It doesn’t matter how large your TV 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. For more background information on home theater systems, see our comparison tables and buying advice below the picks.
Best Overall Home Theater System
1. ELAC Debut 2.0 5.1 paired with Denon AVR-S740H
Recommended Amp Power: 10-160W/6Ω
Low Freq: 35HzHigh Freq: 30kHz
What We Like: A stunning upgrade from ELAC, pairs really well with the Denon, offers excellent value.
What We Don’t: Not a huge amount for the money.
ELAC continue to impress. You’d think the truly big dogs of home theater – KEF, Klipsch, Paradigm – would be in this top spot. But no: we’ve decided to award it to ELAC, and that’s because for sheer value-for-money, the new Debut 2.0 5.1 system can’t be beaten. The unbelievable sound quality you get from the included F6.2 floorstanding speakers and 3010 subwoofer have to be heard to be believed. It’s a $4,000 system, with a price tag of less than half that. Compare that to the Onkyo HT-S7800, below – at $899, it’s a great system, but it also sounds like a $899 one. Not a problem with the ELAC.
And if you need a receiver, we strongly suggest the Denon AVR-S740H. It’s a top-five contender, and although it offers a few more channels than you need for the ELAC system, at 7.2, that’s no bad thing; it means easy upgrading later. And they pair spectacularly well, with the Denon’s grunt bringing out the very best in the ELAC speakers. It takes something truly special for a 5.1 combo to make it to the top, but this particular system does it. For most people, it’s the best home theater system you can get.
See the ELAC Debut 2.0 5.1 See the Denon AVR-S740H
A Close Second
2. Onkyo HT-S7800
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Low Freq: 10Hz
High Freq: 100kHz
What We Like: Terrific value, arguably the best Home-Theater-In-a-Box available.
What We Don’t: Can distort at high volumes.
Purists disdain Home-Theater-In-a-Box (HTIB) systems. These are complete packages which give you everything you need for your entertainment setup. Thank heavens, then, that we’re not purists. There are plenty of reasons to buy an HTIB, such as convenience and easy component matching. We think the amazing Onkyo HT-S7800 package is currently the best HTIB package available. For under $900, you get an unbelievable range of features in a system that is fully compatible with Dolby Atmos surround sound. Compared to other HTIBs on this list, like the pricy Axiim 5.1 WM Series, the Onkyo HT-S7800’s value is off the charts.
It does come with some caveats, however. Chief among these is that the included speakers tend to distort slightly at high volumes. It’s also not the most attractive system, with design that’s easily outmatched by other packages on this list, like the surprisingly affordable Logitech Z606. Regardless, while it doesn’t quite beat the ELAC/Denon combo above for sound, it’s an exceptionally convenient way to kick your home theater system up a notch.
See the Onkyo HT-S7800
Best Budget Home Theater System
3. Yamaha YHT-4930UBL
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Low Freq: 20Hz
High Freq: 20kHz
What We Like: The perfect small system if you’re on a budget, easy to set up and use.
What We Don’t: Sound quality is outclassed by other models.
Here’s the dirty secret that home theater manufacturers won’t tell you. Updates to systems are often incremental, and it means that some systems can stick around for years, and still be worth your time. With that in mind, we think the Yamaha YHT-4930UBL is the best system for your budget. Yes, it may be a couple of years old now, but if it comes to picking between this system and a newer one that offers a few basic upgrades for a steeper price tag, we know which one we’ll go for. This was our office testing setup for a long time, and although we have upgraded since, it still holds a spot in our hearts. If you have a small room, a tight budget, or you’re just getting started, then this is the ideal way to go.
Despite our fondness, we have to admit that the sound of the YHT-4930UBL isn’t perfect. Compared to pricier models, like the Onkyo HT-S7800, it has a way to go. The YHT-4930UBL tends to distort if pushed to the limits, and although we love the surround sound, the detail isn’t quite as good as we’d expect. But for under $500, you get an competent HTIB that delivers everything you could need for a base system. If you’re looking for something a little ritzier, we suggest the ELAC/Denon combo or the Onkyo package.