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The $25k Home Theater System

by , April 04, 2008
$25k System

$25k System

Having made various compromises on some other systems in an effort to find balance for the budgets, we wanted to provide options for a sensible, yet no-compromise, system for around $25,000. Enter the $25k Home Theater System. Borrowing many components from our own Reference Systems, this package delivers the goods in a way that will be immensely satisfying for both 2-channel and multi-channel enthusiasts.

Regarding the criteria for this room, we wanted to ensure that it possessed excellent video quality and unparallelled audio quality within its budget class. To do that we combined some of the best values in the market in order to arrive at what we feel is the home theater system that starts to sit at what we like to call the entry position of the point of diminishing returns. You can spend (and get) more, but your bang for the buck factor drops considerably (in our opinion) beyond this point.

System Goals

  • This system offers exceptional value for an increasing budget. There will be a 7.1 in this system, and all of the components - particularly the speaker system and display - will begin to truly blossom towards the higher-end components you won't see in many of your friends' homes.
  • We'll utilize HD players whenever possible so that you can experience the best high definition source material on your system.
  • This system yields ultimate flexibility and provides all the latest formats: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital-EX, DTS, DTS-ES, Prologic IIx and may have the ability to decode DVD-A or SACD and display high-quality component video.
  • This system is assembled with reliable components all offering good warranty policies.
  • This system is ultra high performance and leans more towards the audio side of the equation.  If placed in an acoustically controlled room, it will be the rival of your friends regardless of what they spent on their gear. 

The Projector: Epson Home Cinema 1080UB Projector Review | review

Price: $2999
EpsonEpson makes the LCD display engines (chips) that go into most other 3LCD projectors. As such they really know what they are doing. For years, this expertise caused them to price their systems out of reach for most home theater enthusiasts. Last year all that changed and companies who were secure in their market dominance started fearing for their marketshare.

The Epson Home Cinema 1080UB projector is a projector that should strike fear into all manufacturers of LCD technology. This robust and high-performance model really nails all the important metrics of what a good home theater projector should be - and it has the features to match. 1920x1080 pixels, horizontal and vertical lens shift, solid user calibrations options - you name it, the HC 1080UB is the target to beat this year for the mid-fi 1080p projector market.

Alternates: Panasonic PT-AX200U LCD ($1999) review; Epson Home Cinema 1080 ($2499) review

Carada Criterion Series w/Brilliant White Screen

screenPrice: $744 (100" HDTV screen) info

When choosing a screen for your new cinema, it is important to keep a few things in mind.

  • The size of the screen you can accommodate for your viewing position.

  • The amount of throw distance the projector needs to fill the screen (the distance the projector needs to be mounted from the screen).

To get behind the projector (preferable) you'll want to be about 2x the screen width back. This means if you choose an HDTV projector screen that is 100" diagonal your viewing position should be about 14.5' back - which is about the maximum tele (zoom out) throw distance.

The projector needs a throw distance of between 9.86 and 14.8 feet to fill a 100" screen. Use the 1.5x the screen width minimum when selecting your screen. I would not exceed 106" diagonal for the screen. Another thing you will need to select is the screen material. If you have good light control, you may want to consider the Brilliant White screen which delivers excellent color reproduction and brightness uniformity. It will also give you large viewing angles up to 45%. If you don't have a lot of light control, then I would recommend the use of the High Contrast Grey (though we really do not recommend using this projector ina room that cannot control ambient light).

Alternates: Stewart Luxus Deluxe StudioTek 130 ($1683) info; Da-Lite Cinema Contour High Contrast Cinema Vision ($1100)

The Receiver: Denon AVR-3808CI | Review

DenonAVR-4806lgRetail Price: $1,599 | info

In a system that is attempting to provide top-notch performance, but still pay a little attention to the pocketbook, we decided to incorporate Denon's second from the top flagship receiver. The Denon AVR-3808 receiver provides quite a large percentage of it's "big brother's" features and power. This 130wpc x 7 receiver has more features than just about any processor or receiver on the planet and features expanded HDMI v1.3a ports with Deep Color, xvYCC and SACD support and switching, Dolby TrueHD and dts-HD Master Audio decoding, Audyssey MultEQ XT & MultEQ Pro calibration installer ready, Denon Link3, and plenty ins and outs.

Useful Features

  • HDMI v1.3a ports with Deep Color, xvYCC and SACD support

  • Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio decoding

  • 130W x 7 (8-ohms 20Hz-20kHz, 0.05% THD)

  • Denon Link3 connections for DVD-Audio/DD/DTS/SACD

  • Internet Radio ready & streaming audio capabilities
  • TBC processing for composite and s-video inputs

  • 12-bit/216MHz Video DAC

  • XM Satellite radio-ready

  • Audyssey MultEQ XT & MultEQ Pro calibration installer ready

  • iPod & USB interfaces

Alternates: Yamaha RX-V3800 ($1,699); Marantz SR7002 ($1,499)

Best Alternative for Audiophile: The Emotiva Reference Theater Series Separates

Retail Price:


 Emotiva ReferenceDo you suffer from the receiver blues and desire a separates alternative thats easier to use with more available amplifier power to really drive those RBH speakers? Emotiva has got you covered. Take their professional line of products, give them a facelift, throw in a free HDMI switcher (1080p) support, and scale down the MPS-1 power amp to 150wpx x 7 by putting the entire design into a non modular chassis, and you've got a smoking deal at just over $2k for the combo. This system is powerful, easy to use and sounds as good as it looks.

Optional Amplifier (with Denon Receiver): Emotiva XPA-5

Retail Price: $799

XPA-5If you really want to squeeze out all of the performance of this superb RBH system and you happen to have it in a largish theater room, we suggest some external amplification. The Emotiva XPA-5 caught our eye for one of the best budget amps on the market. You can either go for one XPA-5 and let the receiver power your rear speakers or pick up an XPA-2 (same price) for your mains. At these prices, you'd be spending less than many dedicated 7 channel amplifiers. With 200 watts per channel at 8 ohms, you'll have more than enough power for nearly any application. We suggest using the amp(s) to power the main five speakers in your theater and using the Denon's internal amps to power the back channels and multi room speaker system.

Alternates: RMB-1095 ($2,000) | Outlaw Audio Model 7200 ($1,849)

DVD-Audio/Video/SACD Player: Oppo 983H

 Retail Price: $399
oppoThe Oppo 983H is an excellent performer for all current non-HD audio formats. Its ability to provide clean, accurate analogue audio output and its quality rendering of high resolution progressive scan video output powered by the cutting edge VRS by Anchor Bay decoding techonology makes it the real deal for affordable high-end universal do-all DVD players. In addition this player sports an HDMI video connection for multi-channel audio formats and tons of options for different screen sizes and viewing preferences. It would sit nicely in any high-end home theater system and in our opinion is formidable in its price class.

Alternates: Yamaha DVD-S2700 ($999); Marantz DV7600 ($1099)

Blu-ray Player: Samsung BD-P1400

BDP1400Since the format war is over and this system handles video and audio superbly, we recommend adding a Blu-ray player in addition to the Denon Universal Player. We highly recommend the Samsung BD-P1400 for $599. This player will entice you with pristine audio and video quality when paired up with a processor / receiver that can pass PCM audio for DD+ / TrueHD and dts HD. 

Samsung BD-P1400 ($599)

The Speakers: RBH Sound Signature Series | Review

RBHSoundSignatureRetail Price (system): $6,045 [Locate a Dealer] info

We know speakers are subjective, but we have found RBH Sound to consistently make products that challenge what we know about "high end" speakers time and time again. Many speakers costing much more have graced our Reference Systems, and just as quickly departed. With an incredible, almost unbelievably detailed mid-range and crystal clear, undistortable highs, the RBH Sound Signature Series dives to the top of our loudspeaker recommendation list. The SE/R series feature the ultra high performance drivers found in Status Acoustics products such as the highly revered Decimo's.

Below is a breakdown of our recommendations for putting together a stellar home theater package. Substitutions can certainly be made for surrounds and to down-size the front speakers, but if you can afford it this loudspeaker system is going to be hard to beat. Maybe best of all, all speakers are available in over 30 real hardwood finishes! Expect to pay an additional 20-30% for your choice of custom veneer finishes with about 4-6 week lead times.



661-SE/R Mains

661-SE/R Center

66-SE Surrounds

41-SE Back Surrounds

Frequency response






90 dB

90 dB

90 dB

86 dB

Impedance (nominal)

4 ohms

4 ohms

4 ohms

8 ohms

Power rating






(2) 6.5" aluminum woofer
(1) 1" silk dome tweeter

(2) 6.5" aluminum woofer
(1) 1" silk dome tweeter

(2) 6.5" aluminum woofers
(2) 1" silk dome tweeters

(1) 4" aluminum Cone Woofer
(1) 1" silk dome tweeter

X-Over type

4th order

4th order

2nd order

2nd order

Dimensions (hxwxd)

22" x 8.75" x 11.5"

22" x 8.75" x 11.5"

14" x 16" x 8.5"

11.5" x 6.75" x 10.25"






Magnetic shielding





Finish Black Oak with Nevamar tops
or over 30 different real hardwood finishes
Black Oak with Nevamar tops
or over 30 different real hardwood finishes
Black Oak with Nevamar tops
or over 30 different real hardwood finishes
Black Oak with Nevamar tops
or over 30 different real hardwood finishes
MSRP $2,258/pair $1,129/ea $1,779/pair $879/pair
Website Info info info info info

Alternates: RBH Sound 1266-SE/Rs for mains* ($4,999/pair) info;
*When using the Denon AVR-4306, the amp should be considered optional unless you plan on using the 1266-SE/R's in lieu of the 661-SE/R's.   Put this budget towards dual subs before splurging on larger speakers or an external power amplifier. 

Subwoofer: JL Audio F112

Retail Price: $2,200 - $2,400 | more info


 JL Audio F112The JL Audio has produced a very serious subwoofer in the Fathom f112, the smallest sibling in their home audio line.  This is a powerful sub capable of prodigious deep bass output. Make no mistake; if the user has loose objects in the house, this sub will locate them and point them out. Also, be prepared to find interior partition walls complaining into adjacent rooms. For the best possible listening experience, find all loose items and secure them.

This is a well-built subwoofer with a solid cabinet and a high quality finish. For those who select the gloss finish, it is easily smudged, but that is the nature of the finish, not a shortcoming of this particular manufacturer. The cabinet is well braced and solid, which will keep it from making music of its own to the detriment of the reproduction

For the best possible bass distribution in your room, ensuring consistent sound for every seat, we recommend two of these subwoofers if your budget allows for it.

 Alternates: RBH Sound 1010-SEP ($1,949 ea) info

The $25k System - Furniture, Acoustics, Cables & Summary


The Seats: Berkline 088

Berkline088Price: $1600 (for 3 chairs)

These chairs by Berkline are very popular due to price and size. They are the narrowest chairs offered by Berkline (about 32" including a left and right armrest) so you can fit more of them into your home theater than if you went with other models or brands. I chose a triple configuration of these chairs in black (86" total width) for my own Reference System 2 and I really dig the cup holders and the ability they have to recline without needing much clearance from the back wall (or in my case, table). You can upgrade these chairs to include TouchMotion motorized reclining and you can add an RF Buttkicker system (as an under-leg mod) to give you a more tactile theater experience.

Another important thing to note is the height of the back of the theater chair. You want something that is going to allow the sound from the Surround Back channels to freely reach your ears without hitting the back of the chair. At 38.5" tall, these chairs are perfect for 7.1 surround rooms.

Power Conditioner/Surge Suppressor: APC AV H15 | review

APC H15Price: $449

We recommend some kind of protection for your electronics and APC AV makes some of the best. At less than 2% of the total cost of the system, this seems to us to be a very good investment. APC AV is well-known for their excellent power protection products and this unit in particular presents a tremendous value in comparison to other name brand power conditioners that cost twice as much for essentially the same thing or less.

Useful Features
  • Automatic Voltage Regulation (AVR)
  • Building wiring fault indicator
  • Cable Line Protection
  • Coax Protection Coaxial/Cable Line Splitter
  • IEEE let-through rating and UL 1449 compliance
  • Lightning and Surge Protection
  • Noise Filtering
  • Overload Indicator
  • Phone Line Splitter
  • Power Cord
  • Protection Working Indicator
  • Resettable circuit breaker
  • Right Angle Plug
  • Status Indicator LED's

Alternate: APC H10 Power Conditioner/Voltage Regulator ($299) info

Acoustics Treatments: Auralex Elite

Price: $4,000 info

AuralexAuralex Elite has a wide diversity of acoustical products that will improve the sound of your room without hampering the aesthetics. The SonoSeude system is a great start. Sonofiber and Metrofusor are great supplements when more aggressive room treatments are required. Consulting with the experts at Auralex couldn't be easier. Fax them your room plans and they will come up with some recommended treatments and locations to fit within your budget. Its always good to have more than one set of eyes looking at your room to recommend the best type of treatments. Properly treating your room will ensure you get the most out of your A/V system.

Note: If you find money left over in your budget, we recommend spending an extra $1-2k here assuming your room is in need of additional treatment. We also recommend contacting a professional Acoustic Consultant like Rives Acoustics.

Avia Guide to Home Theater

Price: $50 info

avia_HT_GuideThis is a must have tool and will teach you how to set up your system correctly and how to do a first time calibration on your system. It is very easy to use and covers all the basics. For more advanced calibration or to get your system performing at its absolute best you'll need measurement equipment you can't buy at your local hardware store. For that kind of tweaking we recommend finding an ISF-certified technician or installer in your area to come out and do a full calibration on your most commonly used video inputs.

Alternate: Digital Video Essentials ($16-21)

Radio Shack Analogue SPL Meter (Cat# 33-4050)

Price: $40 info


This is another must have and will allow you to calibrate your system's speaker levels.It's easy to use and its use is covered in Avia Guide to Home Theater.

Impact Acoustics Interconnect Cables and Wiring


While we are not looking to stack this system with exotic cables, we thought we'd recommend some cables that we have tested and ensured pass muster while still providing a nice, uniform look to your system. Yes, you can hook up your speakers with 12/2 zip cord, but at this price point we felt that it would be appropriate to dress it up a bit nicer. Here are the basics we recommend for this system, though feel free to make substitutions as you see fit:

  • 1) 3' SonicWave Component Video Cable $60

  • 3) 15' Velocity Speaker Interconnects $20/ea

  • 1) 100' 12AWG Velocity Bulk Speaker Cable $86

  • 5) 3' SonicWave Dual Channel "RCA" Audio Interconnects $30/ea

  • 1) 12' SonicWave Bass Management Subwoofer Interconnect $35

  • 1) 3' SonicWave Digital Audio Interconnect $25

Plus, Audioholics readers get a 10% Discount!





You need certified HDMI cables for this system, so we've brought you the ones from DVIGear, which are guaranteed to pass up to 1080p - even over longer runs.

  • 1) 7.5m HDMI projector cable $150

  • 2) 0.5m HDMI interconnect $50/ea

*Note: Your HDMI video cable may need to be longer or shorter depending on where the audio rack and the projector are located. Other cables may be necessary to terminate existing audio/video components such as VCR's, Tivo's, and HDTV receivers.

The Bottom Line

Brand Model Description Price
Epson Home Cinema 1080UB
LCD Front Projector $2,999

Projector Mount $150


Brilliant White 100" Screen $744
Denon AVR-3808CI Home Theater 7.1 Receiver $1,599
Emotiva XPA-5
200W x 5 amplifier
Oppo 983H Universal DVD Player $399
Blu-ray Player
RBH Sound 661-SE/R Main Speakers $6,045
661-SE/R Center Speaker
66-SE Surround Speakers
41-SE Back Surrounds
JL Audio
f112 Subwoofer $2,200 x 2
Berkline Berkline 088 Cinema Chairs (3) $1,600
Auralex Elite
Various Room Acoustics $4000
H15 Power Conditioner/Surge Pro $449
Avia Guide to HT A/V Calibration Disc $50
Radio Shack 33-4050 Analogue SPL Meter $40
Impact Acoustics Various Interconnect Cables $416
DVIGear SHR HDMI HDMI Cables $250

Total System Price: $24,439 (including cables)

If you cannot take at least $2000 off of the total price we've given here then you aren't trying very hard to beat MSRP. This system will provide an incredible level of detail and enjoyment to both two-channel and home theater enthusiasts alike. It is also our first system to feature what we would like to think it some of the finest audio and video equipment available that does not compromise as much in an attempt to retain a more trim budget. While there is gear that performs at an even higher level, look for that to appear in some higher-priced System Guides that pay even less attention to the pocketbook and more attention to attaining home theater nirvana.


About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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