Top 5 in Home Audio

Onkyo TX-SR605

Best AV receiver for under $500
AV receivers are the nexus of any good home theater system. While they once all about audio, in the HD era, their video capabilities are more important than ever. And the Onkyo TX-SR605 represents the best value currently available. For under $500, the unit delivers a panoply of bleeding-edge future-proof features–including HDMI 1.3, analog to digital video conversion, and decoding of lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks–that receivers which cost twice as much often have trouble matching.

Sonos BU130

Best digital audio system
The $1,000 price tag sounds steep at first, but the Sonos BU130 Digital Music System actually offers more flexibility and ease of use than many multi-room audio systems that cost thousands more. Using an iPod-like wireless remote, Sonos provides users with quick and easy access to their entire digital music collection in any room of the house, and offers access to a wide variety of streaming online audio services as well, including Rhapsody, Pandora, and Sirius–as well as the bulk of free Internet radio stations as well. Don’t need a multi-room solution? Check out more affordable streaming audio units from
Roku SoundBridge M1000 and Logitech Squeezebox 3 Wireless.

 

Aperion Intimus 532 Concert

Best mid-size speakers for the money
If you’re serious about surround sound, you need to invest in a speaker system with some real gravitas–but most people just don’t want the living room overrun with giant tower speakers. That’s why the Aperion Intimus 532 Concert package is such a great option–the bookshelf speakers deliver a punch that you won’t find from puny “lifestyle” systems, but they’re not overwhelmingly large. And you can choose an 8-inch, 10-inch, or 12-inch subwoofer, depending on your bass (and size) requirements. But if they’re still too big, there are some worthwhile alternatives: the
KEF KHT-3005, KEF KHT5005.2, Mirage Nanosat Home Theater System, and NHT Verve IV all offer great sound from even smaller speakers, and they’re all available for under $2,000

 

Yamaha Digital Sound Projector YSP-4000

Best single-speaker surround unit
Surround sound is a hot commodity, but many just can’t handle the aesthetic compromises that come from a full 5.1-channel speaker system in the living room–and the speaker cables that go along with it. Virtual surround systems propose an alternative–using reflective sonics and psychoacoustics to reproduce a surround-like effect from just one, two, or three speakers in the front of the room. The one that comes closest to actually delivering on the promise of single-speaker surround is the Yamaha YSP-4000 Digital Sound Projector. And because it offers an impressive jack pack and video features–including HDMI inputs and analog-to-digital video conversion–many users won’t even need an AV receiver. Just be sure to get a companion subwoofer if you want some weightier bass.

 

Panasonic SC-PT750

Best home-theater-in-a-box system for under $350
Home audio is one of the best investments you can make–the lifespan of quality speakers can be measured in decades–but we understand that not everybody can spare $3,000 (or more) for their audio gear. Home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs) are the perfect alternative for anyone on a budget, and Panasonic’s SC-PT750 is one of the most full-featured ones you can buy for the 2007-2008 season. In addition to the 5-disc DVD changer with HDMI upscaling and bundled iPod dock, the 5.1 speaker system includes a wireless rear transmitter, so there’s no need to run speaker wires to the two rear speakers. And unlike a lot of cheap-and-easy HTIBs, the SC-PT750 actually sounds pretty good–especially when you consider that it’s widely available for under $350.

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