and pedal setup. The sound system you use is a vital component, and while headphones are a popular choice, there is nothing better than a good surround sound system for sim racing.
The 6 best surround sound systems for sim racing are:
- Q Acoustics 3050i Cinema Pack
- Logitech Z906
- Dali Oberon 5 5.1
- JBL Home Cinema 510
- Sony HT-G700 Soundbar
- Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
In this article, we will go through some of the best surround sound systems for sim racing on the market and discuss the pros and cons of each. Then, we will discuss how to properly set up your surround sound system to ensure you get the most immersive sim racing experience possible.
What Is Surround Sound?
Cinema Sound Quality
Surround sound systems are a popular choice for those that want to experience the sound quality of a cinema, without having to actually go to the cinema. Often referred to as home theatre setups, surround sound systems are designed to emulate the high-quality sound you would expect from a cinema, helping to make whatever you are watching or playing more realistic.
Surround sound is nothing new, having its roots in 1930s cinema. The systems have been implemented in homes across the world for decades, but the technology available now means that they can offer some truly incredible results. There are various brands, systems and configurations on the market, and it can be quite daunting if you have never dabbled with surround sound before.
The first thing you will notice when looking at surround sound systems is the numbered notation. You will probably have seen 5.1 surround sound support quoted on the back of a racing game or heard of Dolby and its 5.1.2 Atmos setup. These numbers have a fairly intuitive meaning.
The first number (5) denotes how many supporting speakers there are to the one subwoofer (.1), with the subwoofer being the speaker that provides the low frequency sounds, such as car engines and explosions. The five other speakers are known as full bandwidth, meaning they put out sounds of all frequencies.
In the case of a 5.1 system, this usually means there are three ‘front’ speakers and two ‘rear’ speakers, alongside one subwoofer. You may also see 7.1 or 9.1, which means there are more full bandwidth speakers in these setups.
Some surround sound systems have a third number, such as the Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 setup mentioned above. In this case, the .2 at the end denotes the fact that there are two speakers that project sound upwards, which helps to create the feeling of 3D sound. This is a high-end setup, but it can produce some unbelievable sounds.
The 4 Main Components Of A Surround Sound System
1. The Device
Now, before we get onto our list of the top surround sound systems for sim racing, lets take a look at the main components of a surround sound system. First of all, you have your device. This could be your PC or games console, or even a music player or Blu-ray player. For us, this will be whatever we are playing our sim racing games on.
2. AV Receiver
Next up, we have the AV receiver. AV stands for Audio Visual, and this receiver is what communicates with your device of choice and the speakers that will produce the sound. You might not need one of these depending on the setup, but this is usually where all of the cables lead, and so you will need to ensure you have one that will be compatible with your device and your speakers.
The AV receiver is what handles multiple channels of audio and video and is the reason you are able to experience such high-quality surround sound. Your system may be able to use HDMI ARC, which stands for Audio Return Channel, but you may need to use some extra cables, described below.
AV receivers contain decoders, which basically transform all of the information sent through the cables into sound that can be played out of the speakers. This is a big simplification, but what you need to know is that this is another reason you need to check for compatibility. Older speakers and devices may not be compatible with newer AV receivers and vice versa.
3. The Speakers
Next, we have the speakers themselves. These are obviously what produce the sound, and so you need to consider how many you want. Usually surround sound systems have 5, 7 or 9 speakers, alongside the subwoofer as described in the first section. If you aren’t sure where to start, a 5.1 surround sound setup is the most common and you won’t go far wrong with one of these.
We will go through some things to look out for in the ideal surround sound system for sim racing in the next section, but just think about how much space you have, your budget and whether or not you want to go for wall mountable speakers.
4. The Cables
Finally, the last components are the cables to put everything together. HDMI cables are the standard for HD and 4K video setups, which you might use to connect your device to the AV receiver. You may have HDMI ARC too, which will remove the need for some of the other cables that you might have to use.
Other cables include coaxial or optical cables which will run from your device to your receiver. Coaxial cables are the traditional method and are fairly cheap. However, optical cables offer more lossless transmission of data as they use light rather than electrical signals, but they come at a higher cost.
RCA cables are the type that will run from your speakers to the receiver, and these are what are used to split up the sound into different channels. You will have several left channels, right ones and center channel, and these are what help to give the system the 3D sound effect. You will then also have power cables running to each component.
6 Things To Look For In Surround Sound Systems For Sim Racing
1. Number Of Speakers
Now that you know what a surround sound system is and what the main components are, it’s time to consider what makes a surround sound system a good one. The first thing to think about is the number of speakers. If you want the very best sound experience, you will probably want to go for a 7.1 or 5.1.2 system, as these offer the most realistic sound experiences.
However, you need to consider whether or not you have the budget or the space for that many speakers. They come in different shapes and sizes, so you should first try and establish a rough layout in your room to find out what style will work best for you. A5.1 setup, like the ones below, can be made into a 7.1 and so on by adding additional speakers as an upgrade.
2. Game Compatibility
But before you choose your perfect speaker setup, check whether or not the games you are playing support the surround sound system you are looking for. Games like Project Cars 2 and iRacing support surround sound, but there may be issues between brands, as there are known issues with iRacing and Dolby for example. Other games, such as rFactor 2, don’t officially support surround sound.
With that said, some games that don’t officially support it can still sound excellent, even if the system isn’t being used to its full potential. For this reason, you should think about whether or not you will use the surround sound system for just sim racing, or perhaps you will use it for watching movies and listening to music as well, making it a multi-purpose system.
3. Cable & Device Compatibility
You need to look for a surround sound system that is compatible with your existing setup. Pay attention to things like the receiver and which sound card your device is using. Cables are also important as we said in the previous section, so make sure you have the necessary ports to connect everything up.
4. Brand & Price
Brand and price are also important to consider, as some are better known for their speakers and some for their receivers. Do your research and try to find the balance between cost and quality. Don’t settle for anything too cheap, and check out the options below, as we have a few of the very high-end options, along with more budget-friendly surround sound systems.
5. Sound Quality
You obviously want good sound quality too. Look for things like the wattage, which is the power of the speakers. You will sometimes find these numbers quoted per channel or in total, and the bigger your room is the more power you will want. Something like 50W per channel suits small rooms, while large rooms might require more than 100W per channel.
6. Speakers Or Soundbar?
Finally, you might want to consider whether you want a multi-speaker setup or a soundbar. Soundbars can’t fully emulate a good surround sound setup, but they are getting very close with modern technology. They can be ideal for temporary sim racing setups, or those that want to minimize cabling with an aspect of portability.
We include two soundbars at the end of our list, and it is really up to you which style you prefer. But before we get to them, lets take a look at the best surround sound systems for sim racing.
The 6 Best Surround Sound Systems For Sim Racing
1. Q Acoustics 3050i Cinema Pack
Channels: 5.1 | Wattage: 150W Subwoofer/25-180W for surround speakers
The Cinema Pack from Q Acoustics combines several components from their 3000i series line. The subwoofer is the mighty 3060S, which packs 150W of power and will really enhance the engine sounds of any car you decide to drive. The surrounding speakers have wattages ranging from 25-180W, which means you will not be short on sheer volume with this system.
It’s fairly expensive depending on the finish and the seller, making this an ideal choice for those that have a decent budget and want a real premium setup. However, the price is not the main focus of these, and although they are powerful it is their compatibility that really makes them a great option for sim racers.
The modular design means you can trust that every speaker in the set is designed to fit snug against walls, and to fit in all sorts of spaces. The floor standing speakers offer excellent sound without needing to be wall mounted, and the supporting speakers will do well placed within any space you need them. This is ideal for sim racing setups that are not permanent.
Power & Modularity
Available in various finishes, the 3050i Cinema Pack will offer 5 surround speakers and a powerful subwoofer to fit any room’s aesthetic. You will need to grab your own AV receiver for this setup, but it is designed to be easy to install, with plenty of ports accepting traditional banana plugs. The sheer power and modularity of these speakers put them in our number one spot.
- Modular setup
- Immense sound quality
- Powerful subwoofer
- Doesn’t come with an AV receiver
2. Logitech Z906
Channels: 5.1 | Wattage: 500W total/165W Subwoofer + 5 x 67W surround speakers
Made For PC
In second place we have the Z906 surround sound setup from Logitech. These are some mighty speakers that will set you back not too much, and with THX, Dolby Digital and DTS approval, you can be sure these will provide you with some truly immersive racing sounds. Not only that, but it is primarily designed for PC use, which will be music to the ears of many sim racers.
You can also enjoy some decent customization with this setup, with the included AV receiver being fairly easy to set up and compatible with various cable types (sadly not including HDMI). You can use it with a remote control which offers such settings as a 3D sound effect. This is ideal for gaming when you want to be able to change the system setup for different games on the fly.
With 500W of total power, and 1000W of peak power, these are some remarkable speakers that will surely be powerful enough for any sim racer. Plus, at their fairly low price they are ideal for those that are new to the market of surround sound and don’t know where to start. The Logitech Z906 surround sound speakers are definitely worth a shot if you fit into this category.
- Made for PC
- Massive amount of power
- Very reasonable price
- Not the absolute best sound quality
3. Dali Oberon 5
Channels: 5.1 | Wattage: 170W Subwoofer
The Oberon 5.1 surround sound setup from Dali will set you back substantially more than some of the other options on this list, but you are getting a real premium choice here. The speakers are available in several finishes, with each one oozing quality. You get some floor standing speakers, along with satellites and a center channel, and of course a very powerful subwoofer.
Floor standing speakers are not ideal for everyone, but they are easy to move around so that is a bonus for temporary sim racing setups. You will need to once again find your own AV receiver, but these should be compatible with most on the market. You could set these up with other Dali speakers and create 7.1 or even 7.2.4 arrangements, which make them very versatile.
- Floor standing speakers are easy to move
- Very powerful subwoofer
- Very expensive
4. JBL Home Cinema 510
Channels: 5.1 | Wattage: 60W Subwoofer
Our next entry is from JBL, and they offer a brilliant surround sound solution for those without much space in their sim racing room. This is a common theme, as sim racing equipment can take up a notorious amount of room on its own, so a small surround sound system is ideal. With this, you can enjoy the power of a subwoofer and 5 satellite speakers with a tiny overall footprint.
Hard To Find
Although once again you will need to buy your own receiver, these are still excellent for the price. They are no longer being made unfortunately, but some third-party sellers are still offering them for under $500. This is unfortunate, but a real bargain if you are able to find them. They don’t produce the best sound out of the speakers on this list, but they are ideal for space-saving and cost-saving.
- Space saving solution
- Fairly cheap (if you can find it)
- No AV receiver
- Hard to find
5. Sony HT-G700 Soundbar
Sound Format: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X surround sound & Sony Vertical Sound | Wattage: 400W total
A Powerful Soundbar
Next, we have a soundbar, which is ideal for those with limited space or for anyone with a temporary racing setup that wants to bring their sound system on the go. What sets this soundbar apart though is that it also comes with a subwoofer, which helps to provide extra bass which you might not get with similar, standalone soundbars at a similar price range.
The price of the HT-G700 is not the cheapest on the market but it is one of the best at this price. Another brilliant thing about this soundbar and subwoofer combo is the fact that both can be paired to your device via Bluetooth, which means you don’t need to worry about finding the right wires and can move them around with ease.
Wired Or Wireless
However, there are HDMI, HDMI eARC and optical cable connection options for you if you prefer. Even then, you will only need to worry about one cable, and this makes setup extremely easy. The sound quality won’t equal that of a full surround sound system, but the various 3D sound modes are designed to give a good all-round Dolby Atmos sound effect, which is incredible at this price and size.
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Vertical sound capabilities
- Space and cost saving
- Soundbar not as immersive as full surround sound setup
6. Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
Sound Format: Dolby Atmos & DTS:X surround sound | Wattage: 250-500W
A Mighty Soundbar
Finally, we have included another soundbar for those limited on space and opting for fewer speakers to find places for. This soundbar will set you back quite a bit of money, but it contains 13 individual speakers that combine to give a very powerful and immersive sound experience that rivals many surround sound systems on the market today.
These 13 speakers include two upward firing speakers, that allow for the Dolby Atmos sound effect. This means that the soundbar can be a little finicky to find a suitable place for, and you really are best wall mounting it. It may take some time to find a suitable position that really makes the most of its capabilities, but it really is worth the effort.
The Ambeo soundbar has plenty of ports for connecting things up, and obviously without all of the extra satellite speakers and the absence of a subwoofer, you can enjoy limited cabling and no need for an AV receiver. This makes the Ambeo an excellent – albeit expensive – solution for sim racers that value quality sound, but also value their space.
- Lots of connectivity
- Dolby Atmos capabilities
- Saves space
- Very expensive for a soundbar
How To Install A Surround Sound System
Installing a surround sound system can be a daunting task. If you have no experience working with electronics, it might prove to be a little challenging. However, most systems will come with decent sets of instructions, so you should be in good hands. But if you are setting up your own system in a DIY style, you may need some assistance.
DIY Or Follow The Instructions
We would recommend any of the systems above as good places to start with a surround sound system, but also for anyone that already knows what they are doing when it comes to home theatres. Although you can mix and match brands and receivers and wire it all in yourself, it is sometimes more hassle than it’s worth.
Regardless of which route you decide to take, there are a few key steps to follow to set up any surround sound system the right way.
1. Set Up Your Room
You need to ensure that your room is set up in the right way to make the most out of your chosen surround sound system. There is a balance between echo and deadness, with the former being the culprit coming from a room with hard floors and not much furniture or soft surfaces in the room.
A room is said to be dead in terms of sound if there are few hard surfaces for the sound to bounce off, such as in a room with carpet flooring and lots of soft fabric furniture. Too much echo and the sound will jump around the room too much, making things sound tinny and unbalanced.
Likewise, if the room is too dead, the sound will simply absorb into all of the soft furnishings leaving little to bounce around and give you the 3D sound effect. Try to have a good mix of hard and soft surfaces in your room for the optimal sound experience.
2. Speaker Positioning
Your chosen surround sound system may come with specific instructions for setting each speaker up. In that case, simply follow the instructions for the optimal experience. However, there are some decent rules of thumb you can apply if you are unsure. The first is that the subwoofer should be on either side of the TV, and you can play around with this until it sounds good.
The center channel speaker should be as close to your ear level (when sitting where you want to be watching from) as you can get it, directly in front of your couch. This means it may need to be either above or below your TV, depending on its positioning. Next, you want your side channel speakers on the left and right of your TV, a little behind if possible.
You want them to each create an angle of around 22-30° between you and the screen, but there is a lot of room for trial and error here. Finally, your rear or surround speakers should be at a 90-110° angle. This means they should be either directly beside you, but a few feet away of course, or ever so slightly behind you.
3. Measure Distances For Wires
Next you need to measure the distances between your speakers and AV receiver, as you need to be able to actually connect them all up with wires. Your chosen speakers should come with cables to connect everything up correctly, and they will probably be long enough for most setups. However, you might find that you need an extra few foot here and there.
If you are wiring up your own setup, then this step is vital as you will need to know what length of cabling to buy. You also need to think about where the wiring is going to go. My dad had an old surround sound setup years ago where the wires were simply running along the floor, tight against the join with the wall and behind the couch, thus mostly out of sight.
4. Connecting It Up
However, you might want to have your cabling completely out of sight, and in this case, you will need to think about making cuts in your wall and running the cabling in behind it. We recommend getting in touch with an electrician to have this done professionally, but there are ways to do this yourself. Once you have this all measured out, it’s time to connect it all up.
The way you need to connect everything will obviously depend on the specific setup you have chosen. Usually, you will need to connect the AV receiver to your PC via HDMI or optical cable if possible. If not, you may need to connect your surround sound receiver to your monitor or TV on which you are playing and knowing which is right for you will depend on your specific setup.
If you are playing on a console such as the PS4, you will want to use either the optical cable on the console (if it has one) or the HDMI cable, or once again you may need to use HDMI ARC or multiple HDMI cables going from the PS4 to the TV, and then from the TV to the AV receiver. You need to make sure your PC or console will support surround sound before you buy anything.
5. Test It Out
Finally, you will want to test out the sound manually or by using computer software to check it for you. This involves sitting where you want to be playing from and then adjusting the speaker positions or individual controls from the AV receiver until you have the sound experience you are looking for. It can take some time, but it is worth it in the end!
Surround sound systems are seldom designed for gaming never mind sim racing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of their excellent ability to recreate some truly incredible sound experiences for your racing. Once you know how to properly set up a surround sound system and what you are looking for with one, you can choose which is the right one for you.
If you want the ultimate surround sound experience for sim racing, the 3050i Cinema Pack from Q Acoustics is a safe bet, while the Logitech Z906 surround sound system is ideal for those with less space and a smaller budget. If you prefer a sound bar setup, the HT-G700 from Sony is the perfect mix between sound quality, power and price.