Best home theater systems of 2021

If you're looking to upgrade the sound on your TV, there are plenty of options available, but first you need to decide if you want a soundbar or a home theater system. For the best performance possible, nothing beats an AV receiver and a multispeaker Dolby Atmos setup, but if you just want something simple and affordable, a soundbar is the answer.

Soundbars are compact and offer a lot of performance in an affordable package. You can even get ones with advanced features like Atmos and Wi-Fi streaming.

The one thing that isn't typically possible is the ability to upgrade them -- though some soundbars pair with optional, separate subwoofers and rear speakers. If you want to mix and match speakers, then an AV receiver is for you. 

Get the CNET TVs, Streaming and Audio newsletter

Become a home entertainment expert with our handpicked tips, reviews and deals. Delivered Wednesdays.

Receivers offer a lot in a fairly chunky box and, unlike soundbars, they have numerous HDMI inputs to accommodate many different sources. The ability to mix and match systems and speakers as you see fit can also be an engaging hobby. If you decide to go the home theater route for your sound system, you don't necessarily need a surround-sound system, not initially at least.

I ran a Marantz AV receiver in stereo with a pair of Bowers and Wilkins stand-mount speakers for about five years and didn't feel I was missing out. Whichever route you choose -- soundbars or AV systems -- there should be something here for you. These are the best home theater systems available right now.

We'll update this list periodically as we review new products.