Best home theater systems of 2021

If you’re looking to upgrade the sound on your TV, there are plenty of options available, but first you need to decide if you want a soundbar or a home theater system. For the best performance possible, nothing beats an AV receiver and a multispeaker Dolby Atmos setup, but if you just want something simple and affordable, a soundbar is the answer.

Soundbars are compact and offer a lot of performance in an affordable package. You can even get ones with advanced features like Atmos and Wi-Fi streaming. The one thing that isn’t typically possible is the ability to upgrade them — though some soundbars pair with optional, separate subwoofers and rear speakers. If you want to mix and match speakers, then an AV receiver is for you. 

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Receivers offer a lot in a fairly chunky box and, unlike soundbars, they have numerous HDMI inputs to accommodate many different sources. The ability to mix and match systems and speakers as you see fit can also be an engaging hobby. If you decide to go the home theater route for your sound system, you don’t necessarily need a surround-sound system, not initially at least. I ran a Marantz AV receiver in stereo with a pair of Bowers and Wilkins stand-mount speakers for about five years and didn’t feel I was missing out.

Whichever route you choose — soundbars or AV systems — there should be something here for you. These are the best home theater systems available right now. We’ll update this list periodically as we review new products.

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When it comes to bang for buck, it doesn’t get much better than the Roku Streambar home theater system. This speaker offers both a dialogue-enhancing soundbar and a built-in 4K streamer in one package. If you want more bass, or surround speakers, the system is also upgradable. You can choose the speaker package.

Read our Roku Streambar review.

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Originally retailing for $1,200, the Klipsch Reference Theater Pack is currently on sale for a third of that. This set features big sound from a compact 5.1-channel sound system and it is a perfect home theater option for apartments or games rooms. Excellent for movies and not bad for music either. Just add a receiver.

Read the Klipsch Reference Theater Pack review.

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If there’s one thing we’re spoiled for choice for it’s affordable stereo speakers, and for $469 the bookshelf speaker 3030is offer excellent playback of both movies and music. While the $350 Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2s are a lot cheaper and more transparent, the Q Acoustics are more even-handed and have better bass response. This makes the 3030i more suited to a home theater situation, especially if you’re not using a subwoofer.

Read our Q Acoustics 3030i review.

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It’s a couple of years old and it won’t pass 8K video, but it offers better value than the new TX-NR5100 at the same price. The Onkyo TX-NR696 still gets a CNET Editor’s Choice Award and it has almost everything you want in a receiver, including Dolby Atmos and Chromecast streaming. It also sounds fantastic.

Read our Onkyo TX-NR696 review.

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Ty Pendlebury/CNET

While the rotating speakers of the Vizio Elevate are cool, that system doesn’t offer the best bang for your buck within the company’s range. The Vizio M512a is a Dolby Atmos soundbar that includes a subwoofer and rear-channel speakers, making it a sort of hybrid between a receiver-based system and a soundbar. It also sounds incredible with music and movies for a hair under $500.

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Apart from the fact there’s basically no 8K video available now, you can buy 8K-compatble receivers right now. While Yamaha’s models are still waiting on a fix for compatibility issues, Denon and Marantz receivers have been free of bugs since April. The Denon AVR-S960H may not be the most exciting-looking receiver on the market, but it’s the most rock-solid choice if you’re looking for future-proofing.

Read our Denon AVR-S960H review.

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If you demand the best Dolby Atmos performance from a single soundbar, it doesn’t get any better than the Sennheiser Ambeo audio system. It’s not cheap, and it’s not small, but if you want the best sound, this is it.

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