Help a noob get a basic surround sound speaker system that will be worth the effort.
July 1, 2008 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Help a noob get a basic surround sound speaker system that will be worth the effort.

I've never had a surround sound system but I think it could be better than just my TV speakers for things like playing PS3 games and watching Blu-Ray movies that I'm willing to throw say $400 bucks at it.
My PS3 supports DTS HD Master Audio, the latest thing in the world of stereo system upgrades, and my HDTV has these new fangled jacks for digital optical audio.
I am not an audiophile. I just want to experience the sensation of spatial audio ie. hearing the bad guys coming up behind me.
I am thinking: 5.1 channels, doesnt need to be powerful as the living room is average sized and I'm not a fan of cranking up the volume. I just want to make sure that everything will support the surroundsound instructions, ie. so that when a bad guy is behind me it actually comes through the rear speakers because this information makes it from my PS3 to my rear speakers. Whether it has to be Dolby, DTS, or analog, I dont care.
posted by dino terror to Technology (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I won't get into all the specifics. I'll just say this: a decent low-mid range 5.1 system, properly placed in your room, will give you an amazing sound experience comapred to normal stereo.

My JVC surround sound system was under $300, but sounded fantastic to my ears, and was compeltely immersive for movies. There's plenty out there to choose from. For $400 you will get something that you will be very pleased with.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 1:26 PM on July 1, 2008


Note that you won't necessarily "[hear] the bad guys coming up behind [you]"; when done correctly, the sound from the rear speakers are not directly noticeable under most conditions, it just serves to add depth to the sounds in front (that is, you go from hearing sound coming from a line drawn beween the left and right speakers to hearing sound coming from a box drawn between all four speakers.

So, unless the scene in the movie involves a big explosion around the viewer, or something rushing up behind them (both relatively rare) the impact will manifest more in ambient sounds; imagine a night scene in which the crickets sound like they're dotted around the landscape instead of in a long line.

Also, speaker positioning and getting matched speakers are both more important than the specific speakers you buy, or the power driving them, when you're not an audiophile; there are lots of resources on the web that guide you to proper placement and volume setup. Just get yourself a receiver/speaker set (so you don't have to worry about matching the speakers) and follow those online instructions, and trust them. Don't start playing your favorite movie, think "hey, I can't hear the rears" and crank them up until you can; your overall listening experience will be sub-par.
posted by davejay at 1:28 PM on July 1, 2008


If you're looking for a basic "go here, buy this" type of link, here's my recommendation of the Logitech Z-5500s. Before anyone else points it out, yes, they are computer speakers, but they're way too overpowered for computer use. They would blow you out of your chair. They easily fill my living room at half volume (with the sub at far less than half volume.)

I like them because they're cheap ($277), have amazing reviews (89% after 1022 reviews), and your money goes into the speakers. If you spend the same $300 at Best Buy on a weekend deal, you'll easily have $80-100 going into just a crappy receiver. Here, it's a simpler control pod with optical, digital coax, 6-channel, and a 2-channel iPod input. You could hook up a PS3, DVD player, computer, and iPod all at once without swapping cables.
posted by mysterious1der at 1:39 PM on July 1, 2008


I think this is the exact model I have: Onkyo HT-S3100. I recommend it to fellow non-audiophiles who want to add surround sound to their living room. Onyo seem to be running a 10% off sale right now, plus you'll get 10 points for signing up to "Club Onkyo" which I think equals 10 dollars, if I recall correctly.

Somehow mine came to about $160 shipped, about a year ago. This seems like it will cost a little more than what I paid, but still seems relatively cheap compared to other all-in-one systems. Upgrading from stereo to 5.1 made a huge amazing impact on my movie, gaming, and even TV experience.

FWIW, I ordered the refurb unit and have had no issues with it.
posted by jclovebrew at 1:53 PM on July 1, 2008


this is me a month ago!

i took a friend who has 4 years of experience installing home theaters to best buy and this is what he came up with.

Yamaha RX-V363 $210
Yamaha NS-P1600 $160

My old roommate has the Logitech Z-5500s linked above and I agree, the room is full of sound. But that's NOT want i wanted. I wanted to be SURROUNDed by my sound, not bombarded. PLEASE read this forum post.
posted by phritosan at 2:47 PM on July 1, 2008


You can get the Pioneer 5.1 HTIB system that was designed for the Xbox 360 (it works with anything) for fairly cheap. ~$100-150 ish. (Woot had them on sale for $90 a few months ago)

It's plenty powerful and has all the inputs you need. Sounds pretty good, I had a set for my PC but it was a bit overkill and sold it.
posted by wongcorgi at 5:09 PM on July 1, 2008


If you're looking for a basic "go here, buy this" type of link, here's my recommendation of the Logitech Z-5500s.

Just what I was going to say. The Z-5500s is hard to beat, in terms of bang/buck.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:34 PM on July 1, 2008


For basic entry level stuff that sounds good, you probably want a HTIB (Home theatre in a box). That has a receiver (so you can have multiple inputs - ps3/xbox360/cable, all without going behind and swapping cables) plus a relatively matched set of speakers. Upside is - they're relatively inexpensive. Downside, making speakers is a specialty art, and just because a company is an electronics manufacturer doesn't mean they can make well-crafted speakers.

That said, here are my recommendations: If you want to go HTiB, look for Onkyo or Denon. They're the top of the industry right now, and I know for a fact that Onkyo has a HTiB for around 300-350.

If you want to get creative, you could get a small Onkyo / Denon receiver, and try shopping for speakers alone. I recently took that route, and got a nice receiver and 5.1 surround for just shy of 550.

The single most important thing - LISTEN TO YOUR FUTURE HOME THEATRE. Bring a CD of music that you know well, and play it over the speakers you're considering (the receiver is less important from a sound standpoint). If a salesperson won't let you do that, walk out - shop elsewhere. You can get speaker recommendations until next year, but the important thing is how they sound to YOU. Everyone hears things differently, and has different opinions. Email me if you have any more questions - I'll be happy to help you find your way through this, and whatever you do ... don't pay more than $20 for ANY cables.
posted by frwagon at 8:18 AM on July 2, 2008


Response by poster: Well, I slapped together a 4 channel surround system with stereo equipment of my dad's that was laying around. I learned that with RCA cables the audio is in 4 channels and then gets translated to 2 channels for sterero, but when you plug the RCA cables into a receiver that supports 4 speakers you get the full 4 channels. It definitely makes the sound fuller and more ambient, but I can't really hear much 'spatialization' of the sound. It's kind of weird because if you are sitting toward the back you can kind of only hear the back speakers and it sounds like the front speakers aren't even on and vice versa. Kind of weird to hear the people on the TV talking from behind you.
Thanks for the information though, I feel confident if I were to want to upgrade to a digital sound system!
posted by dino terror at 2:21 PM on July 2, 2008


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