Best home theater speaker systems Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best speaker systems you can buy in 2021.
It might mean rearranging the furniture. It might mean a lot of saving up. It might even mean moving to a bigger house. But for the full home theater experience, a surround sound speaker system is the only way to go.
The first thing to consider is the number of channels. A 5.1 system is most common and comprises five speakers (two pairs of either floorstanding or standmount speakers and one centre speaker) and one subwoofer.
But other arrangements are also available, from 7.2, which adds surround back speakers behind your seating position and an extra subwoofer, up to pretty much whatever your room can hold.
Dolby Atmos systems tend include up-firing speakers that can help deliver more immersive surround sound, but make sure your speakers are compatible and they're paired with a capable AV receiver. Alternatively, you can achieve Atmos with in-ceiling speakers.
More speakers usually means more convincing surround sound, although they can take up quite a bit of space. You'll also need to factor in the cost (and positioning) of speaker cable. Keeping your selection of speakers to one brand will help keep the sonic balance.
This is especially the case with the centre speaker, which should be from the same brand and ideally from the same range as the rest of your home theatre speaker system. This will help ensure the best sound possible.
Finally, price is key. You can spend a few hundred or tens of thousands, so make sure you peruse this list and find one that fits your budget. If you own a budget AV receiver there's no point partnering it with a high-end speaker package. As a general rule of thumb, we'd suggest spending around double the cost of your surround sound amp on a standard 5.1 speaker set up.
All the speaker packages recommended below have been through our thorough testing process and they've passed with flying colors. So whether you're after a budget set-up, or the kind of home cinema system that would make Bruce Wayne green with envy, we should have something for you.
Lean, attractive, interesting and unfussy: these words are equally apt for both the aesthetics and acoustics of these clever performers.
Upfront are the Award-winning Dali Oberon 5 floorstanders. The surrounds are either the five-star Dali Oberon 1 standmounters (£1699), which is the package we've tested, or the compact Dali On-Wall speakers (£1799). Your subwoofer is the Sub E9-F, while the Obereron Vokal centre is a real star in the middle.
The Dali Oberon 5 5.1 system presents every frequency in full, but with honesty and warmth that brings the best out of any soundtrack. They’re transparent but fun, powerful but subtle; we’d have them round to ours any day. That's why they were our 2020 What Hi-Fi? Awards Product of the Year.
Read the full review: Dali Oberon 5 5.1 Speaker Package
The Q Acoustics 3050i 5.1 Cinema Pack is boldly cinematic and hugely entertaining, and actually doesn't take up as much space as its sound might have you believe. You get a pair of 3050i floorstanders for your left and right channels, 3010i standmounts for the surrounds, the wonderfully expressive 3090i centre speaker and 3060S subwoofer.
The system's energy and exuberance is infectious, without being fatiguing, and those qualities are complemented by a great deal of maturity and insight too. The power and bass weight offered by the 3050i caters for greater intensity, without forgoing the snappy timing of their more diminutive partners.
That fluidity and fleet footedness is one of the most impressive aspects of this package, avoiding rigidity for a fast but natural sounding performance. We’d defy anybody not to enjoy an evening spent with this speaker package.
Read the full review: Q Acoustics 3050i 5.1 Cinema Pack
Near identical to the Q Acoustics package above, only with a second pair of 3010i standmounts swapped in for front right and left channels, the 3010i 5.1 Cinema Pack is another multi-Award winner.
These speakers' hi-fi roots are made clear right from the off, majoring in detail, dynamic expression and a surefooted sense of rhythm. What might be more surprising, however, is just how much scale is on offer considering their modest footprint.
For those who love a cinematic experience, but perhaps lack the space for floorstanders, this is an exceptional package.
Read the full review: Q Acoustics 3010i 5.1 Cinema Pack
The Silver 200s, the smallest of three pairs of floorstanding speakers in this sixth generation of Monitor Audio’s long-running Silver series, are the headline act in this surround package. But despite the 200 appearing in the title of this package, the floorstanders’ stage is shared with three equally talented protagonists – the Silver C150 centre speaker, Silver FX surround speakers and Silver W-12 subwoofer.
Crashes, bangs and wallops are thrown at the listener, as if physically tossed around the room with incredible cohesion as each speaker complements the others' character. As a whole, the package times with military precision, driving forward with relentless momentum.
Rarely are we so fully behind a speaker system for its work both in stereo and in surround sound, but with these Monitor Audio Silvers you truly are achieving both for the price of one.
Read the full review: Monitor Audio Silver 200 AV12
This surround package partners two pairs of five-star stereo speakers – the supremely talented Debut 2.0 F5.2 floorstanders and Debut 2.0 B5.2 standmounts – then throws in a likeminded centre speaker and sub for what is one of the most composed, detailed and well-matched systems we've heard at this price. Dolby Atmos topper speakers are also available for an even more immersive sonic experience.
We’d happily spend as much time as possible watching our favorite movie scenes just for the treat of hearing what this speaker package can do. Their subtle, sensible and silky sound production creates the kind of wonderfully open and detailed soundstage that true cinema sound is about. They put you in the heart of the action so succinctly that you almost forget about the speakers altogether.
Read the full review: Elac Debut 2.0 5.1 Home Theatre System
If space isn't an issue, you might want to treat yourself with this brilliant KEF set-up. It is these speakers’ sonic ability that warranted a five-star rating, of course, but there's no ignoring the KEF Q350 5.1 package’s brutish stature or the physical command its has over our listening room. It’s certainly not one for a small bedsit.
It's big and bold, with a sound to match: you're treated to a beautifully immersive experience, where the speakers and sub working together to create a wonderfully coherent soundfield. And the bass, while powerful, is never overstated, meaning the sound is never muddied or coloured. Take the plunge and you won't be disappointed.
Read the full review: KEF Q350 AV 5.1
If it wasn't for Q Acoustics' stellar offerings in the 5.1 space (above), this Dali would have picked up a What Hi-Fi? Award or two of its own. It pairs a quartet of Spektor 2 standmount speakers, back-to-back Award winners in their own right, with the Spektor Vokal centre speaker and small-yet-mighty Sub C-8 D subwoofer.
It provides a fast, detailed and gratifyingly entertaining listen, with the sub providing plenty of scale. Dialogue has a warmth to it that's sadly lost in many systems, and the impeccable sense of timing makes for a truly cinematic experience.
Read the full review: Dali Spektor 2 5.1
A 7.1 Dolby Atmos package at this price looks too good to be true. But not only is it an absolute steal, it's also a very tidy, compact affair – so compact, in fact, that Jamo suggests you put the subwoofer under the sofa. How's that for convenience?
The sound is dynamic and full of body, and the low end – while a little soft – is ample for all but the most discerning of home cinema audiophiles. If that's you, you'll be happy to spend a bit more for a smoother sound, but the Jamo is still a fine option at the money.
Read the full review: Jamo S 807 HCS