I was motivated to create this thread by all the reports, official and otherwise, of the severe downturn in popularity of component audio systems for movie and music playback. Obviously this attitude hasn't reached everyone since the HTF is still here along with several other A/V forums, so the people this thread is mostly aimed at are: 1) movie fans that would enjoy high quality sound BUT do not enjoy fussing with complicated gear, either its initial set-up or its day-to-day operation. I've read several article recently describing the issue of "technology overload" and I truly believe this is one of the factors causing those sagging sales numbers. *We* may enjoy pulling up on-screen menus and excitedly scrolling through them, pulling out rulers for speaker/sweet spot distance numbers or dialing in optimum crossover points, but many others do not. 2) movie fans that want high quality sound BUT do not enjoy seeing speakers scattered throughout their living room, even the small cubical or in-wall variety. Whether we like it or not, in many peoples' living rooms function follows form. 3) movie fans that aren't "golden ears". I'm not really into so-called "hi-end" gear myself and IMO using a $10K pair of speakers to play back the lossy compressed formats that dvds use like Dolby Digital or even DTS seems silly. I always try to convince others how much a surround system can heighten the enjoyment of watching movies, but if they still remain unconvinced , that’s when I present them with the concept of a Stereo Home Theater . Most seem surprised that this is an option, I guess because of all the talk of 5.1 and such. And anyway, AFAIK only a minority of movies ("movies" meaning starting from around the 1930s) feature 5.1 soundtracks and of those, not all of them are all that active anyway (but those active ones sure can be a lot of fun to experience!). *I* know that even in quiet scenes where there is just ambient information surrounding the audience - i.e. birds, wind, people in restaurants setting their forks on plates - can definitely add to the sense of "being there", but not everyone considers this important, and indeed, it is just an enhancement to what's on the screen i.e. the "meat" of the soundtrack is contained in the front channels. While a stereo home theater may seem old-skool to some and a step backwards in technology, 2.0 channel component audio playback can still provide a very engaging experience, and sounding MUCH better than any built-in TV speakers I know of. And a high quality stereo system can be purchased for many less dollars than a comparable quality surround system. FYI: from now on I'm going to refer to the person that doesn't get into A/V gear as a hobby but still enjoys quality sound as an "Average Joe", or "AJ" for short. This is not meant as a derogatory term but only as a form of shorthand. I thought about using the phrase "movie fan" but its initials were a bit too earthy for this discussion. To the other members of HTF: please add anything to this discussion you think would help, but one thing I would ask you to keep in mind as you type is points #1 and #3 above, but especially #1. We're competing against sexy and easy-to-use gear like iPods and it imitators, and all-in-one systems from a certain manufacturer who loves using little paper cones crammed into plastic cubes that I think produce very compromised sound, so IMO the K.I.S.S. ("keep it simple stupid") principal ought to be followed. And here we go............. ***************************************** Since the receiver is the heart of an A/V system, I went around to most of the major manufacturers' sites, found their 2.0 channel receivers, and placed links to them below. For me anyway, radio nowadays is mostly a wasteland of focus-grouped pablum and ultra-niche formats that appeal to practically no one, but there are still a few quality stations out there in addition to the talk radio that has become so popular. Otherwise I would have listed more integrated amplifers (basically a receiver but without a tuner), though I did provide a link to a Pioneer Elite integrated. Also, I chose all this equipment based on easy availability. In other words, no gear that is only available at audio "salons" that you have to drive two hours to get to, and/or from overseas sellers. Based on much personal experience, telling AJ such a thing will likely get you rolling eyeballs and severely decreasing interest in such a piece of gear....or the entire 2.0 HT system idea. Harmon/Kardon 2 models Onkyo: TX-8011 This has "only" 50 watts per channel, but personal experience tells me this is more than enough for many people when used in the "average" living room, even when used with (most) speakers equipped with up to a 10" woofer. TX-8211 TX-8511 Sherwood RX-4105 Entry-level model; seems built well for the price though. Sony STR-DE197 Many, many people own Sony dvd players and Sony TVs - this model's remote will make an all-Sony system easier to use (point #1) & style-wise will make for a unified system. Also one of the very few receivers here that allow the user to create custom names (shown on the fluorescent display) for radio stations & the receiver's various inputs - nice. Denon 5 models Yamaha 3 brand new models + older ones. FYI: Two of these are XM Satellite Radio Ready - very cool! Outlaw Audio RR2150 Not your conventional receiver! Also, the only 2.0 receiver here (or anywhere?) that includes bass management for sub/satellites. Pioneer Elite A-35R Nice little integrated amp. Like the small Onkyo TX-8011's power output, this model's power output is plenty for many AJs (and HT hobbyists). Black glossy finish matches most Pioneer plasma monitors. >>> Several of these receivers include multizone and/or multisource capability. >>> Most also include phono inputs. Surprisingly the majority of these receivers include *video* switching facilities. But they are only of the composite variety and if AJ has a big screen monitor the drop in image quality will be evident compared to the S-video or component connection method, so I would advise connecting the dvd player and other video components directly to the monitor using at least the S-video connection. Also, S-video only involves one cable with not much sacrifice in image quality (eeewww, dangling cables - see point #2). Though if AJ is using a 35" or smaller monitor, the composite image may be perfectly exceptable to him (see point #3, but change to "golden EYE" ) & one good composite video cable is much cheaper than the other two connection methods. About half of the receivers include a subwoofer output in the form of a single RCA phono plug. But based on reading their manuals (which basically said nothing about this feature ) with the exception of the Outlaw, I'm assuming they all output a full-range signal and don't include any sort of individual level control. No biggy, just use the sub's crossover & gain controls.......if you're using a sub. Which brings me to the next Big Decision. Subwoofers for a stereo HT system Subs can add a lot of fun to watching many movies, but they can also be a major pain in the rear to deal with even for a dedicated HT enthusiast. And for many style-conscious people, are absolute eyesores. AND not everyone is into watching action/adventure movies all the time, the ones that usually take advantage of a sub's capabilities the most. So keeping points #1 and #3 firmly in mind, for now I'm assuming no subwoofer will be used in the following system: Personally speaking, for a living room that's around 16 x 22 x 8ft, with any of the receivers above, a pair of bookshelves or floorstanders with an 8" woofer, can easily attain volume levels that would require shouting to carry on a conversation with the person seated directly next to you. Bass would not be all that "feelable" but it could certainly be easily heard (some movies include bass specifically in the 40-60Hz range because studios know not everyone owns a sub). A single 6.5 woofer would also be about as loud, but bass would be even less. A speaker with a 10" woofer or dual eights IMO would be able to provide a good chunk of feelable bass, almost like a small subwoofer can provide. For me, a pair of bookshelfs with a single 6.5" woofer is the smallest I would use for a stereo HT system, even in a smaller space. Though for music use, many such speakers have very enjoyable bass output (most rock/pop bass exists around 40Hz to 60Hz). A stereo system with a subwoofer I'll bet the first thing an HT enthusiast will think when they read that is "How do you integrate a sub smoothly with conventional speakers without a full bass management system?" Well, technically speaking the chances of that happening *smoothly* aren't that high. But keeping point #3 in mind, while such a system might have a slightly lumpy bass response, IMO the increase in sub-30Hz bass, the kind that makes grown men giggle when a plane roars by on the screen, will more than offset that. And lumpy bass doesn't always sound that bad! But the majority of subs are easy to connect to these receivers, either through their sub output or via the receiver's speaker outputs (either the "A" or "B" outputs). But what about the left/right speakers? I checked out the manuals for about seven easily-available subwoofers, and only two had speaker level outputs. This usually means they have a built-in crossover to filter out certain low frequencies from the satellite speakers connected to them, but it isn't adjustable - not good. But what's even worse is that using the sub's speaker-level crossover means the satellite's internal crossover will be connected in series to another crossover - this is an electrical no-no because this can play havoc with the crossover's behavior in the sat, and probably audibly change the sat's sound. I personally would not use this "bass management" method. Despite the lack of a full crossover system, I think a sub can be reasonably integrated with a pair of speakers running full range, using just one's ears to do so (I really, really don't believe AJ will run out and buy a calibration disc and a sound level meter for this one-time procedure). The only potential problem with the full-range sats + sub system is if someone REALLY cranks up the system: the sub may be playing at high levels with no problem, but if the sats are on the small side (i.e. a 6.5" or smaller woofer) they may get overpowered and the sound of their suffering woofers & possibly tweeters also may be masked by the sub's output. This might result in a pair of fried woofers. Idea: use floorstanders with built-in powered subs for a "half-way" solution. Subs usually sound best when placed in or near a corner. But you cannot usually do this with conventional speakers, and anyway, such placement can cause them to sound very boomy & can really mess with their midrange frequencies. But the two powered floorstanders, with plain brute force, can potentially overcome much of the bass *level* deficiency (compared to unpowered floorstanders) when placed away from corners. Also, a less powerful receiver can be used with the powered versions. For a stereo HT, use the dvd's stereo or Dolby Surround track if available a) Obviously one can only use a dvd player's left/right outputs with a 2.0 system (none of the above receivers includes a digital input). b) Surround tracks and stereo tracks are two different animals, so to create the proper sound fields and moving effects, they are mixed separately by the movie studio (though some really economy-minded studios might not do this). Problem: if the disc's 5.1 track is selected, the player automatically downmixes all those channels into two channels. This means that when this "mix" is played by the left/right speakers, much of the front sound image will likely be rather disjointed (rear channels effects are now crammed haphazardly into the front sound stage) and moving effects (the ones that were supposed to be reproduced by the rear channels) will likely sound incorrect in level. It's not like all this will be horribly unlistenable, but it won't exactly be what the director wanted you to hear either. Solution: use the disc's stereo or Dolby Surround track if one is provided. Also, when a dvd player downmixes a 5.1 track, all the ones I've dealt with discard the LFE signal, in other words the ".1" channel doesn't make it to the receiver. This is because the typical TV's 5" internal speakers can't handle a 20Hz signal! But when a stereo track is mixed, from what I've read, most of the time the extreme low bass effects are replaced with relatively higher frequencies in the 40Hz or so range so AJ can at least *hear* the starship's engines or the torpedoes explode. And anyone who's heard a 40Hz signal (especially if they own a graphic equalizer) knows this can provide a powerful punch. Classic technology FYI: if someone is using an older A/V receiver with only Dolby Surround or Dolby Pro-Logic, use the disc's Dolby Surround option if provided. This 2.0 track will have been specially encoded with what's called a matrixed surround signal: the receiver's decoder will then pick it up and send it to the rear speakers (the signal is mono but still played by both speakers). This system can provide fully audible directional effects, even though they aren't full-range or in stereo like with the Dolby Digital or DTS formats. Using a "plain" stereo track can also result in some accidently cool effects too, either directional and/or ambient. If anyone sees anything really out of line here, make sure you say something!