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Newbie needs help on 7.1 vs 5.1 vs 3.1


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#1 of 16 OFFLINE   rnuge

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Posted September 07 2010 - 02:46 PM

I am looking for an entry-level home theater system and given budget constraints (~$400) I'm thinking htib.  After reading many reviews and rankings I have tentatively settled on either Onkyo HTS-3300 or HTS-5300.  I am going to try to get to a local brick and mortar to listen to both.

In the mean time though, a somewhat dumbfounded newbie question on 7.1 vs 5.1 vs 3.1

I have a pretty small room (15x15) and given the layout will definitely not be able to use 7.1.   I am only considering the 5300 because of the powered sub and what I perceive to be somewhat better speakers and receiver generally.  So right off the bat 2 speakers would be spare or used elsewhere.
But along the same lines - and at the risk of missing the point of these systems entirely - is it possible to use the 5300 or 3300 as a 3.1 system at least temporarily?  Reason is even the two surrounds will be a little tough to accommodate in this space.  I understand 7.1 system can be configured for 5.1 - but does that extend to 3.1?  Will I be dropping part of the signal or will the receiver compensate?  And even if it can, will I be hopelessly sacrificing a substantial piece of the pre-fab package's overall sound quality/ capability?

I actually looked for a 3.1 but it seems nobody except Bose even offers such a system and not in this price range.  For my budget - if I really want 3.1 - should I be thinking instead of assembling my own or are these packages still the way to go?  (I'd like to do 5.1 eventually but I'm just not 100% convinced I can make it happen in this space currently.)

Thanks in advance for any help!



#2 of 16 OFFLINE   David Willow

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Posted September 08 2010 - 12:45 AM

Yes, you can make any 7.1 setup a 3.1 setup.  The receiver will adjust.
 

I agree  Get the Onkyo with the powered sub.  It will sound better and the receiver with that package can accommodate new speakers if you get the urge to upgrade later.

 

Search this and other HT forums for BOSE before you consider them.  Bottom line is stay away.

 

IMO, you should at least make it 5.1 (side surrounds).  Although 3.1 will be better than you TV speakers, 5.1 really adds to the 'presence' you feel when watching a movie.



#3 of 16 OFFLINE   Al.Anderson

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Posted September 08 2010 - 03:10 AM

I agree with Dave on all points - but wanted to specifically chime in on using 5.1.  I've set up my 13x15 study as 5.1, and get value from having the surrounds.  That said, 3.1 will still be nice.



#4 of 16 OFFLINE   CB750

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Posted September 08 2010 - 07:17 AM

Whatever you do don't buy any cube surround system be it speakers or HTib from Bose.  It is safe to say that Bose cube systems are the only ones that are consistently criticized on this forum.  You are paying a premium price for below average performing equipment.


#5 of 16 OFFLINE   rnuge

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Posted September 18 2010 - 04:13 AM

Thanks for the very helpful answers and also the caution on Bose!  I finally found a local place that has the hts5300 on display... will get up there today to listen.  In the mean time I had two other questions:

First - in my price range (now ~$500... funny how that happens :-)) I'm still wondering if one can do better piecing something together?  As a somewhat offhand example this combo is on my price range:
Jamo S 413 HCS 5 - $200
Onkyo TX-SR508 - $250

I admit I have not compared detailed specs - and compared to the hts5300 I lose the included ipod dock and get 5.1 speakers instead of 7.1.  But would the Jamo's (or others) be meaningfully better speakers than the set that comes with the 5300, especially since I won't be doing 7.1 anyway?


Second - this system will be used as much for music as for tv/movies.  We don't need the loudest system in the world, just nice at low to moderate volumes with only the occasional foray into "loud".  However the 15x15 room I noted in the OP adjoins another space about the same size, which in turn adjoins another of about the same size.  It is a somwhat open floor plan, though I wouldn't call it a single space either.  In the main 15x15 space the tv (and thus center/fronts) would be directed away from the opening between rooms.  I'm sorry to be vague here - I guess my question is assuming worst-case of more like 700sqft as opposed to 225sqft - will I be disappointed with the Onkyo HTS5300 when listening to music moving between rooms?  I feel like this might be an impossible question answer - sorry - even gut feel would be appreciated.

Thanks!



#6 of 16 OFFLINE   CB750

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Posted September 18 2010 - 05:18 AM

Bob,

 

The only way you can compare two systems is to listen to them. We all perceive and process sound differently  With Speakers being the most important part of a system the only reliable judge is your ears.

 

 B&M stores are a great way to listen to systems, but you can usually by the same HTib on line at places like Amazon for less.   I noticed that  Amazon was selling a discontinued Onkyo 9100 HTib for $650 which was $450 less than suggested retail of $1,000.



#7 of 16 OFFLINE   bigshot

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Posted September 18 2010 - 06:09 AM

More speakers isn't necessarily better. The more speakers tN a system, the more work it is to balance, and the more restricted the listening positions will be. If you are on a budget, you'll definitely get more bang for the buck in a stereo than a surround system. If the amp supports it, you can always add the rest of the speakers later. But for a small room, stereo is best. Unless your room is very large, 5:1 is plenty for a surround system. Multiple channel sound requires a fixed listening position. If you are trying to fill an odd shaped open space, definitely stereo is better. Just buy an amp and a nice pair of speakers. Forget the packages. Put your money into better speakers rather than more speakers.


The best surround systems start with really good front channels. Focus on stereo for now and upgrade later.

#8 of 16 OFFLINE   rnuge

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Posted September 19 2010 - 09:10 AM

I got up to a local consumer electronics place to see the 5300.  And I am rethinking things.
 

First - and this is off point and a subject for another thread - it was impossible to judge the sound of the 5300 or any other component/ system for that matter because the place does not have a dedicated listening room or even some decent dividers etc.  So I can't say I fairly heard what the 5300 has to offer.  But the trip was not pointless because I realized I'm not crazy about the styling of the 5300 and the sub is pretty darn big given the intended setting.  Purely a matter of taste I realize.  But it sort of reinforces a view that I had been coming to anyway - and echoed nicely by Stephen above - that I am going to assemble my own component system.  I don't discount the argument that given a budget of around $400-$500 htib's like the 5300 are a great value.  But I think in the long run I will be much more satisfied with a component system accrued over time.  This will obviously involve more dollars and less immediate gratification but I think it's the way to go.

 

Anyway I'm now looking to learn everything I can about a-v receivers with the objective of getting a solid entry-level receiver as my foundation.  After that I don't know for sure but I think I will probably end up first with a good pair of speakers, and then eventually a well matched center, and a sub.  The surrounds will be last and I'm in no rush there.  I also haven't ruled out a carefully chosen 5.1 all in one set.  We'll see.

 

So - I've gone from a philosophy of get it done and move on - to slow down and enjoy the ride.  I'm still trying to gauge the (entry-level) sweet spot regarding price/performance for this whole endeavor - and like everyone I have my spending limit - but it's my feeling that I can still bring the whole thing in for under $1000 and end up with something that kicks butt.

 

Thanks to everyone on this great forum!



#9 of 16 OFFLINE   bigshot

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Posted September 19 2010 - 02:36 PM

Here's one more bit of advice... The speakers are what count. Put your money and attention there. Any receiver with enough power to push the speakers you choose will work. When picking speakers pay attention to sound quality. When picking a receiver focus on features and getting a remote tat isn't so complicated you can't use it in the dark.

#10 of 16 OFFLINE   CB750

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Posted September 20 2010 - 10:25 AM

If you plan on watching TV and DVD's then I would suggest a 3.1 or better speaker system over a 2.0 Stereo.   A Center speaker is a pretty important part of any video with dialog.   I never realized that until I upgraded from a good 2.0 system to a 5.1 system.



#11 of 16 OFFLINE   bigshot

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Posted September 21 2010 - 06:06 AM

Most people don't place their speakers properly with a two channel setup. They put them too far apart, or worse yet, on opposite sides of the room. They're not supposed to be more than 8 or 10 feet apart. They're supposed to mesh in the middle and form a soundstage. A center channel isn't as necessary if the mains are placed properly.

#12 of 16 OFFLINE   rnuge

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Posted September 23 2010 - 02:51 PM

Thanks for the continued terrific advice Bill and Stephen.  I am definitely leaning towards 3.1 with surrounds to follow later.  My immediate priority are receiver and bookshelves plus sub.  I am saying sub over center to begin with because music is as much a priority as tv/movies.  But I can foresee probably getting the full 3.1 more or less concurrently if good opportunity/deals present themselves.  Stephen as it happens the bookshelves will sit on top of a cabinet that encloses the tv (cabinet is about 4-5 feet high, speakers will sit just above the flat panel... they will be about 6 feet apart.)

Also as it happens there has been a great thread here on beginner forum started by blazesofhell that has been on the money for me - since he is looking to do 3.1 and his budget is more or less identical to mine (now $600-$800, which I plan on allowing for the receiver and at least bookshelves/sub and possibly center)

I have some ideas about receivers - and now looking to narrow the field on speakers.

So much to learn!



#13 of 16 OFFLINE   CB750

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Posted September 24 2010 - 05:13 AM

Bob,

 

My 52" LCD sits between two built in book shelves in my family room.   With this arrangement I was able to experiment with many placements of my Left and Right speakers both for height and distance apart.  I found that a middle shelf  put the speakers in the middle of the TV screen and 7 feet apart produced the best audio arrangement for my prime seating which is 8 to 9 feet from the screen.   This placement also put those speakers level with our ears when seated.    I found that the center channel sounded best placed under the screen as opposed to over the screen.   The sub was less critical and I settled on an area 1/2 distance between my center and right speakers, because it was close to my receiver and other equipment.
 

I would suggest that before you commit to your speaker placement that you experiment with lower speaker heights.  In my 14' x 22' family room placing the speakers at a 5 foot level tended to make TV dialog and human voice in music harder to pick up and less clear than my current arrangement.



#14 of 16 OFFLINE   rnuge

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Posted September 24 2010 - 01:47 PM

I will experiment a bit... but my options are limited to sitting atop this particular cabinet or stands, which I would prefer to avoid.  But if need be...



#15 of 16 OFFLINE   califf

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Posted September 24 2010 - 08:42 PM

Hi , i m newbie in HT community. Still i didn't got any problem 3.1 and 2.0 , which is just better speaker according to me. That's why i've not yet judge the requirement of installing or not use 7.1



#16 of 16 OFFLINE   CB750

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Posted September 25 2010 - 07:02 AM



Originally Posted by rnuge 

I will experiment a bit... but my options are limited to sitting atop this particular cabinet or stands, which I would prefer to avoid.  But if need be...



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