I hear a lot of “What’s the best…” (fill in the blank) in my line of work. What’s the best speaker system? Who makes the best subwoofer? What’s the best AV receiver? But how you define “best” is going to determine how I respond to those questions. The better question to “What’s the best home theater system?” might just be: “What’s the RIGHT home theater system for me?”
Let’s take it step by step. In the end, you’ll know the best home theater system for your needs, or at least how to begin assembling it.
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The Best Home Theater System Still Has a Budget
I don’t care if you’re Bill Gates, you still have a budget. Nobody writes a blank check for a home theater (though that would be a fun experiment!) You have to decide what you want to spend your money on before you set out to do anything. A good general rule is that a basic home theater spends roughly half on what it deems the most important. If you are all into audio, you’re going to spend nearly half on your speakers. If you’re all about the display, you may dump 40-50% on your projector or flat panel television. The rest is going to get split up between the remaining components. If money were no object, the best home theater system would be easy to assemble. But that’s not reality. Most people save and want to make the best choices possible.
It also helps if you already have at least some of what you need. You can always start with that and upgrade later. Start with a budget, identify what you’re most excited about, and then build the best home theater system you can within those parameters.
What we’ll do moving forward is make sure you don’t forget anything.
Don’t Skimp on Your Secondary Priority
I can’t tell you how many times I see people all excited about a new TV, only to have them skimp on the speaker system. Without good sound you aren’t going to get that true “home theater” experience, so why would you get a huge $1500 television and match it up with a $150 sound bar? If you need to start off that way, great, but it may be even better if you can better balance your experience with a bit more spend in the audio department. There is a reason your local movie theater doesn’t have a giant sound bar up front. True surround sound is hard to beat. Try and bring that experience home when you build your home theater.
A 6-inch Driver in a Cardboard Box is NOT a Subwoofer!
I may be exaggerating a bit to make a point, but many of these low cost subwoofers are no more than cheap drivers and amplifiers bound together with more wishful thinking than glue. If you want to actually “feel” explosions, fight scenes, and gunshots, you’re going to need something with at least an 8-inch driver (and honestly, a 10-inch driver is more like it since most drivers are measured way past their actual surface area these days). Next to driver size, the subwoofer’s amplifier power is next on your list. If you don’t have enough power to drive the sub, you’re not going to get much more than disappointment, distortion and disdain (from your friends—I needed another “d” word).
I typically recommend a nice 10-inch subwoofer for most rooms as a good starting point, though larger rooms will benefit form dual subs—which also help even out room modes (antinodes, or peaks) and nodes (dips). You may also want to check out our article on how to position a subwoofer, which we affectionately titled “Crawling Around for Bass“.
[top-seller category_id=’9′ product_count=’4′ title=’Best Selling Subs’]
Surround Speakers Are Important
You can go light on surround speakers, but the best home theater system will come with a good set of dipole or bipole surround speakers. These will do wonders for creating a nice diffuse sound behind you. When that happens, movies literally come alive. When you stick with cheap cube or bookshelf speakers, you often get a more direct sound and your attention is actually directed away from the action as opposed to being enveloped in it. You’ll be surprised at what good surround speakers cost, so shop knowing that you’re often picking up a box with 30% more volume and twice the driver complement of a traditional bookshelf speaker.
[top-seller category_id=’8′ product_count=’4′ title=’Best Selling Surrounds’]
The Best Home Theater System Uses the Right Remote
I love a good, solid remote control system, and the best home theater systems are easy to operate. Controlling your home theater with an AV receiver remote or your Cable TV remote is certainly possible—to an extent. Beyond basic functions, however, you’re likely not going to get nearly the universal remote control you need. That’s when you turn to something with a bit more power. A good quality universal remote control is going to take you to the next level and allow just about anyone in your family to make a complex system of inputs, outputs and controls simple to use.
Remember, you don’t really want the best home theater system. You want the best home theater system YOUR money can buy. OK, maybe you WANT the best home theater system, but in terms of practicality, your budget and your focus are going to play a huge part in your decisions. Remember to balance your second priority with your first. Don’t skimp on the sub. And by all means, make sure your surrounds are prioritized and that you can control the system when it’s all done (without having to place 7 remote controls on your coffee table).