Onkyo HT-S9300THX

Home theaters in a box are the easiest way to get surround sound in your home. Everything you need (presumably) in one box. There are a lot of options when you’re looking to buy, so we’ve made this short list to help you navigate the HTIB waters.

Click though for a primer on HTIBs, plus shopping and setup tips.


As you start to check out what HTIB might be right for you, there’s a few things to keep in mind. If you already have a Blu-ray player, there’s no advantage having one built into the system. In fact, there’s disadvantages to that route. If something goes wrong with the player, you either have to send the whole thing back (and you’re out all your audio too), or you’ll have to buy a new BD player separately. Often, HTIBs that have the BD player built-in won’t have the inputs to accept too many (if any) external sources.

And that brings us to our next big question. How many inputs does the HTIB have. If you have a cable/satellite box, a Blu-Ray Player, an Apple TV and a PS3 or Xbox, all of these sources should be plugged into the HTIB. Lower-end HTIBs won’t have HDMI switching, and probably not enough inputs to accept all your sources. So then you’re put in the position of either living without the surround sound you paid for on certain sources, or constantly having to swap cables to play a game or watch Apple TV.  Not ideal, certainly. We’d recommend only getting an HTIB that has HDMI switching to avoid this problem.

Also, without HDMI, you’re not going to get to listen to the latest audio formats on Blu-ray like Dolby True HD and DTS HD.

Tower speakers vs Satellites

The next big question is regarding speakers. Some HTIBs come with thin tower speakers, others small satellites. While the small satellites do seem convenient, ask yourself where you’re going to put them. You can’t put them along the top of the TV anymore, and the on the floor will just look messy. If you have an entertainment center this may seem the best place, but putting speakers inside a cabinet/bookcase can alter their sound significantly. They can end up being boomy or shouty (both sound just as you think they would), which isn’t great. Satellites can be put on speaker stands, but these are almost always sold separately.

The most idea setup is with the center channel as close to the center of the TV as possible. The left and right speakers are on either side (or a little farther). The surround speakers can go beside you, and behind you. That brings us to…

Wired Wireless

All speakers, no matter how labeled, are wired. The wireless surround speakers you see advertised are literally just wire-less. As in less wires. You’ll still need to plug them into an AC outlet, or to a amp/receiver that’s in the back of the room (which itself is plugged into power). This is less messy than the traditional method of running speaker wire to the back of the room, but it’s not perfect. Surround speakers need to go behind you. If you don’t want to run the speaker wires or you don’t have space behind you for speakers, don’t bother getting a surround sound system. A good 2-channel system will work much better for you.

Wireless subs are also just wire-less. No long subwoofer cable, but the sub will have to be plugged into the wall.


Speaking of subs, subwoofers are the most fun part of a system. This is where all the low frequency sounds come from, like low bass notes and explosions. With most systems, you can place this box anywhere in the room. Bass sounds are omnidirectional, so you shouldn’t be able to localize where the sound is coming from. On some cheaper systems, the designers have tasked the sub with producing more than just low bass. In this case you’ll need to keep the sub near the main speakers.

Otherwise, the best location for most people is in the corner. A corner will augment the subwoofer’s output, so it will play louder than if it was stationed near your TV.

Buying Tips

You don’t have to buy an HTIB that’s the same brand as your TV. If you do, you can probably use the same remote, and in some cases turn on the entire system with one button. But it may not be the best sounding system for the money you’re looking to spend.

Also keep in mind that if you buy a system that has the receiver and speakers together, you may not be able to upgrade one or the other down the road. Many HTIB receivers are designed to only worth with the speakers they come with (and vice versa). So if you wanted to get better speakers down the road, or a receiver with more features/power, you’ll have to upgrade the whole system.

You’re almost always better off buying a name brand than an unknown. Brands like Denon, Onkyo, Sony
and Panasonic are all going to have at least a certain level of performance. They may not sound the best, but they won’t be the worst either. Onkyo, specifically, has made a lot of money over the years selling excellent HTIBs. Some of their models are even THX Certified. Another option is getting a 5.1 speaker system, and buying the receiver separately. While not as simple and convenient, you do have a lot more choices and generally you’ll get better performance.

I’m sure you’re going to hate to read this, but the more you spend, the better the system. Maybe not $400 vs $450, but almost always a $500 system will outperform a $200 system. One exception is Bose. You are paying for the name with Bose products, and can often find speakers/systems that outperform them for a lower price.

There is a limit to this though. As you go up in price, the more likely it is you can get a better system buying each piece separately. If your desire is surround sound and that’s it, fine. But if you’re striving for better audio in general, a basic receiver with a pair of decent bookshelf speakers will sound WAY better than an HTIB of the same price. True, you won’t get surround sound or the boom of a cheap sub. You will get upgradability, letting you add a big sub down the road, or a great sounding center channel. Buying in this fashion lets you upgrade as you go, always getting exactly what you want instead of what a company packages together.

No matter what you go with, though, anything is better than the speakers in your TV, all of which are terrible.

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