Audio Equipment and Home Theater Audio : not sure what to get...

not sure what to get...

I'm in the market for a sound system but not sure what to get: A surround sound system or a sound bar?

Also, what's the best brand to go with?

My Journey 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Re: not sure what to get...

stay away from sound bars if you want the true 5.1 experience.

On 5.1 systems, Home Theater in a Box, it really is whatever sounds good to you when are looking at under about $600. From $600 up, start looking at separate components and higher quality speakers.

Re: not sure what to get...

Thanks, I'll keep that in mind. I do want the 5.1 experience, so sound bars are out.

My Journey 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Re: not sure what to get...

You are welcome. The problem is that most Home Theaters In A Box under about $600, use cheap components, and are actually pretty much the same all the way across. Slightly different versions of the same speaker, etc.

They also misrepresent the actual power output, sometimes as much as 75%. So that 1,000 watt power they talk about, is really about 20 watts, and that's pushing it. Actual is probably around 5 watts.

So as I said, for better quality, start about $1000 and work your way up.

Under 600, it's whatever sounds good to you and has the features you want.

Re: not sure what to get...

What I have noticed when home theaters in a box advertised power output they take the power consumption of the unit itself and then multiply that by the number of speakers. Example: If the receiver component's power consumption is 130watts (a low end unit for a small room) and it has 5 speakers, the advertised speaker output will be 650 watts, but from what I have been told the true power output to the speakers is the wattage rating divided by around 7. So the true maximum watts per channel rating would be around 20 WPC.

Re: not sure what to get...

Yes, but it's still completely misrepresenting what the actual power output is.

My RCA tube theater amps are rated for 100 watts. Idle, no signal-90 watts, full rated power and signal-228 watts.

So idle power-90 watts from wall

Full output-228 watts from wall @ 100 watts audio output. less than 2% distortion


this amp can do 238 instant power. What this means that it can take a SINGLE tone, like a test tone, and for a moment, push out 238 watts.

This is where the deception comes in today.

The power ratings today are based on the momentary 238 watt that the RCA's can do.

They take a single tone, ram it through the system, and sure they can get four or five times the true rated amount of power,at 10% distortion until the speakers catch fire.

This is not an exaggeration.

Re: not sure what to get...

Combine a name brand AV receiver like Pioneer, Sony, Onkyo, Denon, etc, and the Energy Take Classic set of speakers. Or, buy used pairs of some common and respectable small speaker like PSB Alpha, Paradigm Atom, NHT Zero, even the vintage Radio Shack Minimus 7 until you have enough. 4 will get you started, if you configure the receiver for "phantom center". It's not that critical to match the front and rear speakers, although it is preferable. Even identical speakers will sound different depending on where they are located in a room. If you have a pair of good floor-standing stereo speakers, use those up front (configured as "large" in the receiver setup), and you may not need a subwoofer. (If you configure the receiver for "no subwoofer", the bass will be directed to any "large" speakers.)

Re: not sure what to get...

Dangus is right on that one, though I disagree about Center Channel. Too many movies basically screw that up, and no center channel can cause an "echo" effect.

Other than that, a mid range receiver with decent, vintage speakers, the effect will be very satisfactory.

Re: not sure what to get...

Yes, but the fact remains that it's traditional (since c. 1940) in cinema to use the center channel for dialog, and the stereo pair for music and effects.

While there's no valid reason to have a physical center speaker when there's a stereo pair, if you're going to do without the center speaker, it's important to either do a goood stereo mixdown, or have a circuit in an A/V receiver that accomplishes the same thing. All things considered, it's often better for the non-expert to simply buy the middle speaker to save the trouble.

Re what dangus said: I don't know if Radio Shack still sells a Minumus 7, and if they do, it's nothing like the "classic" desirable version that was sold in the late 1980s. I own a pair of the late-'80s Minimus 7s, and cherish them greatly. But you can't get the same great deal from Radio shack today.

I used to have a pair of (unnamed, pre-production) NHT speakers as near-field monitors, and would probably put my money on the Absolute Zero sight unseen. But let's face it, these are dinky little speakers that can't reproduce the entire audio spectrum alone, and adding a subwoofer rarely gives good results to the untrained system builder.

IME spending the bulk of your money on transducers (speakers) is the best policy, and nothing beats a pair of full range loudspeakers. IMO a more viable setup would start with a pair of NHT Classic 3 (or even better, Four Floor) loudspeakers for the front and back corners. The NHT ThreeC Center Channel Speaker is IMO money well spent for a center channel speaker for the "set it and forget it" crowd. Add a subwoofer, and you have a good, solid 5.1 system that's a LOT less dependent on proper subwoofer setup/location, compared to systems that use little main speakers all-around. That's $3000-6200 on loudspeakers for a good, solid 5.1 system. Add $900-1400 for a 7.1 system.

If that's more money than you'd like to spend, then I would honestly recommend a good stereo setup over surround sound. We do, after all, only have two ears.

Re: not sure what to get...

I was suggesting buying used speakers. It's not unusual to find the Minimus 7 for $10 a pair or less. The newer Optimus LX5 is also pretty good, and quite common; $10 at a garage sale got me a pair to use as backups.

If someone doesn't have a budget for "real" home theater gear, they can put together a quite respectable and listenable system at less cost than a mediocre "home-theater-in-a-box".

I shudder to think of how many people are watching movies using just the TV speakers while there's a decent component stereo system sitting unused in the next room (or rotting away in storage).

Re: not sure what to get...

Hmm... I really didn't think about buying used. Loudspeakers are like cars: the ones that get rough treatment tend to be in bad shape secondhand. And of course the old paper cones rot, and the caps dry out. All that needs to be repaired sooner or later. My reasoning is that if someone knows about the pitfalls of buying used hi-fi equipment, they probably aren't wanting advice.

I do understand your position about getting something better than a "home-theater-in-a-box", and agree with it in principle. However my personal opinion is that I'd rather put that money into a good, solid, full-range stereo pair instead. And IMO it's an opinion worth evangelizing. I didn't come to that conclusion lightly either! I'm a big Pink Floyd fan, and would like nothing better than to hear their 6-channel "quad" recordings as they were intended to be heard. And I hope to do just that one day. But I'm not going to try until I know that the overall sound will be worth it.

To me, and I fully admit that this is a matter of personal preference, 99% of the stuff that goes through the surround (and ".1") channels is precisely the stuff that I wish I could turn off when I'm in a movie theater. So even when I do manage to snag six ATC SCM40 loudspeakers and the amps to drive them, I'll probably not be using them for watching movies!

BTW, I feel honored to get a direct reply from you. I've read plenty of your posts, and have nothing but great respect for what you have to say. You certainly know your stuff!