The plug-and-play home theater, this is not
September 17, 2010 10:42 AM   Subscribe

My Panasonic home theater audio receiver died. I want to replace it but not all the other components of my system. How can I find compatible hardware before making a purchase?

Five years ago I bought the system, a Panasonic SC-HT15 home-theater-in-a-box. It came with the receiver, subwoofer, and five satellite speakers. Each of those items has its own model number:

Receiver: SA-HT15
Front Speakers: SB-FS880
Surround Speakers: SB-FS15
Center Speaker: SB-PC15
Subwoofer: SB-WA15

This is the instruction manual for the system, if more detail helps.

I'm concerned that I won't be able to just replace the receiver, because it's interdependent with the subwoofer. There's some sort of proprietary (I think) "system cable" that provides power to the receiver, and sends all audio to the subwoofer. The satellite speakers are all connected by normal speaker wire to the subwoofer, not to the receiver. It's the only home theater I've ever owned, but I assume that's weird. Don't most receivers have their own power cables, and send only a discrete LFE signal to the sub? And satellite speakers usually connect directly to the receiver, don't they?

Anyway, I don't want to buy more new hardware than I have to. I'd prefer to buy something currently in production, not a five-year-old identical model. Is there any way to find a new receiver that will play nice with my subwoofer via that weird "system cable?" Barring that, what is a good receiver/subwoofer combo that will output signals at the appropriate wattage for my other five speakers?
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis to Technology (7 answers total)
Looking at your manual I'd say you are out of luck. The cable is definitely proprietary from the receiver to the sub. You may be able to use the rest of your speakers besides the sub with a new receiver. Just make sure it supports a 4 ohm load. Only other choice is to try eBay for the same model receiver as a replacement. Might be a good time to start building a newer surround system starting with the receiver and sub woofer, then upgrading the speakers later. I wouldn't recommend another system in a box solution unless it has standard connections. My personal preference is to buy the pieces separately but realize many people aren't as picky.
posted by white_devil at 11:05 AM on September 17, 2010

This is one of the biggest problems with "home theater in a box." I think it's unlikely you'll find a standalone replacement receiver that will work. You might be able to find a used replacement receiver from the same type of system. In the long run, you'll probably be better off moving to a more standard setup.

I had to buy a new receiver earlier this year (one of the channels on my ~11 year old one died), and for my budget, needs and preferences, it came down to Onkyo and Denon. I previously had an Onkyo and liked it a lot, but I ended up buying a Denon. It seemed to be somewhat higher quality for the money and the combination of ports it had fit my system a little better. It's hard to make a specific recommendation without knowing how much you want to spend, what other components you have, what you might want to buy in the future (e.g. new tv, blu-ray player, AppleTV, etc.) and so on.

My subwoofer is a Klipsch (also about 11 years old and going strong), but I'm not overwhelmed by it, so I won't really say it's what I'd recommend. It was cheap and has done the job for years, though.
posted by sharding at 11:05 AM on September 17, 2010

The system cable is probably a pair of connectors for each speaker, a pair for the sub, and a couple of power lines for the receiver. In theory, you could hack that up so it is just the sub outputs, connect on an RCA jack, and connect that to a real receiver.

Or you could just buy a sub-$100 subwoofer.
posted by smackfu at 11:26 AM on September 17, 2010

white_devil and sharding: That's what I was afraid of. I like A/V stuff to a certain extent but once you start talking about ohms and watts and resistance and impedance, my eyes glaze over. :-) I know about the various cable standards and I can pick a receiver with the inputs and outputs that I need. What's the most foolproof way for me to pick a new receiver and sub that meet my needs, that won't trash my five satellite speakers?

Not that they're the greatest speakers in the world but they function, they're a good size for my living room, and I really don't want to drill new holes to mount replacements. Too much effort, and I'm moving in a few months anyway.

smackfu: Yeah, hacking up a proprietary connector cable is way out of my comfort zone. I'd probably end up burning my house down.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:28 AM on September 17, 2010

This Yamaha looks like it supports 4 ohms but I would ask the sales rep to make 100% sure. Got decent reviews on amazon and seems a good compromise between price/performance. Leaves you power to add better speakers in the future also. Pretty much any of the major players (Denon, Onkyo, Sony, etc) in this price range will offer good performance. As for the sub I'm a big fan of the kits from parts express, but for pre assembled this is a good deal. I build a sub using some of the same components just bigger driver and more power. Just an FYI from your manual this and most other non HTIB (Home Theater in a Box) subs will be significantly bigger than what you had before so check the size and see if it fits in your space.
posted by white_devil at 2:09 PM on September 17, 2010

Great, thanks for the tips! I'm planning on picking something up tomorrow (from a physical store) but this should be good info to arm myself with.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:11 PM on September 17, 2010

Follow-up: I got a great deal on a Sony AV receiver and a Yamaha subwoofer and they just work. I'd even go so far as to say the home theater sounds better than it ever has, even though five of the six speakers haven't changed at all. Thanks so much for the help! The whole experience turned out to be quite painless.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:22 AM on September 22, 2010

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