It doesn’t matter how large your television screen is, or how impressive the resolution. If you don’t have great sound, then you’re only getting half the experience. Some TVs have built-in speakers that can pack a decent punch, but anybody serious about their entertainment should be looking at a home theater system. Fortunately, similar to TVs, prices have come down significantly and you can find a great home theater system starting at around $500. The market has a good range of options, ranging from 5.1's to 7.1 monsters with a serious presence in your room of choice. No matter what your budget, below you’ll find a great home theater system to fit your price range.
 

How We Choose

Our selection caters for all budgets, and when choosing we’ve looked not only into sound quality but also aesthetics and build components. As usual we start from the high-end for home theater systems, gradually moving down in price - and we mean all the way down to a couple of hundred bucks. Naturally, at the top you’ll find the best feature-packed A/V receivers coaxing unmatched audio performance into some of the most powerful set of speakers available. The brands at the top of the list are absolute industry leaders, and their theater packages come with plenty of killer specs to justify their price. If you're looking for a quality home theater system at more reasonable prices, we recommend checking our picks in the mid-priced range. They are still well known brands with both 5.1 and 7.1 options, but although the components and attention to details are top notch, many of these systems do not come with receivers, which is especially nice if you already have one. Don’t forget to check our Buying Advice section below, which gives all kinds of handy tips - from choosing the right system, to setting it up and demystifying the most common technical terms and jargon. First though, check which home systems made our list. 

We debated, by the way, whether or not to include a separate table for receivers. In the end, we called it - where a separate receiver is recommended, we've listed its specs in a separate table in the Specs Tables section. Where a receiver is included in a product, we give its wattage per channel. While we consider these the overall best picks for home theatre currently available today, bear in mind that we have more specific pics for 7.1 and 5.1 systems in their respective roundups.

Also, please bear in mind that prices can change, and all prices were correct at the time of writing.
 

Our Home Theater Picks

1. Klipsch Gallery G-16 ($2444) paired with the Denon AVR-X2100 ($579)

Klipsch Gallery G-16Surround: 7.1
WiFi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: 8/2
3D Ready: Yes
Watts Per Channel: N/A
What We Like: It has all the digital bells and whistles, and sounds incredible.
What We Don't: Nothing not to like.

The G-16 is arguably one of the best systems money can buy, improving on the already fantastic flagship RF-42. The sound is phenomenal. At this price range, you’d expect it to be, and Klipsch offers a 7.1 channel format to experience its full glory. The speaker package on offer here comes from Klipsch’s truly magnificent G range, which is known for its lifelike representation of audio, as well as its depth. The company is an unquestioned market leader, and although this particular package uses a Denon receiver, it’s still a great representation of just how good this 7.1 setup can be.

As with many 7.1 speaker packages, the receiver thrown in here is actually a 7.2 channel affair, allowing for expansion later on. A second subwoofer? You know you want to. And there is almost no home theater system feature not included in the Denon AVR-X2100 receiver - WiFi, Bluetooth, 3D, plus lots more, are all present and correct - and as such, the system can be daunting for newbies. If you’re prepared to spend a bit of time getting to know the system, though, you’ll be laughing.
See the Klipsch G-16
See the Denon AVR-X2100
 

2. Dali Zensor 5.1 ($2580) paired with the Harman Kardon AVR 1710 ($479) 

Dali Zensor 5.1Surround: 5.1
WiFi: N/A
Bluetooth: N/A
HDMI I/O: N/A
3D Ready: N/A
Wattage: 1050 (Total)
What We Like: Killer sound and looks.
What We Don't: Apart from the price tag, nothing.

It's getting a little long in the tooth now, but few pure-speaker systems can beat the Dali Zensors. This is a company that has gone from strength to strength over the years, and we’ve got no hesitation in putting it in the top five, especially given just how much fun it can be to actually run this particular system in your lounge – even if we still think it’s slightly overpriced.

This 5.1 system packs a huge amount in, and the five speakers, mix up the classic line up of stand-mounters, traditional floor-standing speakers, and a centre-channel speaker. These are complemented by the spectacular Dali Fazon sub. It all looks really good, and the sound is suitably epic - enough to keep it on our list long after it should have dropped off. You’ll need to pair your own receiver, and we recommend the Harman Kardon AVR 1710 7.2 to match. The channel numbers might seem to move in the direction of overkill, but we think that in terms of sound, the match is made in heaven. The package might not be the first choice, thanks to the price, but it remains one of the better ones, even now.
See the Dali Zensor 5.1
See the Harman Kardon AVR 1710
 

3. axiim Q HD 5.1 ($2499)

Axiim Q HD Surround: 5.1
WiFi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: 6/1
3D Ready: No
Watts Per Channel: Unknown
What We Like: Genuinely brilliant wireless system.
What We Don't: Maybe a touch pricey?

It can be easy to be put off by the substantial price of the axiim Q HD 5.1. After all, why would you pay this much for a home-theater-in-a-box? Answer: you pay that much because it’s absolutely amazing. It’s a wireless system that throws out all the conventions of what surround sound should be, and we love it.

For starters, forget the bulky receiver. axiim’s hub is small, simple, beautiful and easy-to-use, and an example of where we’d like to see receiver tech go in the future. The wireless speakers don’t have the raw power of other manufacturers, but they still pack a serious punch, channeling 24bit/96kHz surround sound. A mobile app provides easy control, and the setup of the system couldn’t be simpler. It’s easily upgradeable to 7.1, too, and soon all their units will have 4K passthrough (currently not an option). Couple of pointers: prices can vary on Amazon, and new units are rare, so you may need to go direct. And if you’ve been perusing our roundup of the best 5.1 systems, and are wondering where this beauty is - don’t worry, we’re in the process of updating! For now, you can find it in our 7.1 system roundup.
See the axiim Q HD 5.1
 

4. Bose CineMate 520 ($1500)

Bose CineMate 520Surround: 5.1
WiFi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: 6/1
3D Ready: No
Watts Per Channel: Unknown
What We Like: The ground-shaking audio performance
What We Don't: No Blu Ray
Best For: Monster audio performance

The Bose CineMate 520 is a monster, and for around $1,500, you’d expect it to be. It has the advantage of looking really good, with chunky rectangular speakers that you can place strategically around the room. Bose is a company that has always put a premium on good design, and that’s no exception here – for our money, this is one of the most attractive systems around. (We initially listed it as not having Bluetooth, an error on our part - a Bose staffer set us straight!)

However, those looks aren’t what make it so impressive. For that, you’ll need to turn to the Wireless Acoustimass module. It’s designed to be hidden out of sight, and it’s there to push the sound into movie-theater territory with some ground-shaking bass. This home theater system only is a 5.1 and you don’t get a BluRay player, so bear that in mind when you’re doing your shopping. Another option is the Bose Lifestyle 535 system, which offers an even bigger experience at a higher price point. We think it’s a little too high, and we think you can get by just fine on this particular system, although you do have to be cool with being locked into the Bose ecosystem. We also wish that the company made their stats a little more public; despite extensive investigation, we couldn’t find power figures for their control console.
See the Bose CineMate 520
 

5. Monitor Audio Mass ($1246) paired with the Pioneer VSX-1131 ($548)

Monitor Audio MassSurround: 5.1
WiFi: N/A
Bluetooth: N/A
HDMI I/O: N/A
3D Ready: N/A
Watts Per Channel: N/A
What We Like: Superb audio detail, looks...and volume! 
What We Don't: This system makes a visual statement - but it might not suit every room’s decor.

One more, from a slightly less well-known manufacturer. Being lesser known doesn’t stop us from loving it though, and with good reason. It's the Monitor Audio Mass, a fantastic 5.1 system from a British company that has steadily been making waves in the world of home theater. Although this system doesn’t come with a dedicated receiver (something we love to see the company have a crack at one day) we can unhesitatingly recommend a good Pioneer receiver, such as the VSX-1131, which is known for working well with this particular marque.

The biggest attraction of the system, beyond its good sound quality, is its size. The MASS 10 satellite speakers are compact – we go so far as to call cute, and will easily blend into the background of a room while still offering great audio quality. Special bonus points are reserved for the Bronze series W10 subwoofer, which really impressed us, especially considering its (only) 10” driver size. Although they got a way to go before they truly crack the top spot, and they may be a little bit difficult to find inside the continental US, the Mass setup is still a real winner, and one which we enjoyed immensely.
See the Monitor Audio Mass
See the Pioneer VSX-1131
 

6. Enclave Audio Cinehome HD 5.1 ($1199)

Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1Surround: 5.1
WiFi: WiSA
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: 3/1
3D Ready: No
Watts Per Channel: Unknown
What We Like: Good entry-level wireless system.
What We Don't: Not a patch on the Axiim, subwoofer controls are dubious.

You might not be familiar with WiSA. Wireless Speaker and Audio is a method of having speaker systems communicate wirelessly (obviously), and allows it to transmit high resolution sound with more efficacy than Bluetooth. While it’s not in widespread operation yet, it’s becoming more common, and this affordable Enclave 5.1 system is a good early example.

First, the negatives. It’s not a looker, by any means, and certain functions – like controlling the volume of the subwoofer – are needlessly complicated. It’s sound also doesn’t quite measure up to some of the models above it on this list. However, it is still on this list, so that means it must be worth a second look. And it is. For starters, it’s incredibly easy to set up and use, and it offers compatibility with many home theater standards, including Dolby Digital Plus. And while its audio quality isn’t nearly as good as something with wires, it still manages to impress, particularly in the mids, which feel warm and robust. It’s not our first choice of wireless system, but it’s an excellent alternative to the Axiim.
See the Enclave Audio Cinehome HD 5.1
 

7. Onkyo HT-S7800 ($899)

Onkyo HT-S7800Surround: 5.1.2
WiFi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: 8/2
3D Ready: Yes
Watts Per Channel: 100/8Ω
What We Like: The incredible digital spec, power, and attention to detail!
What We Don't: No Blu-ray, sadly.

Onkyo is a prolific manufacturer of A/V receivers, and deservedly known as one of the market leaders. This system-in-a-box shows you why - it’s loaded with an incredible set of specs including all latest digital trends such as 3D support, Dolby Atmos, TrueHD, DTS:X, built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and instant access to app-based streaming. 

If you are wondering about the quoted 5.1.2 format, that is correct, and not a misprint. Taking advantage of the cool Dolby Atmos surround codec (a mode that we explain in detail here), the system’s front main speakers have up-firing speaker modules built, which add vertical motion to the surround movements. These additional two speaker channels represent the .2 after the 5.1. Truly, a killer sounding package, for a killer price. By the way, the HT-S range has several other models it, including the slightly smaller and cheaper HT-S3700 (which we go into in more detail below) and the larger HT-S9700, which is an absolute beast of a 7.1 system. So feel free to shop around! You might find that one of these systems fits your needs better, although the HT-S7800 is still our pick of the bunch for most people.
See the Onkyo HT-S7800
 

8. Orb Audio Mini 5.1 ($648) paired with the Denon AVR-S920W ($499)

Orb Audio Mini 5.1Surround: 5.1
WiFi: N/A
Bluetooth: N/A
HDMI I/O: N/A
3D Ready: N/A
Watts Per Channel: N/A
What We Like: Ultimately the sound, but we like the modular possibilities
What We Don't: Although really loud, it’s only really loud for its size

From a system ticking every feature, let’s jump to another stripped down speaker-only package. We should probably add shrunk-down as well, since the Orb Mini is truly quite miniature in size. With five award-winning Mod1X satellite speakers, each just a bit larger than a tea cup, and a subwoofer called subMINI, this system can easily go unnoticed in your room. And that’s the idea of course, but only until you play a track or a movie. Your guests will be asking you where’s that sound coming from! 

The Orb 5.1 is so punchy and clear sounding, that it’s worth every penny. Of course, a suitable receiver will be needed, and you can even go large (pardon the pun) - 7.1 or even higher formats are all doable since the satellite speakers can be topped up (purchased separately). Ultimately, that’s an excellent reason to invest in this particular system: it’s fully upgradable, and if you’ve got a receiver like the Denon AVR-S920W, you’ll be well on your way to having a kick-ass system you can be well and truly proud of.
See the Orb Audio Mini 5.1
See the Denon AVR-S920W
 

9. LG DH7530TW ($584)

LG DH7530TWSurround: 5.1
WiFi: No
Bluetooth: No
HDMI I/O: 1/1
3D Ready: No
Watts Per Channel: Unknown
What We Like: The wireless sub.
What We Don't: No Blu-ray.

Talking of value for money, LG does some excellent budget systems. One aspect of similar all-in-the-box systems is their relatively easy set up. The system offers competent 5.1 surround sound functionality, and it’s fully-equipped for both Bluetooth streaming and region-free DVD playback. 

It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t come with a Blu Ray player but fear not - you have a HDMI input and output, so you can always upgrade later. For audio quality alone, this is one of the best 5.1 budget systems, and for under $600, you’d be insane not to check it out. We should point out that while we like the quality of the receiver, which offers excellent audio and video playback, we’re a little unsure of the watts per channel it puts out. It delivers a total wattage of 1200 over a 5.1 system, so it's definitely no slouch, but mixing and matching here may be tricky. Ultimately, that’s not necessarily a black mark, as this is an excellent in-the-box system, and one which is ideal for slightly smaller spaces, or those who are just starting out.
See the LG DH7530TW
 

10. Samsung HT-J7500W ($360)

Samsung 5.1-Channel 1000WSurround: 5.1
WiFi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: 1/1
3D Ready: Yes
Watts Per Channel: Unknown
What We Like: The wireless options, full web browsing and streaming.
What We Don't: More HDMI ports would have been nice.

The Samsung HT-J7500W is the upgraded version of the company's HT-J5500W. Samsung filter their audio twice using their Crystal Amp technology, and combined with the vacuum tube power amp nesting in the receiver, the result is pretty spectacular, even for a budget system. There's WiFi capability, too, which is an underrated and often absent part of home theater packages. All in all, there are several variants of this excellent system, but if you’re interested in the best possible bang for your buck in the budget range, then this is the one to go for. Samsung regularly update it too, often adding in additional bits and bobs.

Unfortunately, this suffers the same issue as the LG DH7530TW, in that it gives a total power rather than informing you of the wattage per channel. That total power, 1000 watts, is fairly solid, but as with the previous model, there’s no mixing and matching here. That being said, the sheer range of features you get for the amount of money you pay makes this a very worthwhile investment, so long as you’re not expecting audiophile sound quality. An ideal setup for those who don’t want the hassle of setting up a complex system.
See the Samsung HT-J7500W


11. Yamaha YHT 4920 UBL ($460)

Yamaha YHT-4920UBLSurround: 5.1
WiFi: No
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: 4/1
3D Ready: Yes
Watts Per Channel: 100/8Ω
What We Like: Great starter system for when you want to get serious.
What We Don't: No WiFi, limited HDMI.

Let’s say you’ve got a moderately-sized apartment, and you want to expand your sound system. You don’t need an enormous, wall-splitting beast, but you’d like something that has a little oomph to it. The Yamaha YHT 4920 UBL is worth checking out. The reason? It offers a good balance of features for when you’re starting out, including a solid level of power, great sound, four HDMI inputs and Bluetooth streaming. 

While it’s not really appropriate for advanced users, thanks to its lack of WiFi streaming and the small number of HDMI slots, it will happily take a games console, a Blu-ray player and a couple of other items, and output it all with ease. Setup is dead simple, and you can count on Yamaha to provide some excellent sound quality. It also comes with something extremely helpful: Yamaha’s YPAO room analysis system, which uses a separate (included) mic to analyse your room and calibrate your system. We also really like what Yamaha have done with the subwoofer, allowing you to easily control the bass levels and get precisely the sound you want.
See the Yamaha YHT 4920 UBL


12. Onkyo HT-S3700 ($459)

Onkyo HT-S3700Surround: 5.1
WiFi: No
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: 6/1
3D Ready: Yes
Watts Per Channel: 115/6Ω
What We Like: Really good specs for the price.
What We Don't: Might be a tad underpowered for some.

Onkyo may often seem as a workman-like brand, but you’d never know from the HT-S3700. This 5.1 option is a solid home theater system for an incredibly attractive price, making it one of the best values on this list. We mentioned this particular system earlier, when we were extolling the virtues of the HT-S7800, and it’s an excellent example of how Onkyo have scaled quality throughout the HT-S range.

You’re not going to get the depth and richness of sound that you would for some of the pricier options below, there’s very little to dislike here. As an alternative, the SKS-HT540 is a 7.1 option with similar specs and price, and is worth looking at if you need a couple more small speakers to place around your room. The included receiver makes it an even better value for money. With that in mind, we still consider this an excellent system, one which allows you to mix-and-match as well as upgrade – even if we do prefer the Samsung HT-J7500W, as we think it gives you better value for money.
See the Onkyo HT-S3700
 

13. Sony BDV-E3100 ($298) paired with the Sony TRDH550 ($220)

Sony BDVE3100Surround: 5.1
WiFi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: No
3D Ready: No
Watts Per Channel: Unknown
What We Like: Simplicity and wireless features.
What We Don't: No Blu-ray or HDMI. 

If you’re on a real budget, or just looking for basic 5.1 functionality for a small room, then you may also want to look at a Sony model: the BDV-E3100. It’s the least-expensive ‘complete system’ in our list, and this is where we start to get into the truly budget arena – while there are excellent options for under $300, you should expect to see some loss of functionality, as well as a noticeable dip in sound quality.

Still, it has 1000 watts of total power across its channels, meaning that what you sacrifice in sound quality, you make up in volume and punch. There’s no specific receiver, but it comes with a Blu-ray player. If you’re looking for a dedicated receiver, we’d recommend another Sony model: the STRDH550. There’s also a wireless streaming function for music, and an included subwoofer. We should also say, by the way, that we have fallen in love with the BDV-E3100’s looks – for a budget system, it looks pretty fly.
See the Sony BDV-E3100
See the Sony TRDH550
 

14. Yamaha NS-SP1800 5.1 ($162) paired with the Sony TRDH550 ($220)

Yamaha NS-SP1800BLSurround: 5.1
WiFi: N/A
Bluetooth: N/A
HDMI I/O: N/A
3D Ready: N/A
Watts Per Channel: 30/6Ω
What We Like: Value-for-money.
What We Don't: Sounds like it costs.

For anyone after a home theater speaker system that happens to be on a shoestring budget, rest assured that quality can still be kept high even below $150. Yamaha clearly know what they are doing, since even at this low price, this speaker-only NS-SP1800 5.1 system impresses with its audio clarity and punchy low end.

With only 30 watts of continuous power, don’t expect a super loud performance. This is the kind of system that forms while in particularly small spaces, such as a bedroom or dorm room (or undersized living room). Of course, the performance cannot compete with the audio detail of really expensive sets, but these Yamaha speakers hold their own. If you have the A/V receiver already, that’s it - you are sorted. If not, check out this Sony TRDH550 for good measure - it's the same as the one above, but only a little more expensive, . We would suggest going below about $150 when it comes to home theatre, although there are a few models available that might fit the bill. We consider this one of the picks of the litter in this particular price range.
See the Yamaha NS-SP1800 5.1
See the Sony TRDH550


Specs Tables:

First we'll do the specs for the complete 5.1 systems. Where a receiver is included, we've listed the watts per channel, if the manufactuer has given it.

System Price Surround? WiFi? Bluetooth? HDMI I/O 3D Ready? Watt/Channel
Klipsch Gallery G-16 $2444 7.1 Yes Yes 8/2 Yes 95W/8Ω
Dali Zensor 5.1 $2580 5.1 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
axiim Q HD 5.1 $2499 5.1 Yes Yes 6/1 No Unknown
Bose CineMate 520 $1500 5.1 Yes Yes 6/1 No Unknown
Monitor Audio Mass $1246 5.1 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Enclave Cinehome $1199 5.1 WiSA Yes 3/1 No Unknown
Onkyo HT-S7800 $899 5.1.2 Yes Yes 8/2 Yes 100W/8Ω
Orb Audio Mini 5.1 $648 5.1 N/A N/A N/A N/A Unknown
LG DH7530TW $584 5.1 No No 1/1 No Unknown
Samsung HT-J7500W $360 5.1 Yes Yes 1/1 Yes Unknown
Yamaha YHT 4920 $460 5.1 No Yes 4/1 Yes 100W/8Ω
Onkyo HT-S3700 $459 5.1 No Yes 6/1 No 115W/6Ω
Sony BDV-E3100 $298 5.1 Yes Yes 0/1 No Unknown
Yamaha NS-SP1800 $162 5.1 N/A N/A N/A N/A 30W/6Ω

And now for the recommended receivers:

Receiver Price Dims. Chan. 4K HDMI I/O WPC* Conn.
Denon AVR-X2100 $579 17.1" x 13.3" x 6.6" 7.2 Yes 8/1 95W/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Harman Kardon AVR 1710 $479 18" x 12" x 5" 7.2 No 6/2 100W/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Pioneer VSX-1131 $548 17.1" x 6.8" x 14.6" 7.2 Yes 7/2 100W/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Denon AVR-S920W $499 17.1" x 13.3" x 6.6" 7.2 Yes 8/1 90W/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Sony STRDH550 $220 17" x 13" x 6.1" 5.2 Yes 4/1 Unknown None

Dali Zensor Speaker (Photo: Mycatkins, Flickr)

Buying Advice

Which Kind Of Home Theater System Is Best For Me?

Of course, the more channels a system has, the pricier it will be - keep that in mind when buying. 

Ultimately though, choosing the right system is a decision you’ll have to make based not only on the price or even the size of your room. It’s worth bearing in mind the question of what you are going to be using the system to listen to. Are you going to be blasting dance music through it? Orchestral stuff? Or perhaps you're hooking up specifically so you can binge on The Crown or Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D? Maybe even an enormous, explosive action movie? Here's the thing. Movies and music don't sound the same. They have different requirements.  The dynamics of movie sound – how loud and soft things are – is vastly different to music, which these days is often engineered to be as loud as possible. In addition, movies often use more channels, making use of surround sound systems, where music doesn't. So you need to pull a little bit of thought into what kind of system you want to get: one that is geared towards music, one that is geared towards movies, or something in between.  

If you buy a home theater system - or HTIBs (Home Theater In a Box) as they’re sometimes known - you should have absolutely everything you need to produce high-quality sound. A home theater system combines speakers, amplifiers, subwoofers and AVR receivers into one complete package. All you’ll need is a TV, and you’ll be good to go. You'll also need a video source, such as a Blu-ray player or gaming console. A good example of these would be the wireless Axiim Q HD 5.1 and Enclave Cinehome systems, or the Onkyo HT-S7800.

Most systems, but not all, come with an AVR - Audio Visual Receiver, sometimes referred to as an A/V Receiver, depending on which manufacturer you’re using. The A/V stands for Audio/Video, and this particular box will act as the hub for your entire system. Its circuitry will allow you to split audio and video signals, and send them to the correct places, such as your TV and your speakers. We have a comprehensive guide to buying individual receivers worth consulting. All of the above in our table are good, but we particularly like the Denon AVR-X2100, which has done us proud before.
 

What Separates Cheap And Expensive Models?

Hoo boy. Now this is something we could talk about for a while. We'll try and keep it simple.

Because there are so many variables here, the question of what separates cheap components from expensive components in a home theater system is quite a complex one. But if we’re talking bundles – which this buying guide is about – then you should start looking for additional technology, such as 4K, 3D compatibility, or Dolby-ready audio. The speakers will be of higher quality, and far more specialized. 

Cheaper models are unlikely to have surround sound capabilities. 

One question we often get asked is whether it's a good idea to mix and match from different brands, creating a home theater system from multiple components. There's nothing wrong with that on the surface, but we don't particularly like doing it. Reason being, speakers from the same manufacturer will all have been tested together in a single environment, and fine-tuned so that they complement one another. With different brands, this obviously won't happen. Again, it's not that big a deal, but in general we recommend sticking with a single package as opposed to pulling from multiple sources.

Onkyo Speakers (Photo: Tomas Cloer, Flickr)

Setting Up

Home theater systems are complex products, and you should be prepared to put a little time into setting them up, even for budget models. You shouldn’t feel daunted by this - most of the setting up is pretty straightforward - but it’s something to be aware of.

A home theater system is a really big purchase, and one you're not going to want to make twice (seriously these things come in huge boxes that can be a giant pain to unpack and dispose of). So  little research before you start can go really long way. And on that note: the phrase you hear most often when you buy a home is location, location, location, but when it comes to home theatre, its return, return, return. You are never going to get a full picture of what the system sounds like until it's set up in your home, and you're on the couch with a beer and popcorn watching Tom Cruise murder aliens, or whatever. If you don't like what you've bought, and you can't return it, then you're done.

Oh, and then there are TVs. We write about them a lot here at The Master Switch, and if you're going for home theater, it makes sense to pair your buy with a decent TV. Here are a few we like.

One more link, which may be helpful: a full guide to the back of your A/V receiver, so that all those different connections makes sense. Good luck!


5.1, 2.1 And 7.1 Explained

These terms refer to different types of surround sound technology, and the number of speakers in a given system. They could have two, five or seven (sometimes even nine or eleven) speakers.

The .1 refers to a subwoofer present in the system. Such a setup will have a dedicated speaker designed to push out bass frequencies. It’s usually squat and boxy, and is designed to be placed at floor level, where the effect will be the strongest.

A system with seven speakers isn’t guaranteed to sound better than a system with five speakers; it all depends on the quality of the speakers and the room itself. A small room will only need five speakers to get full surround sound, whereas a large room may need those extra two speakers. The number one spot on our list, the immense Klipsch Gallery G-16 system, is a 7.1 surround.
 

Dolby Atmos And DTS: X 

A/V receivers nowadays proudly display their numerous features. Their spec sheets often seem like rolling film credits, and Dolby Digital is a name that pops up again and again. One of Dolby’s most exciting recent technologies is the Dolby Atmos codec, which moves the surround sound in all directions, including up or down - just like real life objects do. That’s why it is often called ‘object-based surround sound’. There’s a catch of course - to make it work you need additional receiver channels and additional (up-firing or ceiling) speakers.

Another equally famous company - DTS - produced a very similar surround mode, almost at the same time (as the release of Dolby Atmos). DTS called it DTS:X and this is another hugely important type often found in latest generation A/V receivers’ spec sheets. DTS do not use the term ‘object based’ but call it “multi-dimensional audio’ surround. 

DTS:X indeed manages to elevate sounds in a similar way to Atmos, but its immediate advantage is that it does not require additional speakers. DTS say that "any speaker configuration within a hemispherical layout" will do just fine. And indeed it does. Of course it comes down to film producers to choose which way to encode their surround sound. So there's still a bit of a rivalry going on. That’s without talking about dark horses like Auro 3D.

Read more about these exciting surround technologies here.

JBL Speakers (Photo: Matt, Flickr)

Jargon Explained

Tweeter: A type of speaker that puts out high-frequency sounds - think hi-hats, human voices, things like that. Manufacturers often put a lot of work into the systems driving the tweeters. They are also usually paired with a woofer, which puts out low-frequency sounds.

Subwoofer: That subsonic bass rumble you feel in your gut? Meet the subwoofer (sub, for short), a speaker designed to produce very low-frequency sounds, and deliver them with a huge amount of power. You want one of these in your system.

Satellite speakers: The main speakers (excluding the subwoofer) of a surround system

3D capability: Certain Blu Ray discs and players support 3D (three dimensional) imaging. This can only be streamed through a A/V receiver capable of such format. It’s all down to having a HDMI 2.0 connection which can ‘carry’ the 3D format

4K capability: This is a reference to ultra high definition imaging and 4K stand for 4,000 pixel capable TV sets. An A/V receiver supporting such 4K displays again needs an HDMI 2.0 connection. 4K can come in variety of options - 4K/60hz will mean that the video can stream up to 60 frames per second. Latest standards can go up to 4K/120hz which means a staggering 120 frames per second. Just as a reference, analog film snaps reality at mere 24 frames per second..!

Dolby Digital: A company specialising in audio compression technology. They frequently license their tech out to audio manufacturers, and it’s not uncommon to see their logo on the box. While this is a general indicator that the sound is going to be good, don’t base a sale purely on that: a lot of their tech is only really noticeable in more powerful systems, as it needs quality components to do its job well.
 

A Warning About Cables

Cables aren’t sexy. They are cumbersome and boring and ugly. But they also absolutely essential to the operation of your system, and it’s worth pointing out that you may at some point need to invest in extra cabling. Even the most expensive systems, like the Klipsch RF-42 II 5.1 Reference Series, don’t always come with the cables you might need. The reason for this is the different components require different cables, and because not every package will include the same components, they won’t always include the necessary cables. Make sure to study your home theater system before you finish shopping. You may need to invest in some extra HDMI cables, or some spare digital or coaxial cables, which handle audio and video.

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