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  • Surround Sound...where to start?

    I'm going to attempt to upgrade to a better sound system, primarily for my television. Who's got experience? What pitfalls do I need to watch out for?
    Any thoughts on vendors?

    My existing equipment...
    - Panasonic - LCD Television - TC-32LX20
    - Panasonic - VHS/DVD - PV-D4762
    - Scientific Atlanta - Cable Box/DVR - Explorer 8000

    Plus would like to add...
    - iPod docking station.

    Thanks,
    Snarlin



  • #2
    Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

    It really depends: how much are you willing to spend and how much are you worried about sound quality.

    Without anything to go on, I can only give you some basic advice:
    5.1 (front left/right, rear left/right, center, and sub) is about the standard for surround sound systems. You can go higher than that (6.1, 7.1), but then your receiver is just calculating the sound position, rather than relying on the sound source.

    Stay away from "single unit" systems unless you want to go as cheap as possible. Basically, the package deals that include everything. You generally tend to get a weak amp in the receiver and the woofer isn't anything special. I installed a Sony one for a friend and, whereas they couldn't notice it, I heard distinct amounts of distortion at high volumes.

    Avoid BOSE unless you just love spending money for average quality products. BOSE makes some good stuff (I still want a pair of their shooting ear muffs), but their home surround sound stuff tends to be of average quality (not bad) and terribly overpriced. Their professional serious of stuff is even MORE overpriced. BOSE is the epitome of "Brand name awareness" when it comes to home theater.

    From my car audio days, I've always been a huge fan of Pioneer and that transfered with me into home audio. They are no where near the best, but they are far far from the worst.

    I currently have an older model of the VSX-1016TXV 7.1 receiver that I found an excellent deal on. It was during their year end "sell off all the old models to make room for the new ones" period. This is by far the best time to buy electronics like this.
    For satellite speakers, I went with S-LF3-CR 3. They are 3-way speakers for $150 for a set of three. For the price, they sound incredible.
    The sub I got was from Athena as I was unimpressed with Pioneers selection at the time. It's a 400 Watt 10" sub that will piss my neighbors off.

    I run everything through my receiver, video included. This allows me to use one remote (except the stupid Xbox 360 remote because MS thought it would be cool to use non-standard IR protocols when they made it), and not have to mess with the video sources on my TV.

    All in all, my surround sound system won't be winning me any awards, but I got away with a damn good system for around $1000, which fit perfectly into my "new house needs a good entertainment room" budget.

    Like all electronics, there's a diminishing return on you money. Pay to little and you end up completely unimpressed with your system. Spend too much and you're paying more and more money for less quality increases. Avoid buying from retail outlets: Best Buy and it's ilk will bleed you dry with mark-up. Try and find a smaller place that specializes in Home Audio. Or just order online if you find what you want.

    When everything is said and done, load up Star Wars EP III and watch the intro space battle. Nothing was cooler than sitting down in my new house and really reaping the benefits of a good surround sound system. And EPIII is a great DVD to test it with.

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    • #3
      Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

      Originally posted by TheFeniX View Post
      Stay away from "single unit" systems unless you want to go as cheap as possible. Basically, the package deals that include everything. You generally tend to get a weak amp in the receiver and the woofer isn't anything special. I installed a Sony one for a friend and, whereas they couldn't notice it, I heard distinct amounts of distortion at high volumes.
      Actually, Onkyo has some pretty good "Home theater in a box" sets out right now.

      IMO, the important thing with the receiver (and probably what caused the distortion that Fenix noted in the Sony) is not the strength of the amp, but rather whether or not the circuitry is discrete or integrated. You want real mosfets and transistors and capacitors and transformers, not everything etched onto a chip where heat and bleedover will be an issue. Your receiver should be heavy because of this.

      I'm an Onkyo fan because of this, but there are other good companies. You won't go wrong with anything from Onkyo, Yamaha, HarmanKardon, or Denon. Pioneer and JVC have good stuff and crap stuff. Sony and Kenwood are almost all crap. Sure, they'll have the same features and the same price, but when you put everything on an IC chip, it's just not going to sound good, and isn't that why you're paying so much for a receiver to begin with?

      Speakers? Well, I think those are a much more personal preference. I absolutely think that you have to spend some serious time in a serious sound room to pick out the speakers that you want.
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      • #4
        Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

        I'm in the same boat. I had a Sony "all in one" type of unit that was 5.1 surround and a 5 disc DVSD changer. it didn't sounds great but it served the purpose. Anyway this thing finally died a couple of weeks ago. Now I need a new surround tuner and a new dvd player. I don't know what the heck to do. I'm tempted to get a blu-ray player but the new standard comes out this year (2.0) so I am inclined to wait and just get another crap system to last another couple of years.
        Retired 6th DB

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        • #5
          Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

          Originally posted by Wimpinator View Post
          I'm tempted to get a blu-ray player but the new standard comes out this year (2.0) so I am inclined to wait and just get another crap system to last another couple of years.
          I would totally buy the $30 DVD player from WalMart until the format is settled.

          Which would give you more money to spend on your receiver, which is really the heart of any sound system. If you're looking at HD, definitely look for a receiver with HDMI switching!

          Oh, and www.Crutchfield.com is a pretty decent resource if you're clueless or have plenty of money, but I would research there, then price hunt locally.
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          • #6
            Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

            Originally posted by CingularDuality View Post
            Actually, Onkyo has some pretty good "Home theater in a box" sets out right now.
            Huh. I couldn't find anything like that back when I was digging two years ago. Anyways, that might be a possibility for me when and if I decide to setup surround sound upstairs. Got a price tag on those Onkyo systems? I've only worked with on or two and whereas I wasn't blown away, I was impressed with the quality vs the price.

            Pioneer and JVC have good stuff and crap stuff.
            I agree about JVC. Their quality seems to fluctuate wildly, but I'm actually surprised to hear about that from Pioneer.

            From my experience, Pioneer pretty much took over for Sony in the whole "Our products make look like crap in 10 years, but they'll still work. I've got a Pioneer head-unit I bought 11 years ago that I gave to my brother to use in one of his "beater" cars. The entire front is falling off, but it still works and sounds great. I have a slew of Pioneer head units that still work, but have been replaced. I can't throw them away and they generally end up in friend's cars. I bought one Kenwood head-unit... once.

            I've setup a few Pioneer receivers and even their cheap stuff wasn't really junk, unlike cheap JVC equipment. Sure, it's not high quality, but I would define it as adequate. Out of every piece of Pioneer hardware I've bought, not one of them has ever needed to be replaced because of a hardware failure.

            Anyways, Cing brings up a few good points I didn't: My receiver weights about 40 pounds. The average "boxed special" I see at retail stores weight 1/4 that AND has a built in DVD player.

            I'm a dedicated kind of guy. I like having devices for specific purposes and when they ARE integrated (like my reciever also doing video), I like to be able to separate them if I have to. If my component went out on my receiver, I've still got the SS and I can run all the video through the TV.

            Also, check warranties. You may never need them, but it's good to have.

            As for HD: that format war isn't going to be over for a long time. Not as long as DVDs still have such saturation in the market. So, spending a few bucks on a standard DVD player is still a good buy. If anything, when you DO upgrade, you could move the DVD player to another TV.

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            • #7
              Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

              I highly, highly recommend getting a receiver with HDMI switching. I've got most of my sound running through TOSLINK now, but I've heard uncompressed sound from Blu-Rays through an HDMI receiver- absolutely incredible.

              Cingular brings up a good point on pricehunting locally, too. I was about 20 minutes away from ordering one receiver when a friend told me about a local guy selling his- thus leading to the purchase of a near $1000 receiver for far, far less.
              ---------------
              Doc-in-training

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              • #8
                Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

                Originally posted by CingularDuality View Post
                Actually, Onkyo has some pretty good "Home theater in a box" sets out right now.
                I'll second this. I bought a $500 6:1 Onkyo home theater system and have been very happy with it. Don't forget to get a sound meter...you'll need it to balance the system properly.

                Bernout

                |TG-MD6|

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                • #9
                  Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

                  Yamaha makes great receivers.
                  Infinity or cerwin vega are a good choice for speakers.
                  Infinity like to make very loud noises come from very small boxes, so if you are looking to hide the setup or just have it blend in, http://www.crutchfield.com/App/Produ...theater&tp=191 might be of interest. I have used an older version of this speaker in a 40x40 room with a 65' ceiling. 4 of them filled the room to where you had to yell to be heard.

                  KLH also make a very cheap, but very clean sounding setup. their subs are amazing for the price.
                  Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. -Albert Einstein
                  The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and stupidity. -Harlan Ellison

                  If all else fails: "rm -rf /"

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                  • #10
                    Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

                    I could not recommend onkyo any higher. I bought an onkyo 6.1 box $500 system around 4 years ago and loved it. I recently upgraded the TX to the 605 (with support for the new HD formats) and its is superb for my non-audiophile ears.

                    The 605 is an HDMI switching unit and runs $300-400.
                    http://reviews.cnet.com/av-receivers...tag=prod.txt.1


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                    • #11
                      Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

                      Originally posted by TheFeniX View Post
                      Got a price tag on those Onkyo systems?
                      http://shop4.outpost.com/product/5225837

                      If this link works, the only home theater-in-a-box line that Crutchfield carries is Onkyo: http://www.crutchfield.com/App/Produ...316050&tp=6452
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                      • #12
                        Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

                        I hear Onkyo often has deals on referbs.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

                          Onkyo has my vote as well. Yamaha is a close second, depending on how much money you want to spend (they have receivers in every price range); I recently purchased their high-end model and it does basically everything except flip pancakes (even comes with a sound-meter and an auto-balancing system, along with the ability to add an Ipod Dock). BUT, that Yamaha system is to run a home-theatre/"party" system. Not just home-theatre.

                          IMO, you dont need all that much "juice" to get quality home-theatre. What you're looking for is simply quality sound, range, and positional awareness from your amp/receiver and speakers, not amplitude. Home-theatre is not the same as home-entertainment. You need to ask yourself how much bump you really want in your system (if you plan on throwing big parties with music, etc.). You also need to ask yourself how much ROOM you have. Ideally, all your listeners will be in the center of the room and you'd have a 6.1/7.1 system. If you're crammed up back against a wall (like most people) you lose some surround capabilty obviously.

                          If you want to be different and high-tech, get a bunch of wireless high quality 5.1 Headphones and a "Buttkicker" system. Go a bit further and get Headplay HMDs (head-mounted displays).

                          If you want a traditional home-entertainment/theatre system... I recommend Onkyo with Energy Speakers (you used to be able to get this combo. at brandsmart - it's not cheap though).
                          Last edited by Gambit7; 01-14-2008, 10:57 PM.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

                            It really depends on how much you want to spend. You're asking the equivalent of "what's a good TV?". :D

                            When buying electronics, I tend to think of them as an investment... especially when it comes to home AV equipment. A) A receiver is something I'm probably going to own for a good 10 years, and B) It's something we use a LOT in our house. Here's two things you should check for (features that, even if you don't use them immediately, you will definitely use in 2 years):
                            1) 7.1 support (even if you don't use it now, you might use it later in your next livingroom). What to look for: Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES. Most new movies are encoded with this format, and DO have discrete rear/center audio... If you don't think 7.1 doesn't make a difference, borrow some speakers, plug them in, and watch the opening scene to Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.


                            2) HDMI Switching - you want at least 2ch of HDMI in. This lets you use your TV as a monitor. You change audio/video at the same time - with your receiver. No more switching AV1->AV2->AV3, etc on your TV. Having the HDMI switching lets you use your HD Cable-box and another HD source (PS3, Xbox360, or PC). Even if you don't have an HDTV now, I wouldn't imagine it's more than a couple years off in your future with the way prices are going these days.

                            I'd plan on spending $300 for a decent one. Denon makes very high quality equipment - their entry level receiver is $350 at chain-stores... more money mainly gets you more power per channel (how big is your living room?) and more ins and outs.


                            As far as speakers go... again - it really comes down to how much you want to spend. Ideally you can go to a home-theater shop and listen to some... It also depends on how you want to go. I didn't have a lot of money to drop on speakers all at once, so I built it piece by piece. You want to start with a quality center-channel speaker, since it's where 80-90% of the sound comes from! I'd plan on spending $200-$300 here. (When I first go my center-speaker, an old boom-box provided my surrounds, and I had an old pair of bookshelf speakers for L/Rs :icon_lol.)

                            After your center-speaker, either get a powered subwoofer (8" is plenty) or L/R's. When you get new L/R's, you can use your old L/R's as surrounds.


                            Expect

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                            • #15
                              Re: Surround Sound...where to start?

                              I've got Yamaha speakers and a Yamaha receiver- the sound is beautiful. I see a lot of recommendations here for Onkyo- I've not had the best experiences with their stuff, but I've also not dealt with their best products.
                              ---------------
                              Doc-in-training

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