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The Top Home Theater Systems of 2018

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 2018” 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. 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.

Three quick things before we start.

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 2018 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.

1. The Best Looking Home Theater System.

The Bose Lifestyle 650 Home Entertainment System

Comes with:

• 2 OmniJewel front speakers
• 2 wireless OmniJewel rear speakers
• 1 OmniJewel center speaker
• 1 Acoutimass wireless subwoofer
• 1 console (receiver)
• Speaker cables
• Power cords
• HDMI cable

Why it won:

The Bose Lifestyle 650 System is an all-inclusive home theater system that just may be the most elegant “home-theater-in-a-box” we’ve ever seen – and we’ve seen our fair share. The Lifestyle 650 is extremely compact (left, right and rear speakers are only 5.5 inches tall and 2-inches wide). And inconspicuous, too, thanks to a less-is-more, nothing-to-see-here design that doesn’t call attention to itself. As for best-looking, premium glass and brushed anodized lend the Lifestyle 650 a certain high-end, Apple-like look and feel. Turn it on, however, and you know it’s there (or more like everywhere) with that warm, all-enveloping Bose sound.

Highlights include:

The Lifestyle 650’s rear speakers and Acoustimass subwoofer are wireless, which means you can put them anywhere without drilling holes or running wires. And with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on-board, the 650 pulls double duty as both a premium wireless home theater system and awesome stereo – by allowing you to stream music from your favorite sources and devices via the Bose SoundTouch® app and your home network.

What else?

• The Lifestyle 650 comes Alexa-enabled, so you can connect it to an Amazon Dot and get all of Alexa's voice control capabilities. (Tell it what to do by just, well, telling it what to do.)

• Calibrating the 650 to make the most of your room (with respect to sonic integrity) is easy, thanks to Bose’s “ADAPTiQ” feature (an app-driven step-by-step process that’s actually fun to do).

• Something Bose calls “QuietPort™ Technology” helps subtle, delicate sounds, and dialogue come through loud and clear. And the wireless Acoustimass subwoofer included is a monster with a smaller-than-typical footprint.

• Supports 4K Ultra HD resolution and comes with five HDMI inputs.

• Digital processing includes Dolby® TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS® for best-case scenario sound.

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Regular price: $3,999

2. The Smartest Home Theater System.

Sonos 5.1 Home Theater Surround Set

Comes with:

• 1 Playbar sound bar
• 2 Sonos One wireless speakers
• 1 Sonos Sub
• Power cords
• HDMI cable

Why it won:

Several reasons. For one, a 5-year old could set it up, thanks to a plug-and-play design that’s 1-2-3 easy and reliable. The same kid could also control everything by way of the most intuitive, app-driven interface in the industry. Sonos looks smart, too, and it’s a favorite among interior designers. Sonos is still considered the new kid on the block, but the company is running the table with respect to great sound in a great package and wireless everything. Also note: Sonos is like LEGOs — multiple 5.1 home theater configurations are possible (which we wrote all about in our Sonos Buying Guide here).

Highlights include:

Almost everything Sonos comes in white or black matte. Each Sonos One speaker (also sold as standalone speakers) incorporates 2 class-D digital amps, a tweeter, and a mid-woofer. The Playbar’s 9-speaker design handles left, right, and center channels and will play any source plugged into your TV. And though the Sonos Playbar is low-profile and designed to live in front of your TV (just like any sound bar), you can upgrade to the Sonos Playbase 5.1 Set or the brand new Beam (available for pre-order), which comes with Amazon Alexa built-in.

The bigger, heavier Sonos Playbase is designed to live under your TV. Inside: six midrange drivers, three tweeters, bigger bass drivers, and better built-in amplification combine to deliver seriously big sound, awesome separation, and clear, distinct highs. Finally, the Sonos wireless Sub provides a powerful low-end foundation. (If you have any loose floorboards, the Sonos Sub will find them.)

The end result is surprisingly rich, room-filling, home theater sound in a very aesthetically pleasing package, and slightly more so with the Playbase option.

What else?

• The Sonos mission is all about great sounding music and home theater, sans wires. Bottom line: Sonos does home theater beautifully, yes, but it’s also a whole-house upgrade. Very smart.

• When using the Sonos One as an integrated part of a surround system, please note that Alexa voice control will be automatically turned off. This is because the processing power normally used for those features is needed to ensure rapid and accurate communication with your Playbar to deliver the best surround sound experience possible. Not to worry though — if you ever separate the system via the Sonos app and set up the Sonos One in another room, all of those features will come back automatically.

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Regular price: $1,796

Comes with:

Bose SoundTouch 300 Soundbar
Bose Acoustimass 300 Wireless Sub  
• 2 Bose Virtually Invisible 300 Wireless Surround Speakers

• Power cords
• Speaker cables
• Optical cable
• HDMI cable

Why it won:

In our recent “The 9 Best Sound Bars of 2018” article, the Bose SoundTouch 300 soundbar won best-of-show for surround sound. Now here, as the core component in the Bose SoundTouch 300 5.1 home theater system, Bose does it again. The Bose SoundTouch 300 soundbar 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. 

Highlights include:

The system’s hard-to-believe, larger than life sound field comes by way of something called “PhaseGuide Technology.” According to Bose, “when combined with proprietary TrueSpace® digital processing circuitry, PhaseGuide technology transforms the listening experience: discrete sound can be heard in places where there are no speakers.” Weird, but mostly accurate to our ears.

What else?

• The SoundTouch 300 comes with a headset – microphone and earphones – to help you get everything perfectly calibrated. The process involves moving from seat to seat while following automated commands, tweaking and adjusting along the way as the unit sends different tones that pop up throughout the room.

• Bringing up the rear: two wireless “Virtually Invisible 300 Wireless Surround Speakers.” And by “virtually invisible,” Bose means “small and unobtrusive.”

• Turn it up, and the Bose's SoundTouch 300 Wireless Bass Module Subwoofer will throw a nice punch without distorting.

• Add more SoundTouch speakers (like the SoundTouch 10 or 30)  throughout the house, connect to Wi-Fi, and turn your Bose SoundTouch 300 system into a whole-house music system.

• Given the Bose Lifestyle 650 won best-looking, we’re giving “runner-up” to the SoundTouch 300. The premium glass top and perforated wrap-around metal grille on the sound bar is a nice touch.

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Regular price: $1,697

4. The Best Dolby Atmos Home Theater System for Small Rooms.

The Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Home Cinema System + Yamaha RX-A780 AV 7.2 Channel Receiver

Features: 

1- Focal Sib Evo System (Three Sib Evo Satellite Speakers, Two Sib Evo Dolby Atmos Loudspeakers, One Cub Evo Subwoofer)

1 - Yamaha RX-A780 7.2 Channel Receiver 

Why it won:

Two reasons. The first: It won because you can put it in the tiniest of bedrooms and never trip over it. (You could also install it in the back of a van down by the river, not that you ever would.) The point: It’s really small – but it’s from Focal, so it doesn’t sound small. And second: It comes with two Dolby Atmos speakers, so you’re getting serious cinematic sound just like bigger systems that cost far, far more.

Focal, by the way, is a serious force in the speaker world. The company was founded in 1983 in Saint-Etienne, France, and they’ve become a favorite among audiophiles. (Case in point: Focal’s Utopia over-ear headphones. Current price: just under $4K.) And Sib & Co = Focal's Home Cinema speaker line, which launched back in 2002.

Highlights include:

It’s worth pointing out: 5.1.2 sound in a little room is a little bit freaky at first. There’s just something about totally enveloping 3D sound in a very small space that takes some getting used to. (Almost like the first 15 minutes under a VR headset.) But once you do, there’s no going back. And we should add – why not put a home theater in the bedroom? We have lots of customers who’ve done exactly that – and they LOVE it.

What else?

• The Sib Evo is easy to install, and you have the option to add on wall mounts or stands to better blend in with the room.

• Beautiful, matte black finish and modern design.

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.

5. The Best Budget Home Theater System.

In this setup, a Sony 5.2 multi-channel 4K AV Receiver does the thinking, Sony front, rear, and center speakers do the talking, singing, special effects + everything else, while a Klipsch R-8SW subwoofer takes on all the heavy lifting. And in big scenes, with everything working together, the net effect is exhilarating. Total price? Everything together comes in at around $1400.

Why it won:

We challenged our experts: “show us a very serious, custom home theater system that doesn’t compromise on sound quality, yet doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.” They put together the above system in one of our home theater rooms, sat us down, put on the climatic tornado scene from the 1996 blockbuster “Twister,” and turned it WAY up. Bottom line? Two actually: 1) if you can’t build a below-ground shelter, do not move to Kansas, and 2) if you want to make your house “the” house to hang out, go for a custom setup.

Highlights include:

Even though we’re calling this our “best budget home theater system,” the Sony speakers and Klipsch subwoofer included represent a serious step-up from the speakers in our first three bests. Like all good speakers in a custom setup, each one covers more than one frequency range. So, for example, a Sony 3-way speaker incorporates a tweeter for high-range frequencies, a woofer for low-end frequencies, and a mid-range speaker for everything in the middle. The result: speakers everywhere that can handle every possible frequency range for more lifelike reproduction – even in the middle of a category 5 tornado.

What else?

• As you’d expect, the Sony STR-DH590 5.2 4K AV receiver pairs beautifully with Sony’s own 3-way floorstanding speakers, 3-way bookshelf speakers and 2-way center channel speaker.

• The Sony STR-DH590 5.2 4K AV receiver with Bluetooth does it all: 4K HDR pass-through, Dolby Vision, Bluetooth connectivity, multiple inputs including 4 HDMI, plus an over-sized power transformer built for big scenes and brilliant clarity. And that’s just skimming the surface, see all the specs right here.

• Our guys turned to “Klipsch” for the muscular, signature-sounding subwoofer. And given the Sony receiver has 5.2 channels, you can always add an additional sub. (Custom home theaters often have 2 or more.)

• The Sony SS-CS8 2-way center channel speaker was built to push dialogue forward in the mix in a natural way, so you can turn off those subtitles and/or stop pausing every two minutes to ask “what did he say?”

• Sony’s SS-CS5 3-way bookshelf speakers, made for the left and right rear channels, are built to throw sound further afield than most rear speakers. So wherever you sit, you’re surrounded by sound.

• Sound reproduction to 50kHz (for high resolution audio)

• P.S. We miss you already, Bill Paxton.

6. The Biggest-Bang-for-Your-Buck Home Theater System.

Quick story: Last December, SVS President Gary Yacoubian came to one of our stores to demo SVS’s newest subwoofers and speakers with the goal of settling once and for all: are SVS subwoofers worthy of all the great press? (“Nothing else comes close.” “Obliterates expectations.” “Best sub ever made.” Etc.) You can read more about our SVS event right here, but bottom line: There’s a reason SVS is one of the fastest-growing audio companies in the world, and we all heard that reason for ourselves loud and clear.  (As did our neighbors, for blocks in every direction.)

Why it won:

SVS subwoofers are unique for several reasons, and this one’s a biggie: the SVS amp inside doesn’t employ a limiter to quell volume when the system’s sound is turned up. Say you’re watching "Godzilla," and things are about to get nuts… so you turn up the system volume to get the full-on Godzilla effect. Well, given most subs have self-imposed volume limits to protect from self-damage, you’ll hear the speakers getting louder, but the sub will stay the same. But that’s not the case with SVS, and that makes a huge difference. (See SVS’s SB-1000 300 watt sealed subwoofer frequency ranges here.)

All the other full-range speakers in our “Biggest-Bang-for-the-Buck” ensemble are reference grade SVS – all purposely designed to blend together.

Highlights include:

The very capable Sony STR-DN1080 7.2 channel amp drives the bus in this setup because A) it’s loaded with every feature needed for great home theater sound, and B) it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. And should you ever want to add a couple of Dolby Atmos height channels (speakers that place sounds in the air above you) or an additional woofer, the STR-DN1080 is ready when you are.

What else?

• The two SVS Prime Tower reference-grade left and right speakers, together with the SVS center speaker, do a really nice job with on-screen dialogue. Everything is crisp, clear, and seemingly nudged forward in the mix.

• The two SVS rear speakers are full size and very serious about keeping their respective channels in the thick of things. And though wired, as opposed to wireless, they’re hard to keep in stock at current prices.

• SVS speakers deliver a wider than typical sound field which makes for a bigger home theater sweet spot. Anyone sitting off to the side still hears optimal sound.

• If home theater systems were cars and trucks, this one’s a Ford 450.

7. The Best-in-Show Home Theater System.

Why it won:

For most, a first experience in a powerful, top-of-the-line home theater is typically cathartic, no matter what’s on screen. We’ve seen everything from goosebumps and giggles to guffaws and pure joy, like giving a 2-year old a first ever bowl of chocolate ice cream. That’s what we we’re shooting for with our best-in-show winner, and to do it, we deliberately stacked the deck – this particular Revel/ Marantz combo is tough to beat.

The family of Revel speakers we chose excel at detail, nuance, and subtlety – especially in big scenes where lesser speakers are sometimes overwhelmed, and often lose detail and subtlety in bigger moments. Revel (as in “to take pleasure, or delight”) is all about faithfully reproducing sound without compromise – for a more captivating, spellbinding, sometimes even bewitching overall experience.

Still, does better even exist? Yes, but at another level… where walls and ceilings are replaced with acoustically perfect facsimiles, racks of amplifiers, and power distributors, all housed in specially made closets, and motorized red velvet curtains rise on cue. We make those, too, but if you’re not ready for a 100% custom-designed home theater just yet, our best-in-show Revel / Marantz home theater package is the closest thing.

Highlights include:

The Marantz SR6012 AV receiver can do either 5.1.4 or 7.1.2 sound. Choose the 5.1.4 setup, and you can add up to 4 Dolby Atmos speakers, each with its own channel, and fill the space above with different sounds in different places. Or different sounds in the air actually moving from place to place. Or go with 2 Dolby Atmos speakers (a 7.1.2 setup) and add two side speakers to the mix. Either way adds up to a 5-star surround sound experience, especially with the SVS SB-2000 subwoofer in the mix. (See #5 for the SVS story.)

What else?

• The Marantz SR6012 AV Receiver comes with 8 HDMI inputs and full HDCP 2.2 support. (So you can add multiple devices and play protected 4K content.)

• With Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Apple Airplay built in — plus HEOS wireless multi-room music streaming – you can play pretty much anything from anywhere – from any smart device.

• The Revel Concerta2 floorstanding left and right speakers feature three aluminum cone woofers. The top one covers low to upper-mid range frequencies, while the lower two handle lower mid-range and bass. The 1-inch aluminum tweeter is the same used in Revel’s higher-priced Ultima2 and Performa3 lines.

• The Concerta2 center speaker anchors and centers all, while making dialogue easier to hear and understand.

• The two Concert2 rear speakers can be mounted to the walls or put on stands.

• If you really want to impress friends and neighbors with this setup, cue up the Game of Thrones scene (S7/E4) where Daenery’s, her dragons, and the Dothraki pour hellfire down on poor Jamie Lannister and his troops. “Dracarys!”

8. 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.

Why it won:

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 Jurrasic 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.

Highlights include:

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.

What else?

• The SR8012 11.2 is Marantz’s new flagship AV receiver, and with 11.2 channels and 205W per channel, it’s a beast. See the full spec sheet right here, but suffice it to say it does everything (so it’s future-proofed) and includes HEOS music streaming.

• The two Klipsch RF-7 III floorstanding speakers are not only brand new, they’re higher on the pecking list than Klipsch’s long-heralded Reference II series. Also true for the RC-64 III Center Channel Speaker, which at 3-feet wide 55 pounds is the Serena Williams of center speakers.

• A nice twist: two Klipsch RP-250S side speakers. Each comes with two Tractix Horn speakers and two 4-inch ceramic woofers angled to fill-in the middle of the room.

• Two Klipsch RP-160M monitor speakers for the rear channels = icing on the cake. These two speakers alone would make for an awesome sounding stereo.

• The two 15-inch Klipsch R-115SW 800W powered subwoofers can be made wireless with the Klipsch WA-2 wireless kit.

• 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.

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.

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