Why Buy Home Theater Speakers?
The top performers in our review are Fluance SXHTB, the Gold Award winner; Boston Acoustics SoundWare, the Silver Award winner; and Bose Acoustimass 6 Series V, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 home theater systems.
While owning a massive television with 1080p, 4K or even 8K resolution is all the craze, that’s just part of the home theater equation. Audio quality needs to equal the display in order to create a true home theater experience. Since even the best TVs come with severely underpowered built-in speakers, we advise attaching additional speakers. Home theater speaker systems offer one of the best ways to up the audio quality of your home entertainment center and surround yourself with high-end audio.
All of the systems in our home theater speaker review are 5.0 or 5.1 speaker systems. This means they include at least five speakers – typically two main speakers, two surround speakers and a center channel. The two main speakers go on the left and right sides of your television. The center channel goes directly under or over your TV and the surround speakers should go to the right and left of the viewer – the audio system should essentially surround the viewer. This strategic placement of the speakers submerges you in the audio and provides movie theater quality surround sound. The .1 in 5.1 represents a subwoofer. The 5.1 surround sound speakers we reviewed provide a fuller audio experience with a subwoofer adding depth and realism to action scenes.
The systems in this review vary greatly in cost. Some fall under $200 while others range above $700. However, don’t assume that a higher price means a better product; out testing showed this isn’t the case.
Home theater speakers come in a variety of arrangements suited to different types of entertainment rooms. For example, the Polk TL150 and Klipsch Quintet home theater speakers don't come with a subwoofer. We recommend adding these systems to a home theater that already has a subwoofer, because the bass response on these systems is subpar. Visit our home subwoofer site to find great options on home entertainment subwoofers.
Some systems, such as the Fluance and Monoprice home theater speakers, have a dedicated center speaker, whereas systems such as the Bose (with five satellite speakers) do not have a typical center speaker. One of the speakers is still to be placed over or under the television, but it is not considered a dedicated center speaker. Often, center speakers have more drivers and a higher sensitivity rating than satellite speakers. Center speakers are usually used to enhance dialogue clarity.
If you already have some components of a home theater audio system, such as a subwoofer or left and right main speakers, any of the systems we reviewed can be added to your existing setup. All of these speakers can connect to a 5.1 or 7.1 AV receiver. They can be used to stand alone as a 5.0, 5.1, or as an upgrade from a 2.1 system to a 7.1 system. For more information on different home theater speaker arrangements, as well as installation tips and tricks, visit our learning center for articles on home theater speakers.
Home Theater Systems Vs. Home Theater in a Box
If you don't have any existing components, including a Blu-ray player or AV receiver, and you want a simple home theater setup, you might consider a home theater in a box. There are major differences between the two types of systems.
Home Theater in a Box
HTIB (home theater in a box) systems come with AV receivers or Blu-ray players. Often, the connection cables are unique to the system to simplify setup; however, the speakers in such systems can't be connected to other speakers. Also, many HTIB systems are made by television manufacturers instead of speaker companies that specialize in audio equipment. With home theater in a box systems, you are compromising quality for convenience.
Home Theater Speaker Systems
These systems do not come with a power source (AV receiver or Blu-ray player). Home theater systems use speaker wire to connect to your receiver instead of specialized connections like HTIB systems. This makes them compatible with other components and makes it easier to upgrade your home theater with one of these speaker systems. These systems are made by speaker companies and sound quality is often superior to home theater in a box systems.
Home Theater Speakers: What We Tested, What We Found
For testing, we connected all of the speaker systems to the same AV receiver and television. We played an action scene from "Kill Bill Volume 1" to put the speakers to the test. A listening panel of reviewers filled out a critical listening survey that judged each system’s bass performance, dialogue clarity and surround sound immersion. We added up the scores to determine the best-sounding surround sound systems.
The two main speakers in a system handle the majority of the sound from the movies and music including dialogue. Since this is one of the most important aspects in a sound system, we decided to further evaluate just the main two speakers in every system. To do this, we connected the left and right speaker of each system to a speaker switcher to quickly switch back and forth between systems. This eliminated setup and breakdown time between systems so we could quickly switch between different speakers. This allowed us to hear which speakers sounded best. Speaker specifications or configurations didn't have an influence in the scoring of each speaker system.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained all of the units in our comparison in house, some by loans from the manufacturer and some by purchase. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Home Theater Speakers: What Else Is Important?
While sound quality is the most important aspect of home theater audio systems, features such as speaker size and wall-mountable speakers can play a factor in deciding which surround sound speaker system is best for you.
Be sure to buy speakers that fit your entertainment room. A large theater room requires bigger, more powerful speakers than a 10 x 10 bedroom converted to a movie room. All of the systems we reviewed come in different speaker sizes, offering some customization. However, some systems include floor standing speakers while others include only cube-sized satellite speakers. Small cube speakers are easy to hide or to mount on a wall, making them ideal for rooms where every inch of space is precious.
Home theater speaker systems that come with a subwoofer will naturally have better bass response than systems without one. If you are looking for a speaker system with a powerful subwoofer, the RMS continuous power rating is the best indicator of a sub's power and volume. Peak power is often an embellished specification from the manufacturer and isn't a good indicator of the subwoofer's power.
Home Theater Speakers: Our Verdict and Recommendations
The Fluance SXHTB Home Theater System is our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner. Simply put, this is the best-sounding home theater system in our lineup. It does not come with a subwoofer, but it includes left and right floor standing speakers that flood your entertainment center with clear and powerful sound. The satellite speakers are bookshelf-sized speakers that have a well-rounded sound quality. This system provides superior sound and costs the same as budget speakers. This is our top choice by a decent margin.
The Boston Acoustics SoundWare is our Silver Award winner. The subwoofer provides plenty of bass response, while the small satellite speakers create crisp high frequencies to make dialogue sound clear. The surround sound didn't quite impress our listening panel like the Fluance system, but this Boston Acoustics system is top tier. The small cubed satellite speakers can easily be mounted to the walls or hidden on shelves, so this might be an ideal choice for small theater rooms.
The Bose Acoustimass 6 Series V Home Theater system is our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award winner. Like the Boston Acoustics system, it features small cubed speakers instead of floor standing or bookshelf speakers for satellites. This is good for small theater rooms because it takes up less real estate. The included subwoofer works as a centralized hub for the entire system. All other speakers plug into the subwoofer with specialized connections. Since it doesn't use traditional +/- speaker wire to connect to the receiver, the cubed speakers can't be used without the Bose subwoofer. This limits customizability, but ultimately, the system sounds great as a whole unit.
The Monoprice Premium 5.1 Home Theater System is our top budget pick. It features four satellite speakers, a center speaker and a subwoofer – all for under $200. It’s the least expensive system in our lineup. The subwoofer doesn't have the clarity or the surround sound the impact that our top three provide, but it is a huge upgrade from television speakers.