The 8 Best Home Theater Starter Kits for Under $500 in 2021

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

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While home theater kits can be quite pricey, you can still find starter options that won't put a strain on your wallet. Whether it's a traditional system with speakers and a receiver or a more modern soundbar, there are plenty of budget-friendly choices for enhancing your TV's audio while watching shows and movies or streaming music.

Traditional systems allow you to set up custom configurations and get the most out of your space's acoustics. You can perfectly position subwoofers and satellite speakers to create true surround sound for a cinema-like experience in the comfort of your own home.

Soundbars eliminate the need to purchase separate sets of speakers, often combining mid- and high-range drivers with integrated subwoofer speakers for a more compact unit. Soundbars also use technologies such as Dolby Atmos for virtual surround sound or adaptive audio to automatically adjust volume and sound settings so you never miss a line of dialogue or single note in your favorite movies and songs, even if you have loud party guests or neighbors.

Many home theater kits also have virtual assistants built in or are compatible with third-party smart speakers including the Echo Show or Google Nest Hub Max for hands-free controls and better integration into your smart home network. Bluetooth connectivity also lets you wirelessly connect your system to your TV or mobile devices, while HDMI inputs let you take advantage of 4K video output for even better viewing experiences of your favorite movies.

We've rounded up our top picks for the best home theater starter kits under $500 and broke down their features to help you decide which is right for your budget and space.

The Rundown
This kit includes an eight-speaker soundbar and wireless subwoofer for clear high and mid tones and rich bass notes.
It features four speaker drivers for room-filling audio, and with the Bose Music App, you can connect it to other Bose products.
This sound system has two speakers and a subwoofer small enough to fit on a shelf, mantle, or dedicated table to free up floor space.
The Samsung HW-Q800T uses both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X technology to create virtual, 3D surround sound.
You can connect this soundbar to your TV via a 3.5mm audio jack, optical cable, or Bluetooth for a wireless setup.
Best for Larger Rooms:
Yamaha YHT-4950U at Amazon
This system has a receiver, five speakers, and a subwoofer so you can set up a custom configuration.
Best for Parties:
Samsung MX-T70 at Amazon
With two microphone inputs, you'll be able to set up a karaoke corner for more ways to have fun with friends.
Best Design:
LG LHD657 at Amazon
Each tower speaker has a smooth, matte finish for understated style, and the subwoofer has a compact, discrete build.

Best Overall: Samsung HW-Q70T Soundbar

Samsung HW-Q70T Soundbar
What We Like
  • Expandable system

  • Dolby Atmos

  • Voice controls

What We Don't Like
  • No Google Assistant support

Whether you're looking to buy your first home theater kit or wanting to upgrade your current setup, the Samsung HW-Q70T is one of the best available. This kit includes an eight-speaker soundbar and wireless subwoofer for clear high and mid tones and rich bass notes while listening to music, watching movies and shows, or playing video games.

It works with both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround sound technologies for virtual 3D sound without having to set up a bunch of extra equipment. If you decide later you want a more sophisticated surround sound system, you can always purchase additional, wireless satellite speakers to connect to the soundbar.

The system connects to your TV via Bluetooth or HDMI ARC, and with Q Symphony, it syncs with your TV's existing speakers for even better audio. The soundbar works with Alexa for hands-free voice controls, and you can tap your Samsung smartphone to it to instantly stream music from your favorite apps. Movie buffs will want to take advantage of the 4K passthrough for better audio and video synching.

Channels: 3.1.2 | Bluetooth: Yes | Physical Connection: HDMI ARC | Digital Assistant: Alexa | Waterproof: No

Best Soundbar: Bose Smart Soundbar 300

Bose Smart Soundbar 300
What We Like
  • Bluetooth

  • Voice controls

  • Plug-and-play

What We Don't Like
  • Only one HDMI connection

  • No HomeKit support

  • No 4K passthrough

Bose has been one of the biggest and most trusted names in home audio for years, and their Smart Soundbar 300 is one of the best you can buy. It features four speaker drivers for room-filling audio, and with Simple Sync or the Bose Music App, you can connect it to other Bose home audio products to play your favorite music, or audio from shows and movies throughout your house. The app also lets you set up multiple user profiles so if you have movie buffs, audiophiles, and TV fanatics all under the same roof, everyone can create an audio setup that is right for them.

The Smart Soundbar 300 works with both Alexa and Google Assistant for hands-free voice controls and better integration into your smart home theater or home network. It also is compatible with Apple AirPlay and Spotify Connect to wirelessly stream music from your smartphone or tablet with or without an internet connection.

Along with a hardwired, HDMI connection, you can use Bluetooth for a wireless audio setup; coupled with the soundbar's low profile, it's perfect for home theaters and living rooms that may be on the smaller side. The soundbar has a super-fast, plug-and-play setup, meaning you can connect it to your TV, plug it into the wall, and start enjoying enhanced audio right away. It also features a bass boost option for those deep, rich low tones that help make action or horror movies feel more intense.

Channels: 3.0 | Bluetooth: Yes | Physical Connection: HDMI or Optical | Digital Assistant: Alexa, Google Assistant | Waterproof: No

Most Compact: LG CM4590 XBOOM Bluetooth Audio System

LG CM4590 XBOOM
What We Like
  • Easily fits on a shelf or mantle

  • 700W output

  • Bluetooth

What We Don't Like
  • No voice controls

  • Limited equalizer controls

  • Can't connect satellite speakers

If your living room in on the smaller side, or you just don't want huge, clunky speakers clogging up your space, the LG XBOOM is a great option. This sound system has two speakers and a subwoofer that each measure just 12.4 x 8.1 x 11.2 inches, making them small enough to fit on a shelf, mantle, or dedicated table to free up floor space.

With Bluetooth and Sound Sync, you can wirelessly connect the system to your TV or mobile devices to further reduce clutter for a clean-looking home theater. This system isn't just speakers though; you can play CDs, listen to your favorite radio stations, or plug in a USB device to stream custom playlists. The auto DJ mode automatically removes the silence between songs for continuous music, making it great for parties or casual listening.

There are five preset equalizers for genres such as pop, rock, and classical so no matter if you're listening to 60s beach rock or Beethoven, your songs will sound their best. And just because this system is smaller, that doesn't mean LG skimped on power. This system has an impressive 700W output, meaning music and movies can be heard over party guests talking and ambient noise. Though if you have neighbors close by and they don't appreciate your music, you may end up with civil noise complaints.

Channels: 2.1 | Bluetooth: Yes | Physical Connection: USB, 3.5mm audio | Digital Assistant: No | Waterproof: No

Best Dolby: Samsung HW-Q800T Soundbar

Samsung HW-Q800T Soundbar
What We Like
  • Dolby Atmos

  • Bluetooth

  • Voice controls

What We Don't Like
  • No AirPlay

Having a home theater system with Dolby Audio compatibility can elevate your music listening or movie-viewing experience. The Samsung HW-Q800T uses both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X technology to create virtual, 3D surround sound with just one soundbar and subwoofer.

It also is equipped with adaptive audio capabilities to automatically adjust volume and sound settings based on ambient noise levels and what kind of media you're using. Alexa is built into this system for hands-free voice controls right out of the box. You can connect the system to your TV via HDMI ARC or Bluetooth, and if you have a compatible Samsung QLED television, the Q Symphony feature will sync the TV and sound system speakers for deeper, richer sound.

If you want to share music from your smartphone or tablet, you can simply tap your device to the soundbar for instant pairing. This system is also compatible with the Samsung SmartThings app and OneRemote for streamlined control and integration into your smart home network.

Channels: 3.1.2 | Bluetooth: Yes | Physical Connection: HDMI ARC | Digital Assistant: Alexa | Waterproof: No

Best Budget: VIZIO SB2020n-G6M Soundbar System

VIZIO SB2020n-G6M Soundbar System
What We Like
  • Budget friendly

  • Bluetooth

  • Plug-and-play setup

What We Don't Like
  • No voice controls

  • No HDMI inputs

If you're looking to upgrade your home theater on a budget, this VIZIO 20-inch soundbar delivers quality sound without draining your wallet. The model uses DTS Virtual:X technology, two mid-range speakers and a bass reflex port for clear dialogue in shows and movies as well as richer, room-filling sound when streaming music.

You can connect this soundbar to your TV via a 3.5mm audio jack, optical cable, or Bluetooth for a wireless setup. With Bluetooth, you'll also be able to stream music from your mobile devices. Setting up the soundbar is a breeze with plug-and-play functionality; all you have to do is plug it into the wall and connect it to your TV for instant audio enhancement.

It's also Energy Star certified for power efficiency, helping to keep your home theater a bit more eco-friendly.

Channels: 2.0 | Bluetooth: Yes | Physical Connection: 3.5mm audio, Optical | Digital Assistant: No | Waterproof: No

Best for Larger Rooms: Yamaha YHT-4950U Home Theater System

Yamaha YHT-4950U Home Theater System
What We Like
  • Bluetooth

  • Automatic calibration

  • Four HDMI inputs

What We Don't Like
  • Not wireless

  • No voice controls

The Yamaha YHT-4950U home theater system is perfectly designed for living rooms and home theaters that are on the larger side. This system has a receiver, five speakers, and a subwoofer so you can set up a custom configuration without needing to purchase additional speakers.

It also has a microphone that listens to ambient noise to automatically calibrate the system to deliver the perfect surround sound experience. While the speakers and subwoofers are wired to the receiver, you can use Bluetooth to wirelessly connect the system to your TV or mobile devices, or you can use one of the HDMI ports for a hardwired connection or 4K passthrough.

With up to 400W of output power, you'll get rich audio that fills the room or whole house, and Dolby audio support creates clean, clear sound for dialogue and high tones.

Channels: 5.1 | Bluetooth: Yes | Physical Connection: Four HDMI ports | Digital Assistant: No | Waterproof: No

Best for Parties: Samsung MX-T70 Sound Tower

Samsung MX-T70 Sound Tower
What We Like
  • Dual Bluetooth pairing

  • Splash resistant

  • Karaoke mode

What We Don't Like
  • No voice assistant

  • Heavy

  • No HDMI inputs

The Samsung MX-T70 is the ultimate party speaker system. This tower speaker has a built-in, 10-inch subwoofer for incredibly deep bass and bi-directional speakers to fill your house or backyard with rich sound. It also has integrated LED lights that can be controlled with the Sound Tower app, allowing you to change lighting effects and colors as well as sound equalizer settings. And with two microphone inputs, you'll be able to set up a karaoke corner for more ways to have fun with friends.

Bluetooth connectivity lets you pair up to two devices and seamlessly switch between them, which means that you can keep the music playing even if you encounter dead batteries, connection issues, or bad playlists. The tower speaker is also splash resistant, keeping it safe from accidental drink spills or splashes from the pool.

The speaker has a 1500W power output that will let you rattle the neighbors out of bed, but if you want even more power, you can pair several tower speakers together for the ultimate backyard party system.

Channels: 2.0 | Bluetooth: Yes | Physical Connection: 3.5mm audio input, RCA | Digital Assistant: No | Waterproof: Splash resistant

Best Design: LG LHD657 Home Theater Speaker System

LG LHD657 Home Theater Speaker System
What We Like
  • Bluetooth

  • Region-free

  • Sleek tower speakers

What We Don't Like
  • No voice controls

Long gone are the days of clunky home theater speakers in faux wood cabinets. The LG LHD657 system features four sleek tower speakers as well as a low profile receiver to complement almost any decor and add a touch of sophistication to your living room or home theater.

Each tower speaker has a smooth, matte finish for understated style, and the subwoofer has a compact, discrete build that lets you tuck it out of the way without sacrificing power. The receiver lets you connect to the TV in a variety of ways, including Bluetooth for wireless streaming, HDMI passthrough, optical cable, or composite input.

If you're a movie buff, you can play both PAL and NTSC format discs, which means you can import those fancy arthouse films from Germany or rare anime box sets from Japan and be able to watch them without issue. There is even a mic input for setting up a karaoke party with friends when you can't convince them to sit through all three Lord of the Rings: Director's Cut films. 

Channels: 5,1 | Bluetooth: Yes | Physical Connection: 3.5mm audio input, Optical, Composite, RCA, HDMI | Digital Assistant: No | Waterproof: No

Final Verdict

The Samsung HW-Q70T (view at Amazon) is the best home theater system you can get for under $500. It includes a soundbar and subwoofer with Dolby Atmos for virtual surround sound, and Bluetooth connectivity for wireless setup and streaming from your mobile devices or TV. It also has built-in Alexa for hands-free controls.

The Bose Smart Soundbar 300 (view at Amazon) is our top pick for a soundbar. It has four speaker drivers for Bose's signature, room-filling sound, and you can set up multiple user profiles with the companion app for perfect audio while streaming music or watching movies. It also works with Alexa or Google Assistant for hands-free controls.

About Our Trusted Experts

Taylor Clemons is a tech writer who has written for IndieHangover, GameSkinny, TechRadar, The Inventory, and The Balance: Small Business. Taylor specializes in PC components, operating systems, and gaming console hardware.

FAQ
  • Should you buy a home theater system or a soundbar?

    That depends on what you want the system to do. Most soundbars nowadays eliminate the need for multiple satellite speakers by combining several drivers into a single unit. They're great for enhancing TV and film audio as well as music, but can lag behind traditional systems when it comes to creating true surround sound. Traditional systems with a receiver and speakers allow you to customize your setup and avoid annoying echoes that can come with tall ceilings or narrow rooms, but they also require much more space to set up.

  • Do you need a subwoofer with a soundbar?

    Not necessarily! Some models have subwoofers built in or use bass reflex ports to simulate subwoofer functions. More high-end models come packaged with dedicated subwoofers that provide an enhanced bass boost or use downward-firing drivers for bass you can feel as well as hear. You'll have to decide if you want a cinema-like experience with deep, bone-rumbling bass or if you just want richer low tones while listening to your favorite Spotify playlists.

  • How do you choose a good soundbar?

    There are a ton of different factors to consider when shopping for a new soundbar, chief of which is the size of your space. You'll want to get a soundbar that isn't too small or large so it can fit under your TV or be easily wall-mounted. You also want to see how many speaker drivers it has to get the best audio in your living room; the more drivers, the more nuanced the sound. You should also consider connectivity, since wires can cause trip hazards and be an eyesore in smaller home theaters and living rooms.

What to Look For in a Home Theater Starter Kit

Wireless vs. Wired

Many new home theater starter kits feature Bluetooth connectivity. This lets you wirelessly connect the receiver, speakers, or soundbar to your TV or set up satellite speakers, making them perfect for smaller or oddly-shaped rooms. Wired systems offer more stable connections between the receiver and speakers or receiver and your TV, but aren't ideal for smaller spaces where wires could cause clutter or trip hazards.

Bluetooth Connectivity

Bluetooth connectivity not only allows a wireless connection to your TV, it also lets you stream music from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop without a hardwired connection. Some systems and soundbars also have a tap-to-stream feature where you simply touch your device to the soundbar or receiver to instantly start sharing music.

Speaker Size

Bigger isn't always better when it comes to speakers. Large speakers are great for larger rooms or using as statement pieces in your decor, but they don't necessarily have more powerful audio output. Small speakers are great for tucking away on a shelf or mantle for a more understated look, but can sound tinny and weak. You'll want to pair the speaker size you need for your space with a receiver or soundbar that has a decent output wattage: Something in the 150-200W range is perfect for most spaces.

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