Deciding on the best home theater speakers isn’t a task to be taken lightly. You’ve got online reviews, users reviews, different sizes, different budgets, room size… There’s a lot to weigh. Still, I think it’s fairly easy to help guide a you towards the best home theater speaker for you. It may not be the best home theater speaker in the world—but it will be the one that makes sense for your particular needs. In order to do that, let’s take a journey through the various types of products available to you by way of characterization of those models into genres (and for purposes of this guide, we’re going to focus on the main, or front, speakers):
The Full-range Stereo Speaker
I figured I’d start at the top. Some people just want the power of a full-sized speaker. This can be for any number of reasons, but typically it’s because they want the ability to run their system for both home theater and stereo listening. A lot of audio purists love a full range stereo speaker and don’t see the need for a separate subwoofer when listening to high quality audio recordings. I can’t say as I blame them, given how they are recorded in the studios. Now, when we say “full-range” we really mean “pretty close to full range” as most speakers don’t quite get down to 20Hz. Still, there are some excellent choices on the market—many of which won’t break the bank.
At around $3500/pair, these speakers deliver simplistic, traditional styling with a punch. Canton claims they dip down to 20Hz, and with dual aluminum 8″ drivers, a 7″ aluminum midrange, and 1″ aluminum-manganese tweeter I have no reason to doubt them. Canton has always been one of my favorite sounding speakers, and it’s nice to see them position a model for the audiophile in all of us.
JBL L890 Tower Speaker
This 4-way speaker doesn’t mess around. The JBL L890 comes through with a pair of 8″ woofers, a 4″ tweeter, 3/4″ titanium tweeter—and to top it off—a 3/4″ mylar dome super tweeter for those “air” frequencies that are almost felt more than they’re heard. While you’d expect these speakers (which also come in Cherry) to cost a lot more than they do, you can bring a pair home for under $1,400.
Klipsch is famous for its horn-loaded speakers. You’ll likely love their incredible detail, and there is no way you’ll miss any of the action with these towers. The dual 10″ cerametallic woofers are rated down to 30Hz—but we’d wager that’s a lot more conservative than most other brands have been. The horn-loaded 1.75″ titanium tweeter tops it all off, making this one of the more imposing “all-business” speakers you’ll likely find.
The “Small But Powerful” Model
The more and more I listen to different home theaters, the more I’m convinced of just how much you can do with small, bookshelf speakers. That is, if you pair them with a good quality subwoofer. For this list, I’m going to assume (dangerous as that may be) that you are doing exactly that. These are bookshelf speakers with excellent performance that work well when paired with a decent sub. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then you might like these speakers.
PSB has long been adept at creating delicate-sounding speakers that reproduce even the most intricate, layered sound with finesse. The Imagine B speakers are no exception to the rule, and their ability to accurately coax 52 Hz out of a single 5-1/4″ driver is nothing short of impressive. The 4th order crossover does beautifully to bring out the sparkle in the 1″ titanium dome tweeter and these speakers will not be a disappointment to those who can afford the $1,100 cost of entry for the pair.
The 5-1/4″ aluminum woofers on these MartinLogans combine with the Folded Motion transducers to create lifelike sound that will mimic the studio recording masters like nothing you’ve ever heard—at least that was my experience with them. I can’t recommend these enough and the MartinLogan sound is truly something to be experienced.
It’s now well-publicized that EMP is made by the same designers who bring you RBH Sound speakers. Those guys really know what they’re doing (it’s not sexist either, they really ARE all guys!) What I like the most about these speakers is their midrange. Sure, you can drive them hard, but when you do they don’t distort or break-up. And female and male vocals sound like you’re listening to the singers live on stage—no compression or crispy sibilances. These are truly an incredible value. For $250/pair. I’d even go so far as to say they are the best deal in the country.
These Klipsch speakers don’t pull any punches, with a Cerametallic 8″ driver that helps this Reference Series speaker drop down to 44Hz. That’s incredibly low and the front-firing port means you can place this closer to a wall if absolutely necessary. This speaker can also be biamped and the hefty system weighs over 27 pounds—giving you some evidence of the level of build quality and components contained within. At a little over $400 each, these speakers are the “quality budget” leader in our opinion.
For the “Speakers Should Be Heard and Not Seen” Crowd
Not everyone is like me—I know that. Sometimes aesthetics play a major role in speaker-buying decisions. When that happens I don’t want to be a “speaker snob”, I want to help. That means I have to be prepared to give an answer to those looking for either diminutive or svelt-looking speakers that can more easily blend into the decor of a room. If this is your cup of tea, there are a bunch of products that fit the bill.
In my opinion, these speakers meet the minimum requirements for a starter home theater system. They will play loud, they can be shelf-mounted if necessary, and they provide a decent build quality for the price. And the price is amazing. At just under $60 each, these are a no-brainer if you’re on the fence about whether or not you want to start getting into surround sound. I will always try and talk you up, but if your significant other is demanding your speakers be hidden, the small <10″ height of these speakers should make due.
JBL’s Control One speakers are legendary in the industry. They almost make me believe in magic—they sound that good for the money (not to mention their small size!). For years, these have been the go-to for consumers looking to minimize the physical impact of a surround system in their room and we have yet to find a reason to disagree. The 4″ woofer and 1/2″ titanium laminated tweeter work wonders with audio and allow these small speakers to play loud without audible distortion. On top of that, they’re just $129/pair!
There’s no denying that Boston Acoustics has been a trusted name for many years. With their continuing focus on form factor and design, the A 23 speakers present a nice compact alternative to larger speakers while still delivering a decent amount of quality and punch. At $139 each, they also fall well within the affordability range for most discerning consumers.
I couldn’t let this list go without adding at least one thin set of towers. While not as small as a pair of bookshelf speakers, Yamaha’ NS-F310’s offer a very thin footprint that takes up less space than most speaker stands I’ve used. For under $600/pair, they also represent one of the better values in these types of quality-meets-aesthetics speakers. The ported cabinet allows the twin 3.1″ aluminum drivers to dip down to 50Hz—a noble feat for such a narrow profile.
Simply the Best Home Theater Speakers
I’ve had some caveats on many of the speakers listed above. If you have no limits, then I want to invite you to the products below. These are among the very best non-custom mainstream speakers money can buy. Sure, you can find other products designed in the basements and garages of custom speaker builders, but these are some we’ve actually been able to spend a lot of time around and which can be purchased quickly and easily. If you’re an audiophile and you don’t mind dropping some coin for the performance benefits you might like these premium speakers.
This floorstander has a unique audiophile look that cannot be ignored. It’s a statement piece—and its $21,199/pair price makes an equally loud statement. These speakers feature two 11″ Kevlar drivers, a 5″ beryllium midrange, and a 1.25″ diamond DMD tweeter. If you want the best, this is at least close to it.
When the folks at RBH Sound want to go all out, they turn to their Status Acoustics brand. These Decimo bookshelf speakers remain one of our favorite models of all time. Their clarity and fidelity is unmatched and they simply rewrite the way you think about music. After hearing these, all of your music will be fresh and new again and you’ll want to listen to your albums all over again. If you have the money, the $2,899/pair price will seem like a bargain.
When a bookshelf speaker claims to go down to 34Hz you might wonder if those specs are legit. With Pinnacle’s BD 650 II, however, the ported enclosure allows the 6.5″ poly woofer to do its thing, assisted by the 4″ midrange. It’s that midrange and the three-way design that lets this speaker travel downward in response beyond what you’d expect. To top it all off, the multi-layer piano gloss lacquer finish makes these one of the most stunning bookshelf speakers we’ve yet seen. These speakers are just around $400.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the Klipsch KL-650 THX certified speakers. These are so popular because they are very much trying to bring the commercial theater sound into the home. Most commonly, we see these speakers placed behind perf screens (similar to the effect of a Klipsch professional 2-way system) but honestly, you can place them on stands and show them off as well. A pair of these will run you just under $3,000—but the sound will transform how you listen to movies and soundtracks. If you want pro audio sound for your home theater—these will deliver.
If you think I have missed the obvious—sound bar speakers—relax, we’ve got you covered there as well. If you want to look for on-wall sound bar speakers, head over to our Best Sound Bar article and see what we recommend.