Adam holds a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Linguistics, and creative writing has always been his greatest passion. For more than 25 years he's been working for several well-known automobile and travel magazines as an editor and expert consultant, but when Adam started his writing path here, at WisePick, it turned out that he's capable of writing practically anything about everything.
Initially being an engineering specialist, Tom has never stopped learning and acquiring other knowledge and skills. Now he’s involved in technical support for a well-known household appliances manufacturer, so no wonder he knows everything about almost everything you buy for your home.
Last updated: May 26, 2021
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Have you ever watched a movie at home, only to find that it lacks the same viewing experience that you would get at a movie theater? One of the biggest differences is the lack of high-quality, surround sound audio coming from your television at home. Thankfully, it is easy to install a home theater system to bring the same impressive viewing experience to your living room, whether you’re watching television, sitting down for a feature-length movie, or playing video games. Best of all, a home theater system doesn’t have to break the bank – in this article, we’ll help you find the best home theater system under $500.
And, if you would like to, not only the home theater system: we can help you fit up the whole entertainment zone starting from ping pong table and ending with treadmill, which would fit perfectly next to your home theater system.
In sorting through the many home theater systems currently on the market, we considered a number of features that allowed a few systems to stand apart from the pack. The most important feature we looked at was how many channels each home theater system boasts – which determines how many speakers you can connect to the system. We also looked closely at sound quality and the amount of power that theater systems are designed to handle. Lastly, we considered whether these systems were easy to install and whether they come with a warranty to offer peace of mind when making a purchase.
We spent tens of hours reading customer reviews and poring over technical specifications for many of the most popular home theater systems under $500, and the result is a list of the four best systems. Our picks are summarized in the table below. Continue reading for detailed reviews of each home theater system complete with pros and cons. Our buying guide and FAQ sections cover everything you need to know about choosing the home theater system that is right for you. Finally, we sum up our top three home theater systems under $500 and why we loved them.
This home theater system from Energy is priced well under $500, making it a great value and one of the best starter audio systems to add to your living room for the theater experience. The speaker system is a 5.1 system and channels 200 watts through the five surround speakers, as well as an additional 200 watts through the subwoofer. Note that the speaker system does not come with a receiver set, so you will need to purchase this separately to use the speakers with your television or other devices.
Users were pleasantly surprised with the sound quality of these inexpensive speakers, noting that they offered relatively tight bass control worked well for both music and movies. However, the aluminum dome inside the speakers does require a break-in period of about 50 hours, so expect an overly bright sound that will gradually warm up and become richer as you use the speakers.
The speakers are beautifully finished, although the exterior is pressboard rather than real wood so beware of scratches. Users also liked that both the satellite and center speakers can be placed on shelving or mounted on the wall with an after-market kit. In case of any issues, Energy offers 60 days of free technical support.
This small and inexpensive home theater system from Logitech is surprisingly powerful, with the ability to deliver a continuous 500-watt output through the five speakers and a peak output of up to 1,000 watts. In addition, the subwoofer provides room-shaking bass when you need it with the ability to peak up to 300 watts. Users praised the low distortion of these THX-certified speakers and the subwoofer at high volumes, noting that the sound quality did not drop off even at volumes that were too loud for comfort. However, on the quiet end of the spectrum, the bass from the subwoofer can sound relatively flat.
All of the satellite speakers are capable of being wall-mounted with an after-market kit or can be placed on shelves, although it is worth noting that the receiver unit is not designed to be mounted. The overall footprint of the system is quite small, which makes it suitable for both large and small rooms. Also, the receiver and center speaker are stackable to save space. The speakers themselves are cabled rather than wireless, and some users noted that the wiring feels somewhat flimsy. For this reason, the lack of a warranty is a significant concern with this speaker set.
Taking the third spot on this list is the Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2.4 Channel 800W Dolby Atmos Soundbar. Given its unique style regarding surround sound, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. The comes with two subwoofers, two satellite speakers, and only one soundbar, completing a quite unorthodox setup. Rather than having many satellite speakers, the soundbar included simulates the function of the front left, center, and right channels, alongside wide soundstage speakers for right and left ambient effects.
Additionally, the system comes with two rear two-way speakers and two wireless subwoofers as well, with the rear speakers being directly wired to the subwoofers. In terms of installation, it is very simple, to say the least. The system also comes with remote control, which facilitates ease of use. Unfortunately, we wish the range of the remote was a bit longer. To make your connections, there is an optical input, three HDMI inputs, and a coaxial input.
The coaxial input allows you to connect many gaming consoles and Blu-ray players as it offers many connectivity options. There is also a delay that kicks in when switching inputs, which we don’t like and hope something is done about.
This speaker set from Yamaha offers great sound quality for the price for those on a budget, but know going in that installation is a significant amount of work and you will need to add components to complete your home theater system. The speakers do not come with wires, so you will need to purchase speaker wires separately and connect the speakers to a central receiver – which also must be purchased separately. If you don’t have one, check out our selection of the best A/V receivers under $500. In addition, while the speakers can stand alone on shelving, you will also likely need to purchase mounting kits for the satellite speakers.
That said, the 100-watt power output through these speakers allows a surprising amount of volume with relatively low distortion, and the 100-watt subwoofer delivers solid bass for the price point. However, users note that the bass can get somewhat muddied at high volumes. Users particularly raved about the center speaker, which is larger than most comparable speakers for the price and provides enough volume for vocals to be heard over background audio coming from the satellite speakers.
Another benefit to this sound system is that Yamaha covers it with a one-year warranty, which adds peace of mind when making an investment.
What do we love it for?
Large center speaker provides excellent vocals
What were we disappointed with?
Requires numerous add-on purchases, including speaker wires
Bass can be muddy at higher volumes
Things to Consider
Now that you’ve learned more about our five favorite home theater systems available for under $500, how do you choose among them to find the home theater system that is right for you? Especially in this price range, many home theater consumers are first-time buyers, which can make understanding the technical specifications listed for each of these systems difficult to understand. Our Buying Guide will cover everything you need to know in order to make an informed decision when settling on a home theater system. In addition, we’ll cover some of the most frequently asked questions that come up when new users are looking for a home theater system.
Why get a home theater system with a surround sound?
If you’ve ever watched movies or played video games in your living room and felt somewhat underwhelmed compared to the viewing experience you get in a theater, a home theater system can be a good investment. Compared to the theater, your home television may have great picture quality but only a mediocre audio system – after all, most television screens are not designed to provide optimal audio on their own. A home theater system allows you to connect your television and other devices to a set of speakers, which can then be placed all around the room to create a surround sound experience. The difference is immediately noticeable, both in terms of the range of audio frequencies that you can hear thanks to the addition of a high-quality speaker system and in terms of the enveloping experience provided by having audio signals coming from all around the room. In addition, adding a home theater can allow you to raise the audio volume of your movies or games to a significantly greater level than would ever be possible with a television speaker alone.
Features to consider before buying a home theater system
One of the most important things to decide when you start looking at home theater systems is how many audio channels you want that system to have – which directly corresponds to how many speakers you can connect to it. Typically, home theater systems are rated as either 5.1 – meaning they can connect five speakers and one subwoofer – or 7.1 – meaning they can connect seven speakers and one subwoofer.
In a 5.1 theater system, the speakers are typically divvied up such that two speakers sit to the left and right of the television screen, one speaker sits directly below the television to carry the sounds of people speaking, and two surround speakers that are situated to the left and right of your seating. A 7.1 system uses the same configuration, but adds two additional speakers to the left and right behind your seating in order to provide a richer surround sound experience. In both setups, the subwoofer typically sits centrally below the television in order to produce sound for low frequencies.
Because of the added two speakers in a 7.1 theater system, this type of setup is ideal if you have a large room or multiple places where people can sit. However, 7.1 theater systems are typically more expensive or else suffer lower sound quality compared to 5.1 systems at the same price.
The next important thing to consider when choosing a home theater system is the sound quality of the system. Sound quality is difficult to quantify and depends on the combination of speakers, subwoofer, and power output of the entire theater system. Speakers and subwoofers can be compared in terms of the power output that they provide, and many home theaters are rated according to the total amount of power that they distribute among the included speakers. Wattage relates to volume, although note that the difference between the 200-watt Energy theater system and the 500-watt Logitech system does not translate to a 2.5-times difference in volume – a 2-times volume differential requires 10-times as many watts. However, this is still a noticeable difference in volume to your ears, which can be especially important when looking at wattage differences in subwoofers, since this is the main source of your bass audio.
Importantly, wattage alone is also not the best indicator of sound quality. Instead, sound quality depends mostly on the signal-to-noise ratio of the speaker system. The best way to find out whether the system you are interested in provides good sound quality is to check customer reviews and, if possible, to listen to the system before purchasing. Although not included with most home theater systems, an external amplifier can also make a big difference in improving the audio signal and thus improving sound quality.
Even under $500, a home theater system is a significant investment – so you want to be sure that it will serve you for years to come. Unfortunately, warranties on theater systems are relatively short or nonexistent, and some manufacturers – like Energy – offer limited free technical support rather than a true warranty. While no warranty stands out on home theater systems under $500, note that having any warranty period at all is typically better for peace of mind than having no warranty.
Home theater systems also vary quite a bit in how easy or difficult they are to install into your home. Although this depends in part on the devices you are trying to connect to your home theater system, be sure to check what types of connection ports the audio receiver offers and whether they are compatible with the outputs on your television, gaming consoles, and other devices. Also, ensure that the cables on the receiver and various speakers are long enough to reach electrical outlets as needed given the configuration of your living room. Note that some theater systems – like the Yamaha system or the Nakamichi system – come with wall-mounted speakers, while some come with tower speakers that are meant to be set on the floor, and others come with a combination of the two.
One of the most important extra features that some home theater systems offer is the ability to connect devices via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This can make it significantly faster and easier to connect new devices to the home theater system and reduces the need for a jumble of cables.
Unfortunately, most wall-mountable speaker systems do not come with the materials needed to mount them. Instead, you will need to find after-market mounting kits, which vary in price depending on the style you need. However, the mounting kits typically come with everything required to complete the installation except for basic household tools. If you are looking for a set of speakers that is extremely easy to install, consider instead opting for tower speakers that are designed to sit stably on the floor or for speakers that can sit on a table or shelf.
Home theater systems are typically rated in watts according to the power distributed across the speakers, while the subwoofer power is rated separately. Wattage correlates to maximum volume, although more power does not necessarily translate to better sound quality. Of the four home theater systems we reviewed, the system from Logitech offers the most power in the speaker system and subwoofer.
Compatibility between your television and other devices and your home theater system largely depends on whether they have matching output and input ports. Even when they do not, it is often possible to make them work together by purchasing wire adapters after-market. In addition, some home theater receivers are Bluetooth or Wi-Fi compatible, making it easy to connect to smart devices wirelessly. Most home theater systems do not come with the wires you will need to connect your devices, so it is a good idea to research what types of wires you will need ahead of time and purchase them at the same time as the theater system.
Our overall favorite home theater systems for under $500 were the Energy 5.1 Take Classic Home Theater System, the Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System, and the Nakamichi Shockwafe Elite 7.2.4 Channel 800W Dolby Atmos Soundbar. Of these, note that only the Logitech system comes with a receiver and all three systems will likely require speaker mounting kits, so plan on making additional investments beyond the cost of the speaker systems. That said, all three systems provide incredible sound quality for the price. While the Nakamichi system provided the best sound quality overall and the most surround sound experience thanks to the 7.2 system, the Logitech system offered the most speaker power. However, we felt the Energy system was the best home theater system under $500 because of its balance between high-quality speakers, price, and the addition of 60 days of free technical support to set you off on the right foot with your new home theater.