Sure, your TV screen may be the first thing people notice about your entertainment hub, but it’s sound quality that completes a proper home theater setup. Whether you want to invest in the best surround sound system you can get in order to transform your entertainment space or you just want something simple that will boast a big impact, there are plenty of great immersive audio options out there. And when it comes to buying a home theater sound system — from AV receivers and multispeaker setups to simpler-yet-still-powerful soundbars — we’ve got you covered.
Soundbars offer a lot of performance in a compact package and cost much less to get up and running than a speaker system. You can even choose one with advanced features like Dolby Atmos and Wi-Fi streaming. Some soundbars offer an upgrade path including optional subwoofers and rear speakers, though if you want to truly mix and match speakers, an AV receiver is for you.
Receivers offer a lot in the box and, unlike soundbars, they have plenty of HDMI inputs to accommodate different sources. You can even start with just a couple of stereo speakers — and I did this for a couple of years without feeling I was missing out. Yet, given you can get a full 5.1.4 Klipsch system for under $500 you don’t really need to wait.
Whatever route you decide to go with — soundbars or AV systems — there should be something here that will improve your home entertainment experience. These are the best home theater systems available right now. We’ll update this list periodically as we review new products.
When it comes to bang for buck, it doesn’t get much better than the Roku Streambar home theater system. This speaker offers both a dialogue-enhancing soundbar and a built-in 4K streamer in one package. If you want more bass or surround speakers, the system is also upgradable. Usually selling for $130, it’s currently on sale for $100.
If you’re looking for a surround set to pair with an AV receiver, then speaker manufacturer Klipsch has you spoiled for choice. For under $400 you can currently buy either the Klipsch Reference Theater Pack or the step-up Klipsch Reference Cinema Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 System. Both offer excellent sound quality, but given that the full-cream Atmos system is currently only $50 more or so, you should get that. An unbelievable value.
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If there’s one area where we’re spoiled for choice, it’s affordable stereo speakers, and at just $300, the Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2s offer excellent playback of both movies and music. They offer a transparency that’s unlike anything else near the price. While the Q Acoustic 3030is are more even-handed and have better bass response, they’re also $550.
While the rotating speakers of the Vizio Elevate are cool, that system doesn’t offer the best bang for your buck within the company’s range. The Vizio M512a is a Dolby Atmos soundbar that includes 4K Dolby Vision, a subwoofer and rear-channel speakers, making it a sort of hybrid between a receiver-based system and a soundbar. It also provides incredible sound quality for music and movies.
You may not be able to watch 8K video right now, but it’s still worth buying an 8K-compatible receiver — especially if you’re a gamer. The TX-NR6100 is a great receiver, with excellent sound quality and an unbeatable superior streaming suite, including Chromecast built-in.
If you demand the best Dolby Atmos performance from a single soundbar, it doesn’t get any better than the Sennheiser Ambeo audio system. It’s not cheap, and it’s not small, but if you want the best sound, this is it.