The best home theater systems


Best home theater systems of 2020: Onkyo, Vizio, Klipsch, and more – Business Insider Back to TopA white circle with a black border surrounding a chevron pointing up. It indicates ‘click here to go back to the top of the page.’Back to TopA white circle with a black border surrounding a chevron pointing up. It indicates ‘click here to go back to the top of the page.’Back To Top

2020-03-12T21:05:00Z

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Onkyo HT-S7800

$549.00

Available on Amazon

Vizio 36-inch 5.1 SmartCast Sound Bar System

$249.99

Available on Best Buy

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system

$1,299.00

Available on Adorama

Klipsch Reference Premiere 5.1.4 Speaker System

$5,305.00

Available on Amazon

Enclave Audio CineHome HD

$779.79

Available on Amazon

  • A proper home theater system can create a truly immersive movie-watching experience, surrounding you with sound from all directions.
  • Home theater systems typically include multiple speakers and a subwoofer, along with an AV receiver for amplification and audio processing if necessary.
  • Home-Theater-In-A-Box (HTIB) and soundbar packages can be found for affordable prices, while full-fledged systems with seven or more speakers can cost thousands of dollars.
  • The Onkyo HT-S7800 5.1.2 HTIB is our pick for the best home theater system thanks to its solid performance, Dolby Atmos support, and surprisingly affordable cost. 
  • For more speaker recommendations, be sure to check out our regularly updated roundup of the best speaker deals.

Integrated speakers built right into your TV are fine for casual viewing, but if you’re looking for a genuinely immersive audio experience while watching movies and shows, you’re going to want to upgrade to an actual home theater system. Home theater systems include multiple speakers and support for surround sound formats, enabling you to hear film soundtracks the way they’re meant to be heard: with effects moving throughout your room. 

Most home theater systems also include subwoofers for dedicated bass, bringing more impact and rumble to explosions in action movies. Many new systems even offer support for Dolby Atmos technology, which adds overhead sound effects above your head. An AV receiver is often required as well. The AV receiver is used to power and process your speakers, and many receivers also serve as a connection hub that you can hook up numerous HDMI devices to for easy pass-through to a TV. 

Though buyers who want high-end systems will typically have to piece together all of these components separately, some companies bundle everything together in one handy package called a Home-Theater-In-A-Box (HTIB). Many HTIBs even include speaker wire. This makes HTIBs an appealing option because you don’t have to worry about finding any additional audio gear.

On the downside, HTIBs traditionally feature smaller speakers with entry-level performance. With that said, many retailers now offer custom bundles with high-end speakers. While not technically HTIBs, these bundles make it easier to buy everything you need for a premium audio setup.

If you want an even simpler home theater solution, however, a multi-speaker soundbar system might be a better fit. Though performance isn’t on par with a genuine speaker setup, soundbar systems don’t require a separate AV receiver at all. For those who want a no-fuss, plug-and-play home theater, a soundbar package is the way to go. 

With all of these different options and components to consider, figuring exactly what type of home theater system works best for your needs can be very complicated. We’re here to help simplify the process: Through research and hands-on testing, we’ve selected the best home theater system packages you can buy for a variety of budgets and room sizes. 

To make things easy, most of our picks include AV receivers or integrated amplification so you don’t have to worry about finding a separate component. In the rare case that an amp isn’t included, we’ve provided a link to a recommended receiver you can pair with the speakers.

Here are our top picks for the best home theater systems:

  • Best home theater system overall: Onkyo HT-S7800 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system
  • Best budget home theater system: Vizio 36-inch 5.1 SmartCast Sound Bar system
  • Best mid-range home theater system: Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system
  • Best high-end home theater system: Klipsch Reference Premiere 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos system
  • Best wireless home theater system: Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1 System

Updated on 03/13/2020: Added Onkyo HT-S7800 and Klipsch Reference Premiere system. Updated copy for the Vizio SmartCast soundbar, Enclave Audio CineHome HD, and Focal Sib Evo speakers. Updated buying advice and formatting. Christian de Looper contributed to this guide.

The best home theater system overall

Onkyo home theater

Amazon

The Onkyo HT-S7800 offers impressive 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos support in an affordable and convenient HTIB package.

Onkyo’s HT-7800 HTIB is proof that an immersive audio system doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Sure, surround sound speaker systems that cost thousands of dollars will offer better audio performance, but for most buyers’ needs, this affordable HTIB is an ideal home theater solution. In fact, as an audio journalist, these are the very speakers I picked for in my own home for the last three years — and I couldn’t be more happy with my purchase. 

Since this is a HTIB, the Onkyo HT-S7800 includes all of the audio components you’ll need to set up a complete 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system. The package includes a left, center, right, left surround, and right surround speaker, along with a 10-inch subwoofer. For added convenience, the system also comes complete with a 7.2-channel AV receiver for powering and processing all of the speakers. As an added bonus, there’s even speaker wire included in the box. 

The front left and right speakers also feature special upfiring drivers designed to bounce audio off of your ceiling. This makes it sound as if effects are coming from above your head when you watch Dolby Atmos content. The resulting audio performance is very enveloping for a system in this price range. Whether listening to action movies or dialogue heavy dramas, the Onkyo speakers and receiver offer a balanced and versatile sound. 

To be clear, you’re not going to get the range, depth, and sheer power that more expensive floorstanding speakers and larger subwoofers provide, but for buyers who don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on speakers, the HT-S5910 is an excellent alternative. 

With that said, the subwoofer is prone to one slightly annoying limitation. Instead of having a manual on/off switch, the subwoofer only turns on when it receives a signal. It then turns off by itself when it no longer detects a signal for a few minutes. Unfortunately, this can cause the subwoofer to remain dormant during quiet scenes in action movies, only for it to turn back on with a slight delay once an explosion or some other bass-heavy effect wakes it up. This is a very minor issue, however, and most people will never notice it. 

All things considered, the Onkyo HT-S7800 presents an incredible value. If you’re looking for an affordable Dolby Atmos home theater system with everything you need in one package, this is one of the most convenient options you can buy. 

Pros: Very affordable for a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system, includes an AV receiver, upfiring speakers for overhead sound

Cons: Can’t manually turn on subwoofer, performance is strong for the price but audio quality can’t compete with truly high-end systems

The best budget home theater system

Vizio soundbar system

Best Buy

The Vizio 36-inch 5.1 SmartCast Soundbar System is super easy to use and set up, plus, it delivers surround sound at an excellent price.

Soundbars are great, but surround sound systems are even better. So what if you combine the best of both worlds? That’s where the Vizio 36-inch 5.1 SmartCast Sound Bar System comes in. The system is inexpensive and easy to use, while still offering a genuine surround sound experience.

Perhaps one of the best things about the system is that it’s very user-friendly. Simply unwrap all the components and plug them in, and you should be pretty much good to go. The soundbar unit itself handles all the processing and amplification so there’s no need for a separate AV receiver unit.  You simply plug the included HDMI cable into the soundbar’s HDMI ARC port on one end, and your TV’s HDMI ARC port on the other end. If your TV doesn’t have an HDMI ARC connection, you can use the soundbar’s optical audio port instead.

Though performance isn’t on par with more expensive home theater systems, for a budget 5.1-channel soundbar, this Vizio package has surprisingly immersive audio performance. Since the front left, center, and right channels are all integrated in one soundbar unit, separation isn’t as wide as it would be on three individual speakers, but you still get a nice sense of space. The rear satellites are what really set this model apart, however, enabling true surround effects.

The subwoofer is solid too, but it’s smaller than most typical home theater subwoofers so it won’t be a good fit for larger rooms. It can also sound a bit boomy and unbalanced at times. Still, for such an inexpensive home theater system, the overall audio quality is impressive. Bluetooth and SmartCast connectivity are included as well, adding to the system’s value with convenient wireless music streaming capabilities.

Plenty of other reviewers love the Vizio SmartCast system as well. Our great experience with the system is backed up by the 4-star review on TechHive.

Pros: Easy to use, doesn’t require a separate AV receiver, inexpensive, wireless music streaming, separate rear satellites for true surround sound

Cons: Audio performance isn’t on par with bigger systems, doesn’t support Dolby Atmos

The best mid-range home theater system

Focal system

Amazon

The Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system features a stylish design and fantastic audio performance — but you will need to buy a separate AV receiver.

Looking for a compact, mid-range speaker package with support for Dolby Atmos? The Focal Sib Evo speaker system is for you. Featuring five speakers plus a subwoofer, the system is sure to make your home theater a whole lot more immersive than it already is. The front left and right speakers even include upward firing drivers to create overhead sound effects when playing Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

Before we go on, however, it’s important to note that you will need to buy a separate AV receiver to use this system, and the receiver will need to support Dolby Atmos if you want to take advantage of everything the speakers have to offer. We recommend the Yamaha RX-V683BL 7.2-Channel MusicCast AV Receiver with Bluetooth  as a great entry-level receiver with all the features you’ll need.

Once you have all your components, you will need to set the system up, and like other speaker systems that require a receiver, that process can take a while. You’ll need speaker wire (sold separately) to connect each speaker to your receiver and, unfortunately, the binding terminals on the speakers themselves aren’t the most user-friendly. 

Thankfully, once setup is out of the way, the system truly sounds fantastic, offering an enveloping 5.1.2 experience. The two upward firing drivers on the left and right speakers do a great job of bouncing Dolby Atmos effects off of the ceiling, making it really sound like audio is coming from above. The effect can be a little hit or miss, however, but the added drivers always help to expand the soundstage. 

On the downside, the compact size of the speakers can limit their performance just a tad. Dialogue, in particular, can sound a little soft from the center speaker. The subwoofer is a nice match for medium-sized rooms, but buyers looking for a home theater system to set up in a large space might crave a bit more oomph. 

As a whole, when paired with a proper AV receiver, the Focal Sib Evo is an excellent mid-range home theater system. Plenty of reviewers love the Focal Sib Evo system, too. High-Def Digest gave it a 4.5/5, while Home Theater Review went a step further with a 5/5 rating.

Pros: Compact size, 5.1.2 system with upfiring Dolby Atmos speakers, very immersive performance

Cons: Requires a separate AV receiver which adds to cost, dialogue sounds a little soft

The best high-end home theater system

Klipsch home theater

Amazon

If you can afford it, Klipsch’s Reference Premiere 5.1.4 speaker system is a home theater dream come true.

All of the other home theater packages included on this guide are great performers in their own right, but Klipsch’s Reference Premiere 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos speaker system is on another level entirely. Designed for true enthusiasts, this is the speaker package to buy if you want a full movie theater experience in your living room.

Though there are several different Reference Premiere speakers you can mix and match together, this particular 5.1.4 bundle includes a pair of Klipsch RP-8000F floorstanding speakers, a pair of Klipsch RP-502S surround speakers, a Klipsch RP-504C center speaker, a Klipsch SPL-120SW 12-Inch subwoofer, and two pairs of Klipsch RP-500SA Dolby Atmos speakers.

The RP-500SA speakers are designed to rest on top of the included floorstanding and surround speakers, adding upfiring drivers for Dolby Atmos height effects. And though not technically an HTIB in the traditional sense, this bundle from Amazon does include an equally high-end Yamaha Aventage RX-A2080 9.2-Channel AV receiver so you don’t have to worry about buying one separately. 

Klipsch is well known for its proprietary Tractrix horn-loaded technology, and that audio tech is put to good use in this system. Performance is simply stunning, with range, clarity, imaging, and bass that simply outclass all of our less expensive recommendations. This system also features a total of nine speaker channels — which is two more than our mid-range pick. The extra two channels add rear Dolby Atmos height effects so you get overhead audio bouncing off all four corners of your ceiling.

Of course, not everyone is going to have a room large enough to accommodate a setup like this, and only the most serious home theater enthusiasts will want to spend several thousand dollars on speakers. If you are able to make such an investment, however, the Reference Premiere series is hard to beat. Expert reviews rave about the lineup’s performance as well. High-Def Digest gave the speakers a 4.5/5, and called them “a sonic joy from top to bottom.”

Pros: Incredible 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos audio performance for a true theater-like experience, bundle includes a 9.2-channel receiver

Cons: Very expensive, large speakers require more space

The best wireless home theater system

Enclave system

Amazon

The Enclave Audio CineHome HD offers solid sound quality, but its main advantage is its affordable wireless support.

There really isn’t a completely wireless home theater system on the market just yet, but the Enclave Audio CineHome HD is about as close as it gets, allowing you to set up a home theater system without any speaker wires. To be clear, wireless surround sound speakers still need to be plugged into power outlets, and you do still need to run an HDMI cable to your TV.

What the Enclave Audio CineHome HD does save you from, however, is the hassle of having to run speaker wires to an AV receiver. In fact, you don’t need an AV receiver at all. Instead the left, center, right, and surround speakers all use WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio Association) technology to wirelessly connect to the center speaker. The center speaker then acts as a hub, complete with three HDMI ports and an optical port to connect to playback devices.

Together, the five speakers and 8-inch subwoofer offer very solid audio performance for a wireless system in this price range, but sound quality isn’t as good as comparably priced wired home theater systems. It should also be noted that the Enclave CineHome HD speakers do not support processing Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA lossless audio formats. That’s a disappointing limitation since that’s a standard feature on most AV receivers.

Still, wireless home theater systems like this tend to be very expensive, and the CineHome HD’s price is surprisingly affordable, which makes some of the system’s shortcomings easier to overlook. A newer model, the CineHome II, is also available for those willing to pay more. The updated system features a much more attractive and modern design, along with some new connectivity features, like eARC and future support for adding even more speakers. It costs about double the price of the CineHome HD, though, so we think the older model offers a better value.  

Pros: Almost completely wireless, affordable for a wireless system

Cons: No Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA support, speaker placement can be difficult since each speaker needs a power outlet

How to choose a receiver

Klipsch Reference Premiere Center Channel Speakers Atmos

Klipsch

If you’re buying a home theater speaker package that requires a separate receiver, there are a few key factors you should look for when choosing a model. First, you’ll need to confirm how many speakers you plan to use in your setup. In general, the more speakers you have, the more enveloping your listening experience will be. More speakers, however, require more terminals on your receiver, so you’ll need to make sure your AV receiver includes the necessary connections and processing support.

To figure this out, you’ll need to take a look at the “channel” specification on your receiver. The number of channels a receiver supports correlates to the number of speakers you’ll be able to set up. Channel designations are listed as a string of up to three numbers separated by decimal points. The first number refers to standard ear-level speakers (left, right, center, surrounds). The second number indicates how many subwoofers are supported for dedicated bass. The final number describes how many height speakers you can connect for Dolby Atmos overhead audio.

For example, if you have a standard 5.1 surround sound speaker layout you’ll need a receiver with at least 5.1-channels. If you have a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos speaker arrangement, you’ll need a receiver with at least 9.1-channels. Dolby Atmos setups will also require a receiver with Dolby Atmos processing support. 

Other key features to look for in a receiver include support for lossless audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD-MA. This feature is pretty standard on most receivers sold today. Many receivers also feature HDMI inputs for passing video from a streaming box, Blu-ray player, or game console to your TV. For the most comprehensive 4K HDR passthrough capabilities, you’ll want to find a receiver with support for at least the HDMI 2.0 standard. 

Finally, many receivers also include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless capabilities for easy music streaming from mobile devices. Some receivers even include voice control capabilities via separate Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant devices. Chromecast built-in, Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, and DTS Play-Fi protocols are all supported on select models as well, so you’ll want to make sure that your receiver supports whatever format works best for your ecosystem.   

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