Best Home Theater Systems of 2021
Last updated on September 9, 2021
There are three types of home theater shoppers. Some folks love the process and dive in head first, reading about all the options, researching how different component combinations deliver different results, and so on. Other folks could care less about options, details, and specs – they just want an awesome home theater, thank you very much. And then there’s the biggest group: everyone in the middle.
Our “Best Home Theaters of 2021” guide was written for all, but especially those last two groups. The thinking: you could spend an entire year studying best-possible home theater choices, and you still wouldn’t approach the level of knowledge and expertise our home theater career professionals bring to the table. So why not take advantage?
Below you'll find our picks for best home theater systems in a variety of categories: best for the money, best looking, best in show, and so on. Along the way: no hype, no bull – just some occasional we-can’t-help-ourselves honest enthusiasm for a great home theater experience. You can also check out our recommendations for surround sound systems and speakers here. With more than a dozen World Wide Stereo home theater pros leading the way – and also standing by to answer any and all questions – you got this.
Our Picks for the Best Home Theater Systems of 2021:
The Smartest Home Theater System:
Sonos Surround Set with Arc Sound Bar, Subwoofer, and One SL Speakers
The Best Wireless Home Theater System:
Bose Soundbar 700 with Bass Module 700 and Surround Wireless Speakers
The Best Surround Sound System for Small Rooms:
SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 Package
The Best Dolby Atmos Home Theater System:
Klipsch 7.2.2 Reference Premiere Home Theater System with Marantz SR7015 9.2-Channel 4K Ultra HD AV Receiver
Best Surround Sound System:
Focal Chora 7.2.4 Dolby Atmos Home Theater System
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1. The Smartest Home Theater System:
It would seem Sonos is intent on sweeping the field. Initially considered the upstart among industry giants, Sonos is now doing for home theater what they did for multi-room music – and the results are impressive.
The Sonos Arc 5.1 Surround Set is everything you’d expect from the world’s #1 wireless audio company according to CEPro magazine. Highs are crystal clear, lows through the Sonos subwoofer punch with authority, and dialogue through the system’s centerpiece, the Beam Sound Bar, is both eminently understandable and consistently front and center.
What’s more, the system is whip smart and comes with an impressive feature set. It’s totally wireless save for the power cord and HDMI output. (Bye bye tangled mess.) The Sonos app remains the best / smartest app in the industry. Apple Airplay 2 comes included. It streams just about everything via the more than 50 music services supported by Sonos. Add Amazon Alexa and/or Google Assistant voice control, plus a look that’s unobtrusive, stylish, and made to blend in – and you’ve got an excellent choice. Not just for truly immersive 5.1 surround sound, but for great-sounding music, too. Yes, it’s a little bit pricey, but worth every penny in our opinion. Also note: Sonos is like LEGOs (which we wrote all about in our Sonos Buying Guide here).
2. The Best Wireless Home Theater System
In our “Best Sound Bars of 2021” article, the Bose Soundbar 700 won best-of-show for surround sound. Now here as the core component in the Bose Smart Wireless 5.1 home theater system, Bose does it again. The Bose SB700 won because we turned it on and were promptly blown away by a sound field that A) seemed much wider than any other 5.1 pre-packaged system we tested, B) made dialogue – even soft or whispered dialogue – crystal clear, and C) was equally effective no matter where we sat.
Every component in this system is part of Bose’s new family of smart wireless speakers. Start with this 5.1-channel system, and place a Bose Home Speaker 500 in the kitchen and the smaller Soundbar 500 in your bedroom for a multi-room audio experience throughout the house. And with Amazon Alexa built-in, you can control it all with simple voice commands.
- Turn it up, and Bose's Bass Module 700 subwoofer will throw a nice punch without distorting.
- Given the Bose Lifestyle 650 won best-looking, we’re giving “runner-up” to this system. The premium glass top and perforated wrap-around metal grille on the Soundbar 700 is a nice touch.
- To blend in with any home's decor, Bose offers this system in white, too.
3. The Best Surround Sound System for Small Rooms:
$999.00 – $1,199.00
Over the last two decades, SVS has grown into one of the most respected brands in the industry. Initially known for their sternum-vibrating / room-shaking / award-winning subwoofers, today’s new SVS systems can compete with anyone – and the SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 home theater package is a great example. Its compact and easier to fit in a smaller room but turn it up and boom: your small room becomes the Hollywood Bowl.
Each SVS Prime Satellite speaker is about the size of a loaf of bread and contains a 4.5-inch midrange driver and a one-inch tweeter. Small, yes, but they punch like Roberto Duran. The 12-inch driver in the already legendary, 300-watt powered SVS-1000 subwoofer will, on the other hand, have you holding on to your seat. It’s small, too, and neatly tucks into any corner. The system is wired as opposed to wireless, but for the price, the SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 Package may just be the biggest “little” 5.1 system on the market. (Want something a little bigger? Check out SVS’s “Ultra” series line of speakers. We carry those, too.)
Another big SVS advantage: gaming. A lot of our customers keep their gaming systems in small dens and spare bedrooms. And if you really want to put yourself in the middle of a Gears of War or Call of Duty battle, sans headphones – and you don’t want to spend a fortune to do it – the SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 Package is for you. SVS rocks.
Okay people – tray tables up and tighten those seat belts. We’re going big.
Now we transition from the smaller, easy-to-set-up home theater systems to the bigger, knock-your-socks-off setups. The following systems were hand-picked by our experts, often mixed and matched from different audio brands. In all, it’s like going from motor scooters to motorcycles: both are fun, both get the job done, but the latter is more about perfectly replicating big, serious, cinematic sound at home. Further, these bigger home theater systems are more customizable with respect to sound and design aesthetics.
4. The Best Dolby Atmos Home Theater System:
Two historic, world-class, audio pioneers: One known for spectacular, go-big-or-go-home sound and beautiful cabinetry, the other for best-in-class amplification and leading-edge technology. Between them, two legends – Saul Marantz and Paul Klipsch, over 100 years experience, and every award in the book. Welcome to the best surround sound of all worlds.
A few years back, the sound gurus at Dolby figured out a way to make what some call “3D surround sound“ via a new technology called Dolby Atmos. (Atmos, as in atmosphere.) What Dolby Atmos really does is create a layer of sound that not only hovers above the audience, it hovers in different areas above the audience. And it does it so well, you can actually pinpoint specific sounds in specific places – in the air. The net effect: Thrilling, exhilarating, breathtaking – even stupefying at times. (“Don’t worry kids, those dragons aren’t real, it’s just a movie.”)
Though most AV receivers today come Dolby Atmos-enabled, many consumers never add Dolby Atmos speakers. (Weird. Sort of like living on a sailboat and never buying sails.) So we purposely came up with an awesome, yet relatively affordable home theater that truly delivers on all fronts: left, right, center, sides, rear, below (by way of the subwoofer) and now, with Dolby Atmos, in the air above, too.
One more thing: If you choose this home theater system with the components we recommend – and you’re about to turn it on for the first time – start with a bigger-than-life, blockbuster movie. The new Jurassic Park, Incredibles 2, whatever. Blockbusters are engineered by sound techs to take full advantage of height channels, so you're guaranteed to get the the full-on effect: pterosaurs and prehistoric bugs flying around your living room, dive-bombing the sofa, etc. You’ll know why this particular system so easily wins our “Best Dolby Atmos” category.
- Turn off the TV, and this Klipsch/ Marantz home theater setup delivers a very serious, audiophile-worthy, music system – one that begs for a quality turntable. Though with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Airplay built-in, plus HEOS wireless multi-room music streaming, you can play pretty much anything from anywhere via any smart device.
- The two Klipsch RP-8060 floorstanding speakers are higher on the pecking list than Klipsch’s long-heralded Reference II series. Also true for the RP-504C Center Channel Speaker at almost 3-feet wide and 34 pounds.
- Some sounds that naturally come from above are BIG. (Thunder. Northrop Grumman's B-2 Stealth Bomber. Earth-killing asteroids. That sort of thing.) That's what makes Klipsch, the Harley Davidson of the speaker world, one of the ideal choices for Dolby Atmos channels.
5. Best Surround Sound System:
One premier French speaker manufacturer plus one energetic subwoofer company equals one fantastic listening experience. And not only is this a high performing home theater setup, this system will sound just as good for your two-channel stereo listening when you just want to kick back and listen to some music. Focal’s Chora series is incredibly well-built and designed to offer realism unparalleled at the price point. With this particular package, the 4-way floorstanding speakers each feature a Dolby Atmos speaker planted into the top panel of the speaker. With a dedicated center channel as well as a pair of surround speakers which can be hung on the wall for a neat theater look—you will think fighter planes are soaring over your head as you watch the latest action film. Completing the system are two 12” SVS PB-2000 ported subwoofers. We hope you have everything on the walls of your house securely fastened or else those items are destined to meet the floor. These 12” monsters can easily create some seriously impressive bass response, but can also be quite refined with the built-in 550-watt amplifier keeping the subwoofer in check.
Three quick things about this guide...
1. This is not about TVs.
It’s the question we get most: “So, what exactly is a home theater system?” And though (obviously) a good TV and/or projector and screen are principal to the experience, home theater is all about sound. Or more to the point: sound so real, so lifelike and so 3-dimensional, it suspends disbelief and puts you in the action. And the bigger and better the sound, the bigger and better the experience. (If you do want to upgrade your TV, our Top TVs of 2021 buying guide is a must-read.)
2. What you need:
A typical home theater system includes a home theater receiver (where the power comes from / what everything connects to) and speakers – including (but certainly not limited to): a center speaker, right and left front speakers, right and left rear speakers, special effect speakers (or height speakers) for Dolby Atmos, and a subwoofer or two.
3. The three distinct types:
The type of home theater system you choose will depend on several factors, but here's the good news: there’s a home theater solution for every situation. The three types include:
- Pre-packaged home theater systems (aka home-theater-in-a-box). Very easy to set up and everything matches.
- A home theater system made up of separate components. More customizable with respect to sound and design aesthetics.
- A dedicated, custom designed and installed home theater. Where we gut the whole room and start over – new walls, new ceiling, built-in components, luxury theater seating and lighting, cinematic touches throughout, and so on. (What we call “the whole shootin’ match.”) Pricey, yes, but more common than you might think.
This article covers the first two. For those interested in the third – a dedicated, custom designed and installed home theater – please contact us here. Our designers and home theater technicians will provide options, references and photos of award-winning, custom home theaters designed and built by World Wide Stereo to exacting specifications.
Still not sure? We got this.
Even with our Home Theater Systems Buying Guide and our “best” picks above, maybe you’re not sure what to get, or what to do next. No surprise there, home theaters come in many, many variations… and shopping for the right one for you, your house, and your budget can be a bit intimidating. Which is why we invite you to call or email us anytime.
We can help you hone your choices, open your eyes to possibilities you may not have considered, and save you money in the process – just like we’ve done for thousands of customers over our 40 years in the business. We’ll need your room dimensions, a general idea of your room layout, how much you can spend… even what kinds of movies, shows, and music you like best. Our one and only goal: helping you get it right. Our one and only motive: doing such a great job, you tell your friends, neighbors (even your cousin Ricky) about us.
One more thing:
A last word of advice: if not us, buy your new home theater from a trusted, authorized dealer. And the more experience and longer the track record, the better. A good dealer will take care of you in the event anything happens.
Speaking of trusted dealers...
World Wide Stereo is home to some 90+ industry-leading audio/video professionals who love what they do and love talking about it, too. We opened our doors in 1979, gained a small yet diehard following, won a slew of national awards for everything from killer car audio installations to customer service, grew the business online… and today we enjoy a faithful following of like-minded TV-watching, music-listening, gear-loving defenders of fun for the whole family. Our only rule: no one leaves unhappy. Read more about us here.
Thanks for sharing the best information and suggestions, I love your content, and they are very nice and very useful to us.
great resource omy now which brand shall I get 😀
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