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Have you ever watched a movie at home, only to find that it lacks the same viewing experience that you would get at a movie theater? One of the biggest differences is the lack of high-quality, surround sound audio coming from your television at home. Thankfully, it is easy to install a home theater system to bring the same impressive viewing experience to your living room, whether you’re watching television, sitting down for a feature-length movie, or playing video games. Best of all, a home theater system doesn’t have to break the bank – in this article, we’ll help you find the best home theater system under $500.
And, if you would like to, not only the home theater system: we can help you fit up the whole entertainment zone starting from ping pong table and ending with treadmill, which would fit perfectly next to your home theater system.
In sorting through the many home theater systems currently on the market, we considered a number of features that allowed a few systems to stand apart from the pack. The most important feature we looked at was how many channels each home theater system boasts – which determines how many speakers you can connect to the system. We also looked closely at sound quality and the amount of power that theater systems are designed to handle. Lastly, we considered whether these systems were easy to install and whether they come with a warranty to offer peace of mind when making a purchase.
We spent tens of hours reading customer reviews and poring over technical specifications for many of the most popular home theater systems under $500, and the result is a list of the nine best systems. Our picks are summarized in the table below. Continue reading for detailed reviews of each home theater system complete with pros and cons. Our buying guide and FAQ sections cover everything you need to know about choosing the home theater system that is right for you. Finally, we sum up our top three home theater systems under $500 and why we loved them.
This home theater system from Energy is priced well under $500, making it a great value and one of the best starter audio systems to add to your living room for the theater experience. The speaker system is a 5.1 system and channels 200 watts through the five surround speakers, as well as an additional 200 watts through the subwoofer. Note that the speaker system does not come with a receiver set, so you will need to purchase this separately to use the speakers with your television or other devices.
Users were pleasantly surprised with the sound quality of these inexpensive speakers, noting that they offered relatively tight bass control worked well for both music and movies. However, the aluminum dome inside the speakers does require a break-in period of about 50 hours, so expect an overly bright sound that will gradually warm up and become richer as you use the speakers.
The speakers are beautifully finished, although the exterior is pressboard rather than real wood so beware of scratches. Users also liked that both the satellite and center speakers can be placed on shelving or mounted on the wall with an after-market kit. In case of any issues, Energy offers 60 days of free technical support.
This small and inexpensive home theater system from Logitech is surprisingly powerful, with the ability to deliver a continuous 500-watt output through the five speakers and a peak output of up to 1,000 watts. In addition, the subwoofer provides room-shaking bass when you need it with the ability to peak up to 300 watts. Users praised the low distortion of these THX-certified speakers and the subwoofer at high volumes, noting that the sound quality did not drop off even at volumes that were too loud for comfort. However, on the quiet end of the spectrum, the bass from the subwoofer can sound relatively flat.
All of the satellite speakers are capable of being wall-mounted with an after-market kit or can be placed on shelves, although it is worth noting that the receiver unit is not designed to be mounted. The overall footprint of the system is quite small, which makes it suitable for both large and small rooms. Also, the receiver and center speaker are stackable to save space. The speakers themselves are cabled rather than wireless, and some users noted that the wiring feels somewhat flimsy. For this reason, the lack of a warranty is a significant concern with this speaker set.
More features: wireless subwoofers; reproduces high frequencies with captivating clarity
Taking the third spot on this list is the Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2.4 Channel 800W Dolby Atmos Soundbar. Given its unique style regarding surround sound, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. The comes with two subwoofers, two satellite speakers, and only one soundbar, completing a quite unorthodox setup. Rather than having many satellite speakers, the soundbar included simulates the function of the front left, center, and right channels, alongside wide soundstage speakers for right and left ambient effects.
Additionally, the system comes with two rear two-way speakers and two wireless subwoofers as well, with the rear speakers being directly wired to the subwoofers. In terms of installation, it is very simple, to say the least. The system also comes with remote control, which facilitates ease of use. Unfortunately, we wish the range of the remote was a bit longer. To make your connections, there is an optical input, three HDMI inputs, and a coaxial input.
The coaxial input allows you to connect many gaming consoles and Blu-ray players as it offers many connectivity options. There is also a delay that kicks in when switching inputs, which we don’t like and hope something is done about.
Speakers: two-way satellite speakers and a single two-way center-channel speaker
Subwoofer: 100 watts
Warranty: 1-year on parts and labor warranty
This speaker set from Yamaha offers great sound quality for the price for those on a budget, but know going in that installation is a significant amount of work and you will need to add components to complete your home theater system. The speakers do not come with wires, so you will need to purchase speaker wires separately and connect the speakers to a central receiver – which also must be purchased separately. If you don’t have one, check out our selection of the best A/V receivers under $500. In addition, while the speakers can stand alone on shelving, you will also likely need to purchase mounting kits for the satellite speakers.
That said, the 100-watt power output through these speakers allows a surprising amount of volume with relatively low distortion, and the 100-watt subwoofer delivers solid bass for the price point. However, users note that the bass can get somewhat muddied at high volumes. Users particularly raved about the center speaker, which is larger than most comparable speakers for the price and provides enough volume for vocals to be heard over background audio coming from the satellite speakers.
Another benefit to this sound system is that Yamaha covers it with a one-year warranty, which adds peace of mind when making an investment.
What do we love it for?
Large center speaker provides excellent vocals
What were we disappointed with?
Requires numerous add-on purchases, including speaker wires
The Klipsch Black Reference Theater Pack 5.1 Surround Sound System is a 5.1-channel which means that you get five speakers to go along with one bumping subwoofer that delivers great low-frequency sounds for smaller rooms. For $500, you’ll get terrific sound despite the subwoofer being wireless. Don’t be fooled by the small size of speakers however, as these speakers do an excellent job of providing excellent sound. The satellite speakers (two front and two back) are only 7.75-inches in height, while the center speaker is shorter but wider. You can also choose to mount these speakers as well since they come with a threaded insert. As we mentioned, it comes with a wireless subwoofer that is 8-inches in height and looks like any standard subwoofer. The subwoofer also comes with a wireless transceiver that you have to connect to a power source. It offers a few different inputs including the aforementioned wireless as well as LFE RCA jacks. Pay close attention to the warranty on this home theater system however, since it isn’t an all-encompassing warranty. It offers a 3-year warranty on the drivers and tweeters but only 2 years on the electronics and HD wireless hub.
Why are we impressed? The system delivers excellent low-frequency sound for smaller rooms that is complemented by the wireless subwoofer. The speakers, while small, also aren’t an eyesore on the room and are very subtle in terms of its appearance.
What negatives must you be aware of? The smaller speakers only really offer directional sound so in order to get the most optimal room-filling sound, you’ll have to position them to all face toward the primary listening position.
Speakers: 1″ x 3″ center, 2″ x 3″ full-range front, 2″ x 3″ full range rear
Inputs: USB, SD, 2 ¼” MIC, 6 RCA DVD Audio In, 2 RCA AUX In, FM Antenna In
Warranty: 1 year
Other features: built-in FM receiver; Bluetooth v2.1; 4 LED lighting modes; MDF wood cabinets with plastic front panels
For under $500, you’re already getting tremendous value on a home theater system, but our top choice for Best Value is the Rockville HTS56 5.1 Channel Home Theater System. Right off the bat, you can tell this system has a bit of edginess to it with its black and bright blue design. It’s a 5.1-channel system that comes with five speakers that have a peak power of 1000-watts, though it does well on 250 watts of continuous power. These five speakers are topped off with an 8-inch subwoofer that also comes with a built-in receiver, that many people say has really good reception. It comes with few different inputs including a USB input, an SD input, a mic input, six RCA audio inputs, and two RCA auxiliary inputs. We mentioned about the bright blue in these speakers’ design and this serves a special purpose. These are built-in LED lighting modes that light up according to the sound that’s currently being played. Some people say they love this lighting effect feature, while others say it can get pretty annoying. One thing that isn’t annoying is the great sound quality you’ll get from this home system. Lots of people that have bought this system say the sound really reverberates despite the small size of this system. It also comes with a 1-year warranty too giving you some peace of mind knowing you’re covered for a year.
Why is it special? Aside from its loud-thumping sound, we really enjoyed the light show that came with it. We also love the great selection of inputs and the ability for Bluetooth device connection.
What are the flaws? While there are plenty of input choices, what it’s really lacking is the inclusion of more modern or recent inputs, such as HDMI. Also, if you consistently play it loud on this system, the subwoofer may get overused and start to crackle and emit some fuzzy sounds.
Speakers: (2) T15 bookshelf (5.25″ driver and 0.75″ tweeter), (1) T30 center channel (5.25″ driver and 1″ tweeter), (2) T50 tower (6.5″ driver, 1″ tweeter, and two 6.5″ bass radiators)
Subwoofer: (4) 6.5″ bass radiators
Inputs: 5-way binding posts
Warranty: 5 years
Other features: exclusive Dynamic Balance drivers and tweeters; front mounted bass port on bookshelf speakers
Polk Audio makes some fantastic home theater systems and with this one, they have taken the honor of our Upgrade Pick. With the Polk Audio T Series 5-Channel Home Theater Bundle, you’re getting superb value to go along with high-quality specifications with this 5-channel home theater system. Opting to go without a subwoofer, this home theater system comes with two tower speakers, two bookshelf speakers, and a center channel. Each speaker is equipped with a 5.25-inch driver and a 0.75-inch tweeter. The twin tower speakers come with a 6.5-inch driver and a 1-inch tweeter. All of the speakers included in this home theater system features Polk’s proprietary dynamic balance technology that offer a much larger dispersion and reduces distortions. The speakers in this system are also compatible with different AV receivers too making this system incredibly versatile. In terms of inputs, this system uses a common one on home theater systems and especially audio amplifiers and that is binding posts. It uses a 5-way binding post that you can simply attach to your AV receiver. The greatness of this home theater system doesn’t stop there however, as you’ll be able to really get a sense of its excellence for five years as that’s how long the warranty on this Polk home theater system lasts.
What are its best features? We really enjoyed the high-level of sound quality produced by these speakers, especially the tower speakers. You can also really hear and feel Polk’s special technology with its amazing 360-degree audio.
What could be improved? The base could thump a little bit harder with this home theater system.
Inputs: 3.5mm stereo mini jack; optical; USB; HDMI ARC
Warranty: 1 year
Other features: 8″ soundbar; Bluetooth compatible; optimized for 4K TVs with Dolby Audio 5.1
There’s one thing that particularly stands out above the rest in this Vizio V51-H6 36″ 5.1 Channel Home Theater Soundbar System and that is its soundbar. With our top pick for Best Soundbar in a home theater system under $500, this setup is great but the star of it is its soundbar. The soundbar is light and slim in design and 36-inches in length. It has the flexibility to be mounted on the wall but it definitely looks better when its paired with your big-screen television. The soundbar also pumps out some high-quality sound and can decode Dolby Audio 5.1. In total, this home theater system comes with five speakers to go along with a subwoofer that does a good job of delivering some excellent bass. You might be surprised how much bass you’ll get from your subwoofer when you look at its rather meagre size of just 5-inches but it really delivers. The inputs are also very good and modern as it features a USB, HDMI ARC, optical and a 3.5mm stereo mini jack. It also enables you to set it up via Bluetooth and avoiding the hassle and eyesores of more cables. For ease of control, simply use the remote control that comes with this home theater system to access your preferred settings. You’ll be able to test the amazing sounds this system produces for one year as it comes with a warranty of this length.
What makes it stand out? We really enjoyed the soundbar and the fantastic Dolby Action sound it gave off. The build and design of this home theater system was also fantastic and does not take up too much room.
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind? For this excellent price point and the features that it offers, we really couldn’t pinpoint anything that could be better.
Speakers: 15″ x 4″ x 3.5″ (center); 6.5″ x 3.75″ 4.9″ (satellites)
Inputs: analog composite
Warranty: 5 years
Other features: built-in 50W continuous / 100W peak amp; suitable for rooms up to 70 sq. ft
If you’re looking for a budget home theater system but one that won’t take up ample amounts of space in your room, you might want to give our pick for Best Compact Home Theater System a try. The Polk Audio TL1600 is an excellent small choice for a home theater system. It sports a 5.1-channel setup with five speakers and a subwoofer. The speakers are compact with the satellite speakers only measuring out to 6.5 inches tall and 3.75 inches wide. The center speaker is naturally longer at 15 inches wide but only 4 inches tall. The subwoofer is obviously the biggest piece in this system at 8-inches tall. If you still find these satellite speakers to be too much an eyesore, they also come with mounting brackets so that you can mount it on the wall as well. It features a 5-way binding post with protective plastic caps. If you’re looking for maximum power, this might not be the best system for you as the speakers only run at a continuous power of 50 watts, with a peak of 100 watts. And because of this, for optimal use, it’s best to play this at a room of a maximum of 70–80 square feet. A room of this size, you’re more likely to feel higher quality sound and a more accurate bass. You’re going to get plenty of mileage out of this compact home theater system with its 5-year warranty policy.
What are our favorite features? you can really get a sense of the low-key power of this home theater system in a small room and is perfect for apartments with a smaller living room area.
What could be better? it definitely could use more power to bump up the bass. However, for such a compact home theater system, it suffices.
Things to Consider
Now that you’ve learned more about our five favorite home theater systems available for under $500, how do you choose among them to find the home theater system that is right for you? Especially in this price range, many home theater consumers are first-time buyers, which can make understanding the technical specifications listed for each of these systems difficult to understand. Our Buying Guide will cover everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision when settling on a home theater system. In addition, we’ll cover some of the most frequently asked questions that come up when new users are looking for a home theater system.
Why get a home theater system with a surround sound?
If you’ve ever watched movies or played video games in your living room and felt somewhat underwhelmed compared to the viewing experience you get in a theater, a home theater system can be a good investment. Compared to the theater, your home television may have great picture quality but only a mediocre audio system – after all, most television screens are not designed to provide optimal audio on their own. A home theater system allows you to connect your television and other devices to a set of speakers, which can then be placed all around the room to create a surround sound experience. The difference is immediately noticeable, both in terms of the range of audio frequencies that you can hear thanks to the addition of a high-quality speaker system and in terms of the enveloping experience provided by having audio signals coming from all around the room. In addition, adding a home theater can allow you to raise the audio volume of your movies or games to a significantly greater level than would ever be possible with a television speaker alone.
Features to consider before buying a home theater system
One of the most important things to decide when you start looking at home theater systems is how many audio channels you want that system to have – which directly corresponds to how many speakers you can connect to it. Typically, home theater systems are rated as either 5.1 – meaning they can connect five speakers and one subwoofer – or 7.1 – meaning they can connect seven speakers and one subwoofer.
In a 5.1 theater system, the speakers are typically divvied up such that two speakers sit to the left and right of the television screen, one speaker sits directly below the television to carry the sounds of people speaking, and two surround speakers that are situated to the left and right of your seating. A 7.1 system uses the same configuration, but adds two additional speakers to the left and right behind your seating in order to provide a richer surround sound experience. In both setups, the subwoofer typically sits centrally below the television in order to produce sound for low frequencies.
Because of the added two speakers in a 7.1 theater system, this type of setup is ideal if you have a large room or multiple places where people can sit. However, 7.1 theater systems are typically more expensive or else suffer lower sound quality compared to 5.1 systems at the same price.
The next important thing to consider when choosing a home theater system is the sound quality of the system. Sound quality is difficult to quantify and depends on the combination of speakers, subwoofer, and power output of the entire theater system. Speakers and subwoofers can be compared in terms of the power output that they provide, and many home theaters are rated according to the total amount of power that they distribute among the included speakers. Wattage relates to volume, although note that the difference between the 200-watt Energy theater system and the 500-watt Logitech system does not translate to a 2.5-times difference in volume – a 2-times volume differential requires 10-times as many watts. However, this is still a noticeable difference in volume to your ears, which can be especially important when looking at wattage differences in subwoofers, since this is the main source of your bass audio.
Importantly, wattage alone is also not the best indicator of sound quality. Instead, sound quality depends mostly on the signal-to-noise ratio of the speaker system. The best way to find out whether the system you are interested in provides good sound quality is to check customer reviews and, if possible, to listen to the system before purchasing. Although not included with most home theater systems, an external amplifier can also make a big difference in improving the audio signal and thus improving sound quality.
Although it’s not consistent across all home theater systems, you can expect to find different inputs for different systems. The number and type of inputs can differ across system too and across different brands. However, some common types of inputs and ones you may find in most of these home theater systems include a USB input, auxiliary, a stereo mini jack, and an HDMI. Some, like the Polk Audio TL1600 5.1 Compact Home Theater System with Powered Subwoofer, have an all analog input setup. While many home theater speakers are now digital, some systems like this one still rely on an analog input to power the system.
Even under $500, a home theater system is a significant investment – so you want to be sure that it will serve you for years to come. Unfortunately, warranties on theater systems are relatively short or nonexistent, and some manufacturers – like Energy – offer limited free technical support rather than a true warranty. While no warranty stands out on home theater systems under $500, note that having any warranty period at all is typically better for peace of mind than having no warranty.
Home theater systems also vary quite a bit in how easy or difficult they are to install into your home. Although this depends in part on the devices you are trying to connect to your home theater system, be sure to check what types of connection ports the audio receiver offers and whether they are compatible with the outputs on your television, gaming consoles, and other devices. Also, ensure that the cables on the receiver and various speakers are long enough to reach electrical outlets as needed given the configuration of your living room. Note that some theater systems – like the Yamaha system or the Nakamichi system – come with wall-mounted speakers, while some come with tower speakers that are meant to be set on the floor, and others come with a combination of the two.
One of the most important extra features that some home theater systems offer is the ability to connect devices via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This can make it significantly faster and easier to connect new devices to the home theater system and reduces the need for a jumble of cables.
Unfortunately, most wall-mountable speaker systems do not come with the materials needed to mount them. Instead, you will need to find after-market mounting kits, which vary in price depending on the style you need. However, the mounting kits typically come with everything required to complete the installation except for basic household tools. If you are looking for a set of speakers that is extremely easy to install, consider instead opting for tower speakers that are designed to sit stably on the floor or for speakers that can sit on a table or shelf.
Home theater systems are typically rated in watts according to the power distributed across the speakers, while the subwoofer power is rated separately. Wattage correlates to maximum volume, although more power does not necessarily translate to better sound quality. Of the four home theater systems we reviewed, the system from Logitech offers the most power in the speaker system and subwoofer.
Compatibility between your television and other devices and your home theater system largely depends on whether they have matching output and input ports. Even when they do not, it is often possible to make them work together by purchasing wire adapters after-market. In addition, some home theater receivers are Bluetooth or Wi-Fi compatible, making it easy to connect to smart devices wirelessly. Most home theater systems do not come with the wires you will need to connect your devices, so it is a good idea to research what types of wires you will need ahead of time and purchase them at the same time as the theater system.
The difference between a 5.1 and a 7.1-channel system is that there are two more speakers in a 7.1-channel. You can easily figure this out by the first digit as it refers to the number of speakers that will come with the system. For a 5.1-channel system, you’ll get five speakers to go along with a subwoofer, which is denoted by the .1. There will be seven speakers in the 7.1-channel system along with a subwoofer with that as well. The extra speakers that come in a 7.1-channel are usually placed at the rear listening position and are often referred to as surround rear speakers.
Home theater systems are great for amplifying any type of sound. Thus, they are excellent choices for either listening to music or singing karaoke because both of these activities do require sound to be amplified. For singing karaoke, you’ll want the sound of your voice or whomever is singing to be amplified. Listening to music is all about the sound of your music, and a great home theater system will do an amazing job at amplifying the sound of your music to the room you’re in and, if it’s loud enough, even through your entire house!
With the world increasingly moving towards digital, we’re starting to see more and more home theater systems that come with wireless speakers. The good thing about wireless speakers is that you don’t have to see those wires that are traditionally found in speakers of a normal home theater system. These wires can be an eyesore and a safety hazard and wireless speakers solves this problem. And while you may not see the usual wires, you’re still going to be seeing some. That’s because each speaker needs access to a power source and thus, will need to be connected to an amp, which is usually its own separate piece, so it will need wires to connect to it. Another benefit of wireless speakers is that you can place them anywhere in the room without being restricted by access to a power source. Unfortunately, the sound quality isn’t as great in wireless speakers.
Yes, you will need an AV receiver for your home theater system. An AV receiver is an important piece because it provides the different channels to amplify your audio, depending on the number of speakers your home theater system comes with. If you’ve connected your home theater system to your television and your music system, your AV receiver allows you to seamlessly switch between your video and audio components. Simply put, an AV receiver is the backbone of your home theater system and is necessary if you want high-quality surround-sound.
There really is no right answer to this question as it depends on the home theater system you choose. All of the home theater systems in our list are 5-channels, which obviously do not offer as much power and sound amplification as a 7-channel system would. A good room size for your home theater system can be anywhere from 250–300 square feet with a height of anywhere between 8–10 feet tall. When broken down, you’re looking at a room roughly 20 feet wide and 13 feet in length. Please note that not all home theater systems should conform to these measurements and if you have a much larger room, a 5-channel system may not be the best choice for it.
Our overall favorite home theater systems for under $500 were the Energy 5.1 Take Classic Home Theater System, the Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System, and the Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2.4 Channel 800W Dolby Atmos Soundbar. Of these, note that only the Logitech system comes with a receiver and all three systems will likely require speaker mounting kits, so plan on making additional investments beyond the cost of the speaker systems. That said, all three systems provide incredible sound quality for the price. While the Nakamichi system provided the best sound quality overall and the most surround sound experience thanks to the 7.2 system, the Logitech system offered the most speaker power. However, we felt the Energy system was the best home theater system under $500 because of its balance between high-quality speakers, price, and the addition of 60 days of free technical support to set you off on the right foot with your new home theater.