Hi-def home cinema without surround sound is like Debbie McGee without Paul Daniels - nice to look at perhaps, but there's no magic. The only way to get the full home cinema experience is with an AV amp and speakers blasting 5.1 surround sound into your living room, but choosing the right system can be a real head-scratcher, particularly if you're piecing it together separately.
Our advice? Get yourself an all-in-one package. That way you're almost guaranteed to get a set of speakers that complement each other tonally, plus packages often work out cheaper than buying them separately. And as the four sub-£1,000 systems on test here demonstrate, you don't have to sell a kidney to get superb sound quality...
Price: £700 More info: KEF HTS2001.3 sats: 80Hz-27KHz frequency response; 88dB sensitivity; 4in Uni-Q driver array with 0.75in aluminium tweeter; 104dB maximum output; 100W power handling; 130(w) x 228(h) x 150(d)mm dimensions; 2kg weight HTC2001.3 centre: Same as sats except: 190(w) x 162(h) x 150(d)mm dimensions Kube 1 sub: 38Hz-150Hz frequency response; 200W Class-D amplifier; 111dB maximum output; 8in long-throw bass driver; 8in Active Bass Reflex
KEF KHT2005.3 K1
This incarnation of KEF's wonderful KHT2005.3 system is supplied with the Kube-1 subwoofer, which replaces the better-specced Kube-2 that came with the original system - although oddly the two systems are the same price so it's all about which sub you think is more suitable.
It may be the most expensive system in the group, but it's also the most attractive. The HTS2001.3 fronts/rears and the HTC2001.3 centre boast distinctive egg-shaped cabinets, while their deep gloss black or matt silver finish and multi-directional base (which tilts to any angle) make them desirable and practical in equal measure. Tech-wise they're equipped with KEF's 100mm Uni-Q driver array and 19mm metal dome tweeters.
The sub is tastefully decked out with a gorgeous gloss black top panel, and like all of the other subs it comes with a wide array of switches and dials to control various facets of its performance, such as phase and crossover.
With movies the KEF system really dazzles, and amazingly delivers an even more crisp, expansive and nuanced sound than the Monitor Audios. The sats handle loud volumes without any distortion and high frequencies are clear without sounding harsh. They also eke out the subtlest fragments of detail during quieter passages, which creates an immersive atmosphere that the others can't quite match.
Also contributing to this awesome performance is the sub, which is agile and powerful yet sympathetic to the satellites, while the impressive centre channel makes voices sound crystal clear and life-like. It all amounts to a thrilling listen that makes the KEF hard to beat.
Outstanding sound quality; looks and build quality Minus points
Most expensive system in this group
Price: £500 More info: Klipsch Sats: 150Hz-20kHz frequency response; 0.75in aluminium dome tweeters; 100W maximum power handling; 2.5in IMG mid-bass drivers; ABS plastic sealed enclosure; 3.6(w) x 6(h) x 3.85(d)in Sub: 100 W amplifier; 36Hz-200Hz frequency response; 8in fibre-composite cone; phase switch (0 or 180ŗ); vinyl-wrapped MDF enclosure; bass reflex via rear-firing port; variable crossover control (60Hz-200Hz); 12.5(w) x 13.9(h) x 12.5(d)in
Klipsch HD Theater 500
If you're of the mindset that speakers should be heard and not seen, then this discreet, compact system from Klipsch could be right up your street. The fronts and rears stand just 6in tall, while the centre measures 9in wide, which means they can be perched on your AV stand or shelves with minimal disruption. Each one is finished in high-gloss piano black giving them an elegance that you rarely find with one-box systems and their construction is pretty solid, except for the fiddly spring clip terminals on the back, which lack the sturdiness of binding posts - not what you expect for £500.
On the plus side, Klipsch's horn-loaded driver technology inside the sats means you don't need a lot of power to drive them. The active subwoofer meanwhile features a fetching pica vinyl finish, curved corners and a suitably compact size, and on the inside is an 8in fibre composite cone and 100W amplifier. Klipsch offers a cheaper version of this system (HD Theater 300) which features the same sats but the sub has a 6.5in driver.
Play a Blu-ray movie and the system copes well with busy action scenes, relaying loud effects with plenty of snap and teasing out a fair amount of background ambience. Dialogue is clear and the sub's feisty bass integrates seamlessly with the satellites without sounding flabby, although the other three subs supply a bit more depth and punch.
Turn up the volume too high though and the sats show signs of strain, making high frequencies sound harsh (much more so than the Roths, for instance) but most of the time you really won't have much cause for complaint.
Compact speakers; looks; great value Minus points
Some distortion at high volumes; spring clip terminals