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
"Delivers a sound that's hard to beat, with a signature design that looks just as good."
"Barebones, but more than enough sound for a great get-together."
"Lush walnut design with equally stunning sound, for a system that’s nearly perfect."
"Packs a serious punch for the size, with supreme sound but no extras like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi."

The best home theater starting kits provide booming, crystal clear, accurate audio without bankrupting you at checkout. Modern home theater setups virtually require wireless/Bluetooth connectivity as well, and any speaker package should include a large and varied number of inputs to ensure you can hook up all your favorite devices and never have to swap cords in and out.

Pioneer's amazing (and very attractive) SP-PK52FS 5.1 system is our top choice because it admirably fills those baseline requirements and then goes above and beyond with features and quality flourishes. Powerful, clear audio is complemented by support for UltraHD 4K, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi integration. Designed by Andrew Jones, the savant behind some of the best looking and sound speakers in the industry, they're as appealing aesthetically as they are sonically. The best home theater starting kit for under $500, they also look fantastic alongside one of the best 65-inch 4K TVs from our list.

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: Acoustic Audio by Goldwood AA5171 5.1 Speaker System

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 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.

Final Verdict

Pioneer knocked it out of the park again with the SP-PK52FS, the best all-around home theater speaker package out there, with incredible audio repro, slick design, and a ton of features. If you want to get into the home theater game on the cheap, however, Acoustic Audio by Goldwood's 5171 is a barebones but great sounding alternative.

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.