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Newbie needs help with an audio "strategy"


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#1 of 17 OFFLINE   smithcraft

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Posted June 06 2011 - 05:21 AM

Here is a drawing, to the best of my abilities, of my living room. The entertainment center on the left actually has two piers on either side of the 55" TV, so the TV is framed.


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/



I'm really happy with the furniture and its placement in the room. We tried lots of different configurations, and this one works best for a whole host of reasons.


When I have company over for movies, which is maybe 3 times a month, I swing my chair back so it's parallel with the other chair, and so there's a walkway beside it into the room. This means I watch the screen at more of an angle, but thankfully this TV has excellent off-angle viewing. We also swing the big easy chair (which you see in the upper left of the drawing) around so it faces the screen.


When I'm alone, I keep my chair angled as you see it in the drawing, and I tilt the screen so that I can view it more-or-less head on.


Here's my hardware:

  • TV: Samsung LN55C650 55in 1080p 120hz IPTV 4HDMI HDTV
  • DVD: JVC XV-BP1 Blu-Ray
  • Cable company DVR (Scientific Atlanta brand HD box)
I had a cheapo 5.1 system from WalMart that sufficed for a while, but now is dying. While I would love true surround sound, I am lousy at connections. I know that I cannot personally run the wire under the wall-to-wall carpeting, and am not willing to have someone else do it and possibly cause the carpeting to buckle; it has only recently been installed. I understand one can buy wireless rear speakers, but I understand they are unreliable and don't offer great sound quality.


So I'm seriously considering a 2.1 or a 3.1 system. If I can find one that emulates surround sound, so much the better. I will need to be able to control the volume, or at least balance, of each speaker: when I am alone, I will want the right channel to be much more emphasized so that I, with my off-center placement, will hear things in balance; but when friends come over, I would like them (who mostly sit in the middle) to have a truly balanced sound, even if I don't.


I watch a variety of movies. Some with special effects needing lots of booming bass, and some that are word-heavy. I like the thrill of booming speakers, but don't want to sacrifice clarity.


I want ease of connection. The Samsung TV, while I love it in general, is a little disappointment in the way it addresses audio. According to the User Manual, if one connects the TV to an external audio system, one can hear 5.1 if the source is the TV, but 2 channels only if the source is a cable box or DVD player! They recommend connecting the cable box and the DVD player directly to the external audio system.


I know nothing about the sound quality (especially the separation) of soundbars. I am willing to consider one if you all think I should.


I am not an audiophile in the sense that I can detect fine differences among high-end systems, but I'm not a complete Philistine either. I appreciate great, rich sound. I would love it if you could recommend a sound system that is

  • Under $600, preferably under $500
  • Easy to connect, without across-the-room wiring to worry about
  • Has really good sound, preferably simulating surround sound
  • Could satisfy the dual needs of a mostly single-watcher with occasional movie viewing parties where big booms and expansive sound are enjoyed
When we get that done, I'll come back and ask your advice on connecting a PC to the system! Or maybe that's something to consider now, before the audio system is purchased. I'll leave that decision up to you all.


Many, many thanks for taking the time to read this long and rambling request!



#2 of 17 OFFLINE   smithcraft

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Posted June 06 2011 - 09:34 AM

I'm a really good shopper. I spent no more than $1400 on it all. Though I quite agree with your assessment that I'm more of a videophile than an audiophile!



#3 of 17 OFFLINE   gene c

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Posted June 06 2011 - 09:52 AM

You need to consider how it's going to be used in the long run when choosing a receiver. You mentioned connecting a PC, how about internet radio and who know what else. The main brands are Onkyo, Denon, Pioneer, Yamaha, Marantz and Harman Kardon. The last two are usually a bit more expensive but good deals can be found. Make sure you buy from an authorized dealer or they may not honor the warranty should something go a-miss. Good sites to look at are Vanns.com, Onecall.com, Ac4l.com TigerDirect.com, jr.com and Crutchfield.com. as well as Amazon.com. I also like to use PriceGrabber.com to see what's available and at what cost. The Onkyo-508 from Ac4l.com is only $189 + sh. It's a factory refurbished model but comes with a one year warranty.


5.1 really is worth the effort but a 3.1 can work reasonably well too. And you don't need to run the cables under the carpet. You could get some wire channel and run it along the baseboard. Thats what I did.


For speakers, The Polk Monitor series from Newegg.com is usually recommended for good in-expensive sound. You can get a pair of bookshelf speakers and a center channel for $160 on up. A small Dayton or BIC subwoofer from PartsExpress.com would round out the system.


You could also go with a small 5.1 satillite system from Polk, Infinity, Energy, etc. or a receiver/speaker package from Onkyo or Denon and just not use the rear speakers. But 5.1 really does sound a lot better than 3.1.


And of course, we can help you with the hook-up and setup of the receiver and speakers.


"Everyday room": Panasonic 58" Plasma, Dish HD DVR, Pioneer Elite vsx-23, BDP-23 BR, dv58avi universal dvd player, Paradigm Studio 20 V1, CC-450, Dayton HSU-10 subwoofer.

"Movie/Music room": Toshiba 65" DLP, Dish HD receiver, Marantz 7005, CC-4003, BD-7006, Polk LSI25's-LSi7's-LSiC, 2 original Dayton 10" "Mighty-Mites" subwoofers. (subject to change without notice).
 
Also have  MB Quart Vera VS05 +.....too much to list. Help me.
 
 

 


#4 of 17 OFFLINE   smithcraft

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Posted June 06 2011 - 10:07 AM

On the subject of 5.1: Getting the wiring across the room is to my mind an insurmountable problem. Take a look again at my drawing. At the top of the picture, the white thing is a sliding glass door; I could possibly get the channel small enough so that people wouldn't trip over the sill going in and out. But the white space there at the top right is the walkway into the kitchen; if I placed the channel at the edge of the carpet, where the tile starts, I'm afraid people would be stumbling over it. And then on the other side, behind the chairs, is just open space -- no wall at all. Again, not a good location for a channel.


Please understand, I'm not being argumentative. If I'm being blind or stupid about something, please point it out to me. I am a rank newbie when it comes to all this.


So assuming I could make the wiring work somehow, looking at my room layout, where in the world would you position the rear speakers? If I put them on either side of the sofa to satisfy my guests, both speakers would be to my right, and since I'm the one who watches the TV every day, it would be a tremendous annoyance. But if I place them somewhere that would be ideal for me (which would be...where?), my guests wouldn't have a good audio experience.


That's why I assumed a 2.1 or a 3.1 would make more sense than a 5.1. Am I wrong?



#5 of 17 OFFLINE   gene c

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Posted June 06 2011 - 11:02 AM

 Another  problem is your seating position. It isn't exactly ideal for audio or video. But if this the way you want it that's fine. It's your house Posted Image . But if it were I, I would be sitting in the middle of the room (when your friends aren't there) and enjoy a much better audio and video experience.


Maybe a Soundbar/subwoofer combo would be the best choice for you. Look at the options from Polk, Boston Acoustics and Yamaha, avoid those from Samsung, Panasonic, Philips, etc. In other words, get it from a company that also produces stand-alone speakers. This-one from Partsexpress has gotton some good reviews. And the price is right. It's basically three speakers in a single cabinet. Add a small sub and hopefully it would satisfy your needs.


Monoprice.com is a good place to buy wires and cables. Good products, great prices.


You have to understand, we're as passionate about audio as most are about video. Maybe even more so. It pains us to see someone settle for less than we would.


I also gave you some options for the 3.1 system if you choose to go that route instead.




"Everyday room": Panasonic 58" Plasma, Dish HD DVR, Pioneer Elite vsx-23, BDP-23 BR, dv58avi universal dvd player, Paradigm Studio 20 V1, CC-450, Dayton HSU-10 subwoofer.

"Movie/Music room": Toshiba 65" DLP, Dish HD receiver, Marantz 7005, CC-4003, BD-7006, Polk LSI25's-LSi7's-LSiC, 2 original Dayton 10" "Mighty-Mites" subwoofers. (subject to change without notice).
 
Also have  MB Quart Vera VS05 +.....too much to list. Help me.
 
 

 


#6 of 17 OFFLINE   smithcraft

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Posted June 06 2011 - 12:35 PM

Well, the seating position is certainly problematic for audio, but it's almost perfect for video. I turn the screen so it's facing me (in my comfortable easy chair) head-on most of the time, and I turn it to face the sofa when guests arrive. I much prefer sitting in a recliner than on a sofa. The video experience is terrific.


Please tell me about soundbars. How do they produce decent sound separation? And do any of them mimic surround sound (and if so, how)?


I would love to find a system that would make me that passionate about audio. If you can help me come up with a really good audio strategy -- hence the subject header in this thread -- I would be thrilled, even if you told me it could happen but I'd have to pay more. I'd love a dedicated home theater room, with the sound system carefully crafted from the time the room is built, but that ain't gonna happen in the next ten years unless I win the lottery. We work from where we are. And where I am is with a great HDTV, an off-center room configuration, and no easy answers.



#7 of 17 OFFLINE   Jason Charlton

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Posted June 07 2011 - 01:22 AM

Craig,


Understand that we're not trying to be too "pushy" either, but you are giving us a lot of contradictory information:


  • You admit that your seating position is best for video and "problematic" for audio, yet you want "really good" sound.
  • Your room is not conducive for running speaker wire for surround speakers, and you understand that wireless systems stink, yet you still want "decent sound separation" and for whatever solution to "mimic surround sound"
I agree with previous posters that a sound bar plus subwoofer might be the best option for you.  It will offer much better sound clarity than TV speakers, the subwoofer will provide adequate "punch" for movies, and installation and operation is pretty straightforward and is localized to the front of the room.


I think an option you should consider is the Sony HT-CT350 sound bar/subwoofer combo.  It has a number of compelling features:

  • The subwoofer doubles as the "receiver" so you connect all your sources to it and run a single HDMI cable to your TV
  • The subwoofer/Receiver can decode lossy 5.1 (DVD) and also supports LPCM multichannel audio (from Blu-Ray) and can (to an extent) simulate surround sound for digital audio.  You'd have to make sure your Blu-Ray player is set to output LPCM audio.
  • It supports standby passthrough of audio and video, so you can still watch and listen to TV (through the crappy TV speakers) with the system turned off without the need for extra connections from each source to the TV.
  • It has 3 HDMI inputs, as well as some dedicated digital audio inputs, too, so hopefully enough support for all your devices.
It's important to keep in mind, that NO 3.1 system is going to be able to create simulated surround sound that will rival the real thing.  Results are likely to vary from disc to disc and will depend on how the material was encoded.


Also, as a side comment about your disappointment in the TVs ability to handle audio - that's just how it is.  TVs are not designed to be the hub of a system - that's what A/V receivers are for.


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#8 of 17 OFFLINE   smithcraft

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Posted June 07 2011 - 01:45 AM

I really appreciate your comments. Though I don't think it's entirely contradictory that I want good sound and want decent separation despite my wonky room layout. Just because a person wants something doesn't mean he can have it! But I can certainly have speakers on either side of the entertainment center, which I assume (and here's where my inexperience comes in -- assumptions are not always valid) provide for better sound separation than, say, a soundbar.


But I know very little about soundbars, and would like to learn.


As for mimicking surround sound -- I certainly understand that no 3.1 system can create true surround sound. But I'm thinking of some of the claims that Bose has made, that their two or speakers sound like a 5.1 system. I know that many people don't have a terribly high opinion of Bose (overpriced and underpeforming is what I usually hear), but their claim makes me think that some speakers or speaker systems out there may evoke the surround sound experience even without having rear speakers.


So could you say more about the subwoofer being able to simulate surround sound to an extent? Forgive my naivete, but if the subwoofer is, say, sitting in the far corner, how does the surround sound get simulated? I assumed (there's that dreaded word again) one would need as much physical separation as possible from L and R speakers, and then they somehow would perform some aural magic to trick the ear into thinking more sound was coming from elsewhere.


{sigh} The more questions I ask, the dumber I feel. Thanks for your patience with me, folks.



#9 of 17 OFFLINE   Al.Anderson

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Posted June 07 2011 - 02:14 AM

I think a soundbar would be a terrible idea for the OP.  They are designed to provided a single sound field.  When the main listening area moves from the couch to the comfy chair, the sound bar will not be able to be easily adjusted.

My opinion is close to that of Casey.  Go with a decent 3.1 system (and that includes a good sub).  You'll be pleased with the low end performance and clarity of the front stage.  Then, if you really want the full surround effect, you can later hire an electrician to run some wire through your walls.  (Or run them under the baseboard as someone suggested.  Or go under the floor into the basement.)

Keep in mind that the receiver will route the surround through the speakers you do have,so you won't lose the effects, you just won't get it coming from the sides.  There are also processing modes on all current receivers that will simulate surround sound.  If you use them you'll lose some precision on the front stage to gain the simulated rear stage.  You may find this preferable; you'll just have to have fun with the experimenting.


I do think you'll have to up the budget just a bit.  Expect about $250 for the receiver, $400 for the front speakers, and $350 for the sub.  Of course, as you're a good bargin hunter, this may come down.



#10 of 17 ONLINE   David Willow

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Posted June 07 2011 - 02:52 AM

Craig, Two of the biggest factors in how your speakers sound is the room they are in and how they are placed in the room. There is an art to this and no one layout is perfect (there are compromises no matter what you do). There are some general rules to follow to get the best sound and if you really want the best sound, you should consider it. BTW - I completely understand if you cannot (WAF, dual purpose room, etc). As someone said earlier, I hope we are not coming off as pushy. Most of us here try to attain the best sound and picture we can and we try to help others do the same. Here's a good reference for speaker layout. Use it as guide and do the best you can. Good luck.

#11 of 17 OFFLINE   smithcraft

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Posted June 07 2011 - 02:57 AM

Excellent advice, Al, and thanks. Though I had to laugh at the suggestion about the baseboard or the basement. I'm in Florida, where everything is on a concrete slab. No baseboard, no basement, no how!


Just out of curiosity, with my very strange furniture placement, where would you place the rear speakers so that they'd be acceptable both for me in my comfy chair (shades of Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and guests on the sofa?


And maybe I'm being stupid about electricians and/or installers. How much does someone charge to pull wiring through walls, or snake it under carpeting? I'm assuming it would be a bundle, but clearly my assumptions aren't always valid!


Al, do you agree with Casey's recommendations on brands? Is it always wise to buy one's components piecemeal, or is there any benefit to having them all from the same manufacturer and sold as a set?



#12 of 17 OFFLINE   Jason Charlton

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Posted June 07 2011 - 03:07 AM



Originally Posted by Al.Anderson 

I think a soundbar would be a terrible idea for the OP.  They are designed to provided a single sound field.  When the main listening area moves from the couch to the comfy chair, the sound bar will not be able to be easily adjusted.

I do think you'll have to up the budget just a bit.  Expect about $250 for the receiver, $400 for the front speakers, and $350 for the sub.  Of course, as you're a good bargin hunter, this may come down.


That's certainly a valid point, however, in the interests of keeping within the OP's budget and desire for keeping it easy to connect and setup the sound bar option shouldn't be discounted.


There should be alternatives that come a bit closer to the $500-600 goal than $1100!


Heck, for $500 he can just get an Onkyo 5400 whole setup and crate the extra speakers for the time being.  This isn't a big room - he doesn't necessarily NEED a $350 subwoofer.


A Dayton 10" can be had for $140.  Combine that with a pair of Polk Monitor 40s for $140 and matching CS2 center for another $150 (the CS1 is hard to find) and an Onkyo 508 for $190 from ac4l.  That should be more than adequate for this room.


Craig - the sound bars work by employing an array of several drivers (speakers) within the sound bar that are all controlled by circuitry contained within the "receiver" unit - in this case, within the subwoofer.


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#13 of 17 OFFLINE   gene c

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Posted June 07 2011 - 09:43 AM

I also suggested the soundbar for ease of installation and it can be turned with the display to accomodate different seating positions. But it won't perform as well as should be expected because, as I understand it, it uses reflections off the side and rear walls to mimic the surrounds. That might not work well with his seating position because of the strange angles. But I didn't discount the sound bar either because it really satisfied some of his other concerns.


I really don't see a good place for the surround speakers that would satisfy both seating positions. My best guess would be to the right of the couch and to the left of the chair and probably a little higher up the wall than would usually be recommended, pointed down a little. But it wouldn't be ideal in either case.


What I would probably do in his situation is go with a nice 3.1. If the decision was made to try and run the wires for surround speakers I would most likely only use them when friends came over. But would that be often enough to go to the trouble?.


I also like Jasons receiver and speaker recommendations except it appears Newegg.com has the CS1 for $69 (cherry) or $79 (black).


Another option would be the Polk RM6750 and mount all 5 speakers in the front of the room (with surrounds mounted like front height speakers. I know, I could get thrown off the forum for suggesting such a thing Posted Image but it couldn't sound much worse than a soundbar angled improperly and wiring wouldn't pose as much of a problem. Uh-oh. I think I'm up for another "worst advice of the year" award. I'll put it with the others Posted Image .


"Everyday room": Panasonic 58" Plasma, Dish HD DVR, Pioneer Elite vsx-23, BDP-23 BR, dv58avi universal dvd player, Paradigm Studio 20 V1, CC-450, Dayton HSU-10 subwoofer.

"Movie/Music room": Toshiba 65" DLP, Dish HD receiver, Marantz 7005, CC-4003, BD-7006, Polk LSI25's-LSi7's-LSiC, 2 original Dayton 10" "Mighty-Mites" subwoofers. (subject to change without notice).
 
Also have  MB Quart Vera VS05 +.....too much to list. Help me.
 
 

 


#14 of 17 OFFLINE   winniw

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Posted June 07 2011 - 04:05 PM

Craig,


When you are using the system alone, would headphones be acceptable to you?  If so, that may eliminate help to simplify things a bit.  That way, you would not have to turn everything around.


I use headphones at night and I do not miss the surround aspect at all.  However, I must say that if you do chose this solution, I highly recommend getting a very good set of headphones, because cheap ones would be terrible.



#15 of 17 OFFLINE   Al.Anderson

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Posted June 08 2011 - 12:22 AM


 Though I had to laugh at the suggestion about the baseboard or the basement. I'm in Florida, where everything is on a concrete slab. No baseboard, no basement, no how!


Ha!  Okay, scratch that idea.  ($12.99 for speaker wire; $30,000 to add a soggy basement.)


I don't think hiring an electrician would be *that* expensive.  It's would probably take him a couple of hours, so somewhere between $100-200.  He would probably leave some holes that you would have to paint over.  I just had some non-speaker wiring installed, and the holes were very small 1" x 2", near the ceiling/wall joint.

Don't go under the carpeting.  I used to be a carpet installer and any bump will show wear over time.  They have flat wire, but unless it's being placed in an extemely untraveled area I wouldn't trust it to not show wear.


 Just out of curiosity, with my very strange furniture placement, where would you place the rear speakers so that they'd be acceptable both for me in my comfy chair (shades of Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and guests on the sofa?


I don't have anything clever on the hardware/install side if things.  I think you'd still install them on the side walls directly to the sides of the couch.  So you'd still have a correction issue when you switched listening options.  However, most receivers let you have multiple calibartion settings, while I don't know of any sound bars that provide this feature.  But that's a good point I left out, you'd want to make sure that the reciver you selected had that option.


And yes, The Comfy Chair!  Because that the kind of torture we find making these sorts of HT purchase decisions!


That's certainly a valid point, however, in the interests of keeping within the OP's budget and desire for keeping it easy to connect and setup the sound bar option shouldn't be discounted.


There should be alternatives that come a bit closer to the $500-600 goal than $1100!


Heck, for $500 he can just get an Onkyo 5400http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=hometheaterforum-20&l=ur2&o=1 whole setup and crate the extra speakers for the time being.  This isn't a big room - he doesn't necessarily NEED a $350 subwoofer.


Fair enough Jason, I did kind of freely spend Craig's money there.  It's just that it seemed like he was in the early stages and the budget wasn't the primary consideration.  And given the way he talked about surround sound and booming bass led me to believe he'd prefer to trade the budget for something he'd be happier with.  Where I did a disservice was not pointing out the Onkyo level options.  But from personal experience I've had very bad results with low-end subs.  So while $350 might become $250, I had no luck going lower than that.  (Aren't the Daytons kits?)


On the flip side, Even though sound bars have their place, I wouldn't push someone to a sound bar to solve the easy-to-connect issue.  Recievers aren't that tricky, and we can walk anyone through it.



#16 of 17 OFFLINE   Jason Charlton

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Posted June 08 2011 - 01:08 AM

I suppose we should all recognize that it's a good thing that Craig is getting all kinds of advice... if anything, it reinforces that there are always different options that result from varying the balance of the "holy trinity" of criteria: Cost, Performance, Simplicity.


No doubt, a setup with a dedicated A/V receiver will offer improved performance and support for future growth compared to a soundbar.  On the budget side, however, it does mean a bump up in order to get speakers and subwoofer to go with it.


Parts-express does offer kits for the Daytons, but they also offer fully assembled versions of some models, one of which was the model I had linked to.  Probably the best value out there right now for subwoofers is the Lava 12" model.  HTF members who provide their username get a discount that brings the price down (I think) to about $285.


Craig could opt for the CS1 from NewEgg over the CS2 from Amazon, then get the 12" Lava instead of the Dayton and only increase the budget by about $75 or so (it's early, so I'll skip the math), or possibly go with the 10" Lava and come out about even.


Confused yet, Craig?  Posted Image


And Al is absolutely right - don't be concerned or intimidated by the idea of going with a receiver - we're always happy to help you get things hooked up and working correctly.



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#17 of 17 OFFLINE   Al.Anderson

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Posted June 08 2011 - 02:12 AM


 I suppose we should all recognize that it's a good thing that Craig is getting all kinds of advice...


Uh-oh!  I suddenly feel as if I'm going to be in a cornfield any second now ...