Best Home Theater Speaker Systems
We spent more than 40 hours in our AV lab testing home theater speaker packages that include five satellite speakers and, in some cases, a powered subwoofer. The Fluance SXHTB is the best home theater speaker package because it creates a well-rounded sound stage and is the same price as some of the budget packages we tested. It doesn’t come with a subwoofer, but it’s the only package we tested that includes floor standing speakers that can flood an entertainment room with clear, powerful midrange and low-frequency audio.
This is the best-sounding speaker system we tested. The package is reasonably priced and includes a pair of floor standing speakers that serve as the main left and right channels.
Monoprice Premium 5.1
At less than $200, the Monoprice Premium 5.1 speaker system is a good, low-cost way to get immersive surround sound in small- and medium-size entertainment rooms.
Polk Audio TL1600
The Polk TL1600 produced great results in our listening tests. The center channel sounds natural and accurate, and the subwoofer in this package is our favorite among the products we tested.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Pricing||Audio Performance||Speaker Design||Overall Sound Quality||Dialogue Clarity||Bass Response||Satellite Speaker Power Handling (watts)||Finish Options||Frequency Response|
|Fluance SXHTB 5 Speaker Surround Sound Home Theater System - Black||View Deal||4.5/5||4||5||4.4||A||A||A||30-100||Black, Walnut||49Hz-20kHz|
|Polk Audio TL1600||4/5||4||4.4||4.3||B+||B+||A-||10-100||Black||40Hz-20kHz|
|JBL Cinema 610||View Deal||4/5||4||4.3||4.4||B||A-||B||10-100||Black||38Hz-20kHZ|
|Onkyo SKS-HT690||View Deal||4/5||3.8||4.3||4.7||✖||✖||✖||✖||✖||✖|
|Monoprice Premium 5.1||View Deal||4/5||5||3.7||4||B-||B-||B-||20-100||Black||30Hz-20kHz|
|Definitive Technology ProCinema 400BK 5.1 Speaker System (Black, 6 Pieces)||View Deal||4/5||3||4||5||B||B||B||10-100||Black, White||35Hz-30kHz|
The Fluance SXHTB home theater speaker package includes two floor standing speakers, two bookshelf speakers and a dedicated center channel. This is the only system we reviewed that doesn’t come with a subwoofer, but it’s also the only system that includes floor standing main speakers instead of smaller satellite speakers.
The dual 6.5-inch woofers in the floor standing enclosures can produce low frequencies below 50Hz, which covers most of the bass content in movies and music. It’s easy to add a powered subwoofer to this package if you enjoy theater-quality boom in your room. The center channel in this package is a bit bulky compared to those in other systems we tested, but the dual 4-inch midrange drivers and 1-inch neodymium dome tweeter produced some of the most accurate and natural-sounding dialogue in our tests. The bookshelf surround speakers complement the main speakers and the center channel perfectly. The speakers have an 89 dB sensitivity rating, which means they are efficient at turning amplification into sound, especially for an inexpensive speaker package. The tower speakers’ continuous power rating is 160 watts at 8 ohms, and the other satellite speakers require between 30 and 100 watts. Most entry-level AV receivers pair well with this package, but you should avoid any amp or receiver that sends more than 200 watts per channel.
Monoprice is well known for making low-cost alternatives to expensive home theater components, and the Premium 5.1 speaker system is exactly that. This package comes with four surround speakers, a dedicated center channel and an 8-inch downfiring subwoofer.
Our panel of evaluators ranked this system in the middle of the pack for dialogue clarity and overall performance, but because it costs half as much as most packages we tested, we chose it as our best value pick.
The rear-ported satellite enclosures have a 3-inch midrange driver and a ¾-inch tweeter, and they are small enough to hide inconspicuously on a bookshelf or end table. The 200-watt subwoofer isn’t going to rattle the pictures off the wall, but it’s a good complement to the other speakers in the system. We had to crank it up to 80 percent of its maximum volume in our tests, but we didn’t hear any signs of distortion or port noise. The center channel has the same midrange driver and tweeter as the surround speakers, but the rectangular enclosure produces a more natural and balanced tone than the smaller enclosures.
When paired with an entry-level AV receiver, this system has a better cost-to-performance ratio than similarly priced sound bar packages. The surround experience depends largely on the AV receiver’s sound codec options, but this speaker package is perfectly suited for small- and medium-size entertainment rooms.
Best For Small Rooms
This home theater speaker package is perfectly compact but still powerful. The satellite speakers sound clear and natural, and the subwoofer is the best we tested. We conducted our listening tests at 85 dB, which is about as loud as a commercial theater, but this system is capable of much louder volumes without distorting.
The center channel did a great job of placing the dialogue and vocals in front of the low frequencies, and the surround speakers added dimension and depth to the overall sound stage.
Besides sounding great, this system is also stylish. The satellite speakers and center channel have a high-gloss black finish that is designed to complement the finish on your television. The curved enclosure is designed to be acoustically inert, but it also looks clean and modern.
The TL1600 package we tested has four satellite speakers, one center channel and a powered subwoofer. If you are interested in improving the surround sound, Polk sells the satellites separately, but check the AV receiver’s output capability first. This package pairs well with entry-level receivers, but the 100-watt power handling rating gives you the option to upgrade to a mid-level receiver with seven or more outputs if you want to expand your system.
Best Center Channel
The center speaker in a home theater speaker package is responsible for most of the dialogue in movies, and the one in this JBL package sounds great and is perfectly compact.
One of our reviewers described the dialogue clarity as “stellar.” Some speaker packages we tested use the same speaker design for the center channel and satellite speakers, but the JBL package has a dedicated center speaker with a pair of 3-inch midrange speakers and a 1.5-inch dome tweeter.
The subwoofer and satellite speakers in this package also produced great results in our tests. This package offered a wide and natural sound stage, and although the subwoofer is only rated for 60 watts, it filled our A/V room with clear and accurate bass. This is one of our favorite overall home theater speaker packages.
Why Trust Us?
Top Ten Reviews has tested and compared home theater speakers for almost 10 years. During that time, we’ve developed subjective testing procedures to ensure our recommendations are the result of true side-by-side comparison that is free of brand bias.
Our AV testing lab is set up to replicate a typical living room or entertainment room soundscape. We don’t use sound treatment or any special dampening material to improve the acoustic characteristics in our test lab, which means our recommendations are based on our impressions of a speaker system in a real-world scenario.
To gain more insight about the advantages of buying an AV receiver and a 5.1 speaker system instead of a sound bar package, I talked to Michael Hine, Senior Manager of Product Strategy at Yamaha. He told me the primary advantages are flexibility, upgradeability and true surround sound. “An entry-level AV receiver provides more inputs and versatility than what you’ll typically find in a sound bar, and provides true surround sound vs. virtual surround sound.” He also pointed out that even entry-level AV receivers offer acoustic optimization technology, which automatically calibrates home theater speakers to sound pleasant and natural in any room. Sound bars less than $500 rarely offer room calibration, and if they do, the surround sound output is a simulation rather than the fully immersive experience you get from surrounding your listening area with speakers.
How We Tested
To test the audio quality of the speaker systems, we connected each to the same AV receiver and television and played an action scene from "Kill Bill Volume 1" for a panel of evaluators. Our panel filled out a listening survey rating each system’s bass performance, dialogue clarity and overall sound quality. We tabulated the scores from each of those important categories and issued a final grade for each speaker package.
Our panel of evaluators had a wide range of critical listening experience. Although the impressions of the most experienced reviewers carried the most weight, we thought it was also important to include the reactions of inexperienced audio evaluators as well to help us find strengths and shortcomings for each product.
The two main speakers and center channel in a 5.1 system handle most of the sound reproduction for dialogue in movies and lyrics in music. Since this is one of the most important tasks for a sound system, we decided to further evaluate those three speakers. To do this, we connected each system's left, right and center speakers to a speaker switcher, which allowed us to quickly change back and forth. This eliminated setup and breakdown time so we could do a true side-by-side comparison.
How Much Does a Home Theater Speaker Package Cost?
You can buy an AV receiver and speaker package with five satellite speakers and a subwoofer for less than $700, which is less than the cost of a high-end sound bar system. The installation process is a bit more involved, but the surround sound, connectivity and upgrade options are much better. We focused our comparison on packages that cost less than $500. One of our favorite packages, the Yamaha NS-SP1800BL, is around $150 and if you pair it with a $300 entry level AV receiver, you can significantly upgrade the sound coming from your TV’s speakers.
Important Things to Consider When Choosing a Home Theater Speaker Package
Be sure to buy speakers that fit your entertainment room. A large theater room requires bigger, more powerful speakers than a 10 x 10-foot bedroom converted to an entertainment room. All the systems we reviewed come in different speaker sizes, allowing you to customize them to your space. Some systems include floor standing speakers while others only have small, cube-shape satellite speakers. Small cube speakers are easy to hide or mount on a wall, making them ideal for rooms where every inch of space is precious.
Speaker packages with a subwoofer have better bass response than those without. Check the RMS continuous power rating as it’s the best indicator of a sub's power and volume. Peak power is often an embellished specification from the manufacturer and isn't an appropriate indicator of the subwoofer's real output.
All the speaker packages we reviewed require external amplification. They must be paired with either an AV receiver or amplifier. If you already have an amplification source, make sure the speaker system you choose has similar power ratings to avoid damaging the speakers or amp.