How to Buy an Amazing Sound System

How experts assemble a top-of-the-line home theater.

Great sound systems don't come in one box. Sure, you'll have to read a few manuals when it comes time to connect some wires, but you should buy each component from a different manufacturer, says home-theater expert Chris Boylan, editor and cofounder of Big Picture Big Sound. That's because no single company performs strongly across the board. At the very least, your home-theater setup will require a receiver, a DVD or Blu-ray player, and speakers. Spend the most money on the latter; surround sound is a must for watching movies. "It can really draw you into a film by creating a soundscape that surrounds you from all sides," says Boylan. The pièce de résistance is a 7.1-channel surround (that's seven speakers plus a subwoofer), which will include a dedicated center-channel speaker for clear-sounding dialogue, but a 5.1 system will work fine if you're tight on space or budget.

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Test the components in a shop, but purchase online using a comparison-shopping engine, such as this one, to see which retailers offer the best prices.

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