In the old days a home theater system was only for the rich. But then lo and behold, widescreen TVs became much more affordable. It isn’t surprising that nowadays you have lots more options. You can now look for the best budget home theater system, enjoy yourself with home entertainment, and not bust your bank account.
What to Look For in a Budget Home Theater System
Obviously, price is a definitive factor for the best budget home theater system category. The system has to be affordable enough so that ordinary people (like most of us) can spring for it without feeling too much of a financial pinch. So we are talking about an entire system that costs a few hundred bucks and not a price tag in the thousands.
At the same time, the system needs to provide the audio performance that can help us experience something much more immersive. Even if you’re going for a cheap home theater system, it still has to provide something that resembles going to the movies so you should also check the best AV receiver under 500 dollars.
So let’s cover a few crucial factors:
At the risk of simply putting an arbitrary price ceiling, let’s just say that the maximum we can spend is $500. That should be reasonably affordable most people who can actually afford a good TV and a home theater system in the first place. If you only have $200 to spare, on the other hand, perhaps you need to save up first so you can get an affordable surround sound system that won’t be embarrassing.
You can make up your own home theater system by buying single components, but that can be expensive. So if you’re sticking to a budget system, you need a complete package.
Now this is a matter of choice. Some old-fashioned folks like the basic 2.1 system, wherein the sound comes from the direction of the TV. But with 5.1 and 7.1 systems, you end up with multiple speakers that surround you. Movie watching can become a lot more realistic and immersive, because you can hear sounds behind you as if you’re inside the action.
This is the catch-all term for the treble (which can produce the high frequency sounds like the zing of laser guns), midrange (which is important, as this is the range of movie dialogue), and low frequency (which includes the rumblings of car engines and bomb explosions).
All the specs don’t really matter in the end, because the sound quality is the most important. And this factor is entirely dependent on your own preferences. If you’re buying online, you can play the odds and pick a system which is appreciated by most customers in their reviews, over another system which doesn’t get as many rave reviews. But you may find out that the lower-rated system may actually be more to your liking.
Ease of Setup
If you’re getting a package of different components, then at least you’re assured that they’re all compatible with each other. Setup should be relatively painless. There shouldn’t be any problems at all.
Most of these systems look unassuming, and that’s not bad. Some even look great. But you may want to avoid systems that don’t look right with your particular home interior design.
Part of the looks includes the size, which at this price range will most likely be compact. But it shouldn’t be too small, or else it will compromise the quality of the audio.
How long will the system last? You may want to look at the warranty period, as well as check out reviews regarding the longevity of the system. Just because they’re budget systems doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to appliances that can last for at least a few years.
This has been around for a long while now. In fact, it’s been so long that the price for this system has dropped low enough to enter “budget” territory. It’s undoubtedly good, as this was once a CNET Editor’s Choice winner. But that was for February—of 2009.
Yet the Energy 5.1 Take Classic has aged quite well, and in fact calling it a classic isn’t too far off. What you get with this system is your basic 5.1—the subwoofer, the center channel speaker, and the 4 satellite speakers.
The 4 satellite speakers measure only 6.8 x 4.1 x 4.1 inches, with a 0.75-inch aluminum dome tweeter and a 3-inch poly-titanium mid-bass driver.
Because these are quite compact and lightweight at less than 3 pounds, the setup isn’t all that complicated even with 6 different components. The only “complication” is that wall-mounting can reduce the bass output. You need at least 2 feet of clearance to the wall for best audio and bass.
Setting up is simple, and if you have prior experience with other similar compact systems you’d be pleasantly surprised. In many other similar systems, you need quite a bit of tinkering and tweaking to optimize the output. But just set the receiver’s bass management to 100Hz and you’re good to go.
The audio is so good that if you just hear the sound and not see the system, you’d swear that the system was bigger. That’s what happens when the subwoofer and the satellite system is properly matched. You get full balance in your audio. The audio quality really makes it the best home theater system for your money.
When you try out various test tracks to check put your system, you’ll find that they perform more than good enough. Drum solos are solid and hard-hitting. Trebles give a nice rich sound.
The dynamic audio performance may encourage you to pump up the volume, yet this tiny system can take it. Put in some frenetic dance music, jam up the volume, and somehow it sounds even better. Put in a rock band, and it’s like you’re there in the concert hall. It really feels like the best budget home theater speakers when you can enjoy your music this way.
What about movies and TV shows? Even with the small center channel speaker, you’ll find the dialogue naturally balanced and easy to understand. In urban scenes, the murmurs of the crowd, the passing of automobiles, and the honking of horns—they’re all there, and yet they don’t overpower the all-important dialogue. This small home theater system can really deliver a great cinematic experience.
Thus, it’s not surprising that even after all these years, the Energy 5.1 Take Classic is still considered by many as the best 5.1 surround sound system you can get for your money. In fact, the passage of time is what made this a true bargain. Now it’s absolutely a steal, and plenty of home theater sound system reviews from customers say as much.
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The “Quintet” in the name” refers to the 2 front speakers, 2 at the rear, and the central channel speaker. The recommended Klipsch SW-350 subwoofer is sold separately. That’s unfortunate, but if you’re looking for an affordable and compact speaker system for your current subwoofer, this can very well fit the bill.
This system has also been around for quite some time now. The first Quintet came out in 1998, but they’ve stayed popular because they’re just that good. The system looks great, and the sound is nice and pleasant. It’s no wonder that it’s most likely the best-selling 5.0 home theater system of all time, since the Quintet has been available for 2 decades now. But here we’re talking about the 4th gen.
The frequency response ranges from 110 Hz to 23 kHz, so getting proper bass will really require a subwoofer. As is, it’s already easy to set up as the 5-way binding posts can accept banana plugs, spade connectors, or heavy gauge wire. The swiveling pedestal base can be your wall bracket. The center channel can also be mounted on your wall, though you’ll have to buy the wall bracket separately.
Once you’re done, the whole system looks good. They’re not overbearingly huge, which can annoy your significant other when you want a proper home theater system in your living room and she’s not a fan of the mancave interior design. The wire management system is also discreet when you’re installing on walls. (If you don’t want to bother with wires, switch to the best wireless headphones.)
But the sound is even better, especially with the subwoofer in place. The horn tweeter offers high frequency performance that rivals even other systems that cost 4 times as much. The sound is crystal clear, and even for long periods of music listening it sounds relaxing instead of grating. For movies, sound effects and dialogue are clear as well.
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Okay, by now you may have noticed that we’re focusing a bit on models that have been available for several years. These models include the Klipsch HDT-600 Home Theater System, which have been earning reviews since 2012 or so.
But even this year’s reviews are gushing about it as their own candidate for best budget surround sound, because its price has dropped and the features are stull excellent.
Unlike the Klipsch 1010440 Quintet, this is a Klipsch home theater 5.1 system that doesn’t require you to buy anything else except for the receiver for it.
You have your center channel speaker, the 4 satellite speakers, and the subwoofer. The whole system looks great, and it’s been designed for easy setup as well.
With its horn-loaded best budget 5.1 speakers, you have more than sufficient sensitivity that compensates for its smaller size. That helps when you also pair this with an entry-level receiver, since power will be crucial. Finding the best AV receivers under 1000 dollars will be great. This system’s 112 dB specified output makes sure that you’re able to play this loud as befits some movies and rock albums.
The center channel speaker and the sat speakers all have the 0.75" aluminum dome tweeter recessed in a MicroTractix horn. There are two 2.5" long throw IMG woofers in the center channel speaker, and 1 in each of the satellite speakers.
Finally, there’s the Klipsch Sub-8 II with its 100 watt amplifier and an 8" fiber-composite cone woofer which extends the range down to 33 Hz. The bass swells nicely in the room, and you can definitely feel it. You enjoy low resonance due to the solid MDF cabinet, while deep bass reproduction is enhanced by the bass-reflex design. This particular unit comes with volume, crossover, and phase controls so that the bass will be just right for your TV room.
Setting up is a cinch as well. You can set the speakers vertically or horizontally. You get 40 degrees of motion for your adjustable wall bracket, and you have ¼-inch 20-threaded inserts if you want them to act as floor standing speakers. The center channel speaker also has a cradle base that gives you 45 degrees range of motion.
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Now we come to the 7.1 systems, and the addition of 2 extra speakers may worry you about the extra expense. But the Onkyo SKS-HT540 7.1 here is still as affordable as the 5.1 systems on this list.
This may be the best affordable home theater system for you if you’re looking for 7 speakers in your system.
In fact, for its price this entire system is actually quite sizable. The subwoofer measures 10.8 by 18.6 by 17.7 inches. The central speaker measures 17 by 6.2 by 7.9 inches. Even the surround speakers aren’t exactly compact, which measurements of 6.9 by 10.4 by 4 inches.
Yet this system provides a sound quality that’s most likely unmatched by any in its price range. The front and center speakers have a pair of 5-inch woofers and a 1-inch dome tweeter. On contrast, other systems settle for a single 3-inch woofer and a 0.75-inch tweeter (if they even have a tweeter).
The surround sound specs resemble what you see in the front speakers of other systems. The woofer measures 3.1 inches while there’s a 0.75 ceramic dome tweeter.
As for the subwoofer, you get a 10-inch woofer and a 230-watt amp. You can put this baby in a corner as the subwoofer’s port is at the front. The lone connection option is the single RCA line-level input so your receiver should have a subwoofer output jack or “pre-output” jacks.
As for the sound of this system, its quality rivals that of home theater systems costing twice as much. Play any sort of musical genre, and it sounds natural. Jazz instruments are represented with a nice balance, while hard rock can be enjoy at much higher volume. This system is big enough for large living rooms that can host parties.
What about movies? You’ll have a grand time, as the blend of the subwoofer and the speakers is especially smooth. It’s somewhat like having tower speakers. The center channel speaker also offers natural sounding dialogue. The low bass is nice enough, though of course it doesn’t match much more expensive subwoofers.
This is basically a rather easy choice to make if you’re looking for a package to match the receiver you already have at home. They may not look all that stylish, but they’re not really bad looking. Just make sure you have the space for them—they’re not really compact speakers at all.
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This can be upgraded to a 7.1 configuration, but for many the 5.1 is more than good enough to qualify for the list of best budget surround sound system options. All you need to get after this is a receiver and you can then get it going with your TV. This package gives you the center channel speaker, 2 front speakers, 2 at the rear, and an impressive 200-watt subwoofer. You also get the various connection cables as well as the brackets for wall mounting.
It’s not too compact, but not overly large either even for a small apartment. The installation is easy enough, and the rather understated design should blend right in with your interior. The wires are long enough to give you a wide range of setup positions and options.
These speakers are compatible with the HTFS 2 floor stands. That’s important to note, because these may not be compatible with even “universal” stands.
The sound you get is quite nice for the price, which is always a good deal. It’s about what you’d expect from a good-quality 3-inch midrange driver for the center speaker and a 0.75-inch tweeter driver. In the satellite speakers, you have 0.5-inch tweeters.
The bass is solid, and yet it’s not overpowering. It goes down to 45 Hz, so bass dominant music may not be as clear and detailed as it ought to be. Sound adjustment includes subwoofer phase and bass boost, as well as volume control.
This Harman Kardon home theater is basically hassle-free. There’s no fuss with the Harman Kardon HKTS 16BQ 5.1 Channel package. The sound remains balanced and clear as you increase the volume, until a point in which you begin to bother your neighbors.
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Now this Onkyo home theater package is the complete home entertainment system, as you also get the receiver too.
This means you have all you need to just connect this all in one sound system to your TV and enjoy the movies like you never had before.
The receiver can decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, which are the formats you generally find on your Blu-ray discs. They’re meant for 5.1 systems instead of stereo systems, so you can hear the sound “behind” you (from the rear speakers) and give you an immersive experience.
Everything with this affordable home theater is made easy for the setup, and the connection guide that comes with your purchase is extremely helpful. Speaker connections and external devise are properly labeled, the connection diagram is readable even when you’re leaning over the receiver, and the speaker cables are color coded. It cones with Bluetooth, and you can connect a USB device to listen to your mp3 collection.
This is best buy surround system for a small apartment living room, and it should offer a pleasant day watching movies. The sound may not quite match a real theater experience, but then at this price range you shouldn’t have unrealistic expectations.