Surround Sound for Dummy (mostly music listening)
April 8, 2017 11:08 AM   Subscribe

I know next to nothing about surround sound, but have purchased a couple of 5.1 remixes of my favorite albums over the years. Walk me through what I need to buy in order to hear these things.

I have a Blu-ray player that I assume can play the discs. How much should I expect to spend for a cheap-ish receiver and speakers? (A low end to middle of the road system will suit me fine). Will I be able to get wireless for the rear speakers? Anything else I should be aware of as far as set-up? Specific recommendations as far as brands of receiver and speakers would be great!

Bonus points for listing punk/post-punk/new wave albums that have been remixed for surround.
posted by ericthegardener to Technology (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What kind of discs are the albums you bought? Regular DVD? DVD-Audio? Blu Ray? SACD? Only certain players will play some of those formats, so make sure you know what you have before you buy a player.

Regarding the equipment, this is a super broad question that's kind of hard to answer. Most receivers these days are going to be 7 channels (or even 9 or 11), but there are a few 5.1 and 5.2s still out there. You should be able to get one of those for under $300. But honestly, if you only need 5.1 and you only care about audio, you could probably get a nicer one used for less money on Craigslist or something (I'd be wary of eBay and other online sources because receivers are heavy and therefor expensive to ship).

I have never seen a wireless rear setup that I like, but maybe someone else will come along and suggest one...
posted by primethyme at 12:10 PM on April 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ya see, that's how little I know. I didn't even think about the fact that there were different formats. I've just checked and one a DTS 5.1 CD, one is DTS 5.1 DVD and one is Blu-ray. I also don't know what DTS means. Will there be players that can play all of them?
posted by ericthegardener at 12:40 PM on April 8, 2017

Best answer: A fat PS3 will play all of those. It's getting hard to find Blu-Ray players that also play SACD (or anything else that plays them), sadly. As far as a receiver/amplifier, an Onkyo 604 or newer x04 if you want to buy new is good value for money. For speakers, it's really just down to your budget. I wouldn't go below the bookshelf speakers that start around $50 each at Amazon. The tiny home theater kit speakers suck terribly. (They're better than TV speakers, but that's about all that can be said for them. If money is an issue, it's better to build up over time, TBH)
posted by wierdo at 8:22 PM on April 8, 2017

Best answer: I should have emphasized that slim PS3s (and I think the 20GB model that only has 2 USB ports) don't play SACD, so be picky about the PS3 you purchase if you decide to go that route.
posted by wierdo at 8:24 PM on April 8, 2017

Best answer: Speakers:
You will need five speakers-- two front (L,R) channels (bookshelf or floorstanding towers), a center channel, two rear channels and a subwoofer. One of the best rated/most acclaimed low-cost systems is the Pioneer SP-PK22BS Andrew Jones 5.1 package (~$550). You could go cheaper--this Fluance package ($200) gets high marks, but you'll need to buy a subwoofer separately (~$99 for a decent entry sub, such as the Dayton SUB 800). I have not heard these systems, so search for pro and user reviews before pulling the trigger. I've never read a positive review for speaker systems with wireless surrounds or subwoofers, so can't make a recommendation.

You can find a perfectly-suitable 5.1 channel receiver for under $300. Just be sure that the amp and speakers power ratings are compatible. The receivers below (c/o budgetaudiophile) are a good bet--cross-reference reviews on, Digital Trends, Amazon, etc.:
Denon E300 - $169.99
Onkyo-TX8020 - $176.00
Yamaha RX-V377 - $179.99
Sony STR-DH740 - $229.00
Denon E400 - $248.88
Yamaha RX-V381BL - $280

Your BluRay player will play BluRay Audio discs, potentially DVD Audio discs, but likely not SACD discs. An all-in-one player like the Oppo BDP-80 is a great solution, but will start at $250ish. You can also find DVD-A / SACD compatible players from Pioneer and Denon for under $100.

So you've made it this far without spontaneously combusting and might be wondering if its worth the bother just to hear music remastered in surround sound. Very much probably yes--assuming the engineer knew what they were doing. A few 5.1 mixes in my collection (50+ albums) are sub-par. Most are pretty good. Around 20 or so are outstanding, especially ones mastered by Steven Wilson*. As for punk/post-punk/new wave albums, these releases stand out:
- Tears for Fears - Songs From the Big Chair* - my favorite 5.1 release. Great write-up on the production challenges and triumphs here.
- all of the Depeche Mode 5.1 remasters are excellent. The effort to track down the masters and samples is a fascinating read.
- all of the XTC remasters* - Andy Partridge enthusiastically approved, which is a huge feat given the band's tumultuous relationship with past engineers. Really brilliant, immersive production.
- Love and Rockets - Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven - just picked this up last week on Amazon for $20. Excellent mix that pulls out buried instrumentation in the original muddy mix.
- Pixies - Doolittle - tons of space and clarity, great mix
- Beck - Sea Change - my second favorite 5.1 album. Big, bold, expansive, enveloping production.
- Simple Minds - Sparkle in the Rain* - another outstanding Steven Wilson remaster
- Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral - great mix that surfaces instrumentation buried on the two-channel mix.

I know I'm forgetting a few, and won't dive into other 5.1 genres here, but suffice to say there's plenty of great 5.1 media out there. Hope this helps you get started.
posted by prinado at 8:18 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the detailed answer prinado! XTC's Drums and Wires is one of the 5.1 mixes I purchased a while back, just waiting for the opportunity to hear it. And just today I received Midnight Oil's final album Carpricornia, which I have also heard good things about, in 5.1. I have a couple of others but those are the two I am most excited to hear.
posted by ericthegardener at 9:10 PM on April 10, 2017

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