The 7 Best Home Theater Starter Kits to Buy in 2017

Bring the movies into your home

If you’re serious about getting the very best movie or TV experience in the comfort of your living room, you need a home theater system. The good news is we’re taking the work out of hunting down the speakers, the receiver, the cables and putting it all together in one convenient list. Home theater starter kits, also known as home theaters in a box (HTIB), offer everything you need for the best audio experience on your own. Surround sound? Check. Receiver? Check. Let’s take a look at some of the best options you can grab today.

Best Overall: Onkyo HT-S7700

Onkyo HT-S7700
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The HT-S7700 offers you a superb audio experience with a full 5.1.2-channel Dolby Atmos experience thanks to one A/V receiver, five satellite speakers, one subwoofer, color-coded and pre-cut speaker cables and one subwoofer cable. With seven HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs, the system supports both TV and video projection without the need to swap cables. You’ll find WiFi, Bluetooth and Ethernet connectivity all standard and Onkyo’s free mobile app allows you to control the entire system from your phone or tablet.

Want to stream music from your computer? You’re covered thanks to the home network features. For those looking at future proofing, the Onkyo supports multidimensional sound for the latest 4K/60Hz games and movies, as well as HDCP 2.2 for future premium 4K releases from Hollywood, satellite broadcasters and Internet video streaming services. In other words, even if you don’t have a 4K-ready TV today, but your Onkyo system will be ready when you do.

Setting up the S7700 is a breeze, with all pre-cut wires matching the color on the receiver’s rear panel and even the color of the cables themselves. Once you’re set up, you’ll want to pop in a movie, kick up your feet and enjoy the full capabilities of the Dolby Atmos immersive audio experience. For the first time home-theater buyer, there’s no question the Onkyo will provide a fantastic and rich experience. 

Best Budget: Yamaha YHT-4920UBL

Yamaha YHT-4920UBL
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When it comes to budget HTIB, inexpensive doesn’t have to mean cheap. The Yamaha YHT-4920UBL system offers a great sound experience and we call it small, yet formidable. Out of the box, Yamaha includes five satellite speakers, one 100w subwoofer and one audio/visual receiver. One notable omission that we found rather disappointing was the absence of WiFi. It’s a small price to pay and one that might make you look elsewhere, but for many first-time HTIB buyers, it’s not going to be a deal-breaker. The overall audio experience offers a wide-frequency response and Yamaha included a feature called Virtual Cinema Front that offers a surround sound-like experience if you’re unable to put at least one or two of the satellite speakers behind you. Wireless music streaming is possible via Bluetooth and with four HDMI inputs paired with support HDCP 2.2 (think 4K), there’s definitely room for growth.

Best Compact: Axiim Q HD 5.1

Axiim Q HD 5.1
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Let there be no doubt, when it comes to a wired setup of a HTIB system, we’d be happy to see them disappear forever. Thankfully, Axiim feels the very same way and so they’ve introduced the Axiim Q HD 5.1 home theater system. Axiim might not love the idea of calling the Q a HTIB given its higher-end positioning, but that’s exactly what it is. You can order either a 5.1 or 7.1 system, which includes the wireless audio/video receiver, subwoofer, center channel and four or six surround sound speakers.

The good news is that unlike traditional HTIB setups with cords running throughout a room back to the AVR, there are no wires between the AVR and speakers with the Q. The speakers have their own amplifiers built-in, so all that’s required is plugging them directly into the nearest electrical outlet. The audio signal is then pumped wirelessly to the speakers from the AVR, which is far smaller than even the smallest standard receiver you’d envision. In fact, Axiim claims the AVR only requires 13 watts of power. You’ll find six HDMI inputs, multiple USB ports, and one eSATA port for external music storage.

Unfortunately, the included remote control is where the Axiim review can take a turn south. While it’s Bluetooth rather than infrared, it feels a little poor in the hand, which is disappointing considering both the price and positioning of the Q system. However, Axiim’s iOS and Android apps are both great and more than make up for the poor performance of the included remote.

In the end, the Axiim is all about sound. The subwoofer is the real standout, easily filling rooms with bass thanks to its 10” driver. That it is wireless means you can play with position until you find just the right spot. The four surround speakers don’t come with included wall-hanging accessories but, again, you can play with position to find just the right audio experience.

Best Design: Orb Audio Mini 5.1

Orb Audio Mini 5.1
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Generally, when you consider an HTIB, you expect it to include an audio/video receiver. That’s not the case with the Orb Audio Mini 5.1, which lacks this crucial piece of equipment. However, the outstanding design and sound of the Orb earned it a spot on this list with the caveat that purchasing an additional AVR is a necessity. Included with the system are five award-winning Orb Audio Mod1X speakers, one Orb Audio subMini powered subwoofer and all the necessary wiring to connect the speakers and subwoofer. There’s no question about it, Orb’s speaker set looks like nothing else on this list. Full mounting options are included for both wall and ceiling, as well as optional table and floor stands for the optimal audio experience. Pair this home theater speaker set with any Denon or Onkyo receiver and you’re in for a ride.

These speakers aren’t huge (4 and 3/16” in diameter), but they don’t let size get in the way of producing brilliant stereo sound. The system requires a bit of setup and might require some wire strippers and a little know-how to get going. Unfortunately, that means there’s a little more room for error with the setup, but once you’re past that hurdle, you’ll hear audio that will make you forget just how tiny these speakers are against other models on this list.

Best Splurge: Bose SoundTouch 520

Bose SoundTouch 520
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If you’re looking for big sound, small speakers, and a name you know, the Bose SoundTouch 520 gets our vote for the best HTIB splurge. The Bose system is easily backed by one of the best-known names in the audio/video space. The 5.1 high(er)-end system delivers surround sound from five smaller speakers, one wireless bass module and a wireless control box. Like the Axiim, the “wireless” sales pitch of the Bose is somewhat mislabeled as the speaker requires its own independent power outlet. Considering the price, we’re a little disappointed to learn that none of the five main speakers arrive with mounting brackets, something you must purchase separately. However, like all Bose products before it, the SoundTouch 520 and its speakers provide outstanding sound for both movies and gaming.

One of the biggest selling points with the Bose is the wireless connectivity, allowing music streaming from major services like Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and more. The wireless adapter is powered by WiFi or Bluetooth ,which allows control via the included universal remote or Bose SoundTouch app for Android and iOS. Four HDMI inputs allow for linking to a multitude of devices and setup is mostly stress-free. Unfortunately, we did find the Bose to lack just a little in the music department as the sound didn’t quite “pop” as it did with movies.

Best Sound: Bose Lifestyle 535 Series

Bose Lifestyle 535 Series
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When it comes to home theaters in the box, the most important thing is sound and if money is no object, the Bose Lifestyle 535 Series is the system you want. When you receive the Bose, you’ll find one center console, one acoustic mass module, four jewel cube series II speakers, one horizontal center channel speaker, a universal remote control and all the cables and accessories you’ll need to get going.

The center console design, along with the rest of the system, follows Bose’s typical standard of elegant and understated smooth lines. When the system is setup, you’ll be eager to crank out the opening scene from Star Wars. The console itself has three rear HDMI inputs, plus one at the front, one USB port and two HD A/V inputs. With all those ports, you can hook up your TV, AppleTV, Blu-ray player, XBOX and even your dedicated home theater iPod.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1

Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1
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The Enclave Audio CineHome HD 5.1 wireless audio home theater system is also a fantastic system. Like the other “wireless” entries on this list, there’s no true wireless solution, just less centralized clutter of wires behind the TV. The Enclave set includes one center speaker/receiver, two front speakers, two smaller rear speakers and a subwoofer. The setup is a snap. Just connect the center speaker to the TV via HDMI, plug each satellite speaker into a wall outlet and, thanks to instant pairing connection, you’re ready to go. Did you notice the catch? You still have to plug each satellite speaker into the wall outlet thereby eliminating the Enclave as yet another truly wireless solution. Aside from that, each wall connector for the satellite is 2x3 inches which can cause some headaches if you have anything else plugged into an outlet.

One other niggle is the delayed startup time from the moment you hit the power button. The price won’t get you the very best in audiophile quality, but this system rivals the Onkyo for overall sound reproduction. You can add extra speakers for 7.1 for down the line, something not available from most of the competitors on this list. And, music fans will be happy to know that wireless audio is simple with any phone or tablet via Bluetooth.


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