Table of Contents
- What Is Home Theater System?
- Different Types of Home Theater Systems
- Parts of Home Theater System
- 8 Best Home Theater Systems – Comparison Table
- Home Theater System Configurations
- 1. Onkyo HT-S3800 5.1 Channel Home Theater Package
- 2. Yamaha YHT-4930UBL 5.1-Channel Home Theater in a Box System
- 3. Energy 5.1 Take Classic Home Theater System
- 4. Sonos 5.1 Home Theater System PLAYBAR, SUB, PLAY:1 Wireless Rears Combination
- 5. Onkyo SKS-HT540 7.1 Channel Home Theater Speaker System
- 6. Polk Audio RM705 5.1 Home Theater System
- 7. Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1Ch DTS:X 600W 45-Inch Sound Bar with 8″ Wireless Subwoofer & 2-Way Rear Satellite Speakers
- 8. Yamaha NS-SP1800BL 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System
- Surround Sound Audio Formats
If you want to improve your movie watching experience and you are thinking about buying some home theater system but you are not quite sure which home theater suits your needs, you’ve come to the right place. Our article on 8 best home theater systems is designed to provide you with all the necessary info about different types of home theater systems, different configurations (layouts) and ways of connecting your home theater system to different external devices. We are also going to present you some really good choices for rooms of all sizes and for all budgets. You can be assured that there will be something for each and every one of you – some home theaters are really affordable and some are incredibly expensive. Depending on the price you are prepared to pay, you can expect different things – different configurations, supported surround sound formats, number of inputs and outputs on the rear panel of your home theater receiver, etc.
What Is Home Theater System?
Home theater system is basically a set of different audio and video devices combined together to imitate cinema experience. The idea behind a home theater system is to get more immersed in the content you are watching (movies, series, TV shows, etc.) at your home. With all those new TVs (HDTVs, Ultra HD TVs, 4K TVs, OLED TVs, etc.) offering an incredible life-like picture, and different video, streaming, and audio players, people needed the sound that matches that kind of visual experience. That’s where the idea of having home theater system kicked in. Home theater systems existed long before all these modern TV devices and video sources were invented but their increased popularity is closely related to the introduction of these new devices (and to the significant fall in prices).
There are four basic elements of any home theater system:
- TV – HDTV, 4K TV, OLED TV, etc.
- Video/Audio/Streaming devices/Gaming Consoles – Blu-ray players, DVD players, CD players, set-top boxes, Roku, Google Chromecast devices, Amazon Fire, Apple TV 4K
- AV Receiver/Base/Console
- Speakers – Satellites (at least 5) and Subwoofer(s)
Our assumption is that you already have a TV and some video/audio/streaming devices, so what you usually need to make a home theater system are receiver and speakers.
Different Types of Home Theater Systems
Now, there are two basic types of home theater systems and your choice depends on your preferences and needs, but also on your knowledge and capability to understand how to combine different pieces of equipment (receivers, amplifiers, and speakers)
- Custom Home Theater Systems – these are home theater systems that you make on your own. You can buy each component (A/V receiver, amplifiers, subwoofers, and speakers) separately and you get to decide what kind of configuration you want. You can buy 5 speakers and one subwoofer but leave the space for further upgrade to 7, 9, or more speakers (but you have to choose the receiver carefully and buy one that allows that kind of upgrade). This type of home theaters requires more knowledge and better understanding of audio and video equipment – you have to know which speakers are compatible with your receiver (you have to pay attention to the speakers’ impedance and amplification they need), what kind of amplifiers are going to be used, which surround sound formats are supported by the receiver and how many input and output ports you need on the receiver.
- Home Theater Systems in a Box (HTiB or all-in-one systems or pre-packaged systems) – this type of home theaters is much simpler. You will usually find everything you need in the package. There will be a receiver that is compatible with the speakers and all you need to do is to connect all of your devices (and speakers) to your receiver and turn it on. This is more convenient solution, but still, wiring a home theater system is not an easy task and you have to be careful and follow the instructions from the manual.
On our list of 8 best home theater systems, you are going to find some entry-level HTiBs but also some custom-made configurations consisting of home theater speaker system (5.1 or 7.1) and a recommended AV receiver (in these cases, AV receiver and speaker systems are sold separately).
Whichever option you choose (HTiB or custom-made home theater system), there is a lot of things you have to do (and check) before buying a home theater system. With HTiB systems you won’t have to deal with speakers’ and receiver’s specification that much, you won’t have to worry about their compatibility and power ratings, but there is still a lot of work and learning before making the actual purchase.
First of all, you need to know something about different parts of home theater systems. Our next section is dedicated to receivers, subwoofers, and speakers (satellites). We are going to explain their purposes, characteristics, and things you have to pay attention to when buying a home theater system.
Second, you have to become familiar with different types of home theater system configurations and understand the meaning of those numbers in 5.1 or 7.1.4. In the end, you have to understand which configuration is perfect for your needs.
Third, you have to understand surround sound audio formats. Not all formats are supported by all Blu-ray players and home theater receivers and you have to know what kind of audio formats is going to be played on your home theater and what kind of listening experience you want to achieve. It’s not a disaster if you make a mistake and buy a 7.1 home theater system and play some of those new object-based Dolby Atmos or DTS:X formats – there will be sound and it will be great but you won’t get the maximum out of these formats. It’s useful to know just a little bit about different types of surround sound formats and about different configurations you are going to need to get the complete experience.
Parts of Home Theater System
Receiver or console is the brain (or hub) of your home theater system. Each of your external devices (TV, Blu-ray or any other player, gaming consoles, streaming devices), as well as all the speakers, have to be connected to the receiver. That’s why you have to pay attention to the number and type of different input and output ports you can find on the rear panel of the receiver. The most important input ports are HDMI ports because they offer the best performance and because all the modern devices have HDMI ports – this is the first connection type you should be looking for. It’s important to have as many HDMI input ports as possible. All the other input ports are a bonus.
If you want to buy some HTiB, you won’t have to pay attention to the amplifiers inside the receiver and receiver’s ability to power the speakers, but if you want to make your own home theater system and buy speakers, subwoofers, and receiver separately, you will have to pay attention to power ratings, impedances, compatibility, etc.
Subwoofer or LFE (Low-Frequency Element) channel, is the largest speaker in the package. It’s in charge of reproducing the low-end frequencies (usually those from 20hz-200Hz – the bass response varies). The subwoofer is what brings the explosions and gunshots to life and it’s really important for all the action and Sci-Fi movies. Some manufacturers recommend using two (or even four subwoofers for larger rooms) but the most common home theater configurations include only one subwoofer. The Subwoofer should be placed next to the left or right front speaker, away from the TV and not too close to the wall.
Center channel (speaker)
Center speaker is the one right in front of you. It’s usually positioned below the TV (sometimes mounted on the wall). This speaker is usually shaped differently than other speakers – it’s wider in order to make a better soundstage. Most of the dialogues will be reproduced by this speaker, so you can say that this one is in charge of reproducing vocals. It will also reproduce music and sound effects and it should have a wide frequency response.
Front Speakers (FL and FR)
Front Left and Front Right speakers (channels) are full-range speakers – they are in charge of reproducing all the frequencies but the most important things for those two front speakers are music, sound effects, and voices (if the people in the movie or TV show move to the left or to the right, they should reproduce the sound accurately). These speakers should be positioned in front of you at 22-30 degrees angle from the central viewing position. They will be on the left and right side of your TV (or next to your TV stand). You can also buy some speaker stands and adjust the height. Ideally, they should be leveled with your head/ears (while sitting).
Three front speakers are more critical for your listening experience than surround speakers, and they should have better frequency response than other (surround) speakers. Ideally, all the speakers will perform equally well, but those front speakers are definitely more important than surround speakers.
Surround Speakers (SL and SR in 5.1 system or SL, SR, SBL. and SBR in 7.1 system)
Surround speakers are not as critical as critical as front speakers and they don’t have to be equally good when it comes to reproducing different frequencies. They will mostly be in charge of sound effects and some background music and they don’t need to be perfect for that. Ideally, they will be. If you decide to buy some of HTiB from our list of 8 best home theater systems, front left and right speakers will be the same as surround left and surround right (and surround back (rear) left and right) but in some cases, those surround speakers are going to be smaller and less capable of reproducing different frequencies than front speakers. All these surround speakers (SL, SR, SBL, SBR) should be placed at your head level (when you are sitting).
Ceiling and Height Speakers
Thanks to those new object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (we are going to talk about different audio formats later) the surround sound got another dimension. These object-based audio formats brought height dimension to the surround sound system. By installing 2 or 4 additional speakers in your ceiling or by installing them high on your walls (right next to the ceiling) you will get the impression that bullets (or aircraft) are flying right above your head. These speakers are definitely the most difficult to install and if you want to buy a home theater system that supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, you should probably ask for some professional help. It’s not all just about drilling holes and placing the speakers, you really have to understand acoustics and position all the speakers properly to get the best possible experience.
Depending on the surround sound audio format (some formats support only 6 discrete channels (5.1), some formats support 8 discrete channels (7.1), etc.), all the speakers will be in charge of reproducing unique (discrete) audio signal but if the sound format you are listening to supports smaller number of channels than your system (for example, if you have 7.1 system but you are listening to some 5.1 audio), the other two channels will be matrix channels (your receiver will try to extrapolate additional two audio signals (they are not unique) and they will be sent to those two channels.
The smallest number of speakers in a home theater is 5 (combined with 1 subwoofer). All the DVD and Blu-ray discs have soundtracks with at least 5 unique (discreet) audio channels. You won’t find more than 5 discreet audio channels on a DVD disc (because of the smaller storage space), but soundtracks on Blu-ray discs might have 7 or even more audio channels and, in order to fully experience that kind of sound you will need a home theater speaker that features more surround speakers.
8 Best Home Theater Systems – Comparison Table
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Home Theater System Configurations
There are two basic configuration formats – we are going to call them A.B and A.B.C. Depending on your room size, audio formats you want to play, and your budget, you are going to choose different configurations.
A.B Configuration (Layout) Format
A.B is the most common configuration format. A refers to the number of speakers and B refers to the number of LFE channels (subwoofers).
5.1 is the most common configuration and the easiest to install. It consists of 5 speakers and 1 subwoofer. Out of five speakers, three should be placed in front of the viewing position (Front left, Center, and Front Right) and two on the side (left and right surround speakers). The subwoofer is also in front of viewing position and you can place it next to your TV stand (whether on the left or right side).
5.1 Surround Sound Configuration (Image provided by DENON)
7.1 is a bit larger layout and besides those 5 speakers mentioned above, you will get two additional speakers – Surround Back (Rear) Left Speaker (abbreviation is SBL or SRL) and Surround Back (Rear) Right Speaker (SBR or SRR). These speakers are placed behind your viewing position, practically in the corners of your room, near the back wall. Ideally, they should be positioned at 45-60 degrees angle from the central viewing position.
7.1 Surround Sound Configuration (Image provided by DENON)
9.1 is even larger configuration and besides those seven speakers we’ve already mentioned, you will get two more speakers. Since there is no home theater that supports 10 unique channels, those two will be matrix channels. They should be placed in front of you and they can be Front Left Height and Front Right Height speakers (FLH and FRH) or Front Left Width and Front Right Width speaker (FLW and FRW). Depending on the effect you want to achieve you are going to mount them on the front wall, above the front speakers at 45-degree angle from the central viewing position (FLH and FRH), or on the side walls (FLW and FRW) at the same level as surround and front speakers.
Speaker Placement for 9.1 system – you can have either FWL and FWR or FHL and FHR combo (Image provided by DENON)
A.B.C Configuration (Layout) Format
A.B.C is relatively new layout. It was introduced after Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio formats were released. This layout brings height dimension to the surround sound and makes it truly 3D by including additional 1, 2 or 4 ceiling (or height) speakers. A refers to the numbers of speakers (5, 7, or 9), B refers to the number of subwoofers (1, 2, or 4), and C refers to the number of the ceiling (height) speakers. Since there are no home theater receivers that support more than 8 unique audio channels (7.1) all the additional channels (like ceiling speakers) will be matrix channels and receivers will send matrix signals to these additional channels. Some of the possible configurations are 5.1.2, 5.1.4, 7.1.2, 7.1.4. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X can be found on just a few Blue-ray releases and they are still not as popular as some other Dolby and DTS audio formats (especially because Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio tracks are really large) and only time can tell whether these formats are going to be new standard when it comes to surround sound. For now, the most advanced and used formats (besides those mandatory formats) are Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD, DTS HD High-Res Audio, and DTS HD Master Audio.
5.1.4 Speaker Configuration (Image provided by Dolby)
Having 5 or 7 speakers along with one or more subwoofers is probably more than enough for majority of users, but if you really want something extra, you can always buy one of those home theater systems that support Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X (usually 5.1.4 systems) but the installation will be more complicated.
1. Onkyo HT-S3800 5.1 Channel Home Theater Package
Onkyo is well-known audio equipment manufacturer from Japan. Onkyo started its business in 1946 and has a long tradition of making high-quality speakers, amplifiers, hi-fi systems, home theaters and other audio devices. If you haven’t heard about Onkyo before or you don’t know much about the company, you should be aware that this is the company that made the first home theater that supported Dolby ProLogic II surround sound format (2001). Onkyo also made the first receiver with Ethernet connection (2002). So, this is not some unknown brand but a serious company with decades of experience in making home theater systems.
The first Onkyo home theater system in a box on our list is Onkyo HT-S3800. This is basic (entry-level) 5.1 system and it’s the cheapest one from Onkyo’s HT-S series. It’s made for smaller rooms and it’s not too powerful, but for the price, this HTiB offers more than satisfying performance. This is one of the best budget home theater systems you could find on the market.
What’s in the box?
This HTiB comes in a large 40.3lb (18.3kg) heavy box with a bunch of specs and features written on the box along with some useful illustration and connection schemes. Inside the box, you will find one HT-R395 AV receiver, one center speaker, two front speakers (FL and FR), two surround speakers (SL and SR), and one subwoofer (LFE). You can find their dimensions and weight in the table above. You will also get FM and AM antennas, speaker cables (some people prefer using 16-gauge cables instead of those that come with the system), remote controller with 2 AAA batteries, and instruction manual. You won’t get HDMI, RCA, or any other type of cables and you will have to buy those separately.
Things we like
All the speakers, as well as the receiver, are black with that glossy finish which looks nice and stylish at first, but you have to be careful and avoid touching them too much because of the fingertips. All in all, the system doesn’t look bad, but it won’t win the prize for the best design either.
We are not going to talk much about the looks (after all, it all depends on your personal preferences). Let’s dive into the technical specifications.
First of all – the receiver. Amplifiers can provide 105W per channel against 1 speaker driven (with 6 Ohms impedance) at 1Khz with Total Harmonic Distortion of 0.7% (which is not perfect, but it is more than satisfying for smaller rooms) and 80W per channel against 2 8-Ohm speakers driven from 20Hz to 20KHz with 0.08%. Signal to Noise ratio is 98dB, which is pretty good. The receiver can drive speakers with an impedance ranging from 6 Ohms to 16 Ohms but depending on the speakers’ impedance, the output power per channel will be different. The speakers that come with this home theater system have a nominal impedance of 6 Ohms.
All the speakers (FR, FL, SR, SL, C) are full-range speakers with 77mm (3-inch) cone drivers. FR, FL, SR, and SL speakers have the same frequency response ranging from 80Hz to 20KHz, while the center speaker has slightly better frequency response (70Hz to 20KHz) thanks to different shape and position of the driver.
Subwoofer (LFE channel) features 16cm (3.6 inches) cone at the bottom with a bass reflex port on the front side. LFE is in charge of lower frequencies and it has frequency response spanning from 28Hz to 5KHz (we don’t know if 5KHz is some kind of typing mistake since the subwoofers usually produce frequencies up to 200Hz but that’s the info from the user manual).
All the speakers have max. input power of 150W, while the subwoofer has 100W max input power.
The power consumption of the system is 190W per hour (when turned on) or 0.45W per hour (in standby mode).
Connecting all of your external devices to the receiver is really simple. You have the instructions written on the box and at the back of the receiver. Also, all the connections are marked and if you just follow the instructions, you won’t make a mistake. The most important thing is that you have 5 HDMI connections (1 output for connecting your TV to the receiver and 4 inputs – for BD or DVD, cable or satellite box, streaming box, and gaming console). All those new devices (4K TVs, 4K ULTRA HD Blu-ray players, gaming consoles and streaming devices) need HDMI connection in order to provide the best picture. All the HDMI ports are HDCP 2.2 (HDCP – High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) and HDR (high dynamic range) compliant, which means that you will be able to watch the latest Blu-ray releases in 4K/60Hz quality. You can find the info on other input and output ports in the table at the beginning of this review.
Once you connect everything, you can turn on the system. When you turn it on, the system will be calibrated automatically (factory default settings), but if you want to change settings, you can do that by accessing receiver’s menu.
The system supports a wide variety of different Dolby and DTS surround sound audio formats. You can find the whole list of supported formats in the table. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are not supported.
Onkyo HTiB also features Bluetooth 3.0 with 33ft range. You can use it only for music playback since it does not support aptX low latency Bluetooth profile.
You can change all kinds of settings via the control panel on the receiver or through remote controller. You will see all the info about the input source, type of audio that’s being played, etc. on the large display. One of the interesting additional features is that you have bass and treble controls if you want to improve bass and treble response. You will also get AM and FM antennas that you can connect to the rear panel and listen to the radio. The receiver can remember up to 30 presets.
Things we don’t like
The first thing we don’t like about this system is the material it was made of. All the parts are made of plastic and the whole system looks kind of cheap (after all, it is cheap). Our opinion is that Onkyo HT-S3800 will not last as long as some good old home theater systems we’ve had in the past. This one doesn’t really look durable but if you use it with care, who knows.
The other thing we would like to mention is the subwoofer. It’s not like it doesn’t provide a decent bass response, but it would be nice if it was more powerful (it maybe sounds a bit shallow).
2. Yamaha YHT-4930UBL 5.1-Channel Home Theater in a Box System
Yamaha is one of the oldest and most reputable names in the audio industry (especially when it comes to home theaters). It’s over 130 years old brand with a great tradition of making various instruments (pianos, synthesizers, drums, guitars etc.) and audio equipment (speakers, amplifiers, AV receivers, home theater systems, etc.). The first Yamaha speaker was made in 1967, the first amplifier in 1972, the first CD Player in 1982, the first active 4-speaker system in 1991, and they’ve been making home theater systems and AV receivers since the 1990s. What we are trying to say is that you can’t go wrong with Yamaha when it comes to home theaters. We have selected for you one of their entry-level models. This is prepackaged 5.1 HTiB with Yamaha RX-V383BL AV receiver which is one of the most popular receivers on the market (partially because of the affordable price but also because of a great performance). This system is perfect for smaller or mid-sized rooms. If you need something that’s more of a high-end and you want to go with this brand, we recommend trying their high-end receivers from the Aventage series (or something more affordable from the TSR series) and combine it with some high-end speaker system.
But now, let’s get back to our budget home theater system YHT-4930UBL. In the table below, you can find some of the most important features.
What’s in the box?
Yamaha YHT-4930UBL home theater system comes in a quite large box that weighs 59.3 pounds (26.9kg). You will see a bunch of illustrations on the box with all the important features and supported audio formats written on it. Inside the box, you will find one Yamaha RX-V383BL receiver, four Yamaha NS-B40 speakers (FL, FR, SL, SR), one Yamaha NS-C40 center speaker (all the speakers can be mounted on walls), a set of wires for connecting the speakers – 5m long subwoofer cable and 24.5m long speaker cable (depending on the size of your room, you might need more cables), 24 non-skid pads (if you decide not to mount the speakers on your walls), remote controller with 2 AAA batteries, AM and FM antennas, YPAO microphone for automatic system calibration, user manual, and wiring instructions (with 2 possible speaker placement schemes).
Things we like
The whole system looks really stylish and shiny. Almost everything is made of plastic with that glossy finish (which is not great and speakers don’t really seem durable). The only thing that’s made of wood is the subwoofer. The subwoofer has only ON/OFF switch and volume knob at the back.
As you already know, the receiver (RX-V383BL) is not a high-end device but it has enough power to drive smoothly all the speakers. Rated power output is 80W per channel (against 2 8-Ohm channels driven at 20Hz to 20KHz with Total Harmonic Distortion of 0.09%) and with a maximum output power of 130W per channel (against 2 8-Ohm channels at 1KHz with THD of 10%). Signal to noise ratio is 110Db. The receiver also features 192KHz/24bit Digital-to-Audio converters for all channels.
NS-B40 speakers (FL, FR, SL, SR) have full-range 70mm large cone drivers (6 Ohms impedance) with a nominal input power of 30W and maximum of 100W. Their frequency range spans from 50Hz to 25KHz.
NS-C40 speaker (Center) features another full range 6-Ohm driver (70mm large cone) with the same nominal and maximum input power (30W and 100W). Frequency response is a bit different than the one on other speakers and it spans from 70Hz to 25KHz.
The subwoofer has one 160mm cone driver with rated a power input of 100W (5 Ohms impedance) and frequency response spanning from 30Hz to 200Hz.
Wiring this system should be an easy task. You get all the instructions and there is even an application that you can download. This app will guide you through all the steps of the process. At the rear panel, you will find 4 HDMI inputs and 1 output. HDMI 2.0 connections support HDCP, HDR, and CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) and you will be able to watch 4K/60p videos with your new receiver. It is advisable to connect all of your newer devices via HDMI cables (TV, Blu-ray Player, DVD Player. gaming console, streaming device, etc.). The problem might appear if you have more than a few devices that have to be connected via analog ports because you get only 3 composite video inputs and 3 analog audio inputs and only one composite video output. Also, if you have more than 5 devices (including TV) that should be connected via HDMI, you will have to find some workaround (for example, you will have to buy some DAC with HDMI input and composite video output and then use additional composite video inputs on your receiver to connect the device).
In terms of speaker placement, you can choose between two options. The first is standard 5.1 configuration with FL, FR, SL, SR, and LFE. The second option is to place all the speakers in front of you (surround satellites should be placed to the left and right sides of the FL and FR). You can do this if you don’t have enough space behind you or if you don’t want to make a mess with all the cables. This second option is called Virtual Cinema Front. It’s not as good as regular speaker placement (5.1 speaker layout) but thanks to a tool called YPAO mic, the system will be nicely calibrated even if all the speakers are in front of you. What you need to do after all the wiring is done is to connect the YPAO mic to the 3.5mm mic jack and place the mic where you are going to sit. You will also have to move away (you must not interfere with the sound signals) and start the calibration by pressing the button on your remote controller.
This system has power consumption of 260W per hour (working mode) or less than 0.3W in standby mode. You can also choose an ECO mode that lowers the power consumption by 20%. The display on the receiver will be much darker and harder to read in ECO mode.
The receiver is able to decode all the popular Dolby and DTS formats including Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio but it doesn’t offer support for Dolby Atmos and DTS: X. You can find the full list of supported surround sound formats in the table.
Yamaha RX-V383BL also features Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR that can be used for music streaming. You can pair the receiver with any Bluetooth-enabled device that supports A2DP profile. The range is 30ft without obstacles.
The receiver also features AM and FM tuner (you should connect AM and FM antennas first) and you can set up to 40 different radio presets. You can also watch some video coming from another source while listening to the radio.
In terms of sound quality, we were quite pleased with the system. The center speaker provided crystal clear voices, there was a lot of detail and the sound was rich. Front channels handled the music surprisingly well and those surround channels really brought another dimension to the movies.
Things we don’t like
If there has to be something we would like to improve/change, that would be the subwoofer. It’s not like the bass is not punchy enough but it gets a bit distorted even at 65% volume and almost unlistenable if you increase the volume level above 90%.
Also, the speakers are made of glossy plastic and look quite fragile.
3. Energy 5.1 Take Classic Home Theater System
Recommended AV Receiver
Yamaha RX-V483BL 5.1-Channel 4K Ultra HD MusicCast AV Receiver
Energy is another brand with a great tradition of making audio equipment. They make all kinds of speakers (home theater systems, subwoofers, bookshelf speakers, outdoor speakers, etc.) and that’s Energy’s only area of expertise. They sell their speakers in cooperation with Klipsch (we assume that Klipsch is Energy’s parent company). Klipsch oversees Energy’s business operations and it’s probably safe to say that when buying Energy speakers, what you actually buy is Klipsch.
We’ve chosen this speaker system because it’s affordable and offers good performance for the price. You can buy this 5.1 set of speakers for some $300 which is not really cheap, but when it comes to home theater systems, this is one of the affordable options and it’s definitely not a high-end. It’s something in between entry-level and mid-end speaker systems (in terms of price, but when it comes to performance, it is one of the best among mid-range speaker systems).
This speaker system doesn’t come with a receiver (it’s not HTiB) and you will need a receiver to power the system. For the purposes of this article, we have paired this system with Yamaha’s RX-V483BL receiver (which is one possible option – you can choose any other receiver that’s powerful enough to drive this system of speakers). If you already have a receiver, you can skip all the receiver’s specifications and concentrate on Energy 5.1 Take Classic speaker system.
What’s in the box?
Since we’ve decided to pair Take Classic 5.1 speaker system with the Yamaha RX-V483BL, they won’t come in the same box and we are going to list all the things you get with speakers and with the receiver. We have to repeat once more that you don’t have to buy this receiver – you can choose any receiver that suits your needs (and your budget).
The speaker system itself comes in a large, 40.8 pounds (18.5kg) heavy box. Inside the box, you will find your 5 speakers and one active (powered) subwoofer (+ owner’s manual and warranty). The speakers are much heavier than those from the previous reviews (dimensions and weights are in the table). Each speaker has a woofer and a tweeter in order to produce a wider range of frequencies and to be more accurate (we are going to elaborate on this later). You won’t get any cables or banana connectors (you are going to need this type of connectors) at all, so you will have to buy them separately.
The receiver (Yamaha RX-V483BL) comes in a smaller box (18.5 pounds). Along with the receiver, you will get a remote controller with 2 AAA batteries, AM and FM antennas, YPAO microphone with a cable (for automatic calibration of the sound), CD with instructions, user manual, and application guide. You won’t get any cables with the receiver and you will have to buy all the HDMI, and other cables you need separately.
Things we like
As far as speaker’s design is concerned, we can say that they are shiny, really shiny. If you are into that kind of shiny objects with extremely sharp edges and you find this kind of look elegant or stylish, then go for it. We don’t really appreciate that kind of look and glossy finish because it’s highly prone to smudging, but if you are ok with that, you should definitely buy it. The receiver is also quite shiny and it’s a good match with the all-black speaker system.
Yamaha RX-V483BL is one of the latest Yamaha’s mid-end receivers. It has rated power output power of 80W per channel (against 2 8-Ohm channels driven across the range 20Hz to 20KHz with a True Harmonic Distortion of 0.09%) and maximum effective power of 145W per channel (against 1 8-Ohm channel driven at 1KHz with 10% THD). Signal to noise ratio is greater than 110dB.
Each of the satellite speakers (FL, FR, SL, SR) features 3-inch woofer (poly-titanium) and 3/4-inch tweeter (dome type, made of aluminum). Their frequency response spans from 115Hz to 20KHz, efficiency is 89DB, impedance – 8 Ohms. The maximum power they can handle is 100W (this is not RMS and the manufacturer doesn’t offer RMS power ratings but claims that they can handle anything from 20 to 100W). All the speakers can be mounted on walls thanks to keyhole slots at the back. You will need banana connectors for the speakers (you have to buy these separately). You don’t need to put these connectors on the other end of the wire (the one that goes into the receiver), so you are going to by 5 (4 for satellites and one for center speaker) pairs of banana connectors.
The center speaker is shaped differently but it also features two drivers (3-inch woofer and 3/4inch dome tweeter). Its impedance is also 8 Ohms, efficiency is 89dB, it’s able to handle maximum power of 100W (not RMS), and has slightly different frequency response spanning from 110 Hz to 20KHz. Center speaker can be mounted on the wall, too.
Unlike previous two subwoofers (that came with HTiB sets) this one is active (powered) and you don’t need a dedicated amplifier on your receiver to power it. The rear panel of this subwoofer (and of all the active subwoofers) looks a bit different than on passive ones. At the back, you will find 4 clip connectors (speaker level in) that you can use to connect the subwoofer to the receiver (this is more difficult and more complicated way and we don’t recommend it). Besides these connectors at the back of the subwoofer, you will find volume knob, frequency filter (use it to adjust bass response), phase switch (you are going to need this one only if you are going to use two subwoofers – in that case, they can’t be in the same phase but if you are going to use only one sub, you can choose either position), power switch (three positions: ON, AUTO, and OFF – AUTO is the most convenient option), two RCA ports (L and R) and nondetachable power cable. The easiest and most elegant way to connect the subwoofer to the receiver is to use one RCA (M) to 2 RCA (M) cable, plug two RCA parts into the subwoofer and one RCA plug into the dedicated ‘’SUB PRE-OUT’’ port at the back of Yamaha RX-V483BL). If you want to use this simple and elegant way of connecting the subwoofer, you are going to need a receiver that has this kind of preamp outputs. Once again, it doesn’t have to be this specific receiver. Also, you can use RCA to RCA cable (the other side of the cable doesn’t have to be Y-shaped) – in that case, you are going to use only one RCA port on the subwoofer (manufacturer recommends the left one, but in theory it can be either one) and ‘’PRE-OUT SUBWOOFER’’ port on the receiver.
Now, that we established how to connect the subwoofer to the receiver, we are going to list some of the most important technical specs of the subwoofer. Sub has one 8-inch cone driver at the bottom and one bass reflex port on the front side. It can handle 200W (again, not RMS) and it has frequency response ranging from 33Hz to 150Hz.
We have already explained how to connect the speakers and the subwoofer to the receiver. Connecting other external devices is even simpler. You have dedicated HDMI 2.0 inputs for your Blu-ray or DVD Player, gaming console, satellite or cable box, and streaming device and dedicated HDMI 2.0 out for your TV. You will also have 2 coaxial audio inputs, 3 composite video inputs, 1 digital optical audio input, 4 analog audio inputs, as well as composite video out, and headphone output (the full list of inputs and outputs is in the table).
After the installation, you can use YPAO mic to automatically calibrate the speaker system. We have already explained how to do that in our previous review (YHT-4930UBL). This simplifies the process of going through settings a lot. Equally important, YPAO mic allows you to place all the speakers in front of you (instead of having two surround speakers at the back) if you don’t have enough space.
The receiver (RX-V483BL) supports a wide variety of Dolby and DTS surround sound formats including the most advanced lossless Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based formats are not supported. In terms of video quality, this receiver supports 4K/60Hz resolution thanks to HDMI 2.0 connections with HDCP and HDR support.
RX-V483BL receiver also features Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR. Pairing with the receiver is pretty standard and it doesn’t take more than a few seconds. The connection is stable and without signal loss. You can use Bluetooth to stream music from all Bluetooth-enabled devices, but you can’t use Bluetooth to stream sound while watching a movie on your tablet or phone because aptX low latency profile is not supported.
Two things that make this receiver special are ethernet connection and Wi-Fi feature. You can pair any of your devices (iPhone, iPad, laptop) with the receiver and stream all the content from your devices. You can also install Yamaha’s MusicCast app and stream music from Pandora, Spotify, Deezer, etc., and you can even incorporate this receiver into a wireless multi-room music system using compatible Yamaha MusicCast wireless speakers.
The receiver also has AM and FM tuner and it can remember up to 40 presets.
In terms of sound quality, these speakers offer decent performance for the money. If you don’t want to spend too much, these might be the best option. They won’t make a perfect soundstage and sometimes you won’t be able to determine the direction of the sound, but you will never get perfection for slightly less than $300.
Things we don’t like
The first thing that we don’t like is that glossy finish but that’s the matter of taste.
We could say a few bad things about the sound quality but considering the price of this 5.1 speaker system, it would be unrealistic to expect more. They are more than good enough for smaller rooms and a decent choice for a mid-sized room.
We can’t think of anything bad about the receiver. It offers great performance at more than affordable price.
4. Sonos 5.1 Home Theater System PLAYBAR, SUB, PLAY:1 Wireless Rears Combination
Sonos is a relatively new name in the audio industry (compared to Yamaha, Pioneer, Denon, and other audio equipment manufacturers) but it’s very well known. Sonos was established in 2002 and it became a synonym for high-quality wireless speakers. To be honest they don’t really have much competition when it comes to wireless speakers integrated into your home Wi-Fi network (the main rival and the only worth mentioning when it comes to wireless multi-room systems and home theater systems is Bose) but still, they offer great fidelity, excellent build quality, aesthetically pleasing look, and super-simple setup. You can be assured that you won’t have to deal with any cables and you won’t have to spend one whole afternoon wiring your home theater system and looking at the back of your receiver. Every Sonos speaker (or soundbar or subwoofer) is pretty much plug-and-play device. Some new receivers (like Yamaha RX-V483BL we’ve talked about in the previous review) support Wi-Fi, but they are still not that simple to install and connect as Sonos speakers. Sonos went furthest when the integration of new speakers into the existing system is concerned. It even started making home theater system. Sonos theater systems are, in fact, separate pieces of equipment made by Sonos. You can buy each of these speakers, soundbars, subwoofers separately, so you don’t have to spend a great deal of money at once – for example, you can buy Sonos PLAYBAR first, and after a few months you can buy two PLAY:1 speakers (or any other Sonos speaker – PLAY:3, PLAY:5) and pair them with the PLAYBAR. In the end, you can buy Sonos SUB (you will need it if you have a large room but if your room is small or even mid-sized, you will be fine even without the SUB because the PLAYBAR produces great amount of bass with minimum distortion). If you want a surround system for watching movies, the optimal combo is PLAYBAR, SUB, and 2 PLAY:1 (PLAY:3 or PLAY:5) speakers because this system supports 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Buying more than 2 PLAY:1 speakers for surround system won’t make surround sound more lifelike but you can always buy additional Sonos speakers for other rooms and make a multiroom speaker system
So, if you are a fan of wireless audio and you want simple and clean installation process, here’s a treat for you. Sonos 5.1 home theater system (PLAYBAR, SUB, PLAY:1 x2) offers great listening experience with a couple of drawbacks like the price and lack of DTS surround sound support (they are not big deal breakers if what you really want is wireless surround sound system but we have to mention them, too). Here’s our review of Sonos 5.1 home theater system.
What’s in the box?
With this system, you will get 4 separate boxes (one for each piece of equipment). All the boxes look nice and stylish and the equipment inside the boxes is packed and protected very well.
Inside the PLAYBAR box you will get quick start guide, 2-year warranty card, PLAYBAR (wrapped in a cloth), power cord, one ethernet cable, and one digital optical cable (this is the only way of connecting the system to your TV which becomes the hub of your home theater system – this is one of the greatest differences between Sonos home theater system and traditional home theaters where receivers represent a heart of the system). You won’t get any remote controller, but you can use your TV remote or Sonos app to control the PLAYBAR and the whole system. PLAYBAR is the main part of Sonos home theater system because it’s the only device that gets audio signal directly from the TV through digital optical connection and you have to pair all the other pieces of equipment (SUB and speakers) with the PLAYBAR in order to make the system work.
SUB is the heaviest piece of equipment (16kg or 35.3 pounds). It comes in the same type of box with the same protection. Along with the SUB, you will get a quick start manual, Ethernet cable, and a power cord. That’s all – you just have to unpack it, plug it in and pair it with the PLAYBAR.
Speakers (PLAY:1 x2) are quite heavy for their size (1.85kg or 4.1 pounds each). They come in the same type of package like PLAYBAR and SUB. Along with the speakers, just like with SUB, you will get quick start guides, 2 Ethernet cables, and 2 power cords.
You won’t get any remote controller but you can use your TV remote or Sonos app to control the system.
Things we like
First of all, there’s the design. There is no doubt that Sonos home theater looks visually appealing. The SUB is super-shiny and some people might not like that, but still, everything looks very elegant.
You won’t see many buttons on any of the speakers. PLAYBAR has 2 volume buttons and one play/pause button on the side along with LED status and mute indicator. SUB has only one button on at the back (pairing button) and one LED status indicator. PLAY:1 speakers have volume and play/pause buttons on the top panel.
As far as technical specs are concerned Sonos, just like Bose, likes to keep some of the technical characteristics a secret. So, there will be no info on frequency response, sensitivity, speaker’s impedance, signal to noise ratio, power ratings, etc.
What we know based on what’s written in the user manual is that the PLAYBAR features 9 drivers – 6 woofers (full range drivers arranged in an array with left and right channels being in opposite phases which makes the soundstage wider and more accurate) and 3 tweeters (for enhanced high-frequency response). You can adjust bass and treble of the soundbar through your Sonos app.
SUB features 2 drivers facing each other in order to make deeper and cleaner sound without distortion. Drivers are powered by Class-D digital amplifiers. The lowest frequency that this SUB can produce is 25Hz.
Each PLAY:1 speaker has one tweeter and one full-range woofer powered by two Class-D amplifiers. In a home theater system, they act as surround speakers (SL and SR) and they should be placed right next to your couch leveled with your head (in sitting position). PLAY:1 speakers can also be used as independent speakers or parts of your multiroom system.
Connecting the system to your TV could not be simpler. You just have to connect the TV and the PLAYBAR through a digital optical cable that comes with the PLAYBAR. Your TV must have digital optical output in order to do this since there are no other connections (except 2 Ethernet ports) on the PLAYBAR. Other parts of your Sonos theater system don’t need a wired connection, they will be paired and synced with the PLAYBAR through your home Wi-Fi network and you can do all that with the Sonos app.
After you integrate all the speakers into a system, you can use Sonos app to access TRUEPLAY (which is an app within Sonos app). TRUEPLAY will calibrate your speakers automatically depending on your room size, speakers and furniture placement and other factors. In order to use TRUEPLAY you will need some Apple device (iPhone, iPad). Android is not compatible with TRUEPLAY.
Sonos home theater system doesn’t support the same number of surround sound formats as some receivers we’ve talked about previously and you have to be aware of that. When it comes to surround sound, Dolby Digital 5.1 is the only supported format. The system will also play a bunch of stereo audio formats. This is the most important imperfection of this system. Sonos obviously wanted to make a home theater system from the set of speakers that were originally made for music playback. Don’t get us wrong – we loved the sound quality and simplicity of this system but we have to say that the number of supported surround sound formats is very limited.
Sonos home theater system also offers integration with numerous streaming apps (for music and podcasts). There are more than 80 different apps that you can access via Sonos home theater system and Sonos app (Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Napster, Deezer, etc.). Sonos system can also be integrated with Amazon Alexa (Echo, Dot).
There are two more interesting features that you can activate from the app – speech enhancement and night sound. When you turn on speech enhancement, the speakers will enhance the vocals (and slightly increase their volume) and make all the other surround sounds and music a bit quieter. Night sound is something you can use if you are watching movies late at night. Night sound will boost the dialogues and all the quiet sounds and make all the explosions, gunshots and other loud sounds quieter.
Sonos home theater system offers very good surround sound experience but to be honest, you can see (or hear) that these speakers are made for music playback. There are mid and high-end home theater systems at this price range (up to $2000) that offer much better surround sound experience and provide better support for different surround sound formats. Still, if you really need a wireless and simple system with very good surround sound performance, you will be happy with Sonos home theater 5.1. Also, you can use it for music playback, for music streaming, and you can also integrate your home theater with your Sonos multiroom system.
Things we don’t like
Despite the great sound and build quality (and loveable look), there are some flaws we have to mention.
First of all, the number of inputs is very limited. You have only digital optical input at your disposal. Many users complained about this and we also think that there should be at least one HDMI 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2 support. Some TVs can’t pass Dolby Digital 5.1 through digital optical output but most of the newer TV models can. Also, some new TVs don’t feature digital optical output and you will have to use HDMI (in) to Digital optical (out) converter or some other solution to make the speaker system work.
One more issue we have to mention is the lack of DTS Support. None of DTS surround sound formats are not supported. Also, Dolby Digital + and Dolby True HD are not supported. The only surround sound option is DD 5.1.
5. Onkyo SKS-HT540 7.1 Channel Home Theater Speaker System
Recommended AV Receiver
Onkyo TX-NR676 7.2 A/V Receiver
We have already talked about Onkyo brand and there is no need to repeat all those things about the company. The previous Onkyo product on the list was HTiB which means that the speaker system and the receiver were inside the same box (sold together). Now, we have Onkyo 7.1 speaker system that’s sold separately (SKS-HT540) and we’ve decided to combine it with Onkyo’s 7.2 receiver TX-NR676 but this is not the only receiver or the only brand that you can use with SKS-HT540. You just have to establish if the receiver you want to buy can power the speaker system and if it has all the input and output ports you need. This review is your chance to get familiar not only with the Onkyo’s SKS-HT540 speaker system but also with a great and relatively affordable receiver. This speaker system is, in our opinion, one of the best options for less than $350, especially if you want something better than traditional 5.1. The fact that this system has been present on the market for more than 10 years confirms that this is one of the best speaker systems when it comes to price/quality ratio. The receiver (TX-NR676) is also one of the best choices you can get for that kind of money (under $400). The whole bundle (speaker system + receiver) is available for about $700.
What’s in the box?
Onkyo SKS-HT540 speaker system comes in a huge and quite heavy box (72.2 pounds or 32.8kg). Inside the box, you will find your set – one SUB, one center speaker, 2 front speakers (FL and FR), two surround speakers (SL and SR), and two back (rear) surround speakers (SBL and SBR). You will also get user manual, warranty card, and a set of wires. As usual, the set of wires that comes with the speakers is not great – you can use it, but it’s probably smarter to invest additional $10 or so in a new 16-gauge speaker wire and use it instead of those wires that come with the system.
The receiver also comes in a large and heavy box (22 pounds or 10kg). Along with the receiver, you will get a remote controller (which looks kind of minimalistic) with 2 AAA batteries, AM and FM antennas, a microphone for initial setup (automatic calibration), quick start guide, and user manual. You won’t get any additional cables, so if you need HDMI, RCA, or any other type of cable you have to buy them separately.
Things we like
First of all, the design. The system is heavy and pretty big, much bigger than those small plastic speakers. They have black ash finish with silver frames and black grills on the front side (grills are easily removable). The speakers look quite stylish and they seem like they can fit any room. The receiver also looks nice and elegant and it’s a good match (aesthetically) with the speaker system.
Center speaker has 2 2 5-inch woofers and one 1-inch dome tweeter. Its frequency response is 55Hz to 50Khz, maximum input power is 130W, and maximum sensitivity is 86dB.
Left and right front speakers also feature 2 5-inch woofers and one 1-inch tweeter with the same frequency response, maximum input power, and sensitivity as a center speaker.
Surround speakers are a bit smaller than center and front speakers. They all have two 3.1-inch woofers and ¾-inch tweeters. Their frequency response spans from 60Hz to 20KHz, maximum input power is 130W, and sensitivity is 86dB.
The subwoofer is active (powered). It has one 10-inch cone woofer. Subwoofer’s maximum power is 230W and it has frequency response 25Hz to 150Hz.
TX-NR676 has rated power output of 100W per channel against 2 channels driven (each 8-Ohm impedance) from 20Hz to 20KHz with less than 0.08% of True Harmonic Distortion. Signal to noise ratio is 106dB and it can drive speakers with rated impedance from 4 to 16 Ohms. Power consumption is 580W per hour (working mode) or 0.15W (standby mode).
The receiver features a great number of connections. The most important thing is that it has 7 HDMI inputs (6 on the rear panel one on the front) and 2 HMDI outputs. It also features 6 regular RCA analog audio ports and one additional for all of the vinyl lovers (PHONO). There are 2 composite inputs and 2 component video inputs. There are also two digital optical and one coaxial input. It also features pre-out subwoofer ports and Zone 2 inputs (if you want to add two speakers in your bedroom or some other room). It’s important to know that if you decide to use 2 Zone speakers you will lose two surround speakers (SBL and SBR) because Zone speakers and surround back speakers are powered by the same amplifiers. Don’t be afraid of all those inputs and outputs, connecting speaker system is a really simple task and you just have to be methodical and follow the instructions. If you don’t know how to connect a powered subwoofer to the receiver, read our previous review of Energy Take 5.1 speaker system.
After you connect everything you can use the mic that comes with the receiver and calibrate the system (through the application called AccuEQ combined with AccuReflex for height speakers). The mic will be able to adjust everything no matter what kind of configuration you choose (you can put 2 satellite speakers behind you or use them as height speakers).
This Onkyo’s receiver (TX-NR676) supports all common surround sound formats starting from mandatory (Dolby Digital and DTS), to object-based Dolby Atmos and DTS:X (including Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio). The speaker also features 384KHz/32bit Digital-to-Audio converters which means that the sound will be crystal clear.
The receiver features Bluetooth 4.1 and you can use it to stream music and podcasts from all of your Bluetooth-enabled devices (Bluetooth range is up to 15m). There are also AM and FM tuners with up to 40 presets.
The receiver also has ethernet and Wi-Fi connections (with 2 Wi-Fi antennas). You can use the internet connection to stream music and podcasts from different applications (like Spotify, Deezer, Pandora, TuneIn, etc.). There is also Airplay support. The receiver has Chromecast built-in and you can use it to stream audio from all kinds of devices. On top of all that it features support for DTS Play-fi.
Another special thing about this receiver is that it supports FireConnect multi-room audio. FireConnect is a platform that allows streaming of any audio content across your entire home. The sound is distributed to compatible speakers in your home.
Things we don’t like
There are two things that could be considered downsides. First, they are a bit bulky and heavy but you will have to deal with it if you don’t want those plastic speakers. Second, the subwoofer lacks some punchiness and it gets a bit distorted at high volumes. Still, for that kind of money, you can’t expect perfect subwoofer. Also, you can buy each of the speakers separately and buy some other subwoofer.
The receiver is a bit slow when changing the inputs and it needs some time before it starts playing the audio and/or video from another source. Once it starts playing, everything is fine, but you have to be patient. It seems like Onkyo integrated too many stuff into one mid-range receiver and made it a bit slow in the process.
6. Polk Audio RM705 5.1 Home Theater System
Yamaha RX-V683BL 7.2-Channel MusicCast AV Receiver with Bluetooth
Polk Audio is one of the famous and most popular American brands. This audio equipment manufacturer was established in 1972 and, since then, it has been a synonym for good-quality audio. Polk is mostly known for producing car audio equipment and home speakers (soundbars, home theater systems) but it also makes all kinds of headphones, FM tuners, architectural speakers, amplifiers, etc. We have decided to present to you their mid-end speaker system called RM705. It’s another speaker system that could be classified as good for the price. It usually costs around $450.
Since you are going to need a receiver to power this speaker system, we’ve decided to pair RM705 with one of the latest Yamaha receivers with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support – RX-V683BL. It usually costs around $600 but you can find it on sale for less than $400 (for $600 RX-V683BL is a pretty good option, but for $400 it’s a jackpot). It’s maybe not a high-end product but it still offers more than any regular user needs (lots of inputs, outputs, supported formats, supported streaming services, Bluetooth integration, etc.).
What’s in the box?
The speaker system comes in a large and heavy (37 pounds or 16.8kg) box. Inside the box, you will find your 5 speakers (FL, FR, C, SL, SR), subwoofer, wall brackets (if you want to mount surround and front speakers on the wall), shelf cradle for the center speaker, user manual, and 5-year warranty card. You won’t get any wires, and you will have to buy the wires separately – we recommend 16-gauge wire (many people complained about the 14-gauge wire being too thick for those small holes in spring clip connectors).
The receiver (RX-V683BL) comes in bit smaller box (22 pounds). Besides the receiver, there will be a remote controller, 2 AAA batteries, FM and AM antennas, YPAO microphone with cable, quick start guide, user manual, and 2-year warranty card.
Things we like
The design of this system is visually pleasing and interesting with oval satellites and the center speaker made of hard plastic with a glossy finish and simple and elegant subwoofer. Both the subwoofer and the speakers are black. Speakers have removable grille made of some kind of cloth. You can use the speakers with or without that grille – it’s up to you. All the speakers are magnetically shielded and you can place them next to your TV or monitor.
Front (FL and FR) and surround speakers (SL and SR) are the same R7M satellite speakers by Polk. They all feature one 2.5-inch woofer and one 0.5-inch tweeter, their impedance is 8 Ohms, the maximum power input is 100W (continuous – 50W), frequency response spans from 140Hz to 20Khz, and efficiency is 89dB.
Center speaker (RM7 Center by Polk) has three drivers – two 2.5-inch cone woofers and one 0.5-inch tweeter, it has 8-Ohm impedance, its frequency response spans from 130Hz to 20Khz, and maximum input power is 100W (continuous – 50W).
All the speakers have those small black and red spring clips at the back and you are not going to need banana plugs (just bare wires).
The subwoofer is powered (active) so it doesn’t need amplification and you can use simple RCA to RCA cable to connect it to the receiver (use SUB Pre-Out on the receiver). Subwoofer is rated at 100W (that’s dynamic power not RMS), it features 8-inch down-firing woofer and the lowest tone it can produce is 45Hz. On the rear panel of the subwoofer, you will find two RCA line-in jacks, phase switch (you are going to need it only if you buy one more subwoofer), ON/AUTO/OFF switch (it’s recommended to leave the switch in AUTO position – the speaker will turn off automatically if there is no music for more than 15 minutes), two knobs for volume and low pass filter, speaker level outputs, and speaker level inputs.
Yamaha receiver (RX-V683BL) has rated output power of 90W per channel (against 2 8-Ohm channels driven from 20Hz to 20KHz with 0.06% THD) and maximum output power of 125W per channel (against 1 8-Ohm channel driven at 1KHz with 0.9% THD). Signal to noise ratio is greater than 96dB.
The receiver features a lot of inputs and outputs (you can see the full list in the table). The most important thing is that you have 6 HDMI inputs (only 4 are HDCP 2.2 compliant and you will have to pay attention to that when connecting your external devices – you want to use HDCP 2.2 supported ports for your Blu-ray player (maybe for your DVD) streaming device, cable box, and gaming console in order to get the best possible quality). You will also have one HDMI output (use it to connect the receiver to your TV), 2 digital optical and 2 coaxial inputs. You can connect up to 4 analog sources to the receiver, as well as your turntable. There is also that Zone 2 feature that allows you connecting two additional speakers (that you can put into another room called Zone 2) and sending an independent signal from a second source to that system while watching a movie (or playing any other content) on your primary speaker system (Main Zone). Zone 2 usually works with analog sources only.
When you connect all the speakers and all the external devices to the receiver, you can start calibrating the speaker system. For that purpose, Yamaha recommends using YPAO mic that comes with the receiver. Depending on the size of your room, you can choose between two options – you can place all the speakers in front of you if your room is too small and you don’t have enough space (this is called Virtual Cinema Front) or place the surround speakers in accordance with the Yamaha’s user manual.
RX-V683BL supports a wide variety of surround sound formats including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based formats. It can also play Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio. It’s compatible with some high-res audio files, too (FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, Apple Lossless, etc.).
For all the vinyl lovers there is PHONO input that you can use to connect your turntable. There is also FM and AM tuner with 30 presets.
Receiver features Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR and you can use it to stream music from all of your Bluetooth-enabled devices.
If you don’t want to use Bluetooth, there is also a Wi-Fi connection with Airplay support (only for Apple devices and PCs) and Spotify connect. You can also listen to numerous internet radio stations and use different streaming services (Pandora, Deezer, TIDAL, Napster). Receiver is compatible with Alexa devices (Echo, Dot). MusicCast application allows you to install wireless speakers (only Yamaha’s music cast speakers and soundbars) all over your house (up to 9 room) and stream any connect throughout the entire home.
One more thing we would like to mention is the AV Controller app that allows you all to control and adjust all kinds of settings. You can install this app on your iPhone, iPad or Android device and use it instead of a remote controller.
Things we don’t like
One common issue that many customers experienced is related to those small wire connections (spring clips) on the speakers. Significant number of customers broke one or more of those clips during the installation and since this is not an isolated incident we can’t say that they applied too much force. Those small spring clips really look fragile but we knew about this issue and we were extra careful while connecting the wires. We recommend the same to you. Those holes are also quite small and you will have to stay patient while trying to insert wires into the holes.
One thing that we noticed about the subwoofer is that it produces some kind of static noise when not in use (it’s quiet but it is still there). The moment you start playing some music or a movie, the noise will disappear.
7. Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1Ch DTS:X 600W 45-Inch Sound Bar with 8″ Wireless Subwoofer & 2-Way Rear Satellite Speakers
Nakamichi is another brand with great tradition. It’s a Japanese company established in 1948 but it started making products under Nakamichi name in 1972. Some older readers might remember their famous cassette decks. Today, there are two branches of Nakamichi audio – one that manufactures car audio equipment, and the other branch located in the US that manufactures home theater systems for the US market exclusively.
The first home theater system that made Nakamichi popular again was Shockwafe Pro 7.1. This system was made in 2016 and it was one of the bestselling home theater systems which encouraged Nakamichi to make another system that features support for DTS:X object-based sound. This was, in fact, an improved version of the previous system and it was named Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1 DTS:X. This is the system we are going to talk about.
We should probably mention that this is last year model, and that two more Nakamichi home theater systems hit the market since then – Nakamichi Shockwafe 7.2 DTS:X and Nakamichi Shockwafe 9.2 DTS:X. That 9.2 model was and is the best possible surround sound system from this series and it even won the prize for the Best soundbar in the world at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show. Shockwafe 9.2 DTS:X is significantly more expensive than 7.1 pro DTS:X, but if you are prepared to spend that much, you have our support. We have decided to try 7.1 DTS:X and we were pretty amazed with its sound quality and price/quality ratio. The good thing about this model is that you can always expand it to 7.2 with one additional subwoofer.
What’s in the box?
Nakamichi Soundwafe 7.1 Pro DTS:X comes in a nice packaging with lots of accessories and we have to praise that kind of approach since you’ll hardly find any surround system that comes with that much accessories. Inside the packaging, you will find your soundbar, your wireless (Bluetooth) subwoofer, two satellite speakers (surround back speakers), power cord for subwoofer, two cables for left and right rear speakers (these are not regular cables that you will get with other speaker systems), remote controller with 52 backlit buttons, quick guide manual, user manual, and a warranty. Additionally, you will get one more box with accessories. Inside this box, you will find a bunch of cables (HDMI x1, digital optical audio x1, coaxial x1, AUX, RCA x2) and wall mounting brackets. It’s really impressive to see all those things included in the package. The only thing you won’t get with this speaker system are speaker stands.
Things we like
This system features interesting, futuristic, spaceship-like design. Everything is black and angular. We love the design of this system – especially the subwoofer and satellites. Soundbar is maybe a bit too much angular but it doesn’t look bad in any way.
The soundbar is designed to be the hub of your home theater system and that’s why all the connections are on the rear panel of the soundbar. You will find there one power cable (not detachable), 3 HDMI inputs with HDCP 2.2 and HDR support, one HDMI out with ARC support (your TV should have ARC supported HDMI in order to use HDMI connection and we will talk later about this issue), digital optical input, coaxial input, AUX input, and USB input for firmware updates. The back of the soundbar is made of plastic with a brushed plastic finish. On the front side, there is aluminum grille protecting the drivers and LED display. At the top, there are five buttons – power, source, DEMO (you can press it after you are done connecting the system and play the DEMO sound to test it), and two volume buttons.
The soundbar features quad core processor for surround sound and 8 drivers arranged in 5 sections. You will find the following sections – center speaker, front left (FL), front right (FR), surround front left (SFL) and surround front right (SFR). Center speaker features two 2.5-inch drivers (these are full-range). Each front speaker (front left and front right) features two 2.5-inch full-range drivers. Each surround front speaker has one 1-inch tweeter.
There is no info on frequency response or power ratings for each driver. What we know from the specification list is that the combined maximum power input is 330W.
We really loved the look of the subwoofer. At the back of it, there are 2 speaker connections (satellite speakers should be connected to the subwoofer), power cable, and pairing button. The subwoofer uses Bluetooth connection and you won’t need cables to connect it to the soundbar. They will be paired automatically when you turn both soundbar and subwoofer on.
Subwoofer features one 8-inch down firing driver with a bass-reflex port on the front side. We know that the lowest frequency this driver can produce is 35Hz. There is no info on the upper limit of the bass response range but considering the enclosure and the size of the driver, it’s about 150Hz – 200Hz. Maximum power input is 180W.
Each of the satellites (Surround Back Left and Surround Back Right) feature 2 drivers – 3-inch full-range woofer and 1-inch tweeter. Maximum input power is 90W.
Maximum input power (PEAK) of the system is 600W and RMS is 170W. Maximum sound pressure level is 105dB, and system’s frequency response spans from 35Hz to 20KHz.
Connecting the speaker system is actually really simple. It’s recommended to connect all your video sources to the soundbar in order to get the best possible performance. In order to connect TV to the soundbar, your TV must support HDMI ARC (ARC is similar to CEC and it stands for Audio Return Channel). If your TV doesn’t support HDMI ARC you should use digital optical connection (that’s Nakamichi’s recommendation). Subwoofer is paired with the soundbar wirelessly via Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX support and satellites are connected to the subwoofer. Nakamichi recommends placing the subwoofer on the left or right side of your central viewing position (your couch or chair) and the satellites should be placed behind you (SBL and SBR).
Connecting the system should not last more than a half an hour. After the installation, you can play DEMO sound and if everything sounds fine, you are ready to go. Just choose the right input (you can use the remote that comes in the package).
Nakamichi system supports a great number of surround sound formats but it is not as capable as some traditional AV receiver we’ve talked about. System supports only Dolby 5.1 of all Dolby’s surround sound formats. It also supports all kinds of DTS formats – DTS 5.1, DTS HD High Res, DTS HD Master Audio, and DTS:X object-based format.
This system provides quite impressive listening experience with a surprisingly wide soundstage. Everything sounds clear and loud. Surround speakers are not perfect when it comes to directing the sound accurately but that’s really a minor issue (especially when you consider the price). This system is one of the best among those that include soundbar. You can definitely find much better traditional surround sound systems (wired) on the market but if you need something smaller and wireless that will minimize visual intrusion that conventional speaker systems might bring, this is one of the best options. But, it is still not as good as wired speaker systems at this price range.
One additional thing you might like – there are 6 available EQ presets (Movie, music, sports, news, Game, Clear Voice) and you can use your remote to shift between these presets, or you can set your own presets.
Things we don’t like
First of all, we would like to mention two minor issues regarding the subwoofer. Subwoofer doesn’t really feature sleep (or standby) mode so when you turn off the soundbar (through the remote), the blue LED on the back side of the woofer will blink until you turn the subwoofer off. Another thing that you have to know about the subwoofer is that it can’t be used with other (traditional) surround systems because of Bluetooth connectivity – the subwoofer doesn’t feature any other type of connection.
The next issue we would like to mention is the HDMI output port on the soundbar. You should use it to connect your TV to the system and get the best possible performance, but if your TV doesn’t support HDMI ARC, you will have to use a digital optical connection.
Some users have been complaining about the remote buttons being unresponsive. It seems like this is a common issue with this remote. We haven’t experienced any issues of this kind.
8. Yamaha NS-SP1800BL 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System
Sony STRDH590 5.2 AV Receiver with Bluetooth
If you are searching for some low-budget home theater speaker system that’s not crappy, Yamaha’s NS-SP1800BL is probably one the cheapest possible options that offers fairly good performance. You could hardly go below this price (around $170), it’s definitely not the cheapest system on the market (you can easily buy something for under $100) but if you need good sound quality you shouldn’t buy anything cheaper than $150. Some people might even say that you shouldn’t go below $500 or even $1000, but if you are on a budget, this speaker system will be perfect.
We have decided to pair NS-SP1800BL with Sony’s AV Receiver STRDH590 which is one of the latest entry-level (basic) models. It’s one of the most affordable receivers on the market (below $250). This is improved version of one of the most popular models – STRDH550. The previous version was not able to support 4K/60Hz video playback and the new one features HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 support which means that you will be able to watch 4K videos. If you find some receiver that suits your needs better and/or costs less, you can go with that one. This is just our recommendation and it’s not the only one that can be paired with this speaker system. Also, if you already have the receiver, you can completely skip all the receiver-related specs.
What’s in the box?
The speaker system (NS-SP1800BL) comes in a large box (15.3kg or 33.8 pounds). Inside this large box, you will find two smaller ones (one with subwoofer) and the other with 5 speakers (center, front left and right, and surround left and right). Along with the subwoofer, you will get one RCA to RCA cable (for connecting the subwoofer to the receiver) and along with speakers you will get all the necessary cables. As usual, we advise you to buy 100ft of 16-gauge wire for speakers since it’s better than the cables that come with the speaker system. You will also get all the standard documentation (user manual, quick start guide, warranty).
Receiver comes in the 18-pound box. Besides the receiver, the box contains one remote controller with 2 AAA batteries, FM antenna, and mic for automatic calibration of the sound system, and usual documentation (User manual, Startup Guide, Operating Instructions, Warranty).
Things we like
We are not going to lie to you – Yamaha NS-SP1800BL is not the prettiest speaker system out there but you will have to deal with it and make some compromise between the design and the performance (you can definitely find a better-looking system for less money, but the real question is will it sound better). The subwoofer is very cubical with sharp edges and the speakers are kind of small and inconspicuous (which is not such a bad thing). We are much more impressed with the looks of the receiver – it’s black (or dark gray) and it’s incredibly elegant. It’s also smaller than most of the existing receivers and it won’t take too much space in your TV cabinet.
Each of four satellite speakers has a maximum input power of 100W (nominal is 30W). There is one woofer (2.5-inch cone driver) and one tweeter (0.5-inch dome driver) in each speaker. Their impedance is 6 Ohms, and sensitivity is 82dB. Center speaker also features the same woofer and tweeter as the satellites but it has a slightly greater sensitivity (85dB). Center speaker’s impedance is 6 Ohms.
All the speakers (satellites and center speaker) can be mounted on walls.
Subwoofer uses Advanced YST technology which enables subwoofer and an amplifier to cancel out subwoofer’s impedance and ensures great SPL (loudness) and precision. Maximum input power is 100W, and output power is 50W. The subwoofer features 8-inch driver and it is able to produce 28Hz frequencies (the lowest frequency). There is no info on the upper limit of subwoofer’s bass response. Subwoofer is active (powered) and it doesn’t need additional amplifiers so you can connect it to the receiver through SUB Pre-Out port.
The whole system has wide frequency response spanning from 28Hz to 50KHz which is quite impressive (especially when it comes to high frequencies). Still, human ear can’t hear anything above 20KHz so you won’t get much use of that extended range.
Connecting the speaker system to the receiver can’t be any simpler. You have everything written on the rear panel but you should also read the instruction manual if there is something that you don’t understand. If you don’t have HDMI cables, you should definitely buy some since you won’t get any. HDMI connection is always the preferred type of connection (for your TV, Blu-ray or DVD player, streaming device, cable or satellite box, etc.). If you can’t use HDMI connection, the next best option is digital optical or coaxial audio input.
After everything is connected, you can use the mic that comes with the receiver to calibrate the system. You just have to connect the mic to the port on the front panel, place it where you are going to sit, and let the software called D.C.A.C. calibrate the sound.
STRDH590 supports all the popular Dolby and DTS formats including Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio (they will be output as 5.1 signals since the receiver is not 7.1). Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are not supported.
Receiver’s power consumption is 200W (working mode), or 0.3W in standby mode.
When it comes to the sound quality, you will definitely get more than you paid for. The speakers (FL, FR, C, SL, SR) are quite good and offer pretty clear (not perfect) sound. Voices and dialogues are loud and clear, surround effects sound lifelike but there is an issue with the subwoofer (read about this in the next section).
The receiver also features Bluetooth 4.2 and you can use it to stream audio content from any Bluetooth-enabled device. You can’t use it to improve audio while watching video on some other device (smartphone, iPhone, laptop) because it doesn’t feature aptX low latency.
STRDH590 also has FM tuner and it can remember up to 30 presets.
Things we don’t like
First of all, there’s the subwoofer – to be honest, it’s not the best. There is noticeable distortion when you raise the volume above 60-70% and we even noticed some crackling at maximum volume. If you want this system to last, you shouldn’t raise the volume above 70% (and yes, it’s loud enough at 70%).
Unlike many other receivers, this one doesn’t feature AM receiver. This isn’t such a big issue for us, but if you are a fan of listening traffic reports in the morning, you might want some other receiver.
USB port on the rear panel cannot be used for multimedia and there is no other USB port on the front side. You won’t be able to play music or movies from a USB stick.
This was our list of 8 best home theater systems. We hope you’ve found something you like and learned something about different configurations and parts of home theater systems. Before the end, let us introduce you with one more important topic. Supported surround sound audio formats is another important feature you have to pay attention to when buying home theater system and we are going to list and explain some of the most common audio formats you may find on a Blu-ray or DVD disc.
Recommended Reading :
Surround Sound Audio Formats
We have already mentioned some surround sound audio formats and you’ve been probably wondering why they are so important and what each of these formats has to offer.
Each new format brought some improvement to the surround sound – additional unique or matrix audio channels and/or improved (or even lossless) sound quality. All these formats are, in fact, different types of encoding and mixing master soundtrack.
When you hear (or read) that some receiver supports certain surround sound format that actually means that it has decoder that enables decrypting that format and splitting master audio into 6 or more audio channels.
There are two important names when it comes to surround sound – Dolby and DTS. These two companies have been competing against each other for the last 25 years. They have made a bunch of surround sound formats and we are going to talk about most popular formats.
Three surround sound formats are supported by every Blu-ray player or A/V receiver (they are mandatory) – LPCM, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS 5.1 and you will find audio in one of these formats on every Blu-ray disc. Dolby Digital 5.1 is pretty much standard for DVD discs but there are some discs with DTS 5.1.
Other (newer) formats are optional. The most often used optional surround sound formats are Dolby Digital Plus (DD+ or E-AC3), DTS HD High-Res Audio, Dolby True HD, and DTS HD Master Audio. You will never find all of these formats on a Blu-ray disc (they are simply too large). There is only one rule – the primary audio track has to be either LPCM, Dolby Digital 5.1, or DTS 5.1. Studio that publishes the Blue-ray disc can choose which additional surround sound format is going to be used (and how many of them). Your receiver (or Blu-ray) doesn’t have to support all those formats, so you have to be careful when choosing receiver (or Blu-ray player) especially if you want to play some specific audio tracks. If you are not careful, you might end up buying 5.1 home theater system with a receiver that doesn’t support Dolby True HD, for example. First of all, Dolby True HD audio track consists of 8 discrete channels and your home theater supports only 6. Second, your home theater receiver doesn’t support this format and you will have to use one of those mandatory formats. Even if you buy 7.1 system that doesn’t support Dolby True HD, you will have to use one of the mandatory formats and that will make your listening experience slightly worse.
There are also those two new object-based surround sound platforms – Dolby Atmos and DTS: X. These are also optional and you can find them on a few Blu-ray releases. The number of home theater receivers (and Blu-ray players) supporting one of these formats is also small (the receivers made in 2015 or later might feature support for both of these formats). Dolby Atmos and DTS:X bring the third dimension to the surround sound – in order to fully experience this kind of sound, you will have to install additional ceiling (height) channels for all those height effects. Atmos and DTS:X are still not as popular as those four previously mentioned optional platforms.
Mandatory and optional surround sound formats on a Blu-ray disc
LPCM is lossless audio format. It supports a maximum of 8 channels (7.1), but LPCM surround sound format on a DVD or Blu-ray disc more often supports only 6 channels (you will need 5.1 system to get the maximum out of this format). You can use any type of HDMI connection (starting from 1.0) to pass LPCM audio. If you decide to use a different type of connection (coaxial or digital optical) LPCM audio will be downmixed to 2 channels (stereo).
Dolby Digital (Dolby AC-3 or DD 5.1)
DD 5.1 is also DVD and Blu-ray standard. Unlike LPCM, this is lossy format (audio gets compressed and some info is lost because of that). DD 5.1 supports up to 6 channels and you are going to need 5.1 home theater system to get the maximum out of DD 5.1. There is also improved version of DD 5.1 and it’s called DD 5.1 EX. This version allows one additional (rear) channel that should be placed behind you (surround rear channel).
DTS (DTS 5.1)
DTS 5.1 is the direct rival of DD 5.1. This one is almost the same as DD 5.1 – it’s lossy and it supports up to 6 channels. It offers slightly better audio bitrate, but in reality, the difference between DTS 5.1 and DD 5.1 is not really that noticeable. Just like you have that improved version of DD 5.1 (DD 5.1 EX), there is an improved version of DTS 5.1 called DTS-ES. DTS-ES also allows one additional (rear) channel.
Dolby Digital Plus (DD+ or E-AC3)
Dolby Digital + is the first optional encoding format. It offers much better audio quality than DD 5.1 (significantly higher bitrate) but it is still a lossy format. DD+ supports up to 8 channels (you will need 7.1 system to get the maximum out of DD+). Considering the size of DD+ file you will need at least HDMI 1.3 connection to pass DD+ audio (you will need HDMI 1.3 input port on your receiver).
DTS HD High-Res Audio
Just like DTS 5.1 was a direct rival of DD 5.1. DTS HD High-Res Audio is the competitor of DD+. It’s also lossy format and it supports up to 8 channels (7.1 system). DTS HD High-Res and DD+ have pretty much the same bitrate and need the same type of connection (minimum HDMI 1.3). Digital optical and coaxial connections are not supported.
Dolby True HD
Dolby True HD is Dolby’s lossless digital format. It offers the best audio quality with much greater audio bitrate than DD+ and DTS HD High-Res audio. It can support up to 14 channels, but most of Blu-ray Dolby True HD soundtracks will have up to 8 channels (made for 7.1 systems). You are going to need HDMI 1.3 connection on your home theater receiver (along with Dolby True HD decoder) in order to play this soundtrack.
DTS HD Master Audio
This one is a direct rival of Dolby’s True HD. It also lossless, it has slightly greater bitrate than True HD, but there is no real difference in audio quality. Maximum number of supported channels is 8 (7.1). Required connection is HDMI 1.3.
Note: Not all home theater receivers support both Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio. You have to pay attention to the supported formats or you may end up with a receiver that doesn’t support the format that you need (that doesn’t mean that you won’t get any audio, there is always some mandatory audio track, but you won’t get the best possible quality)
The next two surround sound formats are so called object-based audio formats. They allowed studios and film makers to include additional audio objects and improve listening experience by adding another dimension (height) to the sound. For both of these formats, you will need two or four additional height speakers in order to hear all those additional sound objects.
Dolby Atmos is a lossless format, it supports up to 34 channels, but Blu-ray discs will have a maximum of 12 channels supported (7.1.4). Required connection is HDMI 1.4 and you need this connection on your receiver in order to make use of Dolby Atmos.
DTS:X is, as always, direct rival of Dolby’s Atmos. This format exploits DTS HD Master Audio and adds object-based sounds to HD Master Audio track. It’s very similar to Dolby Atmos. The maximum number of channels is 13 (you can easily make a 7.1.4 or 7.2.4 system). You are going to need HDMI 1.4 connection (digital optical or coaxial inputs can’t be used).
It’s not a disaster if you don’t have height speakers (if you have 5.1 or 7.1 system) since DTS:X uses standard 5.1 or 7.1 soundtrack and adds object-based sounds to these tracks. Any 5.1 or 7.1 system will be able to play DTS:X audio (your receiver has to support DTS:X audio format).
The most important characteristics of different surround sound audio formats
Evolution of Surround Sound Audio Formats
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Your AudioReputation Team