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. 

Our Home Theater Picks

1. Klipsch Gallery G-16 ($2444)

Klipsch Gallery G-16Surround: 7.1
WiFi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: 8/2
3D Ready: Yes
Wattage: 1040 (Total)
What We Like: It has all the digital bells and whistles, and sounds incredible
What We Don't: Nothing not to like
Best for: Ultimate audio visual joy

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. Like 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. 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

2. Dali Zensor 5.1 ($2580)

Dali Zensor 5.1Surround: 5.1
WiFi: N/A
Bluetooth: 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
Best For: Cinema-like sound at home

It's getting a little long in the tooth now, but few pure-speaker systems can beat the Dali Zensors. This 5.1 system (obviously) 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.
See the Dali Zensor 5.1


3. Bose CineMate 520 ($1500)

Bose CineMate 520Surround: 5.1
WiFi: Yes
Bluetooth: No
HDMI I/O: 6/1
3D Ready: No
Wattage: Unavailable
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. However, those 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.
See the Bose CineMate 520

4. JBL Arena 180 5.1 ($1400)

JBL Arena 180 5.1 Surround: 5.1
WiFi: N/A
Bluetooth: N/A
3D Ready: N/A
Wattage: 1050 (Total)
What We Like: This system’s value-for-money is incredible
What We Don't: For the price, nothing really
Best for: Big sound

Perhaps a small step down from the above-mentioned Dali system, here is another pure-speaker set - the JBL Arena 180 5.1. This is a fantastically fun system with a big, authoritative sound that is much better geared towards movies than it is for music, and as such is perfect for anybody with a serious Netflix habit. You get two floorstanding speakers, two standmounters, a centre channel speaker and a sub, and it's all beautifully easy to put together. It's not the most subtle system out there, and doesn't come with a receiver, but we still think it's killer. If you are in need of a receiver, we suggest the Yamaha RX-A1030 as it really makes the system sing. Alternatively, you can go with the Onkyo TX-NR727 for a more budget-friendly option.
See the JBL Arena 180 5.1

5. Monitor Audio Mass ($1246)

Monitor Audio MassSurround: 5.1
WiFi: N/A
Bluetooth: N/A
3D Ready: N/A
Wattage: Unknown
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
Best for: Movies and favorite classic albums

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. 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.
See the Monitor Audio Mass

6. Onkyo HT-S7800 ($899)

Onkyo HT-S7800Surround: 5.1.2
WiFi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: 8/2
3D Ready: Yes
Wattage: 1290
What We Like: The incredible digital spec, power, and attention to detail!
What We Don't: No Blu Ray, sadly
Best for: A one-stop home theater solution

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 - 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 2 speaker channels represent the .2 after the 5.1. Truly, a killer sounding package, for a killer price.
See the Onkyo HT-S7800

7. Orb Audio Mini 5.1 ($648)

Orb Audio Mini 5.1Surround: 5.1
WiFi: N/A
Bluetooth: N/A
3D Ready: N/A
Wattage: Unknown
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
Best for: Smaller rooms

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).
See the Orb Audio Mini 5.1

8. LG DH7530TW ($650)

LG DH7530TWSurround: 5.1
WiFi: No
Bluetooth: No
HDMI I/O: 1/1
3D Ready: No
Wattage: 1200
What We Like: The wireless sub!   
What We Don't: No BluRay
Best for: Medium budgets

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. 
See the LG DH7530TW

9. Samsung HT-J7500W ($360)

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

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.
See the Samsung HT-J7500W

10. Onkyo HT-S3700 ($300)

Onkyo HT-S3700Surround: 5.1
WiFi: No
Bluetooth: Yes
HDMI I/O: 6/1
3D Ready: Yes
Wattage: 650 (Total)
What We Like: Really good specs for the price
What We Don't: Might be a tad underpowered for some
Best for: Getting a contemporary setup for cheap

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. 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 make it an even better value for money.
See the Onkyo HT-S3700

11. Sony BDV-E3100 ($298)

Sony BDVE3100Surround: 5.1
WiFi: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
3D Ready: No
Wattage: 1000 Watts
What We Like: Simplicity and wireless features
What We Don't: No BluRay or HDMI 
Best for: Simple but effective 5.1 setups

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. 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 receiver, but it comes with a Blu-Ray player. There’s also a wireless streaming function for music, and an included subwoofer. If you’re looking for a dedicated receiver, we’d recommend another Sony model: the STRDH550.
See the Sony BDV-E3100

12. Yamaha NS-SP1800 5.1 ($146)

Yamaha NS-SP1800BLSurround: 5.1
WiFi: N/A
Bluetooth: N/A
3D Ready: N/A
Wattage: 600 (Total)
What We Like: Value-for-money
What We Don't: Sounds like it costs
Best for: First steps into home theater audio

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. Of course, the performance cannot compete with the audio detail of really expensive sets, but these Yamaha speakers can certainly do loud. If you have the A/V receiver already, that’s it - you are sorted, and if not, check out this Yamaha HTR-3067 for good measure.
See the Yamaha NS-SP1800 5.1

Breaking Down The Specs:

System Price Surround? WiFi? Bluetooth? HDMI I/O 3D Ready? Watt/Channel
Yamaha NS-SP1800 $146 5.1 N/A N/A N/A N/A 120
LG LHB655 $398 5.1 No Yes 0/1 Yes 167
Samsung HT-J5500W $397 5.1 Yes Yes 0/1 Yes 167
Sony BDV-E3100 $298 5.1 Yes Yes 0/1 No 250/125
Onkyo HT-S3700 $300 5.1 No Yes 6/1 No 115
Samsung HT-J7500W $360 5.1 Yes Yes 1/1 Yes 200
LG DH7530TW $650 5.1 No No 1/1 No 240
Orb Audio Mini 5.1 $648 5.1 N/A N/A N/A N/A Unknown
Onkyo HT-S7800 $899 5.1.2 Yes Yes 8/2 Yes 258
Monitor Audio Mass $1246 5.1 N/A N/A N/A N/A Unknown
JBL Arena 180 5.1 $1400 5.1 N/A N/A N/A N/A 210
Bose CineMate 520 $1500 5.1 Yes No 6/1 No Unknown
Dali Zensor 5.1 $2580 5.1 N/A N/A N/A N/A 210
Klipsch Gallery G-16 $2444 7.1 Yes Yes 8/2 Yes 148

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.

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.

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.

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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