Speaker Shopping
January 18, 2004 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Do you have any advice on purchasing speakers for a home theater / stereo setup in an apartment building with relatively thin walls? [More inside....]

I live in a NYNY apartment building that was converted from offices to apartments a few years ago. It's a nice place, but they sort of skimped on the soundproofing. It's not uncommon to hear stereos (especially annoying subwoofers) and I don't want to contribute to the noise.

I would like to buy a set of decent, relatively inexpensive speakers for home theater and music use. Should I buy separate bookshelf speakers, a center speaker, and forego the subwoofer? Should I buy a home theater package and turn down the sub? (I am leaning toward the former.) I don't plan on playing these very loud while I'm living in the city, but it would be nice for them to be useable at a higher volume if I ever move into a house.

Oh, if it makes any difference, I use a Sony STR-DE995 Receiver (7 x 100 WPC) and don't currently have a SACD setup.
posted by subgenius to Shopping (7 answers total)
If you put your main speakers up on stands your downstairs neighbours will be happy. Subwoofer probably won't get much use. Aside from that it all depends on how loud you turn it.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:47 PM on January 18, 2004

Might I suggest Wireless Headphones.
posted by seanyboy at 2:53 PM on January 18, 2004

If by "home theater package" you mean one of those home-theater-in-a-box setups, don't do that. You can generally do much better than those for the same money (especially if you mean a Bose HTIAB, which go as far as to use proprietary interlinks between the sub and satellites so you can't use better sats).

Depending on what your budget is, get mains+center+sub or all 5 or 7 and sub. The usual suspects for good but inexpensive bookshelf speakers include Paradigm, Energy, and a bunch more I can't remember -- look at the usenet archive for recommendations. If you get less than your full set, I'd try to make sure that you'll be able to get the same speakers (or speakers with the same drivers, or otherwise timbre-matched speakers) in a year or two if you want to finish your setup then.

You want the sub, though. Especially if you want to stay relatively quiet. When it's loud, little bookshelfs can pump out a surprising amount of bass, but it all goes away when you have the volume down to conversational-or-less levels. But add in a sub, and you can keep the bass when the volume is down. That's been my experience, anyway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:15 PM on January 18, 2004

Apologies if this is too far off the request, but I second seanyboy's
idea of wireless headphones, BUT I don't recommend the RF ones
as there is enough background in NYC that you get static when
the batteries get low (I had those exact ones, and also a
smaller cheaper pair and got that effect from both)

I know they are expensive, but the Sony IR Digital Surround
headphones MDR-DS8000 are amazing, they sound better than
pretty much any speakers I have ever heard. They'll take optical-in
or RCA from your components and are very comfortable, plus you can
listen as loud as you wish without bothering the neighbors
Mine have lasted several years of general abuse and seem
like they should last many more.
posted by milovoo at 4:47 PM on January 18, 2004

I like the idea of wireless headphones, except I've already dropped $150 on headphones over the past year (for Bose Tri-Ports, which I found very disappointing) and I'm about to have to buy a new pair of DJ headphones. I use the headphones for a lot of listening purposes (e.g., "shit blows up movies," when I just plug in with a long cable) but I'd also like some speakers for when I have guests.

ROU_Xenophobe, thanks for the advice on the subwoofer. I've been logging a lot of time on audioreview.com and some of the usenet groups. I am totally intrigued with some of these small loudspeaker companies, and I'm leaning toward a 5.1 setup built pretty much the way you describe (7.1 is overkill for my studio apartment -- I'm not even sure where I'd put the extra speakers!) but I just wanted to make sure I wouldn't be investing in a major source of stress and contention by buying the subwoofer.

FWIW, the "Home Theater in a Box" setup I've been contemplating is a Harman Kardon package that was discounted at the store near my apartment. But I like the idea of buying good, individual speakers I can continue to use later on.
posted by subgenius at 9:30 AM on January 19, 2004

Looking around, it looks like the usual suspects for good but not expensive speakers are Paradigm, Energy, PSB, NHT, B&W, Definitive. Paradigm, Energy, and PSB get talked about more than the others, but I don't know what that means.

Lotsa people also make good subs. Hsu gets talked about some.

Note that I haven't listened to any of these, I just read alt.home-theater.misc sometimes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:00 AM on January 19, 2004

There are some incredible bang-for-the-buck speakers out there. None of them are named Bose or Harmon Kardon.

Headphone-wise, skip the DJ headphones. Go look for a pair of AKG, Grado, some of the better Sennheiser, stuff like that. There are some good headphone resources on the web.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:59 AM on January 19, 2004

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