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Should I buy a home theater in a box, or should I buy speakers and a receiver separately?
March 4, 2009 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Should I buy a home theater in a box, or should I buy speakers and a receiver separately?

My fiancee and I are moving into a new apartment soon, and would like to upgrade our home theater system when we do. I was wondering if anyone had any pros or cons for the home-theater-in-a-box type systems like this one, or should I piece it together myself? Should I avoid certain brands, or are they all basically the same? I'm no audiophile, but I would like a system that is 7.1 channel for some future proofing. If it helps, here is what I will be hooking up to it:
PS3
Sharp Aquos 37" 1080p LCD HDTV (will probably upgrade this soon, too)
Wii
Potentially my PC

Is there anything I should keep in mind? Will there be any compatibility issues if I upgrade to a newer TV of a different brand? Do they have wireless systems so I don't have to mess around with wiring all over the place (though the reason I want to do this now is so I can properly wire it up before we set all our furniture up in the new place). I'm looking to spend less than $1,000 on the receiver and speakers, if that's possible.
posted by Grither to Technology (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh man, I knew I'd forget something. I'm also hooking up my Tivo HD XL to it as well...
posted by Grither at 10:58 AM on March 4, 2009


Future proofing and system-in-a-box are mutually exclusive. Some HTIAB's have proprietary connectors, including the speaker connectors, which makes it difficult to upgrade speakers if you desire. Almost certainly the answer is to piece the system together according to your specific needs.

I did a quick calculation comparing my Onkyo system with Pioneer speakers and it was just about the same price as a Bose-In-A-Box system that a friend purchased, and definitely much more powerful and upgradeable.
posted by odinsdream at 11:05 AM on March 4, 2009


I prefer to buy separately. Some of the all-in-one-box setups have cables with jacks wired into the ends of them, making it difficult to swap out cables, etc. without soldering together some new bits. If it has plain wire, with pinch-grip connectors, you might be OK. You're much more likely to get better quality speakers, and a better receiver, if you buy separately. For example you may find that a Panasonic or Pioneer receiver has the features you desire, but that Yamaha or JBL makes better speakers.

Any receiver you buy ought to have full HDMI, so that sound is carried through along with video in the same cable - that will cut down on cable clutter. All else ought to be able to plug into the receiver using standard connections (check the specs on the add-ins, see what they can do for audio/video output [optical, RCA, component, etc.] and make sure the receiver has enough inputs to accommodate them all).

Can't understand why you want to replace the TV though, it's the same as the one I have and I am perfectly happy with it. Unless it's just a size issue, or you're looking for a TV with DVI input for computer use.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:07 AM on March 4, 2009


While the sound is sufficient (read: not awesome) for the room I have it in, I am sorry I went the HTIAB route since it does have the proprietary connectors meaning its a closed system. I can't upgrade speakers. I will have to toss the lot and start fresh if I ever get sick of it. You are better off with individual components.
posted by zennoshinjou at 11:20 AM on March 4, 2009


I recommend CrutchField, by the way, for any system components or speakers. I've ordered from them for years and never had an issue. Do not buy cables anywhere but MonoPrice.
posted by odinsdream at 11:25 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Separates are definitely the way to go. A general rule of thumb is that component makers like Onkyo, Yamaha, Denon, etc. make fine receivers and DVD players, but they make lousy speakers. You really want to seek out a manufacturer that primarily makes speakers, excluding Bose. Do not buy Bose. It's always been somewhat the same for turntables--the best are usually made by manufacturers that focus on turntables.

I personally would recommend checking out speakers made by Paradigm. They're among the best speaker deals available today.
posted by TrialByMedia at 12:25 PM on March 4, 2009


I bought a system in a box. No proprietary connectors or anything stupid like that, it's been nothing but good.

I heard an engineer say once that properly matching speakers and amp to get the best out of them is a lot more complex than just matching the impedance and watts (ie what everyone does), so it's simpler/safer (and likely better) to get a set where the parts are all designed for each other. But I don't know enough about it to know how much stock to put in this.
(It seems pretty difficult to find audiophiles who manage to not subscribe to any of the wide selection of myths around sound equipment, so I don't consider that I have much chance to fare any better)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:01 PM on March 4, 2009


If you want the surround system ASAP at and you're on a budget, I'd say go HTIB (go 5.1, you can upgrade into 7.1 later). Just make sure it has standard interconnects.

While the sound quality won't be as good as separates, you can take your time upgrading while getting full surround sound and it gives you time to research exactly what you want.

Usually the surround channels an sub are decent enough so that you only need to upgrade the front L/R channels (and possibly center). And you can move from 5.1 to 7.1 that way.
posted by wongcorgi at 2:39 PM on March 4, 2009


First of all, don't by Bose - you're paying a premium for the marketing and the home theater geeks will make fun of you (I'm one of them).

Next: there ain't no such thing as "future proof".

Next 2: don't bother with wireless speakers - you won't be happy with them.

Next 3: seconded on Monoprice - terrific product at amazing prices.

Next 4: visit the AVSforum. There's an HTIAB forum there. Friendly, slightly insane people there.

Simple answer: the Onkyo system you've linked to is fine.
posted by cptnrandy at 3:31 PM on March 4, 2009


I recommend CrutchField, by the way, for any system components or speakers.

Agreed.

Do not buy cables anywhere but MonoPrice.

Disagree. Blue Jeans Cable is a correct answer. I can't spea to MonoPrice, but BJC is very high quality cable for rational prices.
posted by eriko at 5:18 PM on March 4, 2009


but I would like a system that is 7.1 channel for some future proofing.

I have doubts about the importance of 7.1 channels over 5.1. In fact, I have doubts about the importance of 5.1 over 2.1. And, if you have the right 2, the .1 really isn't that important either.

To do it right, you have to spend time learning. The best way to do that.. Hit your local craigslist and buy some speakers that aren't too bad. Buy a receiver (new or used in this case) that will do most of what you want it to do. Start messing around with speaker placement to see how radically that effects the sound in the room. At that point do whatever you think you should, or ask more questions, whatever..

If you don't want to do it right yourself, best advice is to find a knowledgeable friend or hire an adviser -- a mixed bag either way, to be sure, but you are abdicating that responsibility so don't complain :P

If you have any interest in finding good used speakers on your local craigslist, I'd be more than happy to troll the listings for some reasonable candidates.
posted by Chuckles at 9:04 PM on March 4, 2009


I have doubts about the importance of 7.1 channels over 5.1. In fact, I have doubts about the importance of 5.1 over 2.1. And, if you have the right 2, the .1 really isn't that important either.

Just to elaborate on this a little.. I guess I have a bias toward music listening, and I think you should get the two channel setup right first. When you have a good two channel setup, and you really want a more cinematic feel, then you can worry about adding channels. The reason I think that way.. Well, you'd have to hear a good audio system to understand.
posted by Chuckles at 9:08 PM on March 4, 2009


Chuckles, it's hard to agree with you when listening to, for example, the lobby gunfight scene in the first Matrix on a 5 or 7 channel system and comparing it to the 2 channel. Now, this is specifically because the Matrix audio is carefully crafted to really show off the extra channels. Lots of movies don't take advantage of it at all, in fact some of them completely misuse the channels.

I would agree however that it's very important to get good front channels and a decent sub.
posted by odinsdream at 6:14 AM on March 5, 2009


Thanks for all the answers so far, it looks like I might go with the separate components, though harlequin has scared me a bit about the compatibility of different systems. Hmmm. Any recommendations for good quality, not ridiculously expensive speakers/receivers?
posted by Grither at 6:24 AM on March 5, 2009


Paradigm makes great speakers that are roughly in your price range. The Atoms are excellent home theater speakers. They list at about $250 a pair, but I've seen them on ebay for far less.
posted by rtimmel at 8:17 AM on March 5, 2009


Your $1000 budget is easily enough for a nice system. I would recommend an Onkyo receiver with the capabilities and inputs for your specific needs. This is a personal thing. Do you have a satellite radio receiver? How many HDMI devices? Any component devices? How many speakers do you want to drive? Answers to these questions will narrow down your selection and then you can choose based on price.

For speakers I'm partial to Polk, which I have for my front and center channels, though I also have a set of cheap Pioneer ones that are great, and I have a powered Yahama subwoofer.

Though -harlequin- may have a point on the theoretical compatibility of speakers from an engineering standpoint, any "error" you'd get is likely indistinguishable in normal use. You'll be absolutely fine getting different brands of components.
posted by odinsdream at 5:43 PM on March 5, 2009


-harlequin- is correct in that you want your speakers to be timbre matched, which generally means they should all be from the same manufacturer. Otherwise they can cancel each other out in certain places and sound funny.

Of course, when you're talking about a $400-$500 amp and $500 worth of speakers, it doesn't make a huge difference. You'll be far better off than an HTIB in features and audio quality, even if its not up to some audiophile's standard.

I would suggest at least getting a center speaker that matches your fronts.

FWIW, I have an Onkyo receiver and a set of cheapie JBLs and they sound a whole lot better than the Sony HTIB I had previously. I could have put the system together for about $600 had I been more patient. Instead I ended up spending about $800.

I still need to replace my sub, though. Then I'll probably get a couple of nice floor standing speakers to replace the front speakers, although it's probably overkill in my living room, which isn't exactly great acoustically.
posted by wierdo at 11:49 PM on March 5, 2009


Thanks for the help guys, I've been checking out Crutchfield, and it looks like they have a lot of good advice columns on there, too. I've decided to go with an onkyo receiver and Polk speakers (I currently have two pretty nice Polk bookshelf ones for my PC, that I'm gonna move to the living room). Thanks again!
posted by Grither at 11:40 AM on March 13, 2009


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