The 8 Best Home Theater Systems of 2018

September 8th, 2018

Getting yourself a home theater system is a great way to up your movie watching, or music listening experience.

If you’re using your TV’s included speakers, you’re honestly missing out. You won’t hear a lot of what the music or movie producer wants you to hear. And yes, investing in the best home stereo system is well worth it.

But, there are just so many options! Do you get the best wireless surround sound system? Do you get the best home theater in a box? Should you splurge for the best 7.1 home theater system, or will the best 5.1 surround sound system be enough for what you need? There are a lot of things to be careful about when buying a home theater system. This, in turn, makes the buying decision much more difficult. Sure, if you’re a person who’s well versed in this field, you know what to look for. But what if you’re not?

That’s where we come in. We have assembled a list of options for you. From the best 5.1 speakers, to the best wireless home theater system – we have a bit of everything. We also have some of the best Bluetooth surround sound options too, as well as the best 2.1 home theater speakers you could find. And, if you do go through our list, but still don’t know what to get, we have a solution for that too. At the end, you’ll find our comprehensive buyer’s guide, which ensures you end up with the best home stereo system for your needs!

Sonos 5.1 Review – the absolute best

Sonos have become a very well known name in the sound industry nowadays. Their Sonos 5.1 surround sound setup is an amazing piece of audio heaven. It’s not your typical 5.1 system, as it only has four pieces. You get the Sonos Playbar, which is their excellent soundbar. This is what will replace the center, and two front speakers. And it’s a great replacement, honestly. The 9 speakers inside make the setup feel like a true 5.1 home cinema system. Along with that, you have the Sub, which adds dramatic, deep bass. And to wrap things up, you have the two PLAY:1 speakers. These are the sound rears, which let you hear every little detail.

One of the best things about the Sonos 5.1 setup is that it is completely wireless. Sonos have perfected the wireless game. You’ll really have a hard time noticing any sound quality loss from the fact that the system is wireless. The only thing you’ll need to connect are the soundbar and the TV, and have everything plugged in. As far as the best wireless home speakers go, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Why is the Sonos 5.1 surround system our top pick?

There are a couple of reasons, actually. First, we have to give it to Sonos – they have truly made a name of themselves in the industry. When it comes to home audio, they’re the high-end go-to, along with another brand or two. Next, the sound you’ll get from this Sonos 5.1 system is truly stunning. No details go unnoticed, and you’ll be easily able to hear everything as it was intended to be heard. And last but not least, there’s the versatility. If you don’t like the Playbar, replace it with the Playbase. You don’t want the PLAY:1? Get the Sonos One instead, and enjoy Alexa as well. It’s completely up to you.

Now, you might be thinking that the price is a bit too high. We’ll be honest – these aren’t the best budget surround sound speakers. But if you’re into high end audio equipment, you won’t be sorry for buying them. They’ll make your movie watching and music listening experience unforgettable!

Pros:
• Incredible sound, to the last detail
• Wireless makes sure you can put them where you want them
• Very versatile in terms of speaker choices
Cons:
• Not exactly budget-oriented
• Customer service isn’t the best

Onkyo HT-S3700 Review – the budget runner-up

If you like a compact system that packs a punch, but don’t want to spend that much on the Sonos, the Onkyo HT S3700 is a great alternative. And it only costs a fraction of the price! This is a real 5.1 surround system. It has four surrounding speakers, one central one, and a fairly big subwoofer. Even though as far as size goes, the whole system is pretty compact, you’ll get pretty good sound.

The Onkyo theater system is made with some of the latest and greatest in the tech world in mind as well. You’ll get HDMI 2.0 inputs, which are required for 4K/60Hz content, and you’ll get six of them. This lets you connect all of your media players, as well as gaming consoles. There’s also an HDMI output with ARC support, for your TV. And, if you’d rather play your music wirelessly, there’s Bluetooth support. The Bluetooth support also has DSP optimization, which compensates for the compression. This is what ensures that sound, even via Bluetooth, is incredible.

The Onkyo wireless surround sound system is able to play Dolby TrueHD, as well as DTS-HD Master Audio formats. The 192 kHz/24-bit TI Burr-Brown DAC, combined with the 32-bit DSP chip will decode any lossless format that’s common with Blu-ray and DVD, and give you great sound quality. And you can also play all of those lossless music files via USB as well. Just plug in your portable drive to the rear USB port, and you can play FLAC, as well as WAV files up to 192 kHz/24-bit resolution.

Is the sound really that good?

Absolutely. The system comes with Onkyo’s WRAT, or Wide Range Amplifier Technology, which is designed for high current delivery. In order to maintain control of the drivers for a precise audio reproduction, you need high instantaneous current. From the delicate sounds of a piano, to the roaring sounds of thunder, you’ll be able to hear just about everything. And you’ll get all of the details, with none of the distortion.

Pros:
• A true 5.1 surround system for an immersive experience
• Bluetooth built-in, for streaming from your phone or PC
• High-res files support via USB
Cons:
• Build quality isn’t that impressive
• More of a budget option than a real high-end surround system

Yamaha NS-SP1800BL review – cheap, compact, and powerful

If you want something that’s even cheaper than the Onkyo above, you need to take a look at the Yamaha NS-SP1800BL 5.1-channel home theater speaker system. You get all the benefits of a 5.1 channel system, at a fraction of the price. To begin with, you get a 100-watt Yamaha home theater subwoofer, which is pretty powerful. Along with that, you get a center speaker, as well as two front, and two surround speakers to round up the Yamaha home theater speaker set.

Yamaha boasts sophisticated drivers with a wide frequency response. This is what gives you the rich, life-like sound with the full dynamic range sounding excellent. There’s a removable grill cloth on the speakers, which keeps dust out. This also prevents any potential damage to the home theater speaker. Each satellite speaker comes with a 2.5” woofer driver, as well as a 0.5” tweeter. The center speaker has two 2.5” woofers, and a 0.5” tweeter, and gives you plenty of details and clarity in the middle range. The subwoofer has an 8” driver for those punchy sounds.

An interesting addition to the Yamaha home sound system is the YST, or Advanced Yamaha Active Servo Technology. This is a system where the speaker and amplifier work together, and cancel out impedance. This, as Yamaha claims, gives the speaker unit a completely linear motion. All speakers rely on powerful magnets. In order for them not to damage any other components, they’ve been magnetically shielded. This means you can put them wherever you want, without worrying they might damage something else.

Pros:
• A great budget option
• True 5.1 surround in a powerful package
• Yamaha’s YST technology makes for a very clear sound
Cons:
• Sound doesn’t quite measure up with some of the high-end options on the list
• Build quality is mediocre at best

Bose 650 review – a true premium home cinema experience

Bose, similarly to Sonos, are a name that has quite a reputation in the audio industry. As you’ll see in the Bose Lifestyle 650 review, this system holds up to that reputation quite well. It’s the highest end offering from Bose, and it comes with quite a few pieces. Let’s take a better look at the Bose 650 Lifestyle, and see whether the astronomical price tag is even worth considering, or you should maybe look at other Bose home entertainment systems.

First of all, let’s see what you get in the package. What you’ll notice first is the Acoustimass wireless bass module. You can put it pretty much anywhere you think is convenient. It has Bose’s QuietPort technology, as well as advanced DSP which eliminates distortion, for a very deep and clean bass. Next, you have the OmniJewel center speaker, as well as the 4 OmniJewel satellite speakers. This is an interesting design choice for the Bose home theater setup. Instead of getting sound from a single point, you get true 360 degree sound.

If you’re after wireless, the Bose home cinema set has you covered. You can connect the system to your Wi-Fi network at home, and stream music instantly using the SoundTouch app. There’s also the possibility of streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora, which is very convenient. And you also get NFC, for easy pairing via Bluetooth.

All things considered, if you’re after a true high-end home theater surround sound system, you pretty much can’t go wrong with this one. However, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. But boy is it worth it.

Pros:
• The Bose guarantee for quality and performance
• OmniJewel speakers give you an incredible immersive experience
• Wireless connectivity, as well as Bluetooth, let you play anything, from anywhere
Cons:
• Incredibly expensive

Orb Audio review – is 2.1 really enough?

You might be noticing that all of the home theater systems on the list are 5.1 systems. However, there are sometimes situations where you just can’t put 5 speakers all around you. Be it constraints in terms of space, or you just can’t run that much cable, you need something else. This is where the Orb speaker comes in. Well, speakers, plural, to be exact. There’s two of them.

The Orb Audio speaker system is a really stylish set of speakers. Don’t let their size fool you – they do pack quite a punch. You’d be surprised at how much people underestimate them, until they hear them. Regardless of which color you get them in, they’ll look stunning flanking your TV set. They’re merely 4.25” in diameter, which is tiny compared to the bookshelf speakers they measure up to in terms of sound quality.

Now sure, you won’t get true 5.1 surround from these Orb Audio speakers. But if, for some reason, you can’t put a full 5.1 surround system, these are a very good replacement. They’ll give you crystal clear sound, and they’ll last for a pretty good while. They’re also handmade in California, and Orb Audio give you lifetime customer service. A great small set for someone who needs one!

Pros:
• Small, modular and upgradeable
• Sound is incredible for speakers of this size
• You can put them just about anywhere – even on a wall
Cons:
• Far from the immersive experience of a 5.1 system
• Not really budget friendly for what you’re getting

Sony BDV-E3100 review – a full home theater system

If you don’t want just the speakers, but also a decent quality Blu-ray player with them, you should give the Sony BDV-E3100 a shot. You get a true 5.1 system, along with a player that has quite a bit of advanced functionalities built in. With this Sony home theater setup, you’ll be able to do much more than just listen to what your TV is outputting.

As far as the speakers go, you have four satellite speakers, as well as a center one, and a subwoofer. The power output has a total RMS of 1000W, where 250W go to the Sony home theater subwoofer, 250W to the center, and 125W each to both the surround and front speakers. This should be plenty for just about any use case. And the sound quality is actually pretty good.

Now to the player. The Sony BDV-E3100 setup comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, DLNA, and just about any relevant home theater tech you might want. You can not only listen to the TV’s output, but play movies with it. And you aren’t limited to Blu-ray disks. You can play from a myriad of streaming services such as YouTube or Netflix, you can stream music from your smartphone or PC, and you can enjoy Dolby TrueHD, as well as dts-HD Master Audio.

All things considered, the Sony home theater speakers are just a part of this set, but there’s quite a lot more to it. You get great sound, and quite a lot of advanced tech, which lets you do pretty much anything you want with it. If you need this kind of set, just go for it.

Pros:
• Fairly decent sound for the price
• A lot of streaming and playback technologies built-in
• A pretty good Blu-ray player
Cons:
• Build quality isn’t that impressive
• Most of the money you pay for this go towards the player, and not the speakers

Yamaha YHT-4920UBL review – Yamaha’s mid-range competitor

This may very well be one of the best wireless surround sound systems if you don’t want to spend too much on one. This Yamaha home theater in a box comes with four satellite speakers, one center speaker, a subwoofer, and a central player. All of this combines for a pretty immersive experience that truly sounds great. As far as the two Yamaha home theater packages on the list, this is the better one, but it also costs a bit more. Let’s see why.

This compact package is completely finished in a black gloss color, reminding you of a high-quality Yamaha piano. The sound will also remind you of Yamaha’s high end audio gear, something they’re no stranger to. You can set these up as a regular home cinema system, or you can go with Virtual Cinema Front. Put all speakers up front, and enjoy the virtual surround sound. The Yamaha YPAO system will calibrate your speakers for the optimal listening experience, and you have the Extra Bass setting if you want a bit more oomph out of the small speakers. Bluetooth and the Compressed Music Enhancer will ensure that any audio played wirelessly doesn’t suffer in terms of quality, which is great.

When you take everything into consideration, you get a pretty good 5.1 system, but you don’t pay big bucks for it. If you’re fine with getting a Yamaha home theater 5.1, instead of the big brands such as Bose and Sonos, you’re pretty much set with the YHT-4920UBL.

Pros:
• True 5.1 surround, or Virtual Cinema Front – your choice
• YPAO sound optimization ensures the optimal experience
• Price is decent for everything you’re getting
Cons:
• Build quality isn’t up to par with premium options

Onkyo HT-S5800 review – last, but certainly not least

The Onkyo HT-S5800 is the bigger brother of the S3800 Onkyo theater system we spoke about earlier. It comes with Dolby Atmos 5.1.2, which gives you a captivating, breathtakingly realistic atmosphere. You don’t only get sound from ear level – you get sound from all directions, and yes, that includes overhead.

The two-way bass reflex front speakers give you an energetic, yet surprisingly accurate sound. At the top of the cabinets you’ll find the up-firing cones for Dolby Atmos. As far as the center speaker goes, its drivers ensure that all dialog has sufficient richness and clarity. The subwoofer and its 120W will give you plenty of bass as well. At the back of the Onkyo 5800 you’ll find a USB port which lets you easily power any connected streaming devices. And while we’re talking smart tech, there’s also Bluetooth, which lets you pair up to 10 devices. Sound quality loss? None.

Pros:
• Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 gives you a truly stunning experience
• Bluetooth and a USB port next to the HDMI for streaming
Cons:
• Price is a bit high for what you’re getting
• Sound and build quality leave much to be desired

So, which one do we think is the best

If we had to pick one for ourselves, it would have to be the Sonos 5.1 package. As you’ll notice, it isn’t the cheapest on the list, but it’s not the most expensive one either. If it’s not out of your budget, spending a bit more on it will be an investment you won’t regret. It’s a completely wireless system which means you can put any speaker, anywhere you want, and the sound quality is incredible.

It is also a very versatile system, letting you play around with the parts that comprise it. And last but not least, it comes from Sonos, which are a well known brand in the game. What we’d suggest is to go through our buyer’s guide. And if you do, and still don’t know which one to get, just get the Sonos 5.1 system – you won’t be disappointed.

The buyer’s guide

Now that we’re done with our list, we can move on to the buyer’s guide. By now, you’ve seen quite a few options. From 2.1, to 5.1, we tried to include a bit of everything. We didn’t really show any of the best 7.1 home theater speakers, but there’s a reason for that. The jump from 5.1 to 7.1 isn’t that dramatic. And if you don’t know you really need 7.1, chances are you’ll be good with 5.1. Before you get any more confused, let’s discuss audio.

When you’re after surround sound, you don’t just get a couple of old speakers and throw them around in your room. You’re after detailed, flowing surround sound that might get you noise complaints from the speakers. You want the dialogue to be crisp, the whispers clearly understood, and you want those explosions to really shake you completely. You’ll want to feel that helicopter hovering right above your living room, and that you have a dinosaur about to burst through your front door.

A good home theater system can make your “regular” movie night feel like an experience you’ve never had before. All it takes to obtain this is a well thought-out investment in audio gear, and a tiny bit of knowledge when setting it up.

First of all – what is surround sound?

The definition is in the name. It’s sound that surrounds you, sound that comes from the rear, the front, and from both sides, making for a 360-degree, immersive listening experience. An experience you’re in the center of, and an experience which takes watching a movie and turns it into a complex entertainment scenario.

When you’re using your TV’s speakers, you get all the sound from one single source. Regardless of what’s happening, everything sounds like it’s happening inside a box. Things don’t happen in only one direction, and a single source somewhat reinforces that feeling that everything you’re watching is contained. And sure, a soundbar might improve this feeling, but it’s still far from real surround.

A surround sound system will give you multiple sources of audio. Sounds that correspond to something that’s happening to the left, will come from the left. Sound effects that accompany visuals on the right will come from the right. The center channel will handle what’s happening right in front of you, and the rest of the speakers will send the appropriate sound. When you have a properly connected, and arranged system, all speakers in a surround sound system will fill the room really well. They’ll also direct any sounds towards the optimal viewing and listening area as well.

What kind of format to go for

There are a couple of formats, and you’ll see that they’re referred to in numbers. For example, you’ll find the “best 7.1 surround sound system”, or the “best 5.1 home theater system”. But what do these numbers even mean? Well, they’ll let you know how many speaker components the channel has. For example, a 2.1 has two speakers and a subwoofer.

A 5.1 surround system will come with left and right speakers at the front, near the screen, a center channel used for vocals, as well as two left and right speakers for either side of the seating area, and a subwoofer. Those two speakers flanking you are the actual surround speakers.

A 7.1 surround system, on the other hand, takes the 5.1 system, and adds two more speakers. A left and right speaker are both positioned behind the viewing area. And then you have 9.1, which takes the 7.1 system, and adds two more speakers a few feet above the corresponding left or right front speaker. These are what’s used to get some altitude from the sound. This is a completely new axis, which gives you a much more immersive experience.

This sounds confusing … is that all?

Well, no. Any of the aforementioned systems can come with one, or more subwoofers. This is the number on the right of the decimal point, so a 5 speaker and 2 subwoofer system would be a 5.2 system. When you have two, you put them on opposite walls. This gives you two-directional bass. If you have four, put them in a diamond setting, around you. This will create a whole web of thumps and rattles that make sure anything caught in the middle is shaken up well. These subwoofers will even out the bass response in your movies and music. They’ll also make both movies and music thump a bit crisper and harder, which is always welcome.

However, the important decision to make here is whether to go 2.1 or 5.1. This greatly depends on the budget. 5.1 is often the sweet spot if you can afford it, and 7.1 and 9.1 tend to be a bit overkill for many. Once you have that settled, things such as extra subwoofers and stuff aren’t that difficult.

Do you get wired, or do you get wireless?

There was one point in time where even the best wireless surround sound setup was worse than a mid-range wired one. Well, things have changed. We now have wireless systems that work just as well as the best high end home theater speakers. And this fact is proof enough to how far technology has come since the early designs.

Wireless has two major advantages – performance, and simplicity. You can put speakers just about anywhere, and not worry about how you’ll connect them to the amp, or how you’ll hide the wires. This lets you get the best possible setup in terms of speaker positioning.

However, if you’re going wireless, you’ll need modern speakers. The older systems operated on technology that could be easily disrupted by other wireless tech in your home. They also weren’t as reliable as today’s best wireless home theater speakers. Nowadays, you can get a good wireless system without worrying about any of those things.

Wrapping things up

True, there’s a lot to be discussed when talking about the best home theater systems. You have a lot of options, and a lot of things to be careful about. However, things don’t necessarily need to be that confusing. If you’ve gone through our list, and our buyer’s guide, you know what to look for. Do you need a 2.1 system, or a 5.1 one? Do you want wired, or wireless? Sure, a lot of those things depend on the budget. But it’s your requirements and needs that matter quite a bit, too.

The list above has a bit of everything. There are cheaper options, there are more expensive ones. You have both wired and wireless, and you have 2.1 and 5.1. All that’s left for you is to consider your budget, consider your needs, and buy accordingly!