The 7 Best Home Theater Starter Kits for Under $500 in 2020

It's easy to give your home theater sound system a budget makeover

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The Rundown

Best Overall: Yamaha YHT-4930UBL 5.1

Pioneer 5.1 Home Theater System HTP-074

 Courtesy of Amazon

Yamaha’s YHT-4930UBL home theater in a box offers a great 5.1-channel sound experience. It's powered by an eight-inch 100-watt center channel subwoofer and four surround sound speakers with 2.75-inch full-range cone drivers. But the receiver is the real star, offering plenty of extras for the price, including 4K Ultra HD, Wi-Fi, Wireless Direct, Ethernet and Bluetooth connectivity for wireless music playback. Rated at just 80 watts per channel, it’s no audio superstar, but the setup is a snap thanks to an available iOS and Android app that assists with detailed illustrations. The design feels utilitarian and doesn’t do much to stand out in a room, but there’s more value in the sound than the style. Additional highlights include Yamaha’s virtual cinema, which allows placement of all the speakers in the front of a room while still enjoying 5.1 channel surround sound if rear speaker placement isn’t possible.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Pioneer HTP-074 5.1

Featuring five compact satellite speakers (150 watts) and one 100-watt subwoofer, the Pioneer 5.1 home theater system HTP-074 offers excellent sound for the price. Built for gaming, streaming music and surround sound, the immersive 5.1-channel audio includes Ultra HD 4K playback, as well as 3D readiness for both Blu-ray and video game systems. Also on-board is Bluetooth 3.0 that enables streaming music from any compatible device, including Android and iOS smartphones/tablets. As for the audio, the inclusion of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD lossless codecs create sound that mirrors the original format. For a basic home theater in the box, the Pioneer offers everything you need (and then some).

Best Sound: Pioneer SP-PK52FS 5.1

Pioneer’s SP-PK52FS and its two floor-standing loudspeakers, two bookshelf loudspeakers, one center channel speaker and eight-inch subwoofer deliver a sound that's hard to beat. The 5.1-channel system is ideal for movies, television shows, video games or audio streaming and, with the signature Andrew Jones speaker design, they look as good as they sound. The included receiver shines equally well with an impressive feature set, including UltraHD 4K support, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, as well as Bluetooth wireless connectivity and Wi-Fi integration. The connectivity options help smartphones and tablets connect and wirelessly streaming audio to the stand-out speakers. Running near the very top of the price ceiling, the Pioneer home theater system cannot be understated. It’s worth every penny. 

Best Budget: Solutions by Goldwood 5.1

When all you want is something barebones, reach for the Acoustic Solutions by Goldwood 5.1 speaker system. With a total system power of just 600 watts, there’s no reason to think this system will shatter the windows, but there’s more than enough sound for a get-together or action movie playback. The six-piece system has one subwoofer and five full-range six-inch satellite speakers with a yellow on black design that doesn’t necessarily look high-end, but you’re not buying this for looks. The speakers are designed specifically to output extra bass and they really deliver in that department. Unfortunately, the low price means a lack of connectivity options, so Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are nowhere to be found. However, the inclusion of an SD card slot provides the opportunity to quickly convert the Goldwood into a self-contained audio player, no television or computer necessary.

Best Value: Samsung HT-J5500W 5.1

Offering 5.1-channel surround sound, Samsung’s HT-J5500W 1,000-watt speakers are kitted out with Dolby Digital DTS, plus Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. The included center speaker, two front speakers, two satellite speakers and one primary subwoofer can truly encompass even a large living room for complete surround sound. By opting for a Blu-ray player instead of a receiver, unique features such as Opera TV apps offer smart TV options for an added selection of games, movies, shows and access to both news and weather instantly. Connecting directly to your television using a single HDMI cable, the absence of a receiver doesn’t prevent the speakers from directly providing enhanced sound right away. Extra options such as 3D capability, Bluetooth control over powering on and off and upscaling non-HD DVDs all make the Samsung an even greater value.

Best Design: Fluance SXHTBW

Before you even hear the sound, the Fluance SXHTBW will win you over with its gorgeous natural walnut design that’s a far cry from the industry’s typical black speakers. With premium, one-inch neodymium silk dome tweeters, four-inch poly-coated midrange drivers and powerful 6.5-inch woofers on-board, the Fluance offers a sound that’s as beautiful as its design. The precision crafted, audio-grade MDF wood construction reproduces a natural sound that punches weigh above its price tag. Luckily, this five-speaker surround sound system also has both built-in Dolby surround and DTS systems to provide a superior audio experience at any volume level. With quality bass production, excellent midrange, outstanding lows and thrilling high notes, the affordable price and excellent build quality make for a home theater system that’s nearly perfect.

Most Compact: Monoprice 10565 5.1

Don’t let the size of the Monoprice 10565 premium 5.1-channel home theater fool you, they pack a serious punch. The included four two-way satellite speakers, center channel speaker and subwoofer all come together to create a supreme sound. The matte black finish won’t win any design awards, but the setup is a snap with easy plug-and-play inputs and output for quickly connecting to a television. The aluminum dome tweeters, polypropylene woofers and eight-inch 200-watt subwoofer are more than powerful enough to fill even a large living room (seriously, give the bass a try). The included satellite speakers easily mount on a wall for a true surround-sound experience. However, you'll need to provide your own receiver and there are no extras such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

What to Look for in a Home Theater Starter Kit

Receiver - You’ll need a receiver to power your brand new speakers, and not all home theater starter kits will include one. If you don’t already have a receiver for your setup, be sure to factor one into your budget as they can run a minimum of a few hundred dollars. Additionally, ensure that your receiver is capable of supporting the standards you intend to use such as 4K HDMI or Dolby Vision HDR.

Size - Do you have the room for large speakers in your home theater? Consider purchasing larger speakers over small compact systems if possible. While compact systems can be great to save a bit of space, the laws of physics require larger speakers for a fuller sound.

Channels - Check to see if the system you are purchasing is stereo or surround sound. If you are looking to feel the action from all directions, pick up a 5.1 surround system, which includes five speakers and a subwoofer.