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The 5.1-channel surround audio system has been around for two decades now, and has become the absolute standard for home theaters. But if you go up to the luckier-sounding 7.1 surround system, the cinematic audio experience is delivered through seven speakers and a subwoofer. What this bigger set does to the audio ambience is substantial, and the improvements to the directionality and continuity of the sound are immediately noticeable. For more background information on 7.1 home theater, see our comparison tables and buying advice below the picks.
 

How We Choose

First, a big caveat: One of the best ways to put together a 7.1 system is to mix and match individual components from different companies: satellites from one, sub from another, floorstanding speakers from a third. We can't really list those here; each room and listening situation is different, and listing individual components would make this roundup unwieldy as hell.

What we've done instead is focus on companies that offer 7.1 'packages' - sets of matched speakers, ready to go. Where indicated, we've paired these packages with a good receiver. In our mind, this is by far the simplest method of doing this, even if it does mean that excellent companies like Phase, Harman Kardon or SVS don't make the list. Those companies, unfortunately, don't offer dedicated 7.1 packages for purchase - although their individual components feature on plenty of other product roundups on this site, and we'd absolutely recommend them if you go the component route. Our approach does mean that some companies do dominate. To make things easier, we've broken down our picks into handy categories - no matter what your budget, we've got something for you.
 

Best Overall 7.1 Home Theater System

1. Aperion Audio Verus III Grand Tower Surround 10D ($5,844) paired with the NAD T 777 V3 ($2,499)

Aperion Audio Verus III Grand Tower Hybrid 12DReceiver Wattage: 125/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby (Various), DTS (Various)
Expandable To: 11.2
What We Like: Splendid audio combination - NAD and Aperion together are a real win.
What We Don’t: Quite pricey, lack of specs.

Aperion Audio make absolutely tremendous home theater gear. Their latest update to the Verus series retains its spot on this list, and with good reason. The new speakers in the Verus III range have redesigned tweeters and tweaked crossovers, giving them even more crisp detail. This spot on the list was previously held by the KEF R Series, but that's no longer offered as a package - and really, the Verus III can go pound for pound with more expensive speaker systems from Klipsch and Martin Logan, below. While we've highlighted the 10D version here, which we think is the best, it also happens to be the most expensive one they offer. However, there are plenty of variations if you want to spend slightly less.

When you pair these speakers with NAD's upgrade to the T 777, magic happens. Real magic, the kind that leaves your friends' jaws on the floor. It's not just the fact that the receiver comes with multiple surround codecs, the ability to expand to much bigger systems, and about all the mod-cons one could possibly ask for; it's that it has an affinity for these particular speakers that's nothing short of breathtaking. You will definitely pay for this combination, but it's a great one, and worthy of a place on this list. We do, however, wish that Aperion had thought to release more specs - it would be good to know the wattage range of the speakers, and their frequencies
See the Aperion Audio Verus III Grand Tower Surround 10D See the NAD T 777 V3
 

A Close Second

2. Klipsch THX Ultra2 paired with the Onkyo TX-NR3010 Receiver ($12,974 - Package)

Klipsch THX Ultra2 7.2 Receiver Wattage: 160/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby (Various), DTS (Various)
Expandable To: 11.4
What We Like: Perfect pairing in a single package.
What We Don’t: Perhaps not quite as revealing as we’d like, stupidly expensive.

The THX Ultra2 7.2 system is arguably Klipsch's top surround sound package. As you can probably tell from the name, it's got THX certification – meaning the sound it puts out is nothing short of glorious. It's definitely one for bigger rooms, but if you're looking for a convenient solution, this package, which includes the Onkyo TX-RN3010, is beautifully matched. It may be ridiculously expensive, even for 7.1 - something which keeps it out of the top spot - but it's still magnificent.

The receiver itself, while it wouldn't be absolute first choice, works wonders with this particular set of speakers, delivering audio quality that is rich and powerful. While we don't think it's quite as revealing as the Aperion / NAD combo that leads this roundup, we do believe that it offers stellar value for money. At just short of $13,000 at the time of writing, this package will deliver you unstinting, magnificent sound for years and years to come. Consider it an investment, and you're good to go. And if you can't stretch to this, then don't worry: we got plenty of other, just as good picks coming up.
See the Klipsch THX Ultra2 / Onkyo TX-NR3010 Receiver
 

Best Budget 7.1 Home Theater System

3. Onkyo HT-S9800THX 7.1 A/V Receiver/Speaker Package ($1,200)

Onkyo HT-S9800THXReceiver Wattage: 100/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos
Expandable To: N/A
What We Like: Features and audio performance.
What We Don't: Dolby Atmos requires additional equipment.

This is fantastic. For the same price as the previous model, the Onkyo HT-S9800THX gives you a revamped receiver with more power - 100 watts versus 95 on the HT-S9700. You get a slew of modern features, including Chromecast, and you get access to both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (more on Dolby functionality below). Really, we can't think of system that offers this much for this little. It won't compete with the incredible Aperion Verus III Grand Tower Surround 10D, but it isn't meant to; instead, it's designed to offer a terrific system at a very affordable price. It's an easy budget win.

It does come with a caution, however. If you plan to use the Dolby Atmos mode you will need the optional Atmos-enabled speakers (which would make the system into a 5.1.2). That's slightly frustrating, and it means this system is best used for 'horizontal' surround setups, where the speakers are all at ear-level. All the same, it's a great budget system, which we highly recommend.
See the Onkyo HT-S9800THX 7.1 A/V Receiver/Speaker Package


Best High-End 7.1 Home Theater System

4. Bowers & Wilkins CT800 ($90,000)

Bowers & Wilkins CT800Receiver Wattage: N/A
Surround Tech: N/A
Expandable To: N/A
What We Like: Arguably the most powerful home theater package on the planet.
What We Don’t: Only millionaires need apply. 

Well, what did you expect? This is such an expensive package (custom installs only, if you please) that it's really only to be considered a high-end option. But oh man, does it sound good. We've only ever heard it at audio shows, and then only once, but…damn.

It's actually designed to be a 7.3 channel system, which is crazy rare, and requires all sorts of additional components (switchers, power supplies, bespoke cables) to get the best out of it. You'll notice how we haven't actually recommended a receiver for this one. That's deliberate - firstly, we're not sure we're capable of making that choice, which is something best left up to whichever B&W engineer visits your man cave to install this thing, and secondly, because we're not sure a single-box receiver exists that could handle it! At a push, we'd pair this with some Krell separates, but it's a big push.
See the Bowers & Wilkins CT800
 

Best Wireless 7.1 Home Theater System

5. Axiim 7.1 WM Series ($3,999)

Axiim 7.1Receiver Wattage: N/A
Surround Tech: None
Expandable To: N/A
What We Like: The ultimate in convenient sound.
What We Don't: Wired systems have better audio, the pricetag is hefty, no Atmos or DTS:X.

Money doesn't always buy convenience. Ask anybody who has to setup a five-figure system, and you'll be bored to tears hearing them talk about power supplies, dedicated DACs, and how they personally keep speaker wire companies afloat. Axiim have done away with all that, with their new 7.1 WM Series release. It's a mostly wireless home theater system that both looks and sounds fantastic, and deserves its crown here.

The drawback is that you have to plug each speaker into the mains, meaning you'll need eight power cords - seven for the speakers, plus one for the sub, and eight outlets to connect them up to. Since they're likely to be at opposite sides of the room, you'll need a large space, or lots of extension cords. You also won't be able to upgrade later with speakers from other companies, and you'll have to pay a sizeable amount for the privilege. The sound also doesn't touch the Aperion combo, at the top of this list, which beats it on detail and energy. But what you're paying for here is a home theater room without wires, and we've rarely seen such a system - even by folks like SONOS - done with this much panache. Flawed, but still brilliant.
See the Axiim 7.1 WM Series
 

Best of the Rest

6. Klipsch RF-7 II Reference Series 7.1 ($4,972) paired with the Denon AVR-X4400H ($1,599)

Klipsch RF-7 II Reference SeriesReceiver Wattage: 130/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby (Various), DTS (Various)
Expandable To: 9.2
What We Like: Astounding value, Denon and Klipsch were born to play together.
What We Don't: No longer offered as a convenient package.

The last time we updated this list, Klipsch offered the RF-7 II series in a convenient package with the Denon AVR-X4000. But that receiver was a little bit old, and when we came back to refresh our list, we found that the package was no longer being offered. That does mean you'll need to buy the receiver and the speakers separately – but you'll be well rewarded for your efforts, with an absolutely incredible, landmark speaker system. The RF-7 II series wowed listeners when it first dropped, and this is one of the few full systems that the company offers.

It also helps that Denon and Klipsch are a match made in heaven. The newer version of the 4000 receiver, the X4400H, pairs beautifully with the Klipsch speakers, presenting the sound in the absolute best light possible. Like most 7.1 speaker packages, the cost is sizeable – in this case, nearly $7,000 – so you'll need to be prepared for that. Despite costing slightly less than the Aperion / NAD combo that tops this list, we don't think these speakers offer a value that's quite as good. All the same, if you can't find the Aperion Verus II, go for this combo.
See the Klipsch RF-7 II Reference Series 7.1 See the Denon AVR-X4400H
 

7. MartinLogan Motion 7.1 Ultimate ($7,095) paired with the Anthem MRX 1120 ($3,599)

MartinLogan Motion 7.1Receiver Wattage: 140/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Expandable To: 11.2
What We Like: Two companies working in perfect synergy.
What We Don’t: Not too much for this price!

One of the things we set out to do when writing this piece was to see if we could include all the big speaker-makers – surprisingly tricky, as not all of them offer complete packages (SVS, for example, only offer a 5.1 package). That's not a problem for sister companies MartinLogan and Anthem. MartinLogan offer a dedicated setup they call the Ultimate, and while we don't think it beats the KEF R Series, it's still incredible. The audio is incredibly detailed and textured, particularly the bass, which is served by the company's top-of-the-line Dynamo 1500X subwoofer.

To go with it, we'd recommend a receiver from Anthem. As part of the stable of companies, the engineers will work closely together, and these two elements absolutely sing. The MRX1120 may have slightly limited codec support, but what it does offer is Anthem's famed Room Correction, expertly tuning the speaker system to your room. And besides, this goes up to 11.2 channels if you ever decide to go really big. Go on: you know you want to.
See the MartinLogan Motion 7.1 Ultimate See the Anthem MRX 1120
 

8. Paradigm Premier Series ($5,500) paired with the Marantz SR8012 ($2,999)

Paradigm Premier SeriesReceiver Wattage: 140/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro3D
Expandable To: 11.2
What We Like: One of the few packages Paradigm offers - and it's a beast.
What We Don't: Value-for-money isn't quite there.

Paradigm really shine when you start mixing and matching separates - they have a huge catalogue, and for home theater fans, it can be a lot of fun constructing a dream system. The relatively new Premier Series is a chance to build one from matched components. Don't be fooled by the mix-and-match interface on their website; it's easy to build a system as big or as small as you want, and it'll sound amazing - although, you'll need to add a subwoofer. Paradigm are known for their thick, powerful bass, and this system really delivers on that.

Speakers this weighty need a beast of a receiver, and we think the epic Marantz SR8012 is the one to go for. Yes, it's expensive - arguably more than it needs to be - but it pairs well with the Paradigm system, and offers a smorgasbord of surround sound codecs and features. Plus, you can always choose a slightly less expensive receiver - the NAD T 777 V3, perhaps - and save a bit of cash. This system matches up well against the MartinLogan speakers, and is an altogether better investment than the PSB / Rotel combo, below.
See the Paradigm Premier Series See the Marantz SR8012
 

9. PSB Imagine XA Dolby Atmos ($3,500) paired with the Rotel RAP-1580 ($3,850)

PSB Imagine XA Dolby AtmosReceiver Wattage: 150/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Expandable To: 11.2
What We Like: Excellent detail and reach.
What We Don’t: Overpriced right now.

It must be said that while we love this combination, the price does work against it. Shelling out over $7,000 for a system might not raise eyebrows in audiophile circles, but it certainly does on this site, where we put value quite high up. Why we do think this is excellent, we'd like to see a price drop in both elements of the combination before it can rise higher on the list.

That being said: if you do have the cash, you are going to love this. PSB's speakers are superb, and the subwoofer does a particularly good job of articulating the low end, resulting in unbelievable detail. And while the Rotel receiver may be a little overpriced, it gives you an immense amount of bang for the buck, with a ton of power (150 watts per channel, two channels driven) and for expandability if you decide to add more speakers at a later date. We can't quite see this beating the Aperion / NAD combo, but it's a very good start nonetheless.
See the PSB Imagine XA Dolby Atmos See the Rotel RAP-1580
 

10. Definitive Technology 7.1 System ($4,522) paired with the Yamaha RX-A3080 ($2,000)

Definitive Technology 7.1 System

Receiver Wattage: 150/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby (Various), DTS (Various)
Expandable To: 11.2
What We Like: Unbelievable sound, at a very good price.
What We Don't: No Auro3D, despite the sound parity.

Yes, Definitive Technology do in fact offer a dedicated home speaker package, albeit with a BIC Acoustech subwoofer thrown in (you can buy it all in one go, so it totally counts!) The 7.1 system, which combines speakers like the BP9060 floorstanders and four SR9040 surrounds, does a great job of articulating the position and depth of the audio elements in the mix. Although we don't think it reaches the heights of the MartinLogan Ultimate 7.1, it definitely makes a good account of itself – especially when it's paired with the receiver in question.

The Yamaha RX-A3080 is a beast of a receiver, and one that pairs well with the agile Def Tech system. You get multiple surround codecs, plus the ability to go all the way up to 11.2, if you have the room to add additional speakers. It's less-expensive combo than the PSB/Rotel one, and we think it's quite different in terms of sound signature, with a little more emphasis on warmth and depth. It would have been nice to have Auro3D, however, which would mean we could have a speaker on the ceiling - colloquially referred to as the Voice Of God speaker.
See the Definitive Technology 7.1 System See the Yamaha RX-A3080
 

11. Fluance Signature Series 7.1 ($1,490) paired with the Onkyo TX-RZ830 ($934)

Fluance Signature Series 7.1Receiver Wattage: 120/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Expandable To: 11.2
What We Like: Fluance and Onkyo work really well together.
What We Don't: Not the most wallet-friendly budget option.

The Onkyo TX-RZ830 receiver is an upgrade to the 820 (obviously). You lose a tiny bit of power - 120 watts RMS versus 130 for the old receiver - but gain DTS:X functionality, and the ability to upgrade to 11.2 channels if you so desire. The receiver is excellent - and as you'll read below, it's an amazing pairing for the Fluance speakers. But be aware that it costs around $400 more than the previous model, meaning this combo isn't as budget-friendly as we'd like. The Onkyo HT-S9800THX, above, still beats it.

Technically, the Fluance Reference Series is a 7.0 system, rather than a 7.1. But honestly, at this price, you could quite happily spend another grand on a good subwoofer, and still come away laughing. Onkyo's receiver matches very well indeed with this speaker system, producing sound that delivers bell-like clarity with a deep low-end and terrific dynamics. The Signature Series is an upgrade to the old Reference Series, and it's a real jump in quality.
See the Fluance Signature Series 7.1 See the Onkyo TX-RZ830
 

12. Aperion Verus III Grand Bookshelf Harmony 12D ($4,145) paired with Denon AVR-S740H ($349)

Aperion Verus III Grand Bookshelf Harmony 12DReceiver Wattage: 75/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Expandable To: N/A
What We Like: A great way to experience Aperion at a relatively decent price.
What We Don't: Beaten out by other systems.

We hemmed and hawed about whether or not to put a second Aperion system on this list. But their speakers perform so well that we wanted to highlight another package. Even if it isn't quite as good as the more affordable Fluance / Onkyo combo above, and doesn't even come close to their amazing Verus II system, the Grand Bookshelf Harmony 12D system is superb. Despite the Bookshelf in its name, this isn't a hi-fi system; it comes in 5.1 and 7.1 variations, and is clearly designed for smaller rooms where bookshelf speakers would be better than floorstanders. The sound is outstanding, with great detail and imaging.

We were also quite surprised at how well the system paired with the Denon AVR-S740H, a receiver that costs around a tenth of the price. Not a complaint, of course - anything friendly on the wallet is good, and we adore this particular Denon. This is a great combo, and a perfect one for smaller rooms.
See the Aperion Verus III Grand Bookshelf Harmony 12D See the Denon AVR-S740H
 

13. Polk Audio Signature 7.1 System paired with the Denon AVR-X1300W ($1,954 - Package)

Polk Audio Signature 7.1 SystemReceiver Wattage: 80/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Expandable To: N/A
What We Like: Very affordable system.
What We Don’t: Bass could be a lot better.

If you've only got a couple of thousand dollars…we can't believe we just wrote that, because two grand is still a sizeable amount of money. But if that's your budget for a home theater, then this delectable package is worth looking into.

The Polk Signature 7.1 system combines several speakers from the company's excellent S range, all of which offer decent sound – although it definitely won't compete with things like the Infinity Reference 7.1, which we think offers much better sound quality. Better bass, too: Polk's DSW PRO 550 subwoofer is a bit mediocre, to be perfectly honest, although there's nothing stopping you from swapping in a subwoofer of your choice – and the same goes for all the other speakers. Paired with this system is a gorgeous Denon receiver that offers basic features, but which really brings out the best in this particular speaker set. It certainly isn't going to punch its way onto the top of this list, but it's very good for the cost.
See the Polk Audio Signature 7.1 System / Denon AVR-X1300W
 

14. Onkyo SKS-HT993THX ($799) paired with the Denon-AVR-S710W ($384)

Onkyo SKS-HT993THXReceiver Wattage: 80/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Expandable To: N/A
What We Like: One of the better sub-$1,500 combos.
What We Don’t: Nothing special.

If your budget is less than a grand and a half, and you absolutely must have 7.1 surround sound, then take a close look at this pairing. It might not be the most exciting combination on the planet, but it definitely gets the job done. It's not the best budget option on this list - that honor goes to the Onkyo HT-S9800THX 7.1 A/V Receiver/Speaker Package, which is both convenient and sounds great. But this secondary package from Onkyo is still a monster.

With the Denon receiver, it's apparent that tech like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, UltraHD capability, access to online streaming services and built-in room acoustics calibration are all features expected from a unit around the $500 mark (for the receiver alone), and the Denon delivers. But once again, if planning to take advantage of the bad boy Dolby Atmos surround mode, it would mean that a different (Atmos enabled) speaker setup would be required! The Onkyo speakers, meanwhile, offer detailed mid presence and rich bass character. Having the Odyssey Mule automatic room calibration built into the receiver makes dialling in the optimal sound an easy task. This system is very versatile and can sound clear, punchy and dominant even in a large home theater room - and all for a decent price.
See the Onkyo SKS-HT993THX See the Denon-AVR-S710W


15. Onkyo SKS-HT870 Speaker System ($430) paired with the Sony STRDN1080 ($598)

Onkyo SKS-HT870Receiver Wattage: Unknown
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Expandable To: N/A
What We Like: For budget speakers and a receiver, the pairing is excellent.
What We Don’t: Ugly, boxy speakers.

And now: a system for blind people! For while we do love the pairing of this Sony receiver and this Onkyo speaker system, which we think punches far above its weight for the money you pay (especially since it's been heavily-discounted), there's no denying that this is not the most aesthetically pleasing setup on this list. The SKS-HT870 speakers may sound alright, but their boxy design and overly large enclosures make them a pretty utilitarian choice.

Having said that, they do offer some very good 7.1 sound on a budget, including access to both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Sony don't provide the output wattage of their receiver, so we can't confidently pair it with other speakers but it still makes for one hell of product. Again, it's no looker, with a clunky interface and slightly 90s looks - and not in a nice, nostalgic way. Ultimately, this is a package that will get the job done, even if it isn't the most exciting option available.
See the Onkyo SKS-HT870 Speaker System See the Sony STRDN1080


16. Acoustic Audio HD-725 7.2 ($239) paired with the Onkyo TXNR585 ($399)

Acoustic Audio HD725Receiver Wattage: 80/8Ω, 2Ch Driven
Surround Tech: Dolby Atmos, DTS:X
Expandable To: 5.2.2
What We Like: Offers Chromecast, decent sound quality.
What We Don’t: Nothing special.

This Acoustic Audio system consists of speakers only - all you need is a 7.2 (or larger) A/V receiver to run it, and pretty much any example from our previous picks can be suitable for the job. Perhaps we should mention that in-wall installation might require considerable DIY effort, particularly when cutting the holes (in ceiling or walls) to get exact measurements so you can match the speaker brackets.

Other than that, this is a great way to have a very discreet-looking surround home theater setup and we assure you that the audio quality will certainly impress. It'll do even better if you pair it with a capable receiver - one that can really bring out its best. In this case, we'd strongly advise going for something like the Onkyo TXNR585. This improvement on the old 575 offers increased power, plus a good range of features that will help you take advantage of the Acoustic Audio's sound quality. These include Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and it helps that the TXNR585 sounds solid - no matter which speaker system you pair it with. If in-wall speakers aren't your thing, try match it with speaker setups from Polk, or even Onkyo itself.
See the Acoustic Audio HD-725 See the Onkyo TXNR585


17. Pyle PT798 SBA 7.1 System ($198)

Pyle PT798SBA 7.1Receiver Wattage: Unknown
Surround Tech: None
Expandable To: N/A
What We Like: For $200, it’s much better than you think!
What We Don’t: Poor digital connectivity.

While not having the bells and whistle of an elite system by any means, the Pyle PT798 SBA  is an inexpensive way to get into 7.1 surround sound. The sound quality is decent enough - you certainly get things nice and loud here, even if the speakers lack in detail and clarity when compared to expensive systems.

One major drawback is the lack of digital connectivity - no HDMI or optical connections here. You will have to use those old-fashioned RCA phono cables instead, which is far from cool. But don’t despair: the Pyle has a built-in Bluetooth wireless, which makes streaming from your phone, tablet or laptop a breeze. If this is the way you like your home entertainment, then this will do the trick for you, and for $200 it can fill your room with 7.1 surround glory. If you absolutely must have 7.1, but don’t have a lot to spend, pick this up.
See the Pyle PT798 SBA
 

New 7.1 Home Theater Systems Coming Soon

For the time being, companies like Onkyo, Aperion, and Klipsch have made their major announcements for new speaker packages. There is one company, however, that is yet to release their version of a 7.1 package, and which is expected to do so soon. That company is Theory Audio Design. It's an offshoot of Pro Audio Technology, which has focussed exclusively on custom installs. Theory is a more consumer-friendly company, and although they haven't released a full 7.1 package at the time of writing, we're expecting huge things from them. We don't know much about their systems, but we do know that each one will be controlled by a special unit with a 96kHz/24 bit DSP. If you're looking for an ultra-high-end complete system, you may want to wait until this one drops...

One particularly interesting development regarding unusual 7.1 systems comes from Nakamichi. That might make you raise an eyebrow, as this is a company primarily known for soundbars. Those eyebrows are about to go up even further, because Nakamichi want to force 7.1-system-lovers to think about investing in a soundbar surround system. Their forthcoming Ultra 9.2 SSE, Elite 7.2 SSE and Pro 7.1 SSE soundbars all have twin wireless subwoofers, as well as full functionality with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X sound. Expect these to go for between $800 and $1,500. Normally, we'd keep soundbars to their own Best Of list...but we may make an exception here. We'll report back.
 

7.1 Home Theater System Comparison Tables

Usually, we’d just have one table, but in this case, we’ve got one for speakers and one for receivers. 

Speakers are up first. Note that the values for Freq refer to the lowest and highest frequencies all speakers in a system can reach, and RAP refers to Recommended Amp Power.

System Price RAP Lowest Freq Highest Freq
Aperion Verus III 10D $5,844 Unknown Unknown Unknown
Klipsch THX Ultra2 $12,974 Unknown 20Hz 20kHz
Onkyo HT-S9800THX $1,200 50-130W/6Ω 20Hz 45kHz
Bowers & Wilkins CT800 $90,000 Unknown Unknown Unknown
Axiim 7.1 WM Series $3,999 N/A 20Hz 20Hz
Klipsch RF-7 II Ref. Series $4,792 Unknown 20Hz 20kHz
MartinLogan Motion 7.1 $7,095 20-440W/4Ω 20Hz 25kHz
Paradigm Premier Series $5,500 15-180W/8Ω 53Hz 22kHz
PSB Imagine XA $3,500 20-200W/8Ω 30Hz 23kHz
Def. Tech. 7.1 System $4,522 Unknown 22Hz 40kHz
Fluance Signature Series $1,490 30-200W/8Ω 35Hz 20kHz
Aperion Verus III GB $4,145 Unknown Unknown Unknown
Polk Audio Signature 7.1 $1,954 20-200W/8Ω 30Hz 40kHz
Onkyo SKS-HT993THX $799 50-130W/6Ω 20Hz 45kHz
Onkyo SKS-HT870 $430 50-130W/8Ω 25Hz 50kHz
Acoustic Audio HD-725 $239 Unknown Unknown Unknown
Pyle PT798 SBA $198 Unknown Unknown Unknown

And then the receivers. 'Inc' under the Price section means it's included in the speaker package above. Exp. refers to the number of channels a receiver can be expanded to; Conn. refers to its connectivity.

Receiver Price Wattage Surround Exp. Conn.
NAD T 777 V3 $2,499 160W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby Atmos 11.2 Blue./Wi-Fi
Onkyo TX-NR3010 Inc. 160W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby (Various), DTS (Various) 11.4 Blue./Wi-Fi
Onkyo HT-S9800THX Inc. 100W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby Atmos N/A Blue./Wi-Fi
Denon AVR-X4400H $1,599 120W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 11.2 Blue./Wi-Fi
Anthem MRX 1120 $3,599 140W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 11.2 Wi-Fi
Marantz SR8012 $2,999 140W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby / DTS (Various), Auro3D 11.2 Blue./Wi-Fi
Rotel RAP-1580 $3,850 150W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 11.2 Bluetooth
Yamaha RX-A3080 $2,000 150W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby (Various), DTS (Various) 11.2 Blue./Wi-Fi
Onkyo TX-RZ830 $934 120W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 11.2 Blue./Wi-Fi
Denon AVR-S740H $349 75W/8Ω - 2Ch Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 7.2 Blue./Wi-Fi
Denon AVR-X1300W Inc. 80W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby Atmos, DTS:X N/A Blue./Wi-Fi
Denon-AVR-S710W $384 80W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby Atmos, DTS:X N/A Blue./Wi-Fi
Sony STRDN1080 $598 Unknown Dolby Atmos, DTS:X N/A Blue./Wi-Fi
Onkyo TXNR585 $399 80W/8Ω - 2ch Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 5.2.2 Blue./Wi-Fi
Pyle PT798 SBA $200 Unknown None N/A Bluetooth

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Height speakers (like these) enable Dolby Atmos audio | The Master Switch
Height speakers (like these) enable Dolby Atmos audio | The Master Switch

7.1 Home Theater System Buying Advice

What Is A 7.1 System?

A 7.1 surround system is a home entertainment package consisting of seven speakers and one subwoofer, connected to an A/V receiver with the right credentials - namely, enough separate speaker connections and wattage to power everything. The receiver acts as the main hub where all audio and visual sources such as Blu-ray/DVD players, game consoles, computers and wireless streaming are being connected into, and the speakers…well, they make noise. From the front, back, and sides, as well as shaking your stomach with bass. (If you want a guide to the big differences between 5.1 and 7.1, check this out.)

The receiver is linked to your TV screen (or two or three, depending on the receiver's specs) as well as decoding (or translating) audio data into surround sound playback, where sounds can freely 'hover' between the surround speakers. On rarer occasions you may find the same setup but with a separate power amp and receiver, which is the kind of thing that only dedicated audio fiends get into. It's a bit much for our purposes here though! As with any other technology, the quality of 7.1 system can vary depending on cost. You can find 7.1 systems from as little as a couple of hundred bucks these days. Cheaper setups will still let you experience surround sound motion, but many have very limited connectivity. And such entry level sound quality is quite comparable to a glorified ghetto blaster, really. Oh, and if the idea of seven-plus speakers makes you break out in hives, don't worry. We've got a full guide to all the connections you'll need to get things up and running.

How about $90,000 for a 7.1 system? These Bowers & Wilkins speakers make it possible | Derrick Noh
How about $90,000 for a 7.1 system? These Bowers & Wilkins speakers make it possible | Derrick Noh

Are These All Home-Theater-In-A-Box?

Absolutely not. For the record, we have nothing against single-purchase, complete home theater systems. You can be snobbish about it as you want, but they offer an undeniably convenient way of experiencing home theater, which is often ideal for smaller spaces. However, we would stop short of describing any of the above systems as HTIBs. Well, with the exception of the Pyle PT798 SBA, which actually is. Then again, it’s one of the very, very few.

What these are, as we stated at the very top of this article, are home theater speaker packages of at least seven speakers and one subwoofer, that are offered together for a single price. In almost all cases, we’ve recommended a separate receiver to pair with them. This kind of situation – where a speaker set up this large is actually offered in a bundle – is actually pretty rare. It’s meant we’ve had to leave a few manufacturers off the list, because while they all have a presence in the home theater space, they don’t actually sell bundles of their speakers beyond 5.1. We hope you’ll forgive us for that. We discovered when putting this together that trying to create an ultimate best-of list that took into account at least four different types of products (subwoofers, floorstanding speakers, satellite speakers, and receivers) just made things way too unwieldy. We absolutely do recommend assembling a bespoke system out of individual products from your favorite manufacturers, if you have the money and patience to do so. If that’s the case, you may want to look at some of our individual product roundups to get started. How about our floorstanding speaker lineup? Or our list of the best subwoofers of this year? In those articles, you’ll find fantastic products from fan favorite manufacturers like SVS, Paradigm, ELAC and more. We didn’t leave them out because we forgot them, we promise.

The MartinLogan Dynamo 1000 Subwoofer is a beast| MartinLogan
The MartinLogan Dynamo 1000 Subwoofer is a beast | MartinLogan

7.1 vs. 9.1 vs 11.2

Let’s say you’ve already installed your 7.1 surround system. That’s your starting setup. What if you wanted to go bigger? What, you thought we’d just stop at seven? Nah, man. You can add a second subwoofer if you really want monster bass, making it into a 7.2 system setup (where the number after the ‘point’ represents the subwoofer). This is easy enough - almost all receivers will be able to send audio to two subs, and then all you need to do is plug them into the mains. Larger-format surround systems can also be split into zones (different rooms). If you had your kitchen next to the movie room, you could actually kit it out with a pair of stereo speakers and subwoofer (2.1) while leaving the remaining 5 speakers and the second subwoofer to act as a regular 5.1 in your main room - both zones would be powered by the same 7.2 receiver. In that way you can ‘keep up’ with the movie, while preparing dinner or having a chat on the phone. That is a thing you could do.

But let’s say you want to go bigger. It’s worth investigating 9.1 and up. To do this, you need to use what are known as matrix sound channels. If that sounds complicated, all you have to know is that the original seven channels (and one sub channel) from the back of your receiver are all discrete channels that carry an independent signal, whereas a matrix channel actually blends some of this audio, helped along by the surround sound codec to translate it for a height speaker. Because that’s what 9.1 and 11.1 (or 9.2 and 11.2, if you have two subwoofers apiece) are. They involve height speakers.

If you only have two, taking the system to 9.1, you would place these either above you and on either side of your listening position, or above your front speakers. If you had an 11.1 system, you would have speakers in all four positions, or alternatively, in the corners of the room. If you wanted to get this effect, then look at the Paradigm Premier Series system paired with the Marantz SR8012 receiver, which will take you all the way up to 11.2 channels for a little over $9,000, plus change for some additional speakers (the Paradigm website lets you buy as many or as few speakers as you need, allowing you to customize your system). You can, by the way, keep increasing the channels, but you need specialized equipment to do so, not to mention an absolutely massive room. We’ll talk about that a little more in the next section.

An Auro-3D mixing room| Auro-3D
An Auro-3D mixing room | Auro-3D

Dolby Atmos vs. DTS:X vs. Auro3D

Dolby, DTS and Auro3D are the three big surround sound companies you need to know about. They make what are known as surround sound codecs: complicated software programs which take the sound source and use special algorithms to create a lifelike surround sound experience. While each of the companies has quite a few different codecs on offer, there are only three you really need to worry about. We are going to take each one of them in turn.
 

Dolby Atmos

This is probably the most common. Chances are if you’ve been in a movie theater in the past five years, you’ve heard this one. It’s a very big dog it uses what is known as object-based surround sound: instead of sending a sound to a certain channel just because that’s what it’s mixed as, it uses, located programming tricks to blend the sounds together, placing each one of them indistinct, predetermined positions around the room by mixing them between the speakers.

To get your Dolby Atmos system working, you need one of several things. You need a set of height speakers (ideally, four) along with rear ones, a set of speakers that are angled upwards to fire their audio off the ceiling, or a set of modules that you place on top of existing speakers. Either way, if you want to take full advantage of this, you need quite a bit more speakers than a basic 7.1 system. The good news: even if you don’t have the space or budget for this, your 7.1 system can still take advantage of plenty of other Dolby codecs. By the way, Dolby often refers to their systems as 7.1.4, or 9.2.4. These are functionally the same as 11.1 or 13.2 systems - a bunch of ear-level speakers with four added height speakers. Don’t let the numbers get you down.
 

DTS:X

The thing about Dolby Atmos is that it absolutely requires height speakers to work. The thing about DTS:X is that it doesn't. It's a software codec that works with just about any speaker setup you can imagine. While it doesn't have quite the positioning capabilities of a full Dolby Atmos system, it still manages to eke some terrific imaging out of even a basic 5.1 system. You also don't need special hardware: in many cases, the DTS codec can be downloaded to a receiver as a software update, which is awfully handy. Having height speakers definitely improves things dramatically. But all the same, this is a very useful codec to have. It should be pointed out that almost all receivers these days come with both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X built in, so you shouldn't even have to choose. Interestingly, several of the setups in our list of the best 5.1 speaker systems use DTS:X, and are perfect for smaller rooms.
 

Auro-3D

This is kind of a strange one – and even though it’s been out for a while, it hasn’t really managed to make significant inroads into the market held by Atmos and DTS:X. Unlike Dolby’s codec, which relies on object-based sound, Auro-3D is all about the channels. It what you go for if you have not only the space for multiple height speakers, but also a speaker known as the Voice Of God - how cool? - which is installed in the ceiling directly over your listening position. You don’t absolutely have to have this to use Auro-3D, but you do have to have at the very least a 9.1 system. There’s no denying that Auro-3D is amazing. We think it’s on par with Dolby’s codec, and in many cases, goes beyond it. But it’s still very much a dark horse in this particular race. If you do want to check it out, more and more receivers are including option for it, often in the form of an upgrade (which you’ll pay for). The Marantz SR8012 is a perfect example.

It's always a good idea to have more than one subwoofer. Don't place them like this, though! | The Master Switch
It's always a good idea to have more than one subwoofer. Don't place them like this, though! | The Master Switch

7.1 Speaker Placement Explained

A quick refresher: speaker sets for 7.1. surround systems include a center channel speaker, left and right front channel speakers, a subwoofer, left and right surround speakers and left and right rear surround speakers. We'll steer clear of 9.1 and 11.1 systems here.

The rear surround speakers help to fill larger rooms more completely and add more depth to the experience by spreading the sound across four speakers rather than two (as found in 5.1 surround), resulting in more directed, immersive sound. The idea is to surround your listening position with speakers, putting the center channel, front channel and subwoofer in front of you, the left and right speakers on…well, your left and right, and the rear speakers behind you. Generally, you're supposed to elevate these, but that isn't always possible, so let's break down placement of a basic system. Chances are, you got some idea of where to put it all, because you have a brain. But that isn't really the point, is it? The point is to put it not just in the appropriate place, but in the best place. And finding that takes a little doing.

Let's assume for the moment that you have all three types of speakers knocking around. Let's start with the easy bits: the floorstanding speakers. These go, as your probably shocked to hear, on the floor, usually on either side of the TV. The exact placement of these is largely dependent on the shape of your room, but you want them in a rough triangle with the place you're going to be sitting. They should be roughly equidistant, and shouldn't be too close to walls or corners, which can lead to their bass frequencies getting a little muddled.

Next up, the subwoofer. The received wisdom is to put the thing underneath or next to the TV, but there's actually a little trick you can use to find the best place to put it. Wire up the subwoofer (and we'll talk about wiring in the section below) then put it in the place where you'll be sitting. Find something bass heavy. A track by Skrillex or Diplo would be ideal. Start playing, then crawl around the room at floor level. Yes, we know you look ridiculous, but there is a purpose to this, we promise. Find a spot in the room where the bass sounds the best, where it sounds as it's meant to. That's where you want to put your sub. This trick isn't completely full proof, and again, largely depends on the size of your room, but it's still very useful tool to have in your arsenal.

The easiest one of these to place is the center speaker, which should be labelled as such. Put it in front of or just underneath your TV. Job done. Next, check out the front left and right speakers, which, again, should be labelled clearly. These are quite tricky to place. You need them at ear level when you're sitting in your listening position, and you also don't want them too far apart or too close together. Doing either of those things will mess with your sound. Start with the speakers around three feet from the TV on either side, and work from there. You'll need to experiment a little bit to get it right.

Assuming you've got a 7.1 system, you will have four more speakers to place. Two of them should go directly to the sides of your listening position, again at eye level. The biggest mistake we see is people mounting them in the ceiling or in the corners of the room. Don't do that. Don't be a corner-mounter. Get two on either side, and two at the rear. And by rear, we mean a good three or four feet behind your listening position. By now, you may be thinking: what if I have a small room? What is my listening position (usually the couch) is up against the wall? How do I place rear speakers then? Answer: you don't. If you have a small room, a 7.1 system is going to be wasted. You're far better off buying a 5.1 system, or better yet, ditching surround sound entirely and just going for a good pair of floorstanding speakers. It will save you time, money, and irritation. We know. We've been there.

Connecting speakers like these is relatively straightforward | Jeff Wilcox
Connecting speakers like these is relatively straightforward | Jeff Wilcox

7.1 Speaker Connections

We’ll just go over the basics here. If you want a much more in-depth look at wiring things up, here’s a guide we put together explaining just that.

Looking at the back of your A/V receiver, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ll need a dozen types of cables that aren’t included in your purchase. This can send you running in a panic to Amazon, trying to decipher just what a coaxial audio D/Si200 cable is, and whether you need it to hook your sub up properly. It’s true that we used to need all sorts of different connections to get our system working, but that’s until one glorious thing came along and rendered most of them irrelevant: HDMI. HDMI cables are instantly recognisable, and beautifully simple. They are thin rectangles with one edge cut at a slight diagonal, and they will take care of 90% of your home theater needs. Your TV? HDMI. Your console? HDMI. While it’s certainly a good idea to have additional HDMI cables knocking around, because they can be incredibly useful for a whole bunch of things, they certainly aren’t essential.

Okay, so there are a couple of other cables you may need to know about. Surround sound systems sometimes use a digital coaxial cable, a cylindrical orange or black plug with a little golden nubbin shooting out of it. You may also see a cable with two plugs on the end of it, also cylindrical, and also with the same gold nubbin. That’s a stereo audio cable, and you plug both bits in to activate both the channels in your speakers. You won’t find these in surround sound systems, but they do still pop-up from time to time. You may (and this is rare) come across things like component video cables and composite video cables and optical cables. We don’t think it’s worth going into what they do here, as there is becoming increasingly uncommon. And by the way, ignore the thing that says S Video on it. Nobody in the history of home theater has ever used an S Video cable. Nobody even knows what they are.

Once you’ve got your cable type sorted, hooking things up should be relatively straightforward. Every system is different, so we can’t give you a completely all-encompassing way to do it here, the good thing to remember is signal flow. The output HDMI from your TV and Blu-ray player/console should go into the HDMI inputs on the receiver, and the speakers should connect up to their relative spots as well.

You don't need a big room to get a 7.1 system | Jan Hammershaug
You don't need a big room to get a 7.1 system | Jan Hammershaug

Wattage and Impedance Explained

When purchasing separate receiver and separate speaker system you need to make sure they match each other’s power. It’s a bit like weight scales - whatever power your speakers require, the amp should be able to deliver, and without struggle: they should be equally matched. It’s OK if the amp has a bit more wattage than the speaker, but try to avoid the other way round, which may potentially damage your amp! The good news is, if you go with our recommendations above, you won’t actually have to worry about any of this. The amps and the speakers are reasonably well-matched already, so there’s no guesswork involved. But, for the purposes of this article, let’s do a practical example. This example is going to use two concepts: wattage (read, the amount of power something puts out) and impedance (a measure of electrical resistance) Let’s take the Onkyo TX-NR838 receiver. It’s RMS wattage (the amount of power it puts out over a period of time, as opposed to peak wattage, which is max it can put out in one go - think a jog, versus a sprint) is 130 watts, which is what it’s capable of producing if it meets a set of speakers with eight ohms of electrical resistance.

Matching speakers to this is actually very simple. Every set of speakers will have a recommended amplifier power, which shows the range of power that they can comfortably take. For example, the Fluance Reference Series (which we’ve paired the 838 with in our list) can take amp power of between 80 and 200 watts, while offering eight ohms (8Ω) of electrical resistance. 

You will notice that in this case, the ohm levels are matched. In general, this is what you want. Try to avoid matching a set of speakers with a lower nominal impedance to an amplifier that doesn’t offer ratings of that impedance. If you ever do encounter speakers with a higher impedance rating than the amplifier, then go right ahead. You can read more about this in our highly detailed guide to matching amps and speakers.
 

In-Wall Speakers vs. External Speakers

One of the most common questions we get is from people who want to install ceiling and in-wall speakers in their listening rooms, and want to know the best way to go about it. You'll notice that almost all the speaker systems on this list are external - only one, the Acoustic Audio HD-725, is an in-wall-type system. That's because we firmly believe that in-wall systems are largely an anachronism. Feel free to debate us on this in the comments, but for the most part, we think you're much better off with separate, individual speakers.

The advantages of in-wall and ceiling speakers, on the one hand, is that they look discrete. You can hide them away, and give your room a sleek, minimalist feel. Problem is, that's about the only advantage. You're essentially sacrificing any advantages a tuned speaker cabinet might give you for the echoing, cavernous space in your walls and ceilings. Even some in-wall speakers which come in small, self-contained cabinets won't sound nearly as good as individual speakers. You also have to actually cut holes to install them (obviously) - which means zero margin for error in placement. And finally, doing it this way means it can be tricky to upgrade later. Our take? Stick to individual speakers. They make so much more sense.

Speaker Driver | DeclanTM
It's important to understand frequency when setting up a 7.1 system | DeclanTM

Frequency Ratings Explained 

We don’t put a lot of emphasis on frequency ratings here at TMS. For the majority of people, we simply don’t think they are that useful, although you’re more than welcome to fight us in the comments if you disagree. However, when it comes to home theater speakers, we find they can give you a general idea of the range the speakers occupy. A quick primer, if you don’t know what we’re talking about. A frequency measurement is a measurement of the pitch of the sound: how high or how low it is. It’s measured in Hertz (Hz). Humans can hear from roughly 20Hz (a super-low bass note) to 17kHz (a really, really high-pitched finger-on-a-glass-type note. kHz, by the way, means kilohertz, or a thousand hertz - as in, 17,000 Hz).

What we’ve done in our table above is give the lowest frequency of sound that given 7.1 speaker system can offer (usually via its subwoofer) and the highest it can offer via its other speakers. You shouldn’t read too much into this, mostly because these speakers can often generate higher notes that we can actually hear, and it’s annoying when manufacturers emphasize this. But it’s good to know, and in some cases, it can be useful when evaluating speakers.
 

Room Acoustics Explained

The most expensive speakers in the world won’t mean a damn thing if you don’t treat your room. That’s because most rooms have walls, and a ceiling, on the floor, and…actually, make that all rooms. If you don’t do anything to them, what those services will do is reflect sound back into the room, absorbing very little. That reflected sound will get together and get dirty, and generally mess up your beautiful surround sound image. To rectify this, you need to add in some acoustic proofing. There are hundreds of solutions out there, and we don’t really have the space to go into them right now, but as a general rule, they take the form of thick foam panels that hang on the walls and ceiling at key points, as well as even thicker bass traps that go in the corners of the room. If you want to see an example, check out this ATS Acoustic Panel, although there are many different flavors of this particular piece of equipment.

We are in the process of putting together a full guide to treating a home theater room. In the meantime, here’s one of the better guides we found, which offers some very neat tricks for getting this done. Follow it, and thank us later.

Back To Our 7.1 Picks  Back To Our Comparison Tables

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