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Surround-sound speaker systems are the most robust home audio option

Audio is just important as video when it comes to an enjoyable home theater experience, and you'll need more than your TV's built-in speakers to turn your living room into an immersive, theater-quality listening environment. While sound bars are inexpensive solutions for escaping the typically unsatisfying sound quality of built-in TV sound, audiophiles will agree that the only way to get the most complete audio experience is with a surround-sound speaker system.

The most common surround-sound packages feature a 5.1-channel configuration; these typically consist of two front-channel satellite speakers, two rear surround-channel satellite speakers, a center-channel speaker to produce straight-ahead dialogue and effects, and a subwoofer to handle bass and low-frequency special effects.

Less common are 7.1-channel systems that add two additional satellite speakers for either front height channels or rear-center surrounds. If your home theater receiver supports those additional channels and you want to take advantage of them, you can generally buy extra satellite speakers. The biggest downside to 7.1-channel systems, however, is that the additional speakers take up more room.

Home theater speakers need to be used with a home theater receiver, which entails an additional buying decision. You can save some time and often some money by considering a home theater system in a box (HTIB) instead. These systems consist of all the speakers needed to enjoy surround sound, along with the needed electronics -- either a home theater receiver or a head unit that includes a Blu-ray player (some very low-end options still have DVD players instead) and an amplifier. The downside is that an HTIB often won't perform as well as a home theater that's made up of a home theater speaker system and a component grade home theater receiver that you select yourself.

Since different home theater speakers are suited for different listening environments and uses, determining your needs is important. Consider room size -- and room aesthetics. For those who want their speakers heard but not seen, there is a wide variety of compact-sized speaker systems that do a better job of disappearing in a room.

But such speakers are at their best in spaces of no more than moderate size, and they might not have the chops to deliver picture-rattling sound levels while maintaining good audio fidelity in larger rooms.

Audiophile-grade speakers that are overkill for the typical home theater set up continue to cost more than a well-equipped car. However, in reading reviews and examining the current market, we found a number of great options priced at $1,500 and less -- including some that cost less than $200. But out of all these home theater speaker systems, which one is best? In addition, which cheap home theater speakers are great buys, and which are junk?

To answer those questions and help narrow your choices, ConsumerSearch analyses the best home theater speaker systems costing less than $1,500. We rank home theater speakers based on reviews done by experts with years of experience evaluating home audio -- and by users, many of whom have spent weeks evaluating a specific system.

Our analysis breaks down systems by specific criteria: performance, design, build quality and value to find the best home theater speakers overall, as well as those that deliver the best bang for the buck. Big systems that can't be missed when you walk into a room are considered, as are those that are small enough or good looking enough to be welcome in even the most stylish settings.

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