A big home theatre picture is fine by most folks, but you need the surround sound to match. Here's where these dedicated, 5.1-channel systems come into their own, delivering audio substance to match the big screen visuals.
Surround sound speaker packages generally come in two sizes: big or small. How large or compact they are is where they vary. There's a good physical cross section in this bunch, from the ultra compactness of the Cambridge Audio Minx to the impressive size and scale of the Whatmough AV7 system. The other three speaker systems here fall, size-wise, somewhere in between these two.
However, small doesn't necessarily mean minuscule surround sound, as the Cambridge Audio Minx and the Aaron MiniMax systems both attest. These are very capable subwoofer/satellite systems that will fill large spaces with immersive surround sound, and not take up much living space. Both systems come with excellent subwoofers to help fill out the room, but our pick of the bass bunch here would be the Aaron's SW-200 and Whatmough Tornado2 for their respective ability to go down low and stay in control.
One of the other beauties of going down the sub/sat route are the various mounting options that are usually available. Flexibility in placement can be a godsend, especially if you're after a speaker system that's going to be heard, but not obviously seen. Being able to hide cables also helps keep the aesthetics looking their best. JBL's Cinema 500 system scores well here, with a plethora of mounting options and neat installation features. Its funky looks might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it dishes up a healthy surround sound experience.
Size ultimately does make a difference, though, so if you're not trying to hide all of those loudspeakers, then floorstanders up front generally mean bigger sound staging, better stereo depth and broader sound fields. Yamaha's slim but tall NS-F210 system delivers a lightning-fast and bubbly sound, thanks largely to the use of metal cone drivers, but is sadly let down by a lacklustre passive subwoofer. The largest and most expensive system of this lot is also the best, in our opinion. The Whatmough AV7 may look a bit plain and only comes in black, but it's by far the most dynamic and convincing sounding of this bunch. Physically, it's big, especially the whopping centre channel speaker, but if you want to recreate those gut-wrenching and loud movie moments in the living room, then this is the sort of speaker hardware that'll do it.
Big or small, 5.1 surround sound is the very least that big picture home theatre requires. Do your A/V system a favour, and make sure the sound measures up to the image.