Best home theater systems of 2021 – CNET

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If you’re looking to upgrade the sound on your TV, there are plenty of options available, but first you need to decide if you want to buy a soundbar or a home theater system. For the best performance possible, nothing beats an AV receiver and a multispeaker Dolby Atmos setup, but if you just want something simple and affordable, a soundbar is the answer.

Soundbars are compact and offer a lot of performance in an affordable package. You can even get ones with advanced features like Atmos and Wi-Fi streaming. The one thing that isn’t typically possible is the ability to upgrade them — though some soundbars pair with optional separate subwoofers and rear speakers. If you want to mix and match speakers, then an AV receiver is for you. 

Receivers offer a lot in a fairly chunky box, and unlike soundbars, they have numerous HDMI inputs to accommodate many different sources. The ability to mix and match systems and speakers as you see fit can also be an engaging hobby. If you decide to go the home theater route for your sound system, you don’t necessarily need a surround-sound system, not initially at least. I ran a Marantz receiver and a pair of Bowers and Wilkins stand-mount speakers stereo-only home theatre system for about five years and didn’t feel I was missing out.

Whichever route you choose — soundbars or AV systems — plenty of options are available including theater speakers, or various combinations of surround sound speakers. There should be something here for you. These are the best home theater systems available right now. We’ll update this list periodically as new options hit the market.

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If there’s one thing we’re spoiled for choice for it’s affordable stereo speakers, and for $469 the bookshelf speaker 3030is offer excellent playback of both movies and music. While the $350 Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2s are a lot cheaper and more transparent, the Q Acoustics are more even-handed and have better bass response. This makes the 3030i more suited to a home theater situation, especially if you’re not using a subwoofer.

Read our Q Acoustics 3030i review.

Sound United

I’ll come out and say it, 8K-compatible receivers are a mess right now. Aside from the fact that there’s basically no 8K video available now, they’re affected by a bug that prevents some 4K video sources from being played. Yet, there are fixes coming, and there are workarounds, but if you want an 8K receiver right now, the Denon AVR-S960H is your best choice.

Read our Denon AVR-S960H review.

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