In an interview last year, Oscar-winning Hollywood director Danny Boyle declared that sound accounts for “80%” of the total moviegoing experience. “You don’t realize it because you can’t see it,” he observed. If he’s correct, then your at-home TV viewing has never been worse. As flat screens keep getting flatter, their factory-issue speaker systems keep getting smaller. “A 65-inch TV? Man, these days, it has four speakers barely the size of a quarter,” says Bob Cole, CEO of audiovisual retailer World Wide Stereo.
If you go shopping for a powerful home entertainment system right now, audiovisual experts will advise you to cobble together a total budget in the neighborhood of $2,000 to $3,000—but to allocate only about 30% of it for the actual TV. The rest should be used for speakers, cables, monitors, and other components. Unlike your television, you’ll likely keep your sound system for years, if not decades. So, if you’re gearing up for football Sundays and Mondays (and Thursdays!)—or just want some extra oomph for a Netflix binge—here’s a guide to your ultimate home theater, starting with the speakers.
For surround sound in the typical living room, opt for a 5.1 speaker setup. The “5.1” is stereo-jockey speak for five speakers and one subwoofer for bass. Though some obsessive audiophiles will rave about sprawling setups with speakers on every available flat surface, dropping crazy numbers like “7.1” or “9.2,” remember: For viewing a winning touchdown or an exploding building, 5.1 will still rattle every window within a one-block radius.
Stick to traditional cabled speakers and avoid wireless or Bluetooth speakers, as they cut quality as much as clutter. Likewise, you might be tempted to invest in speakers that can be embedded flush in drywall. Unfortunately, there’s a technical trade-off: Boxed units that sit on sturdier surfaces like a bookshelf or the floor rely on the maker’s own sound-dampening specs from their casings, rather than the variables of your wall space. So, for quality, be sure to put them where they’re designed to go.
The U.K.-based company Monitor makes compact, affordable models like the Radius (from around $320) or the terrific GX50 series, which also offers wood-veneer finishes. Connect any five of them with a subwoofer from Sunfire, such as the HRS-8, a 10-inch cube boasting an internal 1,000-watt amplifier. You can buy all of these online, as they’re tougher than flat screens, so hit up newegg.com or amazon
.com, which have good return policies and low prices.