It’s time to upgrade your system
If you do not have a surround sound system, you really ought to get one. Evan an inexpensive home theater in a box style system is better than the crappy speakers that are attached to your TV. Those speakers are under 15W and not optimally placed, with drivers no larger than 3″.
Right now is a good time to buy. Black Friday is coming in just two weeks time! Add to that the depressed economy and stores are doing everything they can to increase revenues, including huge savings on audio/video gear.
If you don’t have an HDTV, this should be on the top of your list for Black Friday. K-Mart is offering a door buster Samsung 42″ plasma for $699, that’s hard to beat. But I assume most of you reading this already have a high-def display. So make sure to upgrade your sound.
While I would recommend to get an upgradable system, anything is better than those cheap TV speakers. By “upgradable” I mean a system you can swap parts out on. Home theater in a box systems (HTiB) usually don’t allow this. Usually the subwoofer holds the amplifier for the entire system and is connected with a proprietary cable to the receiver. This amp also doesn’t have enough power to handle upgraded speakers. Other HTiB systems have the amps in the receiver, but the subwoofer does not have an amp built in it. These also don’t have enough power for upgraded systems.
Don’t let that stop you though, get a system to hold you over while you save up for a better system. But make sure the system you get has digital audio inputs (at least one) so you can get surround sound from your cable/satellite receiver or game console.
Upgradable systems usually come separately, so you have to piece it together. This includes a receiver with 5 to 7 amp channels for 5.1 and 7.1 channel systems. Look for HDMI repeating ability. This means they accept audio and video over HDMI and send out an HDMI signal to your TV. If you have a source without HDMI you should also make sure to get video conversion so you don’t have to change the inputs on your TV.
Another feature to look for is automatic speaker calibration. This allows for quick and easy setup for optimum speaker levels and time delay.
The speakers you will get rely on your home set up. The most crucial speaker is the center channel as almost 80% of a movie’s soundtrack comes from this speaker. It determines how well you will be able to understand dialog, and it will prevent you from having to ramp the volume up to hear talking just to turn it back down during the car chase.
Next up are the front left and right speakers. Some people prefer floorstanding speakers. If you have the room these are the easiest to set up and they usually have good low-end response. But if you don’t have the space you can find good bookshelf or wall-mounted speakers. These speakers are from where most of the music and sound effects emanate. If possible the front three speakers should be from the same speaker manufacturer and model series for a transparent front soundstage.
The rear speakers don’t get used in most movies except for fly-arounds and other loud scenes where sounds come from all sides. This is what makes surround sound so cool! These don’t have to be as big as your front speakers, but for the best effect they should match the front speakers. Don’t worry about this too much though because most people don’t have room for matching speakers front and rear. You might look for dipole speakers for a wider rear soundstage.
Finally the subwoofer! This is the “.1” channel in “5.1.” You will want an active, or powered, subwoofer. This means the amplifier is built in, or has its own outboard amplifier. This will allow you to change out the receiver and keep the same subwoofer. But what size should you get? This depends on how much bass you want and what size room you have. If you love your room shaking, get a bigger sub. If you just want low end sound representation a smaller sub will do. What matters most is determining the right size is room volume. Velodyne has a great chart on their website to help you determine what size sub is right for you. Do keep in mind that this chart is based on high-powered, high-output Velodyne subwoofers, but it should be pretty close for most subwoofers.
Get on this! You won’t regret it.