The Top Home Theater Systems of 2018
Last updated on Dec. 18, 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.
The best systems featured in this roundup: 1. Best Looking Home Theater System: Bose Lifestyle 650 Home Entertainment System 2. Smartest Home Theater System: Sonos 5.1 Home Theater Surround Set 3. Best Wireless Home Theater System: Bose Soundbar 700 with Bass Module 700 and Surround Wireless Speakers 4. Best Surround Sound System for Small Rooms: Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Home Cinema System 5. Biggest Bang-for-Your-Buck Home Theater System: SVS Prime 5.1 Home Theater System 6. Best Dolby Atmos Home Theater System: Klipsch 7.2.2 Reference Premiere Home Theater System 7. Best Entry-Point into Audiophile Surround Sound: Focal Aria 5.1.2 Home Theater System
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.
Comes with:2 - OmniJewel front speakers
2 - Wireless OmniJewel rear speakers
1 - OmniJewel center speaker
1- Acoutimass wireless subwoofer
1 - Console (receiver)
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.
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.
• 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.
Reg. price: $3,999
2. The Smartest Home Theater System.
Comes with:1 - Playbar Sound Bar
2 - Sonos One Wireless Speakers
1 - Sonos Sub
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).
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, 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.
• 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.
Reg. price: $1,796
3. The Best Wireless Home Theater System.
Comes with:1 - Bose Soundbar 700
1 - Bose Surround Wireless Speakers
Why it won
In our “Best Sound Bars of 2018” 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.
Reg. price: $1,797
4. The Best Dolby Atmos Home Theater System for Small Rooms.
1- Focal Sib Evo System (Three Sib Evo Satellite Speakers, Two Sib Evo Dolby Atmos Loudspeakers, One Cub Evo Subwoofer)
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.
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.
• 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.
Reg. price: $1,998.95
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 Biggest-Bang-for-Your-Buck Home Theater System.
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.
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.)
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.
• 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.
Reg. price: $2,843
6. The Best Dolby Atmos Home Theater System.
Why it won
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 not only brand new, they’re higher on the pecking list than Klipsch’s long-heralded Reference II series. Also true for the RP-504C Center Channel Speaker, which at almost 3-feet wide and 34 pounds is the Serena Williams of center speakers.
• 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.
Reg. price: $7,542
7. The Best Entry-Point into Audiophile Surround Sound.
Why it wonFor most, a first experience in a powerful surround sound 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 two-year old a first-ever bowl of chocolate ice cream. That’s what we we’re shooting for with this winner, and to do it, we deliberately stacked the deck – this particular Focal/Marantz combo is perfect if you're just getting started.
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 Focal/ Marantz 5.1.2 home theater system is the closest thing.
• The Marantz SR7013 AV Receiver comes with 8 HDMI inputs and full HDCP 2.2 support so you can add multiple devices and play protected 4K content.
• The Focal Aria 948 floorstanding left and right speakers feature rigid Flax cones (which are made exclusively by Focal) to provide ideal damping for rich, true acoustics in the midrange and tighter bass.
• The Focal 300ICW8 speakers, which are added to the ceiling for incredible height and realism, come with the company’s EQI install technology. No tools are required for setup, and install takes only five minutes.
• 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 Jaime Lannister and his troops. “Dracarys!”
Reg. price: $11,893
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.