Magical, From (not)Blown Speakers. Please.
May 16, 2007 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Please help me narrow my search and find the right sound system for my apartment. Thank you!

I have ~$500-$1200 to spend on 5.1 speakers and receiver for my apartment. I do not currently have any speakers/receiver whatsoever, but I do have an HDTV (LCD with Component (NOT HDMI), an Xbox, a DVD player, and 2 macintoshes. The room these speakers would live in for the next year or so is approximately 12' x 15'. I am open to separates or home theater in a box, as long as they fit within my budget. I would like to listen to music through this, but for now I play video games 50% of the time, and watch movies the other 50% with my current setup.

Below are my top concerns/wants (ranked by highest priority first):
• Best sound quality (volume/loudness NOT important, but quality/clarity is) within budget
• Aesthetics - my apartment is small. I am looking for discreet speakers that can be mounted on small stands or hung from the wall, or set on a small shelf.
• preferrably NOT cloth-fronted panels - I have 2 cats, which means 44 potential speaker rippers.

Any recommendations I should look into? Any features I should pay attention to? Any brands/models/things to avoid?

Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by iamkimiam to Technology (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I love love love my paradigm speakers. Please go look at them. They are JUST what you describe. (except the cloth part)
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 11:55 AM on May 16, 2007

You may also want to check out PSB speakers. I've had a pair for years now and the sound is amazing. They make monitor-style sets without cloth fronting.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 12:03 PM on May 16, 2007

Speakers: These are the most important part of your setup. I was going to suggest Paradigm speakers too. I ended up going with something from them that was a little higher end then their cinema series, but I liked what I heard from them.

Receiver: I don't know much about receivers. I've got an Onkyo that's great.

Speaker/Receiver Packages: Usually not your best choice. Onkyo has some that were pretty decent the last time I researched them, though.
posted by backwards guitar at 12:16 PM on May 16, 2007

You should definitely check out the Norh site. They're great speakers: they aren't discrete but they are beautiful, and shockingly affordable for the quality of sound. Honestly, we have the cheapest version (wood drums) and they are the only speakers that I (not an audiofile) have ever noticed an appreciable difference in.

Even if the Norh doesn't turn out to be the style that you want, there is a tonne of information on the site about what makes good and bad speaker design, so it's worth a read through when you're in the market.
posted by carmen at 12:18 PM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]
posted by fumbducker at 12:19 PM on May 16, 2007

The Celestion AV305 are made of cast aluminum, cone included. I don't think you cat will be able to dent that.

There is a good review by Home Cinema Hardware.
posted by gmarceau at 12:23 PM on May 16, 2007

I have 2 cats, which means 44 potential speaker rippers

I get the first 40 (20 claws per cat * 2 cats), but where do you get the other 4? Do you have a six-toed cat?

Personally I'm a big fan of discrete-component systems, but they're not something you just unpack out of the box and set up. They're more like organisms ... you don't buy them, you just feed them equipment once in a while and let them grow until they do what you want.

The problem I have with 5.1-amp-and-speaker sets is that you're usually paying mostly for the receiver/amp, and then they're more often than not tossing in fairly crummy speakers. So I'd really think hard about buying the speakers and receiver separately, since it's the speakers that are really going to determine sound quality more than just about anything else. (Well, excepting your source material. Best speakers in the world won't make a 128kbit MP3 sound less crappy.)

Anyway -- the Infinity Primus line, particularly the Primus 150s, are reasonably priced speakers, and have been reviewed very well. I'd think about those for your 4 corner speakers, or maybe your L and R ones, if you can't afford all 4 right away. They run about $140/pair online.

Then I'd probably get something a little beefier for your main channel, and for the sub ... well, something that makes noise, for your video games and any Jack-Bauer-explosion effects on TV.

If you have to cut corners I'd say do it on the rear speakers first, unless you see yourself playing music through them when you're just listening (which I don't, because that's not really how stereophonic music was meant to be listened to; it sounds weird to me).

Also, don't spend money on expensive cables. There are a plethora of double-blind A/B tests that show Home Depot 12 or 16-ga. extension cords performing just as well as speaker cables as the $10/ft. "audiophile" ones. So stay away from the Monster Cable treadmill, and put the money you save into better speakers.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:37 PM on May 16, 2007

You should look into the Mirage Nanosat (or the slightly higher-end Nanosat Prestige, though that + a good receiver might stretch your budget slightly). They are small, cool-looking and sound great.

Crutchfield and other online vendors sell a 5.1 package of the basic Nanosats. Or you can match the Prestige's with the Nano CC (center) and a sub.

Or, a friend of mine has a nice setup from Aperion.
posted by sad_otter at 12:41 PM on May 16, 2007

kadin2048, two fangs a cat?
posted by history is a weapon at 12:46 PM on May 16, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry, I meant 36 speaker rippers, not 44. Cats have 18 claws each. 20 if their front paws have claws on the back, fifth toes. Polydactyl cats have 22 claws. I thought that all cats were polydactyl. Guess not, thanks CatFilter!

But really, it only takes 1 = no cloth speakers for me.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:21 PM on May 16, 2007

Can I recommend a Bose system just to cause a thread meltdown?
posted by wubbie at 1:34 PM on May 16, 2007

Best answer: In that price range, you can do decent discrete components; that is, a receiver and 5.1 speakers, bought separately.

Small speakers generally do not sound as good. Despite all the Bose marketing, the tiny satellite speakers are just not as capable as larger ones. You would be better going to mid-size satellites. If you try to go very small, you will impair your sound quality. (Bose do not sound very good in absolute terms.)

If you don't want to spend a lot of time listening, one of the higher-end Onkyo Home Theater in a Box (HTIB) setups would probably be just fine. They are competent, solid setups, and sound good. The styling can be a little odd, but the sound is excellent.

If you have more time to shop, buy your components in this order, up to your budget:

L+R pair (most of your money should go here)

As far as what amount to spend on each, that's something you'll have to decide based on your listening. But it's a good idea to buy up on the L+R pair, as those are your linchpins. If you're gonna have more money available later, a $1k L+R pair plus an Onkyo 504 ($250) receiver will do a very, very nice job; you can use a phantom center until you can afford one. Your sub should be next; it gives you the big booms and explosions for movies. Then add a center, for better dialog and presence, and finally add in satellites. The sats can be almost any piece of shit you have laying around. They can be very cheap. They don't do much. They just add air and ambience. If you're planning on multichannel sound, then you'll want better sats, but for just movies, just about anything that makes sound will do.

If the size is really critical to you, but you still want reasonable sound, check out the Ventriloquist line from Hsu Research. They are a very clever setup, where they route most of the sound through the large center speaker, and only the treble through the sats... despite the trickery going on, they end up sounding really good. Pair that with one of Hsu's excellent subs and you'll have a very solid little theater. It's under your budget range, but you'd probably find it quite acceptable, and it's very small-space friendly.

Another brand to check out is Energy. They're a smaller Canadian outfit, but they do really good speakers.

If you want to be really happy with your purchase, you need to educate yourself about what different speakers sound like. This involves a number of hours sitting in a dealership somewhere with your favorite music and a notepad. Everyone hears a little differently, and all speakers make tradeoffs. What you're looking for is a set of speakers that works for your specific ears, within your specific budget. The ONLY way to be sure is to spend some time listening.

But if you don't want to bother with all that, Onkyo HTIBs are really quite good.
posted by Malor at 1:36 PM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've been very happy with Cambridge Soundworks speakers. I think they're great, especially if you can get them on sale or something. If you live in the Boston area, it's easy to find a store to demo them.
posted by reddot at 3:45 PM on May 16, 2007

I love my Mission M7x set. I got the front two for around $500, and a $300 Sony receiver (this was 5 years ago). Recently, since they are discontinued, I got a fantastic deal on the matching center channel ($120). I got a couple of old JBL 2500 bookshelf speakers from my dad acting as rear speakers (free!). I finished off with an awesome Rocket ULW-10 subwoofer ($450).

It took me 5 years to complete the set, but it is totally worth it. I'd recommend AV123 and possibly Mission speakers (they're marketed by Denon in the US, I believe, and hard to find, I ordered mine online without ever hearing them).

I would steer clear of home theatre in a box because most of the time the receiver is severely limited in its capabilities.
Also, you'll take much more pride in your system if you spec it out and choose each component individually to match your room and listening habits.

Recommended websites: and
posted by ijoyner at 9:03 AM on May 17, 2007

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