Great-sounding home theater is becoming increasingly rare, as consumers move toward space-saving solutions like soundbars and tiny home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs). If you still care about sound, have a budget around $1,000, and want the convenience of an all-in-one package, the choice largely comes down to two systems--the Onkyo HT-S9100THX ($1,100 list price) and Yamaha YHT-791BL ($800, the subject of this review).
The two systems are very similar: you get a component-grade AV receiver with four HDMI inputs plus a big, boxy 7.1 speaker system that delivers better sonics than the rest of the HTIBs on the market. Working against the Yamaha is that its receiver can't assign inputs and the subwoofer wasn't quite as musical as we'd like. On the other hand, the Yamaha costs about $150 less and we did really appreciate the included iPod dock; Onkyo charges an extra $140 for its DS-A3. While we can't make a definitive statement about which of the two systems is better for you, we can say the Yamaha YHT-791BL delivers almost all of the performance of the higher-priced Onkyo system and includes an iPod dock for $150 less, making it a smart choice for audiophiles on a budget.
Regular HTIBs usually come with speakers that feel like toys, but the YHT-791BL isn't a regular HTIB. The two front speakers weigh a hefty 8.8 pounds and stand 13 inches tall, which means they'll intrude on your living space more than a standard HTIB.
Also a rarity, all of the speakers are two-way: the front speakers have a 6.5-inch woofer and .5-inch tweeter; the surround speakers have a 3-inch woofer and .5-inch tweet; and the center channel has two 3-inch woofers and .87-inch tweeter.
The surround and surround-back speakers are identical, weighing 2.6 pounds each, and with the more manageable dimensions of 8.25 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide by 3.75 inches deep. All the speakers come with a textured plastic finish; the look definitely isn't for everybody, but we didn't mind it and it won't attract fingerprints like a glossy finish would. The size of the speakers definitely helps the YHT-791BL sound great, but keep in mind that you'll need a reasonably large room to accommodate them.
As with the HT-S9100THX, the YHT-791BL's modular design allows you to improve the sound by swapping out its speakers and subwoofer with superior models from Definitive Technology, Aperion, Klipsch, Energy, etc. Actually, we'd recommend first jettisoning the Yamaha subwoofer for something better. It's the weakest part of the YHT-791BL system.
The included HTR-6250BL AV receiver towers a typical HTIB receiver. It has the boxy look of a standalone AV receiver, but it's a little shorter than most, coming in at 17.2 inches wide by 6 inches high by 14.3 inches deep. The front panel features a large volume knob and a few additional front-panel controls, but otherwise it's relatively sparse compared with some competing models.