Surround Sound - Worth it?

Discussion in 'Speakers' started by JonathanL, Jul 31, 2005.

  1. JonathanL

    JonathanL Extra

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    EDIT: The title is supposed to be - Surround Sound - Worth it? If a mod happens to read this, could you change the title?

    -Thanks

    Here's my current system setup-
    Receiver: Onkyo HT-R410
    Speakers: Sansui SP-5500 vintage

    I also have HKB6 bookshelf speakers sitting around as well as a Sansui 771 vintage stereo receiver. I was previously using the Sansui receiver to power the Sp-5500 speakers, but I found the receiver's amp was noisy and not very clean - perhaps in need of reconditioning. Plus the Onkyo sounds great with Dolby Digital and DTS, even though they're downmixed to stereo. My question is - is it worth it to spend $300 buying a center and a sub to get a complete 5.1 setup? I am thinking that it might be better perhaps to get a higher end home theater receiver first or a kick-a** sub. Ultimately it is of course my decision, but I would like to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks for your time,
    -Jonathan.
     
  2. BrianMe

    BrianMe Stunt Coordinator

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    $300 isn't going to get you a kick@#s sub, or a high end receiver. If that's your budget, I'd say get a center and used sub.
     
  3. rob-h

    rob-h Second Unit

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    In answer to is it worth it......hell yes.
     
  4. Brian_cyberbri

    Brian_cyberbri Stunt Coordinator

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    Yes, it is very much worth it.

    For $150-300 you can get a decent center channel. The main thing you need to aim for is to have it match your left/right mains as much as possible, as far as timber/sound goes. It may not be easy (most people get the same brand/ same line), so you may have to search a little harder to find a good match. The reason they need to match is that you don't want something sounding different when it plays in the l/r versus the center, in pans, etc.

    You can get a decent low-end sub for $200-400. If you've never had a sub before, most anything will probably seem "kick-butt." I have an Acoustech H100 (12", goes to 24Hz, 150wRMS/500 max BASH amp), which I got for $280 shipped. Up into the $350-450 range, you can find low-end HSU/SVS subs. I'd say go with an online brand, as you can get more for your money because there is no middle-man B&M retailer to mark it up. My Acoustech uses the same amp as the HSU STF-1(?), and Dr. Hsu himself helped design it. It provides plenty of bass for me right now, and I couldn't be happier with it.

    Once you do upgrade, you'll definitely want to get an SPL meter and Avia so you can set up and balance everything properly. Even a great system may not sound very good if the balance and settings are out of wack. This especially goes for the subwoofer - placement and balance can ruin the sound of a good sub.


    After you have the setup for a while, you can think about upgrading your receiver, if you want. You can often find great deals on refurb models on ebay from the companies directly, or other websites. I just got a great deal on a Harman Kardon refurb model at less than 1/3 the original MSRP, from Harmanaudio on ebay. You can also check ebay for great deals on speakers and subs as well.
     
  5. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    Timbre is very important for a cohesive front stage, but you are highly unlikely to be able to find something that will match the vintage Sansuis.

    You can pick up a decent sub for $125 + shipping from www.partsexpress.com - part# 300-632. It's not a great sub, but it's one of the better budget minded ones. For the other roughly $150, you could pick up some decent surrounds and forget about a center for the time being.

    IMO, this will definitely be worth it for movies.
     
  6. EvanW

    EvanW Stunt Coordinator

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    I never really liked surround sound unless u could do it very well, with higher end audio all the way around when i first started out with dolby pro logic, the rears never really got a ton of signal sent to them and when they did they sounded like tin cans, the center got the most of the signal and power and i really didnt like this because i didnt by mains for them not to be used, so after i bought my first pair of towers, i quit using surround and went to using 2 ch and then to 2.1. Now that some new processing modes have come out its not so bad, just replicated 2 ch 7 ch stereo id guess ud say is fairly nice if u have 7 large floor standers. Also surround sounds terrible to me when listing to cds unless they are dvd audio or SACD's recorded for surround. Maybe its just that i perfer 2 ch to give it another chance now that i have the 1014 well now will be 1015 scince there sending me the new one. ill order the bookshelfs and center to match my floor standers.
     
  7. Brian_cyberbri

    Brian_cyberbri Stunt Coordinator

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    It's perfectly fine to listen to music in 2 or 2.1 stereo, and reserve the whole 5.1-7.1 system for movies encoded in DD/DTS.
     
  8. rob-h

    rob-h Second Unit

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    I use DSP processing on all my music. I never listen to anything in regular Stereo anymore.
     
  9. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    I'm the opposite; I never listen to any music with DSPs. [​IMG]
     
  10. Charlie Campisi

    Charlie Campisi Screenwriter

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    And it's definitely YOUR music at that point since it's no longer what the artist created... [​IMG]
     
  11. JeremyErwin

    JeremyErwin Producer

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  12. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    Stereo isn't coming from just the front speakers. It's being reflected off the walls, ceiling, floor, furniture, your body, etc... just like it would in a real, live venue. I don't recall seeing surround speakers at my last few concerts; all of the sound comes basically from the stage direction. DSPs attempt to add spatial cues that simulate that effect. While somewhat effective, it depends on the recording as to what level of effect is created based on the out of - and random phase information present in the stereo material.

    Stereo mixes are done in...yes, stereo (since various parts of the music may not have been recorded at the same time), and is basically intended for radio broadcast in stereo. How you choose to listen to them is up to you.
     
  13. LanceJ

    LanceJ Producer

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    I'm going to sound like a surround music snob here but while I do think DPLII, Logic7 and their numerous variants can sometimes do a good job of generating a listenable surround music sound field, I'm still not a big fan of them. Because in the end I hardly ever use them because of what Charlie brought up: the resulting 5.1 sound field is not what the musician intended and because of a DSP system's inherent limitations (i.e. the software that operates the chip itself) the placement of those sounds is a nearly random process. Because the software has to look at the stereo mix and guesstimate where a certain sound should be placed.....and I'm not comfortable with that. Sometimes I've heard some really wacky effects coming from behind me--not good.

    Also, when compared to a true surround mix created in a studio from the multitrack master tapes, a DSP chip cannot possibly hope to emulate the many interesting and artistic effects the musician & studio mixer have at their disposal. The most obvious one would be moving effects (though this can really upset certain music purists!). With the right type of music and done tastefully, such sonic flourishes can add to the music's emotion. And if the artist wants to REALLY make a statement he can: anybody who has heard the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots dvd-audio they know exactly what I am talking about (IIRC one track even has a warning about listening to it while driving a car because it could cause directional disorientation).

    Other effects include multiplying one instrument or vocal to have it appear from all five speakers at the same time but in a way that makes it seem like 5 distinct instruments or voices--very cool. Again, a DSP chip can't do this.

    Sidewall imaging: my Martin/Medeski/Wood dvd-audio has their drum kit arrayed all along the right side of my room (that right rear speaker handles FULL-range bass originating from the bass drum, so small sat owners should watch out for this).

    Certain discs have backup vocals specifically set in back so they are literally backing up the lead vocalist located in front of me.

    A lot of surround mixes don't use the center channel--this gives the front sound stage a more airy and spread out effect. But every time I've used most DSP options they end up planting the lead vocal smack dab in the center speaker which can cause that singer to have an overly-aggressive effect on the overall presentation.

    Some discs have specific lyrics delivered only by one rear speaker, so this very much heightens the importance of that particlular idea in that song.

    And then there is the "sound bubble" effect that quite a few discs have where it seems you are surrounded by a seamless sphere of music, where few if any sounds seem to originate from a specific speaker. My Pet Sounds disc and (surpisingly) my Crystal Method disc are like this.

    Because of the common misconception that all surround music is just some random set of sounds stuck in each speaker by easily-entertained studio engineers or talentless musicians [​IMG] I am getting the feeling that many people think DSP-generated surround music is the same as the carefully thought out studio version. But, they are absolutely NOT the same thing.

    This is also why I think the sacd, dvd-audio and DTS-CD surround formats have not become as popular as they could be: "Damn, why should I spend another $15-$20 on the surround version of Beck's Sea Change album when I can just pop in the stereo CD version, push a button on my receiver and hear the same thing?" Because you WILL NOT hear the same thing, and I haven't even mentioned the distortions that can occur from all the electronic futzing a DSP system does to the music to produce its own 5.1 version. And for fans of the hi-res formats, I am pretty sure most DSP chips operate no higher than 48kHz (not bad but still not as good as 96kHz/192kHz or DSD......).

    In my opinion certain DSP modes can sound pretty good sometimes, especially the ones based on actual computer recordings of a venue's acoustics, but ultimately I hardly ever use them.
     
  14. DevinJC

    DevinJC Stunt Coordinator

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    harumph.

    "not listening to what the artist intended..." And exactly what sort of stereo system did the artist intend? Obviously the boom box in my garage is stereo... is that good enough? a $400 system? $8000 system? An Ipod wonderfully compressed with horrible freq response earbuds?

    Let's see U2's Zooropa album. Hmm. It was an arena tour, big show, razzdazzle screens. Was the album mixed to present a big outdoor sound? Hell, were the songs written for this big outdoor sound? Was the whole thing done with the tour in mind, thus you can't really "listen" to what the artist intended, as the spectacle is just as important as the music?

    "Yoshimi battles the pink robots" is a 2 disc with a very experimental DVD-A and a redbook CD. Um. What does the artist intend here?

    The artist, in most cases, probably intends for you to enjoy their art. Few are probably dismissing the cheap stereo masses has being unable to truly get what they are doing because those soundstages aren't good enough.

    Use the DSP if you want. Sometimes it adds depth and realism, sometimes it grossly exaggerates one element of the song, sometimes it just seems a little louder, and hell occasionally, it makes your 10X13 room sound like Carnegie Hall.

    Me, I go either way, some music is warped by DSPs (some bizarre guitar accents on new Foo Fighters album), others can be really enhanced by it depending on your preferences (e.g. I find that listening to Beck stereo albums in DPLIIx is like having house size headphones).

    Bottomline, no right, no wrong, no violation of the artist intentions. You like, you do, enjoy.

    This rant was totally designed to release some work stress, and not directed at anyone in particular.

    I'll go back to drawing my map now.
     
  15. FeisalK

    FeisalK Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]
     
  16. LanceJ

    LanceJ Producer

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    [​IMG]

    Um, I never said ANYTHING about the quality of a music fan's audio system. In fact, the last three years I have made a point on this forum of making sure people know that it doesn't require a $10K system to enjoy music or a movie.

    I really am not all that anal about staying 100% & Perfectly True to what a musician wanted me to hear because I myself listen to much of my music in "improper" ways: for example, my car--a horrible environment as far as imaging and overall acoustics are concerned--or laying on my couch while (barely) reading a book or newspaper which is totally out of the sweet spot.

    But speaking in a strict sense sending a piece of music through the digital meatgrinder that is a DSP chip *IS* altering the artist's intentions.

    And as I said above, with certain DSP modes music can sound more realistic. A perfect example is when I sold HT and we started carrying a big Elite-like Pioneer receiver called the VSX-D2. It cost $1,400 in 1994. Its DSP system was built around real music venues' acoustics & it even came with a separate booklet showing the reverb waveforms sent to each rear channel (and each channel received its own specfic signal-yes, the rears were in stereo). When I played my Telarc CD of "The Firebird Suite" using the D2's hall mode in our demo system (all JBL speakers in a properly placed 5.1 configuration with the rear speakers to the sides & behind us) the added and very realistic hall reverb added tremendously to this particular music's impact. But that's all it was, reverb, and not a bunch of randomly occurring sounds popping out of nowhere.

    It's interesting though: when I've mentioned here that I think using a test disc and an SPL meter isn't needed to enjoy an HT system, lots of people pop up and get all upset about such an attitude and tell me I am not respecting the director's intentions. Different priorities I guess.
     
  17. rob-h

    rob-h Second Unit

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    Proper calibration is completely different then listening to music in 7 channel stereo, Neo6, Dolby pro logic II or the 16 DSP modes my system has. Improper calibration keeps you from enjoying HT. DSP if it fits the listeners preference helps you enjoy it more.
     
  18. Victor Ferguson

    Victor Ferguson Stunt Coordinator

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    My opionion is this. Listen to it the way it was intended. If it is recorded in 2 channels. Listen to it with 2 channels. If recorded and mastered to 5 then listen to 5. Anyone who has heard a good pair of speakers can tell you that 2 channel music can sound wonderfull and adding DSP effects ruins it. If you don't have good mains or they are setup incorrectly it may very well sound better in multi-channel but thats not because multi-channel improves on the origional source its just making up for a poor 2 channel setup. Everyone has there own opinions and thats just mine.
     
  19. rob-h

    rob-h Second Unit

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    2 channel can be good but truely enveloping sound can be had with the other processing options. Its all in what you like.
     
  20. John S

    John S Producer

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    John Garcia....

    I attended a Joe Satriani concert in SanFransisco that was presented live in DD 5.1, well 4.1 they did not have a center channel. Was pretty cool. They were making the DVD in 5.1 so I think that is why they decided to try it.


    But, they should do it more often, was better than stereo, but not as odd as quad in the old days. I really enjoyed it.
     

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