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. 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:

These, as far as we are concerned, are the best overall home theater systems on the market – by which we mean, the best sets of speakers you can buy (as opposed to individual components), and their best receiver pairings. To keep things manageable, we haven’t mixed and matched different surround speakers, front speakers, and subwoofers: only 5.1 and 7.1 sets that are offered as complete packages actually apply here. Very obviously, that means there’s a mix of 5.1 and 7.1 here; while the top of the list is weighted towards a 7.1 systems, there are a few 5.1 versions in there too, and we focused on sound quality and value more than speaker numbers here.

Many of these are drawn from our dedicated lists of the best 5.1 and 7.1 systems available, which we link to below. Before we get started, one caveat. We know you can get vastly expensive individual home theater components, and we know that individual gear worth four or five figures is often excellent. But when doing a list of the best available, we tried to see which systems would be the best for most people - and would offer the best value for money. 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. Also, please bear in mind that prices can change, and all prices were correct at the time of writing.


Our Home Theater Picks:

1. KEF T305 ($2,200) paired with the Cambridge Audio CXR200 ($2,000)

KEF T305Surround: 7.2 (Expandable to 7.4)
Recommended Amp Power: 10-150W/8Ω
Low Freq: 30Hz
High Freq: 30kHz
What We Like: Great 5.1 sound, absolutely stunning value for money.
What We Don’t: Only Dolby and DTS on the receiver.

This particular combination recently made the number one spot on our Best 5.1 Home Theater Systems list, and with very good reason. It offers arguably the best 5.1 sound pairing on the planet right now, with KEF’s speaker know-how combined with Cambridge Audio’s receiver wizardry. For most people, this is all the home theater you'll ever need - unless you have a massive room!

While the Monitor Audio Mass / Integra DRX-4 combo , below, arguably offers even more value for money, this is a stunning deal which gives you some of the best audio quality around for a very good price. While we would have liked a few more surround sound codecs – you only get Dolby and DTS, unfortunately – you still get terrific audio quality, and the ability to expand upwards not just to 7.2, but also to 7.4. If you don’t feel like playing with the monsters at the number one and two spots, give these a go. KEF, clearly, are onto something.
See the KEF T305 
See the Cambridge Audio CXR200
 

2. KEF R Series ($7,700) paired with the McIntosh MX122 ($7,000)

KEF R SeriesSurround: 7.1 (Expandable to 11.2)
Recommended Amp Power: 25-150W/8Ω
Low Freq: 39Hz
High Freq: 45kHz
What We Like: Terrific power and versatility.
What We Don’t: Crazy expensive.

Sure, you could get better sound by spending seven and a half thousand dollars on each component – easily achievable if you start buying individual pre-and power amps – but for complete systems, KEF’s R series is the unquestioned best. It’s an absolute masterpiece, a collection of speakers that, for the moment, remains the single best 7.1 system that can be bought in a single purchase – although it will have to be a very large purchase, meaning it's probably overkill for most people.

To go with this, we’ve paired the speakers with a flagship McIntosh receiver: the MX122, which retails for slightly less and which we feel brings out the best in this particular setup. You get huge power and versatility, including a range of surround codecs, and the ability to take things up to 11.2 – more than enough for just about everybody. We do recognise that people have strong opinions about which are the best combos out there, and if that’s you, you should absolutely feel free to fight us in the comments. 
See the KEF R Series 
See the McIntosh MX122
 

3. Monitor Audio Mass ($1,246) paired with the Integra DRX-4 ($1,000)

Monitor Audio MassSurround: 5.1 (Expandable to 7.2)
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Low Freq: 30Hz
High Freq: 30kHz
What We Like: Mindblowing value, punches way above its weight class.
What We Don’t: Lacks some clarity in the top end.

What? You think we’ve gone crazy? Putting a sub-$5,000 combo in with the big KEF/McIntosh/Klipsch combos above, all of which require the sale of the kidney? Not a bit, old chum. For while the Monitor Audio Mass 5.1 speaker set and the Integra DRX-4 receiver may not satisfy a very demanding audiophile, what they offer is absolutely staggering value. The McIntosh/KEF combo may beat it on sound, but we know which one we’d buy if we valued our relationship with our accountant.

For less than the price of what some individual receivers cost, you get huge power, terrific dynamics, and an overall sound quality that will leave you with your jaw on the floor. The clarity in the top end is a little bit of a problem, but the emphasis is on little, and we think this is easily one of the best pairings available – definitely one of the most engaging we’ve heard, and definitely at this price range. Plus, it’s fully expandable to 7.2, meaning you can easily add in more channels if you feel the need. The sheer value-for-money sets this one apart, and we think it’s going to be in the upper reaches of this list for a long time.
See the Monitor Audio Mass 
See the Integra DRX-4
 

4. Klipsch THX Ultra2 paired with the Onkyo TX-NR3010 ($12,972 - Package)

Klipsch THX Ultra2Surround: 7.1 (Expandable to 11.4)
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Low Freq: 20Hz
High Freq: 20kHz
What We Like: Amazing for big rooms.
What We Don’t: Way overpriced, especially if you don’t need the Furman power supply.

A little warning on this: although the Ultra2 speakers and TX-NR3010 receiver make an absolutely mind blowing pairing, they are commonly offered in a package with a Furman power supply, which bumps the price up considerably. While a good supply of clean power is certainly nice to have, you may be able to find these individual components for a slightly cheaper price if you don’t require it.

All the same: what a pairing. Klipsch’s speaker systems have always been magnificent, and have always dominated home theater roundups across the Internet. The trademark black and gold color scheme still looks fantastic after all these years, and the meaty Onkyo receiver brings out the best in them. If you have a larger room, and are prepared to spend a little bit to get some truly epic sound, then we strongly recommend this package. As the next step beyond this is diving into individual components – a topic for another product roundup, perhaps – then this is a very good package option. For the record, we don’t think it has quite the audio fidelity or clarity of the McIntosh/KEF combo at the top of the list, but it’s a small difference.
See the Klipsch THX Ultra2 / Onkyo TX-NR3010
 

5. Klipsch RF-7 II 7.1 System paired with the Denon AVR X4000 ($6,293 - Package)

Klipsch RF-7 IISurround: 7.1 (Expandable to 9.2)
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Low Freq: 20Hz
High Freq: 20kHz
What We Like: Good value, superb sound.
What We Don’t: Not great for double-digit surround sound.

If you’re planning to expand upwards into the 11.2 or 13.4 range, then you can probably leave this particular package alone - unless, of course, you’re gunning for a completely different receiver. But that would mean you miss out on this spectacular pairing, and on picking both receiver and speaker system up for an absolute steal. It might not seem like $6,200 counts as a steal, but trust us: it is. Especially compared to something like the MartinLogan / Anthem package below, which is excellent but insanely overpriced.

For in this combination, you get some of the best sound on the market, pairing a legendary set of speakers from Klipsch with an absolutely magical receiver from Denon. The AVR X4000 expands up to 9.2, comes with a full range of surround sound capabilities, and has very solid power output (125 watts into 8 ohms, two channels driven). The sound is dynamic and expressive, particularly good for big budget movies, and it comes with the knowledge that both companies have been doing this for a very, very long time. Klipsch often gets short shrift from hardcore audiophiles; they obviously haven’t heard the speakers sing like this.
See the Klipsch RF-7 II 7.1 System / Denon AVR X4000
 

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

 MartinLogan Motion 7.1 UltimateSurround: 7.1 (Expandable to 9.2)
Recommended Amp Power: 20-440W/4Ω
Low Freq: 20Hz
High Freq: 25kHz
What We Like: Splendid pairing.
What We Don’t: We prefer the KEF and Klipsch setups.

MartinLogan and Anthem a part of the same group of companies, so it’s no surprise they pair well together. We adore the Anthem MRX 1120 receiver, which recently placed highly on our list of the best A/V receivers available, and paired with a dedicated mix of MartinLogan speakers, it results in one of the best sound signatures in home theater: deep, rich, with a thundering low-end that will reach right into your stomach and give it a good old shake.

It must be said that we do prefer other models over this pairing, including the KEF R Series / McIntosh combo, which costs quite a bit more but is also definably superior. However, if you have a little less to spend but still desire elite quality, this is unquestionably a top five pairing, with just about every possible option you could want, able to equip rooms up to 9.2 surround sound. Expect this tag team to dominate for years to come.
See the MartinLogan Motion 7.1 Ultimate 
See the Anthem MRX 1120
 

7. Klipsch RP-HD Wireless 7.1 ($3,394)

Klipsch RP-HD Wireless 7.1Surround: 7.1 (Expandable to 7.2)
Recommended Amp Power: N/A
Low Freq: 27Hz
High Freq: 27kHz
What We Like: The best wireless system on the market, which even allows limited expansion. 
What We Don’t: Wired sound is still better - just

We thought long and hard about which wireless home theater system we wanted to put on the list. We knew we had to have them – they are just getting too good to ignore, and we do love getting decent sound without rolls of speaker wire. But which one? In the end, we settled for Klipsch’s finest, which we think is better than similar systems from axiim and Enclave. 

It's based around Klipsch's excellent central receiver: a tiny little unit that offers a great variety of surround codecs, although you're restricted to 7.2 expansion capabilities. The seven wireless speakers and subwoofer do a mindblowing job of representing your audio, with positioning and detail that feels highly authentic. It's not quite as crystal clear as some high-end wireless units, and is a touch overpriced (although nothing compared to bigger units on this list!), but it still manages to be an absolutely killer system. If you're thinking about going wireless - and are cool with not going above 7.2 - then this could be the ideal system for you.
See the Klipsch RP-HD Wireless 7.1
 

8. axiim Q HD 7.1 ($2,999)

 axiim Q HD 7.1Surround: 7.1
Recommended Amp Power: N/A
Low Freq: 20Hz
High Freq: 20kHz
What We Like: A poor cousin to the Klipsch, above.
What We Don’t: Like other wireless systems, the sound quality doesn't touch wired - yet.

Wireless systems are becoming more common - and while the Klipsch has it beat, offering better sound for a fractionally-more-expensive pricetag, this 7.1 system from axiim still manages to be among the market leaders.

It’s probably a little too expensive for what it is now, but it still offers unbelievable wireless audio, quite happy competing with more expensive systems, as well as offering full 4K functionality, and an absolutely gorgeous receiver/central unit that kicks some of the bigger names into the dirt. While you will need to plug each individual speaker into the mains (we are still holding out for a system that takes the whole wireless thing literally) there’s no better way, right now, to introduce cable free home theater into your life. Do check this out: it’s spectacular. Be aware, wired systems – like the Monitor/Integra combo above it – can be cheaper, while offering sound that is a little bit better, and there are no options for upgrading beyond the stock 7.1
See the axiim Q HD 7.1
 

9. Definitive Technology BP9080X paired with the Onkyo TX-RZ1100 ($5,835 - Package)

Definitive Technology BP9080XSurround: 5.0 (Expandable to 9.2)
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Low Freq: 16Hz
High Freq: 40kHz
What We Like: One of the better packages available.
What We Don’t: Only 5.0 - you’ll need a sub!

It’s actually quite rare to get 5.0 packages, as opposed to 5.1 or 7.1. That means, for this Definitive Technology package, you’ll need to add a separate subwoofer. We have plenty on this site, and the company also makes a few of their own, so it’s not as if you don’t have options. And once you hear the pairing with the Onkyo TX –RZ1100, you’ll be in love with this package as we are.

For a little under $6,000, you get an absolutely extraordinary level of sound quality, that reaches far into your ears and turns them inside out. The speaker maker is known for quality, and although we don't think it reaches the heights of manufacturers like MartinLogan and KEF, it certainly holds its own – and has some of the best design around. The Onkyo receiver may be a little workmanlike, but it gets the job done, and it presents these speakers beautifully. Try out this pairing: you won’t regret it.
See the Definitive Technology BP9080X / Onkyo TX-RZ1100
 

10. Infinity Reference 7.1 ($1,860) paired with the Marantz SR7012 ($2,199)

Infinity Reference 7.1Surround: 7.1 (Expandable to 11.2)
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Low Freq: Unknown
High Freq: Unknown
What We Like: Solid sound at a reasonably budget price.
What We Don’t: Lack of specs.

While we’ve heard this particular speaker package, and liked it immensely, we were a little perturbed by the lack of specs availability, meaning we couldn’t do things like provide the recommended amplifier power. It’s a little low on the list for that reason, despite its quality.

In addition, the SR7012 is due to be replaced soon, by the bigger, more bad-ass SR8012. At the time of writing, that hasn’t released yet, so we can’t comment on its pairing with the Infinity speakers, but we do know that the SR7012 provides ample power, as well as a whole host of surround sound features – including the ability to upgrade to 11.2 surround sound – and that it pairs wonderfully with the speaker package. We think the Definitive Technology BP9080X system above is better, in terms of more accurate sound reproduction, but this is still a very viable option, and a good look if you want to spend a little bit less.
See the Infinity Reference 7.1
See the Marantz SR7012
 

11. ELAC Debut 5.1 ($1,219) paired with the Denon AVR-S920W ($529)

 ELAC Debut 5.1Surround: 5.1 (Expandable to 7.2)
Recommended Amp Power: 20-120W/8Ω
Low Freq: 35Hz
High Freq: 20kHz
What We Like: Splendid, well-made speakers.
What We Don’t: We love this pairing for sound, but the receiver isn’t amazing.

Here’s the thing about the various types and sizes of Denon receivers: they all do more or less the same thing, all look more or less the same, and the only thing you need to consider is the size of the one you need. While there’s nothing technically wrong with the AVR-S920W, in that it does everything it says it’s going to, and offers a good range of features, it never goes above and beyond.

That being said? There is no question that it’s a beautiful pairing with this particular speaker system. ELAC make some truly transcendent stuff, and we think their Debut 5.1 package is among the best available right now. The speakers both look and feel excellent, with solid build quality that will last an age, the sound competes with bigger models quite happily – and vastly outpaces setups from Polk and Fluance, to name two makes further down in the list. Not the flashiest of picks, this, but very good.
See the ELAC Debut 5.1 
See the Denon AVR-S920W
 

12. Fluance Reference Series 7.0 ($1,060) paired with the Onkyo TX-RZ810 ($699)

Fluance Reference SeriesSurround: 7.0 (Expandable to 11.2)
Recommended Amp Power: 60-200W/8Ω
Low Freq: 45Hz
High Freq: 20kHz
What We Like: Unbelievable pairing for an amazing price.
What We Don’t: We really would have loved a sub.

For less than $2,000 - $1,500 if you shop around – you can get one of the best pairings on this list. Fluance and Onkyo were made for each other, and this genuinely brilliant receiver – which we still can’t believe is under $1,000 – matches up really well with the Reference Series 7.0.

The sound on offer here might not be the deepest, in terms of low end, more than makes up for it with its excellent detail, fast and responsive dynamics, and superlative soundstage. The company makes some really good speaker models, and they’ve matched this set really well, releasing it for an absolutely knock down price at the time of writing. If we had one criticism, it’s that we would have loved – and be prepared to pay a little extra for – a subwoofer pairing, but then again, 7.0 systems are quite rare, and it does give you a little bit more freedom to choose your own sub. We still prefer the Infinity, above, but it’s a close run thing.
See the Fluance Reference Series 7.0 
See the Onkyo TX-RZ810
 

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

 Polk Audio Signature 7.1Surround: 7.1 (Expandable to 7.2)
Recommended Amp Power: 20-200W/8Ω
Low Freq: 30Hz
High Freq: 40kHz
What We Like: Terrific package at a knockdown price.
What We Don’t: Low-end could be a lot better.

Polk Audio often gets short shrift in the home theater world. We don’t think that’s fair, especially when the Signature 7.1 system performs so well. This speaker system not only offers good construction and build quality, but also offers some very decent sound. While we would have liked a little bit more of a low end, which can be slightly underwhelming at times, there’s no question that this does what it sets out to do.

The Denon AVR-X1300W is a bit of a middle-of-the-range receiver – it certainly can’t compete with something like the Marantz, and doesn’t offer the value of the smaller AVR-S920W – but it will satisfy most setups, with a good level of power and some decent oomph to the audio. You’re probably not going to go above 7.2 with this, but if that was your goal, we’d suggest you go for one of the more expensive systems anyway, as it will serve you better. All same, we like this combo, and for under $2,000, it’s a total steal.
See the Polk Audio Signature 7.1 System / Denon AVR-X1300W
 

14. Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1 ($999)

Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1Surround: 5.1
Recommended Amp Power: N/A
Low Freq: 20Hz
High Freq: 20kHz
What We Like: Great budget wireless system.
What We Don’t: The axiim system, above, does a much better job.

You shouldn’t mistake the fact that the axiim 7.1 system, at the top end of this list, is better because it includes two more speakers. It comes in a 5.1 variant, not mentioned here, and even that easily beats out the Enclave Audio Cinehome HD.

That’s not to say the Enclave system is bad. It costs significantly less, for one, and offers superb value for money. The sound quality may not reach the heights of other models on this list, but there’s plenty to recommend this one, including the fact that it generates its own wireless network, staying off the existing one in your home, and preventing clogging and dropouts. It’s a clever system, although it must be said that we’ll be more excited for whatever Enclave do next. If you can afford it, get the axiim. If not, or you’re looking to get a little bit more bang for your buck, try this one.
See the Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1
 

15. Cambridge Audio Minx S215 v3 ($775) paired with the Pioneer VSX-1131 ($500)

Cambridge Audio Minx S215 v3Surround: 5.1 (Expandable to 7.2)
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Low Freq: 31Hz
High Freq: 20kHz
What We Like: Reliable, good sound, nice pairing.
What We Don’t: Not enormously loud.

The biggest issue we have with the Cambridge Audio Minx is that we think it’s a slightly underpowered set of speakers, that doesn’t offer the volume of models like the Paradigm Cinema 100 CT. But: when paired with a receiver that has a good set of guts, like the Pioneer VSX-1131, it can still impress, hence why it’s on this list.

Cambridge Audio are known for their quality, as well as their attention to detail, and the design of these speakers is excellent. The sound quality they do offer, despite its lack of power, is elegant and erudite, able to handle a smaller space with aplomb. And in any case, with this receiver, you can happily expand upwards to 7.2, giving you options down the track. Be aware that Pioneer frequently come out with new versions of their receivers, be ready to either snap this model up when it undergoes a price drop, or get a slightly more powerful version.
See the Cambridge Audio Minx S215 v3 
See the Pioneer VSX-1131
 

16. Paradigm Cinema 100 CT ($999) paired with the Denon AVR-S920W ($529)

Paradigm Cinema 100 CT 5.1Surround: 5.1 (Expandable to 7.2)
Recommended Amp Power: 15-100W/8Ω
Low Freq: 32Hz
High Freq: 20kHz
What We Like: Solid sound.
What We Don’t: Paradigm don’t offer huge bang-for-buck, in terms of HTIBs.

You might reasonably wonder why Paradigm don’t feature higher on this list. After all, they are among the most storied speaker makers ever, with some fantastic models. What they don't do, in most cases, is offer complete speaker packages. If we were putting together a system from individual components, we would absolutely consider the. But in terms of this list, we have to take into account their existing package options, and while the Cinema 100 CT is good, other packages on this list offer more value for money. 

We think the best pairing for this – one of the best – is for a receiver we’ve mentioned already, the Denon AVR-S920W. It's a workmanlike machine, in terms of features, but it does give you good sound when paired with this particular speaker system, and absolutely gets the job done. We really can’t stress just how much respect we have for Paradigm, but in terms of single packages, this wouldn’t be our first choice over something like the Fluance/Onkyo combo, above.
See the Paradigm Cinema 100 CT 
See the Denon AVR-S920W
 

17. Orb Audio Mini 5.1 ($906) paired with the Onkyo TX-NR575 ($399)

Orb Audio Mini 5.1Surround: 5.1 (Expandable to 11.2)
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Low Freq: Unknown
High Freq: Unknown
What We Like: A nifty idea.
What We Don’t: Expensive for what you get.

Orb Audio, an independent manufacturer, have taken a slightly different approach to home theater, in comparison with the bigger names on this list. They’ve gone for an entirely modular system, with a subwoofer and several small satellite speakers – shaped like orbs, natch – which you can dot around the room as you please. Several marks forward thinking, as it allows you to upgrade as you see fit, adding more and more speakers. For this reason, we paired it with a receiver that allows for such capability: the Onkyo TX-NR575 is more than happy here, and offers decent sound when paired with the speakers.

However: we do think that the existing system is a little bit too expensive at the time of writing. If you’re on a budget, we recommend going for the Cambridge Audio / Pioneer pairing above – it’s slightly less versatile, but you get better value. As it is, we think this is a very good system that could stand to lose a little bit on the price side; if it does, we’ll definitely re-evaluate its place on this list.
See the Orb Audio Mini 5.1 
See the Onkyo TX-NR575
 

And For When You’re Really On A Budget:

18. Yamaha NS-SP1800 5.1 ($150) paired with the Sony TRDH550 ($198)

Yamaha NS-SP1800 5.1Surround: 5.1 (Expandable to 5.2)
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Low Freq: 28Hz
High Freq: 50kHz
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 NS-SP1800 5.1 system impresses with its audio clarity and punchy low end.

This is the kind of system that performs well 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. We wouldn't suggest going below about $150 when it comes to home theater, although there are a few models available that might fit the bill at or slightly above that price.
See the Yamaha NS-SP1800 5.1
See the Sony TRDH550


Comparison Tables:

First we'll do the specs for the complete speaker systems. The Lowest Freq. and Highest Freq. stats indicate how low and how high the complete system can go. RAP stands for - you guessed it - Recommended Amp Power. We explain that in more detail in the Buying Advice below.

Speakers Price Surround RAP Low  High
KEF T305 $2,200 7.2  (Exp. to 7.4) 10-150W/8Ω 30Hz 30kHz
KEF R Series $7,700 7.1 (Exp. to 11.2) 25-150W/8Ω 39Hz 45kHz
Monitor Audio Mass $1,246 5.1 (Exp. to 7.2) Unknown 30Hz 30kHz
Klipsch THX Ultra2 $12,972 7.1  (Exp. to 11.4) Unknown 20Hz 20kHz
Klipsch RF-7 II 7.1 $6,293 7.1 (Exp. to 9.2) Unknown 20Hz 20kHz
MartinLogan Motion 7.1 Ultimate $7,095) 7.1 (Exp. to 9.2) 20-440W/8Ω 20Hz 25kHz
Klipsch RP-HD Wireless 7.1 $3,394 7.1 (Exp. to 7.2) N/A 27Hz 27kHz
axiim Q HD 7.1 $2,999 7.1 N/A 20Hz 20kHz
Definitive Technology BP9080X $5,835 5.0 (Exp. to 9.2) Unknown 16Hz 40kHz
Infinity Reference 7.1 $1,860 7.1 (Exp. to 11.2) Unknown Unknown Unknown
ELAC Debut 5.1 $1,129 5.1 (Exp. to 7.2) 20-120W/8Ω 35Hz 20kHz
Fluance Reference Series 7.0 $1,060 7.0 (Exp. to 11.2) 60-200W/8Ω 45Hz 20kHz
Polk Audio Signature 7.1 $1,954) 5.0 (Exp. to 9.2) 20-200W/8Ω 30Hz 40kHz
Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1 $999 5.1 Unknown 20Hz 20kHz
Cambridge Audio Minx S215 v3 $775 5.1 (Exp. to 7.2) Unknown 31Hz 20kHz
Paradigm Cinema 100 CT $999 5.1 (Exp. to 7.2) 15-100W/8Ω 32Hz 20kHz
Orb Audio Mini 5.1 $906 5.1 (Exp. to 11.2) Unknown Unknown Unknown
Yamaha NS-SP1800 5.1 $150 5.1 (Exp. to 5.2) Unknown 28Hz 50kHz


And now for the recommended receivers.

Inc. under Price means it's included with the speaker package in the table above. Watt. refers to output wattage, two channels driven. Connectivity refers to the availability of Bluetooth and/or WiFi. V* under Surround means there are various types of that particular surround codec included.

Receiver Price Channels Surround Watt. Conn.
Cambridge Audio CXR200 $2,000 7.2/7.4 Dolby, DTS 170/8Ω Blue./WiFi
McIntosh MX122 $7,000 11.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Auro-3D Unknown Blue./WiFi
Integra DRX-4 $1,000 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 110/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Onkyo TX-NR3010 Inc. 9.2 Dolby, DTS V* 200/6Ω Blue./WiFi
Denon AVR X4000 Inc. 7.2/9.2 Dolby V*, DTS V* 125/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Anthem MRX 1120 $3,599 11.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 140/8Ω WiFi
Onkyo TX-RZ1100 Inc. 9.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 200/6Ω Blue./WiFi
Marantz SR7012 $2,199 9.2/11.2 Dolby V*, DTS V*, Auro-3D 110/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Denon AVR-S920W $529 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 90/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Onkyo TX-RZ810 $699 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 180/6Ω Blue./WiFi
Denon AVR-X1300W Inc. 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 80/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Pioneer VSX-1131 $500 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 100/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Onkyo TX-NR575 $399 7.2 Dolby Atmos, DTS:X 80/8Ω Blue./WiFi
Sony TRDH550 $198 5.2 Dolby V*, DTS V* Unknown None

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McIntosh MX122 | The Master Switch

Buying Advice:

Which Home Theater System Is Best For Me?

A home theater system combines speakers, amplifiers, subwoofers and A/V 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.

When we talk about the ‘kind’ of home theater system you want to buy, it’s largely a question of how many speakers you have, and how many features you require. While there is some correlation with price, in the sense that more money will give you more options, this isn’t always the case. We are going to lay out the individual elements of a home theater system in the sections below, but it’s worth talking about the big, guiding questions you should have in mind when making your choice. This is, after all, quite a substantial purchase, and it’s worth having a look at the big picture first.

Let’s assume for the moment that you’re not going to expend a huge amount of effort and energy picking out individual speakers for each part of the room - fun, but total overkill for most people. You want to buy a complete speaker system, sometimes known as a HTIB (Home Theater In a Box). Any of the models on this list should give you absolutely everything you need to produce high-quality sound. No question of that. But you need to think about what you’re going to use it for.

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? A bigger system will lend itself more to movie watching, and if that’s what you’re going to be using it for, it’s worth spending a little bit extra. If you plan to use it as a music system in addition to this, then it may be worth considering slightly fewer speakers, as you’re simply not going to be getting a musical advantage out of more than about five speakers.

In addition, take a look at the receiver. This is the box that not only routes your individual video and audio signals to the right places, but also generates the power for your speakers. Even cheap receivers will have a staggering number of features, including the ability to play 4K video, as well as multiple inputs and outputs. Make sure you aren’t paying for features you aren’t going to use! If you know you are unlikely to expand beyond, say, 5.1 – which we will explain a little more detail below – then there’s no point paying more for a receiver that offers the ability to expand up to 11.2 and beyond. You’re better off spending more money on your speakers!

Klipsch Home Theater Speaker | Steven Roy

5.1 vs. 7.1 vs. 9.2

These terms refer to different types of surround sound technology, and the number of speakers in a given system. More importantly, they refer to channels.

They could have two, five or seven (sometimes even nine or eleven) channels, which means two, five, or seven speakers. The .1 (or .2, or .4!) 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.

Like Tetris, this is simple to grasp, but tricky to master. Which do you go for? Do you leave yourself the ability to expand later? Obviously, the more speakers you have, the more likely you are to get deeper and more accurate surround sound, but you also have to be aware but adding more speakers to a system increases the amount of effort you will need to spend, as well as the amount of time you’ll spend installing speakers and connecting speaker wire!

As a guideline, the smaller the room, the fewer speakers you will need to fill it. Got a basic apartment living room? A 5 .1 system – three front speakers, two side speakers, and a subwoofer – will be more than enough to do the job. Given that space is limited, it may be worth considering a good wireless system.

If you have a slightly larger living space, such as one in a house, you could quite comfortably move to 7.1 or beyond, placing additional speakers behind and above your listening position. Once you start putting speakers above your head – moving things into 9.1 or 11.1 territory – you need to start considering whether you can actually drill into the walls, or how much effort you’re prepared to put in to mount things. Something like the KEF R Series / McIntosh MX122 is ideal for this, not only because you get world changing sound, but because it gives you the ability to expand later on.

You may also see terminology like 7.2.4, which is functionally the same as 11.2 – in other words, seven floor speakers, four height speakers, and two subwoofers. That’s one mother of a system!

This article is a list of the best overall home theater systems available right now – regardless of the number of speakers included in them. If you’d like, you can check out our individual lists of the best 5.1 systems, and the best 7.1 systems, of this year. They all have options that words quite special enough to make this list, but are still fantastic in their own right.

Floorstanding Speakers | The Master Switch

Dolby, DTS:X And Auro-3D: Surround Formats Explained 

Surround sound can be crazy confusing. It can be a world of bizarre acronyms an obscure jargon, and if you’re not hip to the lingo, dealing with it can be frustrating. Fortunately, we are here to save the day. Like Superman. Only if Superman was an audio geek writing this in a darkened office while stuffing his face with Doritos. Anyway…

Surround sound is made possible not just by the number of speakers in a particular setup. You still need to tell the individual speakers which parts of the audio to play, and that’s where the surround sound codec comes in. This is a piece of software that acts as air traffic control, separating the signal into discrete parts, sending it to the right places, and producing an effect which will blow your mind. There are three main ones you need to know about, although they all have their individual variations and flavors – way too many to go into here!

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. One of the more bizarre emails we’ve gotten was from a reader who said that he didn’t believe that he needed additional height speakers to make Dolby Atmos work. As we said to him, you definitely do.

Another equally famous company - DTS - produces a very similar surround mode. They call 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. Unlike Dolby Atmos, the immediate advantage of DTS:X is that it does not require additional speakers. You can use it with a simple 7.1 system, making it far more versatile then Dolby Atmos – although, of course, it doesn’t have that additional realism that comes from height speakers.

It’s also worth mentioning Auro-3D. This is quite a rare codec, and is best suited to enormous rooms with space for multiple speakers, including several in the ceiling. It’s not really too widespread yet, and although several receivers offer this functionality, you will almost always need to pay for an upgrade. A good example of this is the Marantz SR7012 (due for replacement soon, by a newer model, but still available). It has the capabilities for Auro-3D, but you’ll need to select the additional upgrade at checkout, at a cost of around $100-$150. Of course, if you have the space to go for Auro-3D, chances are this is pocket change to you!

Home Theater Speaker Setup | The Master Switch

Connecting Your Home Theater System 

Now this is a topic!

We could spend a lot of time talking through the individual connections, elements, and multitude of cables you might encounter while connecting your home theater system up. It’s not that it’s difficult. It’s just that there are a staggering number of individual components available – even the ones on this list, which at least are in the same product categories, vary wildly – and it’s impossible for us to Go through every single scenario. However, we can do a quick rundown of the basics, talking about the most common cables you will need.

You are almost certainly going to need a couple of HDMI cables, which you will use to connect your receiver to your TV, and your video source – like your console – to your receiver. If your signal comes from something like a Google ChromeCast, or your TV’s own wireless streaming capabilities, then one HDMI cable will be perfectly acceptable; the TV can handle the video signal itself, and all you need to worry about is the audio signal. If this is the case, make sure your HDMI cable is connected to the ARC (Audio Return Channel) slot on your TV.

The other one to worry about is speaker wire. Very obviously, this connects your receiver to your speakers. For each speaker, you need to connections: positive (red) and negative (black). You will usually have two binding posts on the back of each speaker, and once you strip the wire from your cables, all you have to do is insert the exposed metal strands, and screw the binding posts down, doing the same on the back of your receiver – and making sure that the positive terminal on the speaker connects to the positive terminal on the receiver, and ditto for the negative terminals. This may take a little work, but you’ll get there in the end!

And if you want to know what each of those weird and wonderful connections on the back of your receiver does, you should check out our full guide.
 

Frequency And Crossover Explained 

Frequency is a measure of how low and how high a sound is. The lower in pitch it is – if it’s the rumble of an explosion, for example – the lower frequency it will have. A sound with a higher pitch, like a violin, will have a higher frequency. Easy, yes?

Humans can hear a limited range of frequencies – from around 20 hertz (or Hz) to 20 kilohertz (20,000 Hz). Despite this, many manufacturers actually create speakers that can produce sounds outside of this frequency spectrum. No, we don’t know why. The accepted wisdom is that a speaker with a wider frequency range will be able to produce more effective sound, and while we don’t doubt that the speaker can technically produce audio at 40kHz, we’re not sure it makes much of a difference. Do feel free to fight us in the comments if you disagree!

Regardless, we’ve listed the individual frequency ratings for each speaker system in the roundup, where available, indicating how low and how high they can go. If you’re interested, the speaker system with the widest frequency range is the Definitive Technology BP9080X, which runs from 16Hz all the way up to 40kHz. For some reason.

Frequency can be useful, however, when tuning your system – particularly in getting the best sound out of your subwoofer. When setting up your system, using the on-screen menu of your receiver, you will need to set up the crossover – the point at which your speakers roll off, and the subwoofer takes over the bass. Using the above example, you could quite comfortably set the crossover of the Def Tech subwoofer at 16Hz, although most systems are likely to be from around 20-40Hz. Setting the crossover is important in getting the best bass, so take some time to fine-tune it.

Center Channel Speaker | The Master Switch

Wattage And Speaker Matching

Good news! If you go for any of the packages in the list above, you won’t need to worry about this. They are all matched really well, and you shouldn’t have to do any squinting at spec sheets to see if you’re going to blow your speakers through the roof.

We are kidding – it’s actually quite hard to do that. And it’s always good to know how to pair speakers and amplifiers, so here’s a very short summary. If you’d like something with a little bit more detail, you should check out our full explainer.

Essentially, every set of speakers will come with the recommended range of amplifier power. The KEF R Series, for example, recommends you have an amplifier that generates power of between 20 and 150 watts. A perfectly matched amplifier will have a power range that neatly slots into this bracket.

You don’t necessarily need to worry about having an overpowered amplifier. Even if you have an amp that generated 300 watts, you will almost certainly never be delivering this amount of power to your speakers unless you really, really crank it. It’s far more important to make sure that you have enough power, rather than too much – in the above example, that means more than 20 watts. If you can’t deliver enough power to your speakers, things can go very wrong indeed. Fortunately, with modern systems, this is quite hard to do.

In our comparison table, you will also see the symbol Ω. This refers to ohms, or electrical resistance, and it’s the second part of the equation. Every recommended amp rating will be at a certain level of electrical resistance – in the case of the R Series, it’s at 8Ω, which is a standard rating for most modern speakers. If you’d like more details, check out the explainer above, but as long as the amplifier output is equal to or less than the impedance rating of the speakers, you should be okay.
 

3D And 4K Explained 

These are two terms you’ll see thrown around a lot. Let’s break them down.

3D is one that probably doesn’t need a lot of explaining. You’ll see it in every overpriced movie you watch at your local theater, and you’ll also see it in a lot of home content, too. To take advantage of 3D films and series, you will need a receiver that allows you to encode for it. Obviously, you’ll also need a film that was actually made in 3D, but that’s a separate matter entirely. The good news is, most modern receivers are setup for this, and as long as your TV can handle it too, you shouldn’t need to do much to actually get it going.

4K is a trickier beast. It refers to a type of visual protocol which is ultra-high detail, with an absolutely staggering number of pixels on the screen. It used to be that this was very uncommon, with only a few TVs and receivers set up to handle it. While almost all current models can do it now, the problem is that there just isn’t enough content to take advantage of it. This is something that is likely to change in the future, but the good news is you don’t need to worry about future proofing too much right now, as most receivers and TVs can handle it.

A/V Receiver | The Master Switch

Additional Home Theater System Equipment To Buy

It’s not just about speakers and receivers. If you have the money to spend, there are a few things you can buy to further improve your home theater experience.

One of these is power supply. Home theater nerds absolutely swear by what they call clean power, which is essentially electricity without any voltage spikes or voltage drops, which can sometimes impact the sound. There is a debate about how much of an impact this is likely to have – it’s only useful in very high-end components, and in almost all cases, an effect that ranges from subtle to inaudible.

If you are interested in trying this, you should check out power supplies from names like Furman. The Klipsch THX Ultra2 / Onkyo TX-NR3010 package on our list, at number two, comes with a Furman Elite-20 power supply that can smooth out your electrical signal.

Then there’s room calibration. Usually, you shouldn’t need to buy this separately – it often comes with the receiver, in the form of a microphone that you place in your listening position. Your receiver plays varying tones through your speakers, which are picked up by the microphone after being bounced around the room, and the receiver adjusts the sound accordingly. The Marantz SR7012, mentioned earlier, has some excellent room calibration.

The final element to take into account, which is especially useful if you’re really serious about your home theater, is acoustic proofing. Essentially, this takes the form of soft foam panels that you place at key positions around your room. These have the effect of absorbing sound waves, instead of reflecting them back, which means less muddying of the sound, and a clearer picture of what is happening. The actual science of acoustic proofing is a little bit waiting to get into here, but if you are thinking of trying it out, you might want to look at a product like this ATS panel set.

SVS Prime Elevation Height Speaker | The Master Switch

Building A Home Theater System From Individual Components

Let’s have some fun.

One of the things we couldn’t do on this list is actually build each individual entry from multiple components. It would simply make things too long, and too unwieldy. Reluctantly, we had to go for complete systems, but you can still have a huge amount of fun – and spend a ton of money – building your ideal home theater system from individual components. That’s what we’re going to do here. It’s not only a fun exercise, but is a useful primer in how to get started if you really do want to go down this route.

For the sake of argument, let’s give ourselves a budget: $20,000. We’ll use this imaginary money to complete an 11.2 system, consisting of a receiver, two front speakers, a centre speaker, four surround speakers, four height speakers, and a subwoofer.

Let’s start with the receiver. We could, technically, buy individual pre and power amps – both of which are needed, and both of which are always contained in an individual receiver – but that would almost certainly torpedo our budget, as these components can be expensive. We’re putting together separate roundups of the best available on the market right now, but until we finish those, we’re going to stick to a simple A/V receiver. We need something that can handle at least 11.2 channels, with the ability to deliver Dolby Atmos (we do have height speakers, after all!) Let’s go for the Anthem MRX 1120 ($3,599), which we have a real soft spot for.

Now: the two front speakers, which really do need to be floorstanding/tower models. It’s a tough call, but we are going to go for a pair of KEF R500s ($2,600 for the pair). The KEF R Series is at the top of this list, and if you’re going for individual components, you could definitely do worse. As an alternative, we might look at speakers from MartinLogan, SVS or Paradigm, all of which are excellent.

In fact, you know what? Paradigm make such terrific individual components that there’s no reason we shouldn’t invest in a few of them. Let’s make a center channel out of the Prestige 55C ($1,480), and buy four Prestige 25S speakers ($880 each) as side and rear surrounds. These offer multiple drivers on each speaker, delivering a huge amount of bang for buck, and the fact that they come from the same manufacturer means they'll compliment each other nicely.

Height speakers? No question in our mind. We’ll go for the SVS Prime Elevations - four please, at $400 a pair. These terrific height speakers are hugely versatile. We actually did a full review on them a while back, which you can read here. And finally, the subwoofer - or rather, two of them. We’ll stick with SVS, and go for the absolutely monstrous 1,500 watt PB16-Ultra ($2,500 each). That’ll shake your damn tree.

So that’s eleven speakers, and two subs. They are all individually fantastic, and they all complement each other, delivering unbelievable audio quality. They fulfil our requirements exactly. Divide the seven, carry the three…our total is $20,399. We came in a little bit over-budget, but you know what? This is our imaginary dream system, so we don’t care. And it’s perfectly possible to mix-and-match individual components at a fraction of the cost, so definitely don’t let that stop you!

Back To Our Home Theater Picks Back To Our Comparison Tables

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