There is a reason why people still go out to see movies in theaters instead of waiting to watch them from home. The large theater screen and powerful surround sound is what makes going to the movies so desirable. Most people now have a large flat-screen television as the anchor to their home entertainment system, but lack the cinema-style surround sound to complement the large screen. A home theater speaker system can be the final step to recreating the cinema experience and bringing the allure of watching movies in the theater to your living room.
Sound bars have become a popular alternative to installing a home theater speaker system. Sound bars can certainly enhance your speaker situation, but they can't truly emulate the surround sound experience like a home theater speaker system can.
The best home theater speaker systems come with a subwoofer, center speaker and satellite speakers. Subwoofers handle a frequency range that produces the low bass of movie explosions, the center speaker handles the majority of the dialogue during a movie, and the satellite speakers emit higher frequencies and pan the audio from left to right and back to front. We've compiled a list of the highest-quality home stereo systems available, including the three best we reviewed – the ProCinema 400, Energy Take Classic 5.1 and the Pioneer SP-PK22BS. We also have more articles on home theater speakers in our Learning Center.
Before purchasing a home theater system, it is important to know how movie theater sound systems work so you can approximate them in your home. Standard movie theaters have several speakers positioned throughout the room so you are immersed in sound. Three speakers are placed near the movie screen, one in the center and one on either side. More speakers are placed around the remainder of the room, including in each corner and behind the audience. This lets you hear parts of the soundtrack coming from different areas of the room.
In addition to speaker placement, there are other considerations to keep in mind when you're looking for the best speaker system for your home theater. Below are the elements we looked for in our research.
It's important to understand a little bit about timbre or speaker unity. Timbre basically means that the same type of sound is coming out of all of your speakers. When you mix speakers from different manufacturers, or even from different sound systems, the sound is different in each one. Purchasing a complete set of speakers and a compatible subwoofer from the same company gives you uniform sound throughout the room. All of the home theater speaker units we reviewed come with several speakers and a subwoofer.
Low-pass crossovers are internal filters that determine the frequency of each sound and send it to the speaker especially designed to project it. For example, low bass sounds are sent to the subwoofer and kept away from the other speakers. This way, you can hear a better range of sounds that work together rather than having all the sound shoved through one speaker. The larger the crossover frequency range, the more high and low sounds your home theater speakers are able to filter and pass through to the right place.
The subwoofer handles all of the bass tones in your speaker system. Important specifications to take into account are the subwoofer's power output, crossover frequency and frequency response. A subwoofer with over 100 watts of RMS power is a solid place to start in terms of packaged subwoofers. Also, the closer your subwoofer can get to achieving 30Hz, the better.
Center Speaker Specifications
The center speaker handles most of the audio that comes from your system, and also blends the audio between the subwoofer and satellites. You want to look for a center speaker that has a dynamic frequency range. Speakers that can get close to 100Hz and also achieve ultrasonic frequencies above 20kHz are most desirable. Not all speaker systems we reviewed come with a dedicated center speaker. With these systems, you'll want to match them with either a center speaker or a solid pair of floor standing speakers.
Satellite Speaker Specifications
Most speaker systems come with four or five satellite speakers. These speakers should be placed to the left and right of your seating position and behind you to give you a true surround sound experience. Wall-mountable speakers give you more options for speaker placement. Also, drivers that are 3 inches or larger generally have the ability to handle a larger frequency range. Satellite speakers with a large frequency range help unify the overall sound quality of the speaker system.
Help & Support
Speaker systems generally have a longer life span than most electronics. It's not uncommon to find manufacturers that offer a five-year warranty on their speakers. Most companies offer traditional telephone and email support and have FAQs and copies of their user manuals online.
Once you have your 5.1 home theater speaker system installed in your home, you may never stand in line at a movie theater again. By following these guidelines, you'll find the perfect home theater speaker system for you.