I need some help with home audio.
July 3, 2005 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I need some help with home audio.

I know absolutely nothing about home audio, so I turn to you. I'm looking for a system that is compatible with a Sharp 32C540 television, can play CDs and MP3s on burned CDs (the latter being very important), with a couple of good stereo speakers. Surround isn't critical to me, but hey, it might be cool. I'm also looking to spend less than $600, if that's at all possible. What should I be looking for? What should I watch out for? I've read the rec.audio FAQ, but it was written in 1999 and I'm sure much of it has changed. I also read this previous AskMe question, but that's more for those who would be running it through their computer. Thanks again.
posted by Optimus Chyme to Technology (12 answers total)
There are lots of DVD players nowadays that will play MP3 CDs. Hook one of those up to whatever stereo you want and you'll be golden.
posted by neckro23 at 3:28 PM on July 3, 2005

I am researching the same thing this week, except that my Sharp 32" TV has a different model number. :)

This is Sony's offering in the price range. It does all the surround formats, and the 5 disc changer accepts all formats in question including "DVD-Video, DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW, CD, CD-R, CD-RW, MP3 CD." It's not clear to me whether it would play MP3's burned onto data DVDs but it seems like it might. Does appear to me that current Amazon price on this is $430 + shipping.

I went to listen to one in a store and it sounded pretty OK, although it's always hard to tell in a store. I would be delighted to hear everyone else's opinions about this question, and I also wouldn't object if you raised the price ceiling to about $2000 (a clear explanation of what extra goodness the extra $1400 was paying for would be most useful as well.) My own circumstance is that I live in an apartment with thin walls, so low distortion at high volume levels is not going to be a desideratum for me.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:33 PM on July 3, 2005

Best answer: General advice:

DO NOT get an all-in-one thingy. They are rip-offs, and you can do far better for the same money.

ESPECIALLY DO NOT GET A BOSE SYSTEM. They're especially rippy-offy, and you can do *much* better for the same price, and many Bose systems do sneaky shit to stop you from upgrading parts of the system.

More specific advice:

Any and all systems will be compatible with your TV.

You want three things:

(1) A dvd player that will play everything you ask for, and more besides. The Philips 642 plays every format God ever saw and three more, and runs $75 or so on a bad day.

(2) A basic a/v receiver. You want one that has at least two coaxial and optical digital inputs each. In an ideal world, you want one that will internally convert between composite, s-video, and component video so that you only have to run one video connection to your tv; this will run you in the neighborhood of $400. Decent ones that do s-video switching but no conversion will probably start around $250, but then if you want a good dvd picture you'll end up having to switch inputs on the tv with your tv remote. Crutchfield sells lots of these things with good descriptions of each; they're a good place to start looking at least.

(3) A pair of speakers. Go to a stereo store and explain your needs, and you'll get sorted out. Brands that are consistently recommended as good budget speakers include Paradigm, Energy, Mission, PSB, and more. There's lots in the $200/pair range. You can buy center, backs, and subwoofer later if you want to.

You want to use the component video from the dvd, and you want to use the digital audio output from the dvd.

With an extra $1400 I would get a sub, 5 speakers, and a more powerful or otherwise capable receiver if I had money left over, and think about moving to a 6.1 or 7.1 system in a while if my receiver supported that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:45 PM on July 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay, I think I get it. Use the Philips 642 or similar to play all media, run the video from the player to the a/v receiver then to the TV, run the sound from the player to the receiver and then to the speakers. Is that right? Oh, also we have a Gamecube and PS2; can these be easily integrated?

Thanks already for all of your help. :)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:39 PM on July 3, 2005

You got it.

To hook up a gamecube and ps2: plug each of them into a set of a/v inputs on the receiver and that's it. S-video looks a whole damn lot better than composite. Switch with the receiver. This is where a receiver that converts is handy, since then you can go from watching a dvd to playing a game without having to screw around with the tv.

How is your cable hooked up, assuming you have cable? If you have a digital cable box, just plug it into another set of inputs on the receiver. If you just plug the cable into the tv, you'll have to use the tv remote to switch between watching the tv (on no input, or CATV input) and doing other stuff. Or you could get a cheap vcr, run your cable into that, and run a/v connections from the vcr to the receiver.

And turn your tv's volume to zero. TV speakers suck a dog's ass. Even if you're watching tv through the CATV input, run the sound out of the tv through the receiver and into real speakers.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:51 PM on July 3, 2005

How are you at slinging solder? The player is supposed to be pretty good even if you don't crack the case. As to your last questions, yes that is right, and yes just plug those stim boxes right into the TV or receiver.
posted by caddis at 4:53 PM on July 3, 2005

ROU: You mean to say that S-video is much better than RCA, and composite is better than S-video, right?

I agree with everybody who said to buy a cheap, versatile DVD/CD/etc. player (possible additional thing to look for: SACD/DVD-A compatibility, if you're into that kind of thing), a decent entry-level receiver and two good speakers. And don't forget to budget money for cables--Monster speaker wire doesn't do much that can't be accomplished by lamp cord, but using digital connections when possible, and using higher-quality video connections (from the receiver to the TV, and from the DVD player/GC/PS2/cable box to the receiver), will produce noticeable gains.

In my opinion, the extra $1400 would be well spent on better left/right speakers, a better receiver, a matched center-channel speaker, a subwoofer, surround speakers and a universal learning remote. (This presumes that you already have the highest-quality connections available, and a good surge protector (good like Tripp-Lite, not good like audiophile).) The order in which you make these upgrades depends, among other things, on how much you use the system for music versus TV/games, the degree to which you're bothered by having two remotes and how cool you think surround-sound is.

(Also, tinkerer types and people who have an extra $1400 might consider putting a modded Xbox in there somewhere.)
posted by box at 10:08 PM on July 3, 2005

Composite is RCA. It's unfortunate that they ended up choosing the names composite for the worst, most basic connection and component for the best (analog) connection.

One RCA connector = composite.
One weirdo connector that looks kinda like a ps2 = s-video.
Three RCA connectors = component.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:48 PM on July 3, 2005

Composite, component, argh, oops, righty-o.
posted by box at 11:04 PM on July 3, 2005

Best answer: I would recommend looking at the new digital receivers from Panasonic and JVC. They are small, inexpensive, and sound incredible. Go to audiocircle.com and check under "multichannel and the digital domain" to find out the current hot model numbers.

For speakers you could do worse than


My own favorite cheap speaker is the Epos ELS-3, which is great for music but not quite sturdy enough for home theater.

The center channel speaker does a lot of work in a home theater, as does the sub. don't' skimp--a good receiver and two decent speakers can hold you until you have saved enough for the rest of the system.

Cheap cd/dvd players are fine, especially if you use their digital audio outputs as recommended above.
posted by thayerg at 11:36 PM on July 3, 2005

Response by poster: This is great. I went from no ideas and no resources to a pretty rock-solid idea of what to pick up and for how much. Much love to ROU for the basics and to thayerg for the audiocircle link, and to everyone else for the other information and ideas. I promise I won't be suckered into buying expensive Monster cables. :)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:28 AM on July 4, 2005

I live to serve. You and all the other transformatory gastrointestinal fluids live long and prosper, yo.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:37 AM on July 4, 2005

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