The best home theater systems offer a great way to experience movies & TV in surround sound. Learn what to look out for and which are the top models to buy.
For many people, the best home theater systems provide an excellent balance of good quality sound and easy installation.
In 2021, a top home theater system can give you a great audio experience to rival a more complicated setup.
But, without the added complication of buying individual components.
This buying guide will give you the low-down on all you need to know to get yourself up and running.
First, I will give you a general overview of what an all-in-one system is, and some of the features you should be looking out for.
After that, I will give a short review of some of my favorites models and highlight why they may give you a great movie theater experience in your living room.
Table of Contents
- Top 10 Home Theater Systems Comparison Table
- What is a Home Theater System?
- Home Theater System Buying Guide
- Do I Need to Buy an Amplifier or Speakers?
- What Connection Types Do I Need?
- What Surround Sound Speaker Layout Do I Want?
- How Much Power Does My Home Theater System Need?
- Do I Need Wired or Wireless Speakers?
- How Good Is the Sound Quality of Home Theater Systems?
- How Do I Choose a Home Theater System?
- Top 5 Home Theater Systems Reviews
- Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 Soundbar System
- Polk Audio 5.1-Ch Home Theater Speaker System with Denon AVR-S960H Receiver
- Sonos 5.1 Soundbar Surround Set
- Enclave Audio CineHome PRO Home Theater System
- Yamaha YHT-4950U Home Theater System
- The Next 5 Best HTiB Systems
- Klipsch Cinema 600 3.1-Ch Soundbar
- Samsung HW-Q60T 5.1-ch Soundbar
- Bose Soundbar 700 5.1 Home Theater Set
- JBL Bar 5.1 Soundbar Surround System
- Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System
- Frequently Asked Questions
Top 10 Best Home Theater Systems Comparison Table
|Image||Model||Speakers||Wireless Speakers?||Dolby Atmos?|
|Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra Soundbar System||9.2.4||2x Subwoofer||Yes||Check Price|
|Polk Audio 5.1/Denon AVR-S960H System||5.1||No||Support for 5.2.2||Check Price|
|Sonos 5.1 Soundbar Surround Set||5.1||Yes – all speakers||Only with Arc soundbar||Check Price|
|Enclave Audio CineHome PRO Home Theater System||5.1||Yes – all speakers||No||Check Price|
|Yamaha YHT-4950U Home Theater System||5.1||No||No||Check Price|
|Klipsch Cinema 600 3.1-Ch Soundbar||3.1||1x subwoofer||No||Check Price|
|Samsung HW-Q60T 5.1-ch Soundbar||5.1||1x subwoofer||No – Acoustic Beam upfiring speakers||Check Price|
|Bose Soundbar 700 5.1 Home Theater Set||5.1||Yes – surrounds + subwoofer||No||Check Price|
|JBL Bar 5.1 Soundbar Surround System||5.1||Yes – surrounds + subwoofer||No||Check Price|
|Logitech Z906 5.1 Speaker System||5.1||No||No||Check Price|
What is a Home Theater System?
It may seem like a stupid question, but one of the most difficult things is to pin down exactly what a home theater system is.
In simple terms, a home theater package makes it easy to improve the audio in your room. It allows you to turn off those terrible TV speakers and get a bigger and more satisfying sound when watching a movie.
All without needing a qualification in electrical engineering!
The problem is, there are different ways of doing this. So, the term ‘home theater system’ might mean something different to different people.
No wonder people get confused when trying to research this stuff!
When you search for the best home theater equipment to buy you are usually confronted with a long list of AV receivers, soundbars, surround sound speaker packages and all-in-one systems.
So, how do you decide what is best for you? Well, let’s go back to basics and simplify this a little.
In my opinion, there are two main ways for home theaters to get good quality audio:
- to buy an AV receiver and a separate speaker package
- to buy a home theater system or soundbar
This article isn’t about the first option. If you want to buy a receiver or separate surround sound speakers, then go to the following articles:
- Top 13 Best AV Receivers and How to Choose Yours
- Top 12 Reviews & Guide to the Best Home Theater Speakers
However, for many people, buying a separate amplifier and speakers is too complicated. They want an easier solution.
For them, the best option is to look for an all-in-one system or soundbar. These are systems that include an amplifier and speakers all in the same box.
When you buy one of these, you have everything you need without worrying about buying extra components.
This is what I will be looking at here.
Home Theater System Buying Guide
So, to recap, a complete all-in-one system designed for home theaters will combine an amplifier and speakers in the same package.
A few years ago, an all-in-one system was a different beast than it is today.
Previously, a system would often include an amplifier, a DVD player and surround speakers. All in a single package. This was often called home-theater-in-a-box.
However, times change, and this type of system isn’t very common now. You may still see some budget home theater models around. But I wouldn’t recommend these for great home theater sound.
I think you should spend your hard-earned money on something better.
At present the main choice is between two types of system:
- All-in-one home theater systems: these come with some form of an amplifier and a complete set of surround sound speakers and subwoofer.
- Soundbar systems: all the speakers are built into a single, stylish and compact unit that you install under (or over) your TV. Some of these have separate surround speakers and a subwoofer to install around your room. Most have all the speakers contained in one box.
So, the first choice you need to make is, do you want a more traditional all-in-one system – or a soundbar system?
So, what are some of the points to look out for?
Do I Need to Buy an Amplifier or Speakers?
Every complete system will include these.
The main advantage of an all-in-one system is that you will be getting an amplifier and speakers designed to work well together.
You don’t need to worry about matching the speakers with the amplifier. And, you don’t need to be concerned with many of the technical details which confuse many people.
A complete package will usually include all the extras required to get it all up and running. Like speaker wire, for example. However, you may want to double-check this, as some may not.
Obviously, if you are buying a wireless system, then speaker wire won’t be an issue!
Also, be careful when you are searching for these systems. You will find all types of products under this category – including complete surround sound speaker packages – with no amplifier included.
Many people get confused about this. They can end up buying a speaker package without realizing that they will need an amplifier to make it all work.
All the systems I mention on this page are complete systems with speakers and amplifiers.
What Connection Types Do I Need?
This is where it can get a little tricky. The point of improving your sound is so that you can hear the audio from your devices.
So, do you just want to hear the sound from your TV?
Or, what about your Blu-ray player too? Some systems allow you to connect your Blu-ray player directly. Others don’t.
What about Netflix or Amazon Prime? Or, your games console?
Maybe allow for future purchases too?
You need to be clear about what you want to be able to play through the speakers – and then choose the right system that allows this.
Some systems will have one, or more, HDMI inputs. This will allow you to connect your game console or Blu-ray player with a single HDMI cable. Or, anything else that has an HDMI output.
However, a few systems are limited in their input connections.
A soundbar especially may have very few inputs. These are mainly designed to just play audio from your television. However, some models do offer more input options.
The way many modern soundbars get the sound from your TV is via an HDMI ARC connection. HDMI ARC allows the TV to send the audio down the HDMI cable into your soundbar.
However, if you have an older TV, you might not have an HDMI ARC connector. HDMI, yes, but maybe not the ARC version – which is newer.
In this case, you might need a system that has an optical connection. This is more common on older TVs.
Be clear on what you want to connect to your new audio system, and then buy the right product for your needs.
What Surround Sound Speaker Layout Do I Want?
As these speaker systems are for home theater, most will come with subwoofers and surround speakers. The most common layouts are 5.1 and 7.1.
For example, a surround sound 5.1 speaker system has a center speaker, two front left and right speakers, and two rear speakers.
The .1 refers to a subwoofer, which provides extra bass.
Some systems may not include surround sound audio and simply offer 2.1 or 3.1 instead. Maybe this is all you want?
My article on home theater speaker layouts gives more detail on 5.1 vs 7.1 and 2.0 vs 2.1 systems.
Systems with a soundbar usually have all the speakers in one box. These are all placed at the front of your room under the TV.
However, some soundbar systems do come with separate wireless rear or side speakers. In this case, only the front left, center and front right speakers will be in the soundbar.
A few all-in-one systems may support the newer 3D audio formats of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. A Dolby Atmos home theater system with upfiring or height speakers isn’t that common – but there are some available.
Some soundbars have Dolby Atmos too. However, these extra speakers are usually located in the soundbar – rather than as separate rear or height speakers around the room.
Dedicated speakers around the room will give a much better surround sound experience.
If this is important to you, decide which speaker layout you want, and buy the model that provides this.
Whatever speaker layout you go for, you should also consider the speaker placement in your room to get the best sound from your system.
How Much Power Does My Home Theater System Need?
This is an interesting one. When buying a separate amplifier and speakers, one of the main specs to look out for is the power rating.
The power rating gives a guide to how loud a system will be in the room. And how well an amplifier will drive a set of speakers.
When it comes to all-in-one systems and soundbars, my general advice would be to forget about power ratings.
I have found that getting power ratings that allow you to compare one system with another is almost impossible.
Some models like the Yamaha and Onkyo all-in-one systems give power ratings like they do with their standalone audio/video receivers. They are specifications measured against an accepted standard.
With these, you can compare one device with another. And, with experience, you have a fairly good idea of how loud it will be just by looking at the numbers.
However, with many all-in-one systems and soundbars, this pretty much all goes out the window.
Some brands offer ratings that sound impressive because they are very high. However, they aren’t measured against the same standards as those by Yamaha and Onkyo.
Any system which declares it has 1000 watts of power isn’t really telling me much. Well, that’s not quite true. They are telling me that I can’t rely on their numbers to know how loud their system is.
In the real world, their systems won’t be as loud as the specifications suggest.
Some manufacturers like Sonos and Bose don’t offer any power ratings at all.
In some ways, this may be the best way to deal with the power rating for an all-in-one system.
The amplifiers and speakers are built to work well together. They are designed to fill an average-size living room.
As a rough guide, if your viewing distance is around 6-12 feet, then any system or soundbar should be suitable.
Larger spaces might still be fine, but it all depends on how loud you want to have the sound. If you have more specific needs, then maybe an all-in-one system isn’t the right choice for you?
In this case, a separate home theater receiver and speakers will give you more options to increase the volume in the room.
You will learn that power specs may not be as important as you first thought.
Do I Need Wired or Wireless Speakers?
A few years ago, you had no choice, but there are now some serious options if you want wireless speakers.
Some people will wonder if you can get the same audio quality as with using a good old cable. Others will care less and can’t wait to remove all those annoying speaker cables.
Which are you?
Many soundbars come with wireless subwoofers and surrounds. All-in-one systems are more likely to rely on cables – but not all.
How Good Is the Sound Quality of Home Theater Systems?
If sound quality is important to you, then a rule-of-thumb is you get what you pay for.
Although, as with many things, not always!
It will probably come as no surprise if the higher-end models sound better than the budget systems.
However, if you are an audiophile who is looking for the best audio performance, then maybe a separate receiver and speakers might be a better bet – rather than an all-in-one system?
There’s no right and wrong here. We all have different views on what sounds good – and what is good enough.
What sounds great to one person, won’t be so good for another. I have friends who love the sound of their home theater setups. I might have another view!
There’s always a trade-off against what you are willing to pay. And, what you consider to be value-for-money.
For soundbars, any soundbar will improve on the sound that you get from your TV speakers. Even the cheapest models. So, if that is all you need, there’s no need to break the bank.
However, if you want something that sounds good for TV, movies and music, then you will need to up your budget a little more. I would suggest the $400-$500 range as a minimum.
You’ll need to go higher if you are critical about audio and want the best sound quality.
Do soundbars and budget all-in-ones sound as good as proper hi-fi amplifiers and good-quality tower or bookshelf speakers?
Honestly, no. But it does depend on what you are used to listening to.
If you don’t already have a dedicated music system – then a complete system will probably be fine for your music listening needs.
Bigger speaker cabinets and drivers with dedicated hi-fi amplifiers will always sound better than the small speakers you get in soundbars and most all-in-one systems.
But, they cost more too.
The bottom line is that if you are critical about sound quality, then the best solution is to go and get a demo of the system so that you can hear it for yourself.
If not, you will need to rely on the opinion of others.
How Do I Choose a Home Theater System?
Before buying a home theater package, think about these issues:
- Type: do you want a more traditional all-in-one surround system – which comes with an amplifier and home theater speakers – or a more modern soundbar system? Also, don’t forget that you could also buy an AV receiver and a separate surround sound speaker package.
- Price: your budget will quickly narrow down your choices. The cheapest home theater system is a simple stereo soundbar. Surround sound is better for movies, but you don’t have to have this. For systems with a bigger price tag, then you will generally get more features, better build quality and improved sound quality. You just need to decide what price bracket will buy the best home theater system for your home.
- Speakers: how many speakers do you want? Do you just want stereo sound? Or a stereo 2.1 system with a subwoofer? From here you can get 3.1, 5.1 surround sound… or more. Dolby Atmos systems have elevated channels for immersive 3D sound. These might be 5.1.2 or 7.1.4.
- Center Speaker: Do you want a system with a dedicated center? This should help speech to be clearer. Or is stereo enough? Most all-in-one systems will have dedicated centers. Some soundbars have a center speaker built into the unit along with the front left and right speakers. Some don’t and are stereo only.
- Surround Sound: do you want a system with dedicated surrounds that you need to install around your living room? Most all-in-one 5.1 systems will have this. Most soundbars will have all the speakers contained in the actual soundbar itself. But some soundbar systems do allow for rear-mounting surround speakers.
- Connections: what external devices do you want to connect to your system? Or, do you just want to hear the sound from your TV? Do you want to connect a Blu-ray player? Or your mobile device via Bluetooth? Also, check how the system connects to your TV. Many soundbars use HDMI ARC – so your TV needs to support this.
- Features: which other options do you need? Bluetooth? Music streaming capabilities? Video streaming services like Netflix or Spotify?
- Wireless: do you want wireless speakers? Some soundbars have a wireless subwoofer and options to add wireless surrounds. Many all-in-one surround sound systems will use wires to connect the speakers. Some don’t.
Top 5 Home Theater Systems Reviews
When buying home theater equipment, one of the most difficult things is narrowing down your choice. With all the options out there, looking for the best surround sound system can make your head spin.
Hopefully, the points above will have given you a better idea of what you are looking for.
What I will do now is give you a rundown on some of my favorites.
I’ve tried to include systems at a range of prices, so there should be something for all budgets.
I’ve mainly included soundbar systems that have dedicated surround sound speakers.
If you want to look at a full range of soundbars – from budget to high-end – from stereo to Dolby Atmos surround sound – take a look at my guide to soundbars for your TV and home theater.
The main thing to remember is that there isn’t a perfect home theater system that will suit everybody. All the systems here have positives and negatives.
People have different needs and expectations. Different budgets. Different rooms.
Some features are required. Some are nice to have. Some won’t ever be used.
You just need to decide which system matches your needs best.
1. Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 Soundbar System
If you’ve never heard of Nakamichi before you may be surprised to learn they have a rich history in making high-quality AV products.
Founded in 1948, this Japanese company became well-known in the 1970s with a series of ground-breaking stereo cassette recorders. Yes, kids, we used to use tape! Don’t laugh.
However, what interests us here, is that Nakamichi began producing a range of high-performance soundbar systems in 2016.
This leads us to the current flagship model, the Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 soundbar system.
Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra Highlights
One of the standout features of the Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra soundbar system is the sheer number of speakers.
If you want a full home theater system that will immerse your whole room in surround sound, then you’ve come to the right place.
The Ultra system comes with the main 45-inch soundbar, two side surround speakers, two rear surround speakers and two wireless subwoofers.
If you are looking for a discrete soundbar system that you can hide in your room, then this package isn’t for you. However, the good news is that having this number of speakers will give you the best 3D surround sound effect.
In total the Ultra series has a total of 18 speaker drivers:
- Soundbar: 6 x 2.5-inch full range drivers / 2 x 1-inch tweeters
- Side Surrounds (each): 1 x 3-inch full range driver / 1 x 1-inch tweeter
- Rear Surrounds (each): 1 x 3-inch full range driver / 1 x 1-inch tweeter
- Subwoofer (each): 1 x 10-inch down-firing subwoofer
The speaker system isn’t completely wireless. Both subwoofers are wireless, so can be positioned easily. However, the four surround speakers must be wired to the subwoofers – two each.
Having two subwoofers does mean that you should be able to get excellent coverage of the low-end around your room.
I don’t buy Nakamichi’s claim that any decent home theater system must have two subwoofers. But, in many cases, it will help to get a balanced and even sound for everyone in the room.
However, for a small room, dual subwoofers might be too much. And that’s if you’ve got enough space for them!
Another innovative feature of the surround speakers is that they can be configured to suit the room.
There are six placement options. The standard position is to have each surround speaker in an upright position. However, they can also be placed to point upwards as Dolby Atmos elevation speakers.
|Inputs||1x HDMI Arc / 3x HDMI / 1x Optical / 1x Coaxial / 1x 3.5mm Stereo Analog / 1x USB|
|Network / Wireless||Bluetooth (Version 4.1 with aptX)|
|Audio Formats||Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS 5.1, DTS-HD HR, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS:X, LPCM up to 7.1|
|UHD / HDR Support||4K/60p, HDCP2.2 / HDR10, Dolby Vision|
|Soundbar (W x H x D)||45.5 x 3.0 x 3.5 in (115.57 x 7.62 x 8.9 cm)
|Surround Speakers (W x H x D)||5.0 x 8.0 x 5.4 in (12.7 x 20.32 x 13.72 cm)
|Subwoofer (W x H x D)||13.5 x 20.5 x 12.0 in (34.29 x 52.07 x 30.48 cm)
And they can also be placed together where they can work as dipole speakers to create a more diffuse sound.
You can mix and match these positions for a range of placement options.
There are plenty of connections on the rear of the soundbar. It is unusual to get this many HDMI ports outside of an AV receiver.
There are 3 HDMI inputs for connecting external devices. Plus, there is an HDMI ARC output for connecting to your TV.
If that wasn’t enough, you also have an optical, coaxial and 3.5mm AUX input for other audio sources – and a USB port for playing WAV and MP3 files from a stick.
If you are looking for the best Dolby Atmos soundbar system for your home theater, then the Nakamichi Ultra should be high on your list of options.
If you don’t want to take my word for it (sheesh, tough crowd), take a look at this listening battle from CES2018:
While the Nakamichi Ultra is the top-of-the-range, there are also a couple of different models with fewer features.
So, if you like the idea of a Nakamichi soundbar system, but want to spend a little less, then you might want to consider the Elite or Pro versions.
The Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite soundbar system is a 7.2.4 system. It is the same as the Ultra, except for two slightly smaller 8-inch subwoofers and only two surround speakers.
The Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro soundbar system is a 7.1.4 system. It is the same as the Elite system except it only comes with a single 8-inch subwoofer.
This might be better for smaller rooms.
While these Nakamichi soundbar systems are easy to buy in the US – unfortunately they are not so easily available around the world.
However, if you are keen to buy one of their systems and you are outside of the US, then they do ship worldwide from the Nakamichi eBay store.
- Powerful home theater sound
- Many speaker placement options for a true surround sound experience
- SSE processing engine to optimize the sound for your room
- Dual subwoofers
- Plenty of connections for external devices
- 4K HDR pass-through
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio support
- Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio support via the HDMI inputs
- No support for eARC. However, most TV apps currently send a compressed version of Dolby Atmos with a Dolby Digital Plus signal. This is supported by HDMI ARC – and is therefore supported by this soundbar.
- The surround speakers aren’t the most stylish design
2. Polk Audio 5.1-Ch Home Theater Speaker System with Denon AVR-S960H Receiver
I’m going to cheat a little on my next suggestion.
While I said this article is about all-in-one home theater systems, I’m going to suggest a complete surround sound speaker bundle and a separate AV receiver.
So, it’s not strictly an all-in-one system. There are two reasons for this:
- because it’s an excellent system that will compete in sound quality and price with anything on this page.
- because I want to highlight my earlier point that an all-in-one system isn’t the only way to go.
You can buy an outstanding AV receiver and speaker package separately – and you might get better a better system for your money.
The advantage of this system is that the speakers come all in one package – and I’ve suggested an excellent mid-range AV receiver which will give you lots of features and great sound quality.
So, I’ve done all the hard work for you.
Polk Audio 5.1/Denon AVR-S960H Highlights
There are two main parts to this system. One is the AV receiver and the other is the surround sound speaker system.
The speakers and the AV receiver sit somewhere in the mid-range of price and sound quality. You can buy cheaper systems. And you can pay a whole lot more!
But something like this will be perfect for someone who wants to go up a level or two without breaking the bank.
The AV receiver included here is from one of my favorite AV receiver brands – Denon.
The Denon AVR-S960H is one of their mid-range models – but that doesn’t mean it will give you an average sound. Denon makes excellent receivers at all price points and the AVR-S960H is no exception.
It is a 7.2-channel receiver with a power rating of 90 watts per channel (8 Ohms, 20 Hz-20 kHz, 0.08% THD, 2 Channels Driven). This will provide plenty of power for most home theater rooms.
One of the advantages of an AV receiver is they provide more input connections than most all-in-one systems. Here you have 6 HDMI inputs and 2 outputs.
Plenty for all your external devices like Blu-ray players and game consoles.
This receiver also supports the new video formats of 8K/60p and 4K/120p. Plus, HDR10+, HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG pass-through.
The main HDMI output supports ARC and eARC. This means that you can send audio from your TV’s internal apps and back into your speaker system. Very useful!
You also get:
- 2 x component video inputs
- 2 x component video outputs
- 2 x composite video inputs
- 1 x composite video output
- 2 x optical audio inputs
- 1 x coaxial audio inputs
- 4 x stereo RCA inputs
- 1 x phono input
- 1 x Ethernet port
Of course, all these extra connections are only a bonus if you need to connect more devices.
There is also a zone 2 pre-out for sending stereo audio to a different room in your home.
This receiver also comes with the outstanding Audyssey MultEQ room calibration software which will do an excellent job of getting a balanced sound in your room.
If you wanted to reduce the cost a little more, you could get a slightly cheaper AV receiver. Take a look at my guide to the best AV receivers under $500 for some ideas.
If not, the Denon AVR-S960H is a solid choice.
|Channels||5.1 (Support for 7.2/5.2.2)|
|HDMI In / Out||6/2 (eARC)|
|Other Inputs||2x Optical / 1x Coaxial / 4x Analog L/R / 2x Component / 2x Composite / 1x Phono|
|Room Calibration||Audyssey MultEQ|
|Receiver Power (W/Ch)*||90|
|Tower / Center Speakers (W x H x D)||6.5 x 10.63 x 7.25 in (16.51 x 27 x 18.42 cm)|
|Subwoofer (W x H x D)||14 x 14.375 x 16.125 in (35.56 x 36.51 x 40.96 cm)|
Moving on to the speakers, I have selected a very nice 5.1 surround sound speaker system from the Polk Audio. A respected name for many years in the AV world.
The speakers here might be part of the Polk T-Series entry-level home theater speaker line up. But they will be a cut above most speakers that you get with all-in-one systems.
And, if you prefer, you can always buy their higher-end speakers instead. Or upgrade later on.
The front left and right speakers are none other than the Polk Audio T50 floor-standing tower speakers. Each floor-standing speaker will give you an excellent front stereo image with a balanced sound from a single 1″ tweeter, one 6.5″ mid-range driver and two 6.5″ bass radiators.
The sound at the front is completed by the Polk Audio T30 center channel speaker. This will complement the floor standing speakers with a single 1″ tweeter and two 5.25″ drivers for the mid and low end.
For the rear of the room, this package includes the Polk Audio T15 bookshelf speakers. These could be used as front speakers in some systems, but here they are meant to be installed as your surround sound pair.
Again, they will work well with the Polk speakers in the front of the room.
The final piece of the jigsaw is the Polk Audio PSW10 powered subwoofer. This 10″ subwoofer is not so big that it will overpower your room. But it will provide a solid bottom-end for music and movies alike.
All in all, an excellent mid-range 5.1 surround sound speaker package. You can also buy the speakers separately if it’s easier. Although a bundle will often prove cheaper.
If you are interested in 3D audio in the shape of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, then this system can also handle that with some extras.
Because the Denon AVR-S960H is a 7.2-channel receiver, you can install a 5.2.2 surround sound system – with two extra height speakers.
All you would need is to buy two Dolby Atmos elevation speakers to add to the Polk Audio package. Or you could get an extra pair of the T15 bookshelf speakers. These would work.
Alternatively, you could buy a different brand for your height speakers. Having the same brand for Dolby Atmos speakers is less important than for the front left/right and center speakers.
The final thing that you would need is some speaker wire. This doesn’t need to be too complicated and you don’t need to spend too much on this.
It shouldn’t add too much to your budget to get enough decent wire for your room.
Just buy some no-frills 14 or 16-gauge copper speaker wire and you are good to go. Something like this will be fine:
Just make sure you buy enough. Calculate how far you will need to run to each speaker. The rear speakers are the ones that will need the most.
If you want to save some money, CCA wire will do instead of pure copper.
If you want some more information on this, take a look at my guide to buying the best speaker wire.
At the end of the day, buying a speaker package and a separate AV receiver isn’t for everyone. If it seems too much like hard work for you, there are plenty of great all-in-one systems on this page!
- Everything you need for an excellent home theater system
- Great value for money
- Very good mid-range Denon AV receiver with 8K video support
- A better speaker package than you get with most all-in-one systems
- Support for upgrading to a Dolby Atmos system
- Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio high-resolution audio support
- Loads of input connections
- HDMI ARC and eARC
- You can add more or upgrade the speakers later
- A bit more complicated than buying an all-in-one system. But not much…
3. Sonos 5.1 Soundbar Surround Set
I thought twice about including this Sonos system here. Nothing to do with the quality, but because it doesn’t fit into my traditional thinking on what a home theater system is.
Sonos is a multi-room wireless speaker system for the whole house, isn’t it?
There’s no receiver (as such). Where do you plug everything in? Where are all the wires? For an old so and so like me, this is waaaaay out there!
However, once I thought about it, I concluded that it fits exactly here. This is the future. Well, part of it at least.
And, it does many of the things any other home theater system does. So, why not?
Anyway, many people don’t know that Sonos wireless speakers can double-up as a 5.1 surround sound system. Or, was that just me?
So, let’s start again…
Sonos Soundbar 5.1 System Highlights
Did you know Sonos wireless speakers can double-up as a 5.1 surround sound system? No? Well, they can!
First, you can get a compact 3.0 speaker system using one of the four soundbars:
If you don’t know, a 3.0 speaker system has a front left, front right and center speaker to really bring the audio from movies and TV shows to life.
Then you can add the Sonos Sub to fill out the sound with some real low bass action. This is known as a 3.1 speaker system.
From this point, you can use the Sonos App to add surrounds to get yourself a 5.1 system. The following speakers can be used in pairs to create the rear surround speakers:
- One SL
- Play:5 (gen2)
- Two of your own speakers using the Amp or Connect:Amp
You just need to make sure the two surrounds are of the same type.
Once the app has created your surround setup, you are good to go.
|Channels||5.1 (Arc System: 5.1.2)|
|HDMI In||1x HDMI ARC (Arc/Beam only)|
|Other Inputs||1x Optical (Playbar & Playbase only – adapter provided for Arc & Beam)|
|Network / Wireless||Ethernet / Wi-Fi / Sonos App / Airplay 2 / Amazon Alexa / Google Assistant|
|Arc (W x H x D)||45 x 3.4 x 4.5 in (1141.7 x 87 x 115.7 mm)
|Beam (W x H x D)||25.625 x 2.7 x 3.94 in (651 x 68.5 x 100 mm)
|Playbar (W x H x D)||35.43 x 3.35 x 5.51 in (900 x 85 x 140 mm)
|Playbase (W x H x D)||28.35 x 2.28 x 14.96 in (720 x 58 x 380 mm)
|Five (W x H x D)||14.33 x 8.03 x 6.06 in (203 x 364 x 154 mm)
|One (W x H x D)||4.69 x 6.36 x 4.69 in (119.7 x 161.45 x 119.7 mm)
|One SL (W x H x D)||4.69 x 6.36 x 4.69 in (119.7 x 161.45 x 119.7 mm)
|Sub (W x H x D)||15.8 x 15.3 x 6.2 in (402 x 389 x 158 mm)
So, how do you get TV and movie audio into the speakers?
The Playbase and Playbar both have an optical audio input. Connect the optical output from your TV into the Sonos unit and you will hear 5.1 Dolby Digital sound in your speakers.
One thing you should be aware of. You need to make sure that your TV can output 5.1 Dolby Digital from the optical output.
Some can, and some can’t. Some will for internal TV apps – but not for external devices connected via HDMI directly to the TV.
You might find this article on 5.1 surround sound passthrough on TVs helpful.
Alternatively, the Sonos Beam and Arc have an HDMI ARC input which you can connect to a suitable HDMI port on your TV. The Arc also supports eARC for sending high-resolution audio formats.
If you only have optical audio outputs on your TV, you also get an adapter to connect the optical output to the HDMI input.
If you want to connect an external Blu-ray player to your Sonos surround sound system you have two main options:
- Connect the Blu-ray player to the TV via HDMI – and send both audio and picture to the TV. Then, pass the 5.1 audio from the TV optical output to the Sonos – or via HDMI ARC for the Arc/Beam. This is the recommended way to connect a Sonos soundbar.
- Connect the Blu-ray player to the TV via HDMI – for the picture only. Then use an optical connection direct from the player to the Playbase/Playbar/Beam/Arc. Some Blu-ray players have two HDMI outputs. If so, you could also use this for sending audio to the Arc or Beam. The downside of doing this is that the soundbars only have a single input. So, connecting multiple devices can get tricky. One way to solve this is to buy an optical audio switch.
So, even though the connection options are fairly limited, for many people this will be all you need to get surround sound in your living room.
The main potential problem is that older TVs may not pass through some surround and high-resolution audio formats – and Sonos doesn’t support any DTS audio formats. You should check what audio formats your TV will output before you buy to avoid disappointment.
There are other differences between some of the products.
Take a look at this official Sonos video which shows how all the different Sonos speakers can be used throughout your home:
- Three front speakers merged into one compact device
- Upgradeable. You don’t need to buy the complete package all in one go. You can start with a 3.0 soundbar and add the sub and surround speakers later
- No speaker wires
- Able to add extra Sonos speakers in other rooms for multi-room audio
- Works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
- Input connections are limited to a single optical port (plus HDMI ARC for the Beam and Arc). However, that may be all you need to get movie surround sound from your TV and DVD/Blu-ray player.
- No support for DTS audio
4. Enclave Audio CineHome PRO 5.1 Wireless Home Theater System
If you are looking for one of the best wireless surround sound systems around, then you will be excited by this option.
The Enclave Audio CineHome PRO 5.1 Home Theater System has no wires to connect the speakers to the main unit at all.
Plus, it delivers uncompressed high-resolution audio which should satisfy many of the audiophiles out there.
Enclave Audio CineHome PRO Highlights
The Enclave Audio CineHome PRO 5.1 is another excellent wireless surround sound system from this exciting brand.
I recommended a previous model before. And the good news is that the CineHome PRO takes everything up a level.
Enclave Audio specializes in wireless audio systems using WiSA technology.
WiSA stands for Wireless Speaker & Audio Association. It is a group of more than 60 brands that are working together to define standards for high-resolution, low-latency, multi-channel wireless audio.
So, if you see a product with the WiSA logo, you can be sure of audiophile audio quality delivered without wires – up to 24-bit/96kHz audio at a low latency of 5.2ms. Perfect for a home theater sound system.
Another great feature of the CineHome PRO is THX-certification. THX has provided a benchmark for audio and video products for many years. You can be sure that a THX-certified device meets high and specific performance levels
This system comes with five surround speakers and a 10-inch wireless subwoofer.
The front left, front right and center speakers each contain two 3-inch full-range drivers and a single 1-inch tweeter.
The two rear speakers have a matching configuration – except they only have one full-range driver each.
The design of the speakers may not be to everyone’s taste. However, I think for most people the tall and thin speakers will give a modern look to any room. They do a good job of being relatively discreet, while still providing plenty of power and sound quality.
|Inputs||1x HDMI Arc/eARC / 1x Optical / 1x 3.5mm Stereo Analog|
|Network / Wireless||Bluetooth|
|Audio Formats||Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS 5.1, Uncompressed LPCM|
|Front Speakers (W x H x D)||3.4 x 24.1 x 5.3 in (87 x 613 x 134 mm)
|Center Speaker (W x H x D)||24.1 x 3.4 x 5.3 in (613 x 87 x 134 mm)
|Surround Speakers (W x H x D)||3.4 x 16.4 x 5.3 in (87 x 413 x 134 mm)
|Subwoofer (W x H x D)||11.8 x 18.8 x 14.4 in (306 x 477 x 364.8 mm)
The final speaker in the package is a striking V-shaped 10-inch wireless subwoofer. Big enough to really pack a punch – but not too large to get in the way.
The whole system is controlled from the compact CineHub. This is the unit where you connect your devices – and which delivers the wireless audio to the speakers.
The amount of connections is relatively modest but will be sufficient for most people.
There is a single HDMI eARC/ARC connection which should be connected to an HDMI ARC input on your TV.
The beauty of an ARC/eARC connection is that you can send audio from your TV apps into the speaker system.
You also have an optical audio input and a 3.5mm AUX stereo analog audio input which you can use for connecting other devices.
Or, you can use the optical audio input for receiving audio from your TV if it doesn’t have an HDMI ARC connection.
Finally, the CineHub also supports Bluetooth connections. So you can send audio from your mobile devices into your speaker system too.
The setup and control of the CineHome PRO system are done in the free Enclave Audio mobile app.
From the initial pairing of the wireless speakers – to adjusting the speaker’s levels and distance settings – the app is also used in place of a standard remote control.
However, if you wish to use a normal hand-held remote, you can use a universal remote control. Or, if you are using the recommended HDMI ARC connection, then you will be able to use your normal TV remote for basic control if you have HDMI-CEC enabled.
If you want to keep the cost down a little, then there is another model in this range with fewer features.
The Enclave Audio CineHome II system has most of the benefits that I have already discussed.
The main differences in the CineHome II are:
- No THX Certification
- A smaller 8-inch subwoofer
- The front and center speakers are smaller
- The front left and right speakers have a single 3-inch driver
- The rear surrounds are a compact bi-pole design
Apart from that, you get the same wireless WiSA technology to deliver high-quality audio in your room.
- High-quality WiSA wireless audio
- Uncompressed LPCM, Dolby Digital and DTS Surround support
- Low latency audio
- Easy to install and set up
- HDMI ARC and eARC support
- Can be wall-mounted
- No option to expand to a Dolby Atmos system
- No support for Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio
- No supplied remote control
5. Yamaha YHT-4950U Home Theater System
The Yamaha YHT-4950U Home Theater-in-a-Box System is a 5.1-channel surround system. It is an excellent mid-range choice for people who want a good home theater sound but don’t want to spend too much.
As Yamaha makes many high-quality surround receivers, this system is essentially an audio/video receiver bundled with a 5.1 compact speaker package.
So, it’s a good option if you are interested in buying an AV receiver system – but don’t want the extra trouble of pairing it with a set of speakers.
Yamaha YHT-4950U Highlights
The home theater speaker package that comes with this system comprises of compact black gloss speakers. The front left and right, center channel and satellite speakers have single 2 ¾” full-range cones.
This smaller size will provide unobtrusive speakers that won’t take over your room.
If you set the crossover frequency at the right point, you can still get a full sound from smaller speakers. The subwoofer will handle the lower frequencies that the small front/surrounds might not do justice to.
To help with that, you can use the supplied microphone and YPAO room optimization software to analyze your room and set the best parameters. It will find the best crossover points and speaker distances automatically.
This is something that most all-in-one systems don’t have and so is a good extra for this Yamaha all-in-one.
The subwoofer has an 8″ cone and is rated at 50 watts (5 ohms, 100 Hz, 10% THD). This should offer enough bass for movies and music, without taking up too much floor space.
All the speakers are wired – and the speaker cable is included as part of the package.
If you are interested in a system like this – but with wireless speakers – then you might be interested in the Yamaha YHT-5950U home theater system – the next model up from this one.
This supports Yamaha’s MusicCast Surround system, where you can add wireless speakers around your room.
It also has built-in WiFi for connecting to streaming music services.
However, if you don’t want the wireless features, then the YHT-4950U is probably the better value.
|HDMI In / Out||4/1|
|Other Inputs||1x Optical / 2x Coaxial / 3x Analog L/R / 3x Composite|
|Network / Wireless||Bluetooth|
|UHD / HDR Support||4K/60p / HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG|
|Speakers||2-3/4″ (70mm) full-range cone|
|Subwoofer||8″ (203mm) cone / 50W|
The receiver doesn’t have as many input connections as some of Yamaha’s higher-end models. But, there are still more than many home theater systems offer.
There are 4 HDMI inputs and 1 HDMI output. All with 4K/60p Ultra HD pass-through and HDCP 2.2 support.
If you are interested, you can buy the receiver that comes with this system separately. It is the Yamaha RX-V385.
HDR pass-through is available for the most common versions. Therefore, you have support for HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG and BT.2020 out of the box.
On top of that, you have 1 optical audio, 2 coaxial audio, 3 analog audio and 3 composite video inputs. There is also a single composite video output.
If you want to stream audio from your handheld device into the sound system, then this unit has Bluetooth support. And, you aren’t limited to just streaming into the receiver.
The YHT-4950U system will also connect to Bluetooth headphones and speakers. Something that not all devices with Bluetooth will do.
- Yamaha makes quality home audio equipment
- Full 4K Ultra HD support
- HDR10/Dolby Vision/HLG pass-through
- Dolby TrueHD & DTS-HD Master Audio support
- Yamaha YPAO™ room optimization
- Bluetooth connection for wireless streaming – both in and out
- Compact speaker package for smaller rooms
- Reasonable power specification
- Good value for money
- No wireless speakers for 5.1 surround sound
The Next 5 Best HTiB Systems
So, if that wasn’t enough choice, I’ll complete the top 10 best home theater systems by summarizing the next 5.
You will find plenty more options here, including some budget models if the previous models are more than you are willing to pay.
Depending on your budget/requirements, these are good choices, so don’t rule them out:
6. Klipsch Cinema 600 3.1-Ch Soundbar
A 3.1-ch soundbar from this popular home theater speaker brand with a dedicated center speaker to increase the clarity of dialogue
- 45-inch soundbar with dedicated center speaker
- Powerful 10-inch wireless subwoofer
- Max Acoustic Output: 103 dB
- Designed to match the Klipsch Reference Series speakers
- Inputs: 1x HDMI ARC / 1x Optical / 1x 3.5mm Analog / Bluetooth
7. Samsung HW-Q60T 5.1-ch Soundbar with Samsung SWA-8500S 2.0 Speaker System
A mid-range 5.1 soundbar system with a wireless subwoofer and two add-on wireless rear surrounds.
- 5-channel soundbar with a dedicated center channel and upfiring Acoustic Beam speakers
- 38.6-inch wide soundbar
- 6.5-inch wireless subwoofer
- Compatible with the Samsung SWA-8500S wireless surround rear speakers (can be purchased in a package with the soundbar – or bought separately)
- Support for Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 and DTS Virtual:X
- Inputs: HDMI, Optical, USB and Bluetooth
- Outputs: HDMI ARC
- Wall mountable
- Remote control included
8. Bose Soundbar 700 5.1 Home Theater Set
A high-end soundbar set for home theater with a wireless subwoofer and dual wireless surround speakers
- Bose Soundbar 700 with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
- Bose Bass Module 700 wireless subwoofer
- Dual Bose Surround Speakers – small 4-inch model
- Integrated WiFi, Bluetooth and AirPlay 2
- Control with the Bose Music App or included remote control
9. JBL Bar 5.1 Soundbar Surround System
A mid-range 5.1 soundbar home theater system with wireless subwoofer and wireless surround speakers
- Wireless 10-inch (25 cm) subwoofer
- Dual detachable, battery-powered true wireless satellite speaker
- 4K pass-through
- 3 HDMI inputs
- Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS
- JBL Soundshift App
10. Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System
A budget home theater system with 5.1 speakers
- THX-certified 5.1-channel system
- Dolby Digital and DTS decoding
- Stereo to surround upmixing
- Inputs: 3x 3.5mm surround sound, 1x stereo RCA analog, 2x optical audio and 1x coaxial
- Comes with 6-feet of speaker wire
- Wireless remote
So, as you can see, buying the best home theater system can be a perfect way for you to get a great surround sound experience.
There are several great home theater packages and soundbars which will provide fantastic sound in any home.
I don’t want you relying on the sound from your TV speakers. That’s boring!
Get a proper speaker system and really enjoy watching that movie.
As you probably know from reading the rest of this site – you have read every page, haven’t you? – I think surround sound is fantastic.
So, if these systems are the best way for you to get a great audio experience, then go for it. You won’t regret it.
If you want to keep the cost down. If you don’t want to bother with too much setting up and configuration. If you don’t want the headache of trying to choose matching amplifiers and speakers. Then, you’re in the right place.
An all-in-one home-theater-in-a-box or soundbar can be perfect for many home theaters and will give you a setup that you will love.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is an Amplifier Necessary for Home Theater?
You don’t have to buy an amplifier to get home theater audio. If you don’t want an amplifier in your room, it would be best to buy a soundbar system. Soundbars don’t need an amplifier as they are active systems with their own internal amplifiers. You can purchase soundbars for home theater audio that have separate surround sound speakers, Dolby Atmos speakers and subwoofers. Or, you can get a discrete subwoofer system with all the speakers inside one box that you place under your TV.
What Are the Best Home Theater Systems for a Living Room?
There are several different types of home theater systems that will suit any living room. If you don’t have much space, then you can buy a simple soundbar system or a compact amplifier with small satellite speakers for surround sound. For a larger room, then you might want to buy a more powerful AV receiver and larger bookshelf or floorstanding speakers for the audio. You don’t have to get a subwoofer for your home theater audio, but if you do, then you can get small subwoofers if you don’t have much space – or bigger models that will provide excellent low bass for movie sound effects.
What Comes With a Home Theater System?
An all-in-one home theater sound system should come with everything you need to get great audio. This will include an amplifier, surround sound speakers, and even the speaker wire to connect everything together. Then, all you need to do is connect the audio output from your TV, Blu-ray player, or other audio sources into the sound system. These days, systems don’t usually include a DVD or Blu-ray player, and you will need to buy these separately.
How Many Speakers Do I Need for Home Theater?
The most common speaker layout for home theater is a 5.1 speaker system. 5.1 surround sound has five speakers in the room – front left, center, front right, surround left and surround right – plus a subwoofer. However, there are other speaker layouts that you can use for home theater. A 3.1 speaker system is like a 5.1 layout but without the surround speakers. Or, you can use 7.1 or 5.1.2 speaker layouts if you want a better surround sound effect. See the guide to home theater speaker layouts for more information.
Which Is Better, a Sound Bar or Home Theater?
There are pros and cons of both types of systems. A soundbar will usually take up less space and will be cheaper to buy. A soundbar is also a good choice for inexperienced users who want home theater audio that is easy to set up. A dedicated home theater audio system will usually have a separate amplifier and more prominent speakers. In many cases, this will provide better sound quality, but it will also be more expensive to buy and more complex to set up. Of course, if you spend more on a high-end soundbar system, you can get sound quality on par with a complete home theater.
About Home Cinema Guide
Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has worked as a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment.