Working the audio angle.
November 11, 2010 5:22 AM   Subscribe

It's time to take the plunge and upgrade the audio components of my home entertainment setup. What specific makes and models should I research to ensure the best bang for my buck?

My budget is in the $1000-$2000 range, and I'm looking for a receiver and speakers to connect to my TV for watching Blu-rays. No musical CDs will be involved, so I want to steer clear of anything that smacks of high-end audiophile equipment. I generally keep the volume on "moderate," so I don't need to shake the walls. My goal is a solid mid-range system that will last a decade or more.

-Currently, my Blu-ray player is a PS3. Should I invest in a 7.1 (as opposed to 5.1) system?
-Assuming that I'll be buying on a shopping site like Amazon, what brands and models of receivers and speakers should I be looking at? (Specific recommendations and anecdotes/anecdata A++).
-Any additional tips or caveats?

As you can see, I'm a noob on all matters audio, so any and all advice would be greatly appreciated!
posted by Gordion Knott to Technology (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you need digital audio and HDMI cabling, Monoprice is a great place to visit.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:41 AM on November 11, 2010

Best answer: I've been really happy with Denon and Onkyo receivers. If I were buying a receiver today in your price range, I would get the Onkyo HT-RC260 or the Denon AVR-1611.

It's usually a good idea to put a good portion of your money into the speakers. The quality of your speakers will have the most impact on your sound.

I have a 5.1 system and I've been very happy with it. I don't have enough experience to know whether 7.1 is an upgrade with an effect, or if it's just hype to get people to spend more money. In a properly set up surround system, the surround speakers won't typically be blasting out sound; it's mostly a more subtle effect.

Based on your budget, I would recommend going for a 5.1 system but buy a receiver that supports 7.1 and you can always add more speakers on later. In fact, you may want to buy just the front L+R channels and center now and get the surrounds later and sub. This will let you get better speakers.

In terms of speakers, find a place in your area that will let you hear a lot of different brands of speakers. Since you're interested in movie audio and not music, bring your favorite DVD and note the chapters of some scenes that you really like and play those scenes while listening to the various speakers. One thing I've noticed is that a lot of places like to blast you with volume when demoing speakers. Insist on listening to things at a realistic volume as well. Some Best Buys have listening rooms.

Also, have you checked out the AVS forum? I've gotten a lot of good advice there in the past.

For speakers, I like Cambridge SoundWorks. My home theater has a pair of their older towers (T205s, I think). The surrounds (S205) and the center (MC305) are still available. If there's a Cambridge SoundWorks store near you, go take a listen. I haven't heard what they are using as their main speakers, so I can't comment if they're still any good or not, but it can't hurt.

For other brands, B&W, Boston Acoustics, and Mirage are really good.

Of course, a quite economical way to go is to get a Home Theater In a Box (HTIB) that comes with all the speakers and a receiver. I would tend to stay away from any that uses any special connections, as that would make it harder to upgrade your pieces in the future if you want to.

The most important advice that I can give would be don't buy any speakers that you haven't listened to. Some places even will give you a 30 day in-home trial. If so, take them up on it.

Good luck!
posted by reddot at 6:38 AM on November 11, 2010

Oh yeah, for any specific speaker suggestions, it'd be great to know how large your room is. If your speakers are too small, they'll have trouble filling the room adequately.
posted by reddot at 6:39 AM on November 11, 2010

You want these speakers - the PSB Alpha B1's are a ridiculous bargain, comparing favorably to speakers that cost 100x more. Further, The Onkyo SR608 receiver is going to be my next receiver - the upscaling (for when you want to put something in an older format into it) is excellent, and it's quite well built and civilized to use.

Get your cables at Monoprice, as noted - don't cheap out on your speaker wire, but expensive HDMI cables are theft.
posted by mhoye at 6:45 AM on November 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the great advice.

reddot, the room size is 16' x 17', or 272 square feet. Not to large, not to small . . .
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:04 AM on November 11, 2010

I'm in just about the same situation, same budget, and about the same square feet (but longer and narrower in dimensions).

You can spend a ridiculous amount of time researching/discussing speakers, although the choices on the receiver side tend towards Onkyo and Denon as mentioned above. As a rule-of-thumb, it is something like 20:80 or 30:70 ratio as a receiver:speaker budget, so something on the order of $200-$600 for a receiver, and $800-$1400 on speakers. With a $1K-$2K budget you should be able to put something great together - the problem is figuring out how best to hear the differences between electronics and speakers when many vendors won't have the exact combination that would work best for you.

One idea would be to go to the Magnolia section of Best Buy and have an A/B listen on stuff within the price range. Going on a free weekday afternoon I could be the only one in their high-end listening room, and ask just about all the questions I want with all the combinations.

It was so informative listening to familiar Blu-Ray discs doing an A/B comparison between Onkyo, Denon and some 'Elite'-level Pioneer; for my ears I like the Denon overall the best. Of course let your own ears/taste determine where you go with this.

On speakers in the price range, there are so many choices in the $800-$1400 range. Here are a few ideas:
Energy speakers are worth a listen, if you can find a dealer.

Definitive Technology is another one, same comment.

There are others but one option that I'm intrigued with is Aperion. They have an internet-only business model, and their 30-day postage-free return policy is also something to consider.

Good luck!
posted by scooterdog at 5:05 PM on November 11, 2010

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