4 Ways to Tell If Your 5.1 Surround Sound Is Working

Object-oriented surround sound technology completely revolutionized how we perceive sound since the late 70s. However, like other sound systems out there, a 5.1 channel surround sound is bound to face several issues at one point in its lifetime. One such situation is when the surround sound doesn’t come out, or if it does, you can hear some muddy distortion hiding behind a not-so-convincing performance. 

If you’re finding it difficult to tell whether your 5.1 surround sound is working, here are four ways to make sure: 

  • Play a surround-sound enabled track from Netflix
  • Test each speaker on your computer
  • Download and play a Dolby test file
  • Check the speaker wiring

Everyone likes an excellent home theater system with top-quality audio content to match their TV’s clear, vibrant images. However, not everyone has the privilege to enjoy such experiences without facing a few hurdles along the way. In this article, we tackle a few ways to tell if your surround sound is working as it should.

Before You Start Testing

Safety always comes first! We can’t stress this enough. When testing your 5.1 surround sound system, altering wires, and trying new equipment, only do what you’re sure of. 

Use the right tools, don’t blast your speakers too loud, and keep the manual guide close by. Lastly, call an expert if you find it very difficult to make the speakers work.

1. Play a Surround-Sound Enabled Track From Netflix

5.1 surround sound speakers have become a widely appreciated industry standard. They deliver good-quality audio, and best of all, they’re cheaper than their higher-end counterparts. 

One problem you may encounter is getting stereo sound from Dolby Atmos-enabled audio tracks despite making all the necessary tweaks. 

A surround sound-enabled track uses objects to immerse the audience in a surrounding bubble. So, instead of the left and right localized speakers doing all the job, Dolby Atmos sends each sound object to the most suitable speaker in the setup.

Currently, Netflix has a decent collection of Dolby surround sound content for 5.1 and 7.1 systems. You can find the intended item labeled with a Dolby Digital Plus icon or a 5.1 icon in the description.

Follow the steps below to find out if your surround sound is working or not:

  1. Check the connections. Make sure all the wires, speakers, sub, and external devices are correctly connected.
  2. Open Netflix on your TV or computer. We recommend TV because it’s easier to find Dolby-enabled content.
  3. Search for the 5.1 surround sound-enabled titles. This may take a while because you’ll be looking for a Dolby Digital Plus icon or 5.1 icons in the titles’ descriptions. Checking every single title won’t cut it. Instead, check out this list of surround sound titles on Netflix, to begin with. 
  4. Set your device to 5.1 surround sound. Once you’ve chosen a title, go to the audio and subtitles menu that appears. Change your sound option from the default stereo to the 5.1 surround sound option.
  5. Follow the sounds. Listen to your speakers and try to pick out where each sound is coming from. 

Although Netflix offers an easy way to test your surround sound, it doesn’t work for all systems. The best approach is to have a receiver that supports Dolby Atmos, a strong internet connection (3.0mbps), and an original Netflix title. 

Netflix doesn’t support surround sound from downloaded titles (even those downloaded from their collection); you have to stream content over the internet to enjoy the surround sound effects. 

If you still don’t hear the surround sound, switch to new HDMI (version 1.3) cables for your receiver and listen closely. Check your audio settings on both Netflix and the TV and adjust to 5.1 compatible audio settings. 

Here are other additional requirements when testing/using surround sound on Netflix.

2. Test Each Speaker on Your Computer

Windows 8 and 10 allow users to perform 5.1 surround sound checks on their computers. The computer’s sound card lets users choose a default audio device from a list of sound devices. 

Usually, when you hook up a new set of speakers through the RCA jack or (HDMI), the soundcard retains its default settings. It’s up to you to navigate to the audio settings and change the default to your 5.1 surround sound speakers.

The software isn’t always perfect and may produce errors sometimes. For instance, it may make you believe that you’re getting surround sound, but you’re not. You have to set up your surround sound system correctly and minimize the margin of error by the computer’s software.

Once you have your hardware set up, follow these steps:

  1. Go back to your computer and open the control panel.
  2. Go to “Hardware and Sound.”
  3. Select “Sound”. 
  4. On the Sound window, select “Playback.”
  5. Select your surround sound system as the default. (Remember, surround sound only works on a system that supports 5.1 surround sound.)
  6. Click configure to open up a new window. 
  7. If your surround sound system is connected correctly, it should appear. 
  8. Customize your configuration by selecting all the optional speakers (tick the optional speaker options that come up).
  9. Click “Next”. 
  10. Test your speakers one speaker at a time and try to pick out any distortion.

Windows makes it easy to test each speaker at a time with the help of a diagram. Simply click one speaker at a time on the provided diagram and listen—that sums up our testing. 

Don’t focus too much on picking out the surround sound effects with your ears. The Windows test tone only helps you identify if all the speakers are working and if they’re properly connected.

Remember: Windows will most likely play stereo if your surround sound speakers are not connected properly. You also need a 5.1 surround sound-enabled sound card on your motherboard. Don’t forget to download new updates (if any) for an optimal experience.

3. Download and Play Dolby Test File

Dolby Atmos is the proud owner and creator of surround sound technology. If none of the tests above worked, the solution could be in using a real test file from the original source.

Dolby Atmos provides a good collection of test files, including Dolby Digital (AC3) files, Dolby Digital (AC3) files, and the Dolby Surround Pro Logic real audio files. 

If you listen closely to these in action, they’re utterly different from stereo. Just by closing your eyes and paying attention to detail, you can tell where some or most of all the sounds are coming from. 

There are a bunch of test files online tested by different people on different configurations, receivers, and speaker brands. You can find a good list that has been tested on supported media players such as Plex. Using these files requires a receiver that supports Dolby Atmos and ceiling speakers at the very least.

The setup may also involve special programs that open some of these files or play them online.

4. Check the Speaker Wiring

If your surround sound isn’t working, the problem could be traced back to a simple issue such as bad wiring. Faulty wiring sends your audio signals to the wrong speakers. Sometimes, the system may end up not playing anything at all. 

Distortion is also another menace to your system’s performance and may originate from bad wiring.

Start by checking each wire and where it’s connected. If everything looks good, go to your A/V receiver and see if all the cables are properly connected here as well. Check if the receiver has the surround sound feature turned on. Once you’re satisfied with the result, it’s time to play a sample scene.

Some sounds aren’t clear, such as thunderstorms and choppers flying in the scene. The surround sound effects kick in best for loud sounds like explosions, so you may have to be a little patient after all. Try different movies and see what happens. 

When Will You Not Receive Dolby Atmos Surround Sound?

Your space is set up, your receiver up and running, HDMIs are doing their thing. You should be getting surround sound, right? Not always.

Dolby Atmos is more of a sound format than an actual soundtrack. Different sound objects are assigned to a specific speaker, like the planes that fly above the scene above can be produced by the ceiling speakers. Other sounds go to specific speakers, and you can follow them closely.

However, there are many occasions when you don’t get any Dolby Atmos content to play as it should. Such occasions include:

  • Faulty wiring
  • The receiver does not support Dolby Atmos
  • Media source does not support Dolby Atmos
  • The soundtrack isn’t 5.1 enabled
  • Incompatible sound system

The good news is your TV doesn’t have to support Dolby Atmos for you to enjoy the 3D sound format. You can still enjoy the content without it, though if you can, get one that does.

Troubleshooting: What to Do If You’re Not Receiving Dolby Surround Sound

The 5.1 is a surround system consisting of 6 channels, 5 speakers, and a subwoofer making up the .1. The setup includes:

  • The subwoofer for the low-frequency effects such as explosions.
  • The center speaker.
  • The right and left front speakers.
  • The right and left surround speakers.

Problems arise from any of these channels, the receiver, other connected devices, or perhaps the software. 

Here’s what to do if you’re not receiving surround sound:

Troubleshoot Your Receiver

Check every connection on your receiver and make sure that every wire is in its right place. 

The AV receiver fetches the audio signal from the source, does all the processing, and sends the result straight to your speakers. Some receivers need to be “told” which speakers are connected. Don’t worry about this (it comes with the product manual).

Check the sound mode on your receiver. Common decoded sound modes include DTS Neural, DTS Virtual, multi-channel stereo, and Dolby Surround. Some receivers will automatically select the sound mode based on the input. Others will have to be set manually.

Troubleshoot Your TV

Of all the issues you could face, getting no sound at all is the worst kind. Sometimes, getting surround sound from your TV speakers isn’t convincing. This is not to say that yours can’t play a Dolby track, but the experience will be nothing like a dedicated surround sound system. 

As usual, check all the connections to your TV and restart it. Connect your HDMI cable to the HDMI input of your system. If your system has an optical cable, connect it from the optical out on your TV to the optical in on your audio device. You can also use an audio cable instead.

Change the TV audio settings from TV speakers to your audio system. You may also update the program drivers and restart your TV. If this doesn’t end the problem, check out this article from Sony on how to fix the sound issue.

The 5.1 is the most commonly used surround sound in cinema theaters and home theaters. A speaker can be placed in just about every corner of the room and project good quality sound from all room angles. Each speaker receives a different audio signal from the rest.

You can also update your software, depending on the device you’re using. If you’re using Apple devices to enjoy your Dolby movies, games, and music, check out the list of software you need to update. If you’re using Windows 8/10, Lenovo, Samsung, or other products, here’s a list of the support drivers you need.

Tip: If a problem arises, it’s possibly originating from the hardware or the software. Check your hardware first and then proceed to the software.


Basking in the glory of your precious 5.1 channel surround sound system paints a lasting experience you never want to leave behind. All the speakers involved should bring real-life immersive experiences to your entertainment when set and configured correctly. For more information or help with yours, don’t hesitate to call a professional.

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