One of the very first things to consider when buying a home theater system is how many channels you want. You’ll see numbers like 2.1, 5.1, or 7.2. These denote how many channels and, in many cases, how many individual speakers the system uses.
The first number is the number of standard audio channels, while the second is the number of subwoofers. A 2.1 system, for example, has two speakers for stereo sound and a subwoofer for low frequencies. A 5.1 system would have left and right, a center channel, two surround channels, and a subwoofer.
Dolby Atmos adds a new dimension to the audio, quite literally. Atmos adds height, either through ceiling-mounted or, far more often, through upward-firing speakers. These add a dimension of height to the sound.
Generally, the more channels in a system, the more speakers it has, and the more complicated it will be to set up. This isn’t always the case, however. Soundbar systems usually have a central soundbar with satellite speakers and a subwoofer.
A system based on a soundbar will be easier to use but often won’t offer the same depth of sound that a system with individual speakers will. That said, soundbars have come a long way when it comes to sound quality, and the very best rival similar full-surround systems.
If you opt for a speaker-based system, one thing to keep in mind is whether it includes an amplifier or receiver. Many speaker systems leave it up to you to choose your own A/V receiver, so keep this in mind when budgeting for your home theater system.
Finally, all those speakers mean wires all over your living room—unless you opt for a wireless system. These are generally easier to set up, but they will cost more as a result.
With all this in mind, check out our recommendations for the best home theater systems.
Best Home Theater System Overall: VIZIO Elevate Sound Bar
- ✓ Dolby Atmos and DTS:X ready
- ✓ Easy setup requires just a few wires
- ✓ Self-rotating speakers are more than just a gimmick
- ✗ Satellite speakers require wired connection
For a combination of ease of setup and use plus great sound, our overall pick for most people is the VIZIO Elevate Sound Bar for TV. It manages to cram 5.1.4 channels of Dolby Atmos-ready sound into a deceptively simple package.
Looking at setup, things are fairly simple. You have the base soundbar unit, two satellite speakers, and a subwoofer. While the satellite speakers require wires, you get a wireless subwoofer, which makes setting this system up an easy process.
While it seems like there are only a few speakers in this system, Vizio has actually equipped the Elevate soundbar with 18 individual speakers of its own. This helps give the system a depth and width beyond what you’d expect out of a soundbar system.
Among these are four upward-firing speakers for Atmos and DTS:X. A pair of adaptive height speakers even automatically rotate to add even more depth to the sound of your TV shows, movies, and music.
The Elevate soundbar also has other smart features, including a remote with a backlit display, making it easier to use when you’ve got the lights dimmed. Chromecast built-in lets the soundbar double as a speaker for music, podcasts, and other audio as well.
You can place the speakers anywhere you like, but for wall-mounted setups, Vizio includes mounting hardware for both the soundbar and satellite speakers. All and all, VIZIO’s Elevate Sound Bar is a perfect package for most people.
VIZIO Elevate Sound Bar for TV
If you're looking for a set it and forget it home theater system but still want Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, this is it.
Best Budget Home Theater System: Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound
- ✓ Actual speaker-per-channel 5.1 setup
- ✓ Multiple connectivity options
- ✓ 3D Stereo option makes stereo into surround sound
- ✗ No HDMI connectivity
If you don’t want a soundbar, but still want the simplicity of a system based on a soundbar, the Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System is a fantastic option. You get everything you need all in one package but still have a complete 5.1-channel setup.
This THX-certified home theater system doesn’t feature Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, as there are no upward-firing speakers. That said, it does feature DTS and Dolby Digital, ensuring that everything you hear out of this system is crystal clear.
Unlike many “home theater in a box” solutions, the Logitech Z906 actually features one speaker per channel. That means you’re getting stereo, left and right, and left and right surround channels as well as a subwoofer.
The subwoofer here is substantial, given the overall price. You get an eight-inch driver powered by a 165-watt amplifier in the subwoofer, enough to add significant bass to explosions, thundering engines, or anything else that makes your movies more exciting.
One interesting inclusion in the Z906 is something Logitech calls “3D Stereo.” This takes older movies and TV shows or any other stereo audio content and expands it to encompass the room via the surround channels. It’s a neat audio upgrade that not every home theater setup can do!
The Logitech Z906 doesn’t feature HDMI, but it does feature inputs for up to six devices split between analog and digital inputs. You get RCA analog, digital coaxial, and digital optical ports.
Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System
The Logitech Z906 packs a complete 5.1-channel home theater system into a single box, with only a few minor compromises for the price.
Best Wireless Home Theater System: JBL Bar 5.1
- ✓ Fully wireless satellite speakers make setup easy
- ✓ Doubles as a wireless speaker for music
- ✓ Integrates with your TV remote
- ✗ Charging satellite speakers isn't for everything
If you tend toward the minimal and can’t stand the idea of wires running all over your living room, the JBL Bar 5.1 is precisely what you’ve been looking for. This is as wireless as home theater systems can get.
As the name implies, this is a 5.1-channel system, but you only have four speakers to deal with. You get the main soundbar, a subwoofer, and two satellite speakers. These are where things get a little different from your average soundbar setup.
Many satellite speakers are partially wireless, meaning they don’t have cables carrying sound from the receiver, but do need to be plugged into a power source. The satellite speakers in the JBL Bar 5.1 package are fully wireless. Thanks to internal batteries, you don’t even need to plug them into power.
The wireless satellite speakers last up to 10 hours on a single charge. When it’s time to charge them, just attach them to the built-in charging points on the main soundbar. All you need to plug into the wall are the soundbar itself and the subwoofer, which boasts a 10-inch driver.
Looking at connectivity, the JBL Bar 5.1 features three HDMI inputs and one HDMI ARC output, letting it sit between your Blu-ray player or streaming devices and your TV. To keep things simple, the JBL Bar 5.1 works with many TV remotes, but it also includes its own.
One final unique feature is JBL Soundshift, which lets you switch between playing your TV audio on the soundbar and playing audio from your phone, taking your music wherever you go easily.
JBL Bar 5.1
If you're a minimalist or simply hate wires running everywhere, the fully wireless JBL Bar 5.1 is the perfect home theater system for you.
Best Dolby Atmos Home Theater System: Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2.4
- ✓ Works with Atmos audio from smart TVs
- ✓ 7.2.4-channel Dolby Atmos audio in an easy to set up package
- ✓ Processing adds wider sound to any TV audio
- ✗ Expensive compared to similar options
Nakamichi produces several versions of the Shockwafe, but the Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2.4 is the perfect balance of channel count, features, and price.
This hybrid soundbar and speaker package consists of five main pieces. You get the main soundbar, as well as dual 8-inch subwoofers and a pair of rear speakers. Unlike many satellite speakers, the rear speakers hear are two-way, pairing a tweeter and a woofer for fuller surround sound.
The main soundbar faces two speakers outward instead of forward. Nakamichi says on its Amazon store page that this leads to a sound stage that is more than 35 percent wider than a standard soundbar. In combination with the dual subwoofers and rear speakers, you get convincing surround sound.
As the category implies, this is a fully?Dolby Atmos-capable surround sound system. Four upward-firing speakers bounce sound off of your ceiling, adding realistic height differences into the sound field.
The Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite has HDMI capabilities allowing for 4K video, complete with Dolby Vision HDR passthrough. The HDMI ARC port also allows for Dolby Atmos from your TV, if it’s capable of outputting Atmos. This lets you use Atmos from Netflix and similar apps built into smart TVs.
If a 7.2.4-channel setup still feels too limited for you, you can always step up to the Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2.4 model. It’s several hundred dollars more expensive, but you get an even richer soundscape as a result of the extra channels.
Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2.4
The Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2.4 takes the difficulty out of Dolby Atmos, letting you focus on enjoying movies and TV shows, not setting up speakers.
Best 7.1 Home Theater System: Klipsch Synergy Black Label F-300 7.1
- ✓ Includes floor standing stereo speakers
- ✓ Black and copper aesthetic looks great in any room
- ✓ High-efficiency subwoofer makes for powerful bass
- ✗ Requires a separate A/V receiver
If you aren’t concerned with Dolby Atmos or wireless connectivity, but you do want the best audio quality for the price, the Klipsch Synergy Black Label F-300 7.1 is our pick for you.
Unlike many of the options we’ve looked at so far, this is less of an all-in-one system than it is a collection of great speakers. The highlights are the two F-300 floor standing speakers, which together with the C-200 center channel speaker will provide the vast majority of the sound you hear.
Complementing these are four B-200 bookshelf speakers, which serve as your surround and rear surround speakers. Finally, you get the Sub-120 subwoofer for room-shaking bass.
The speakers use Klipsch’s Tractrix horn technology, which the company says creates a uniform dispersion pattern. What does this mean to you? Basically, you can put the speakers nearly anywhere, and they’ll still sound great.
One of the positives of buying the speakers together is that they match each other. In a black finish with copper-colored drivers, these speakers will look tasteful, regardless of where you put them.
Klipsch includes power cables for any speakers that need them, though no speaker wires are included. Speaking of which, to use these, you’ll need a 7.1-channel A/V receiver, like the Onkyo TX-NR5100.
Klipsch Synergy Black Label F-300 7.1
If you want to choose your own A/V receiver but don't want to pick individual speakers, the Klipsch Synergy Black Label F-300 7.1 handles the hard part for you.
Best 5.1 Home Theater System: Polk Audio 5.1 Channel Home Theater System
- ✓ Tower-style stereo speakers are great for music
- ✓ Dynamic Balance technology makes for clear, wide sound
- ✓ Black-on-black finish looks classy everywhere
- ✗ Separate A/V receiver required
If you already have an A/V receiver but want to upgrade your speakers, the Polk Audio 5.1 Channel Home Theater System with Powered Subwoofer is a perfect option.
Like the Klipsch set above, this is a speaker bundle rather than a full home theater package. The centerpiece is a pair of T50 Tower Speakers. To round it out, you get the T30 Center Channel speaker, a pair of T15 bookshelf speakers, and the PSW10 subwoofer.
These Polk speakers use the company’s proprietary Dynamic Balance technology, which minimizes distortion and gives wider dispersion. This leads to wider, more accurate sound.
All the speakers are black, with black tweeters and cones. This lets them fit in almost anywhere, meaning you don’t have to worry about whether they match your decor.
This is a 5.1-channel speaker, so you’ll need an A/V receiver like the Denon AVR-S540BT. That said, if you already have a receiver with a higher channel count, you can always add another pair of bookshelf speakers to upgrade to a 7.1-channel setup.
Polk Audio 5.1 Channel Home Theater System with Powered Subwoofer
If you want to start with a 5.1-channel system but keep the option of adding speakers for a 7.1-channel system, this is a great place to start.
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