Upgrading home theater on a budget

Upgrading home theater on a budget

I read a lot of home theater magazines, and online ‘zines. They’re great, but they tend to focus on the cool new products, which are priced a lot higher than most people can afford. When I visit online forums, or when I visit with my friends, they tend to be in the budget category, paying hundreds on their entire surround sound setup, not the thousands you would spend if you used the recommended products in most of these magazines.

While they might say a $1,000 pair of speakers is “affordable,” people in my tax bracket find that to be clear out of the budget. Of course some serious video- and audiophiles say if you’re serious about home theater/audio as a hobby, you can make it work. This is true, if you dropped your nights out with friends, if you didn’t go to Disneyland on your three day weekend, or travel as much, you might be able to do it.

I want to help those of us who work paycheck to paycheck up their quality on a budget. In the future I’ll be reviewing budget products you can purchase one at a time that will give you real-world value. But first, I want to start with a few tips to use when shopping to get the most for your money. Five quick tips to consider as this years holiday season begins:

1. Don’t buy the latest and greatest home theater

My clients are the wealthiest people in the country, they buy the highest quality products on the market, or coming to the market. They also spend tens of thousands of dollars in each room for audio and video equipment. For the other 97% of us, we don’t need the latest and greatest equipment out there. It’s cool stuff, but if you wait a year or two, that quality will make it to the commodity-priced products.

Theater on a budgetYou don’t even have to wait years to get this high quality gear, you can wait until new product is announced and then buy last year’s product. For example, I was at Best Buy last night and a sales associate told me all Klipsch speakers were 50% off because they were making room for next year’s models. This wasn’t even an advertised sale, so you might have to visit these stores every once in a while. Klipsch speakers are high-quality product with many years of accolades, and just because a speaker was made a year ago doesn’t mean it won’t perform nearly as well as this year’s model. If you have small satellite speakers, a pair of these floor standing speakers and a center channel will get you a vastly superior front sound stage for only a few hundred dollars.

2. Buy used home theater equipment

This is a great way to save money. eBay, Amazon and Craig’s List are great places to find good equipment on the cheap. You can also pick up floor models at your local big-box store. Just make sure they come with all the required parts – the remote, power cable, etc. If possible, give the product a test drive prior to purchase, or make sure you can return it.

One thing to watch out for with used equipment is the speakers. Sometimes the floor models at the store might have the speakers collapsed by children pushing on the drivers. Speakers used at home may have been overdriven, blowing the speakers. Always double check speakers.

3. Predict future home theater purchases

Make a game plan. Before you go out and buy anything you should research what would work best in your room for your tastes and make a goal for the future. Every tax return (Christmas, or whenever you can spend the money) add to your collection. It might take a few years to get where you want, but it will be worth it. This will help guide your budget, as well as make sure you make wise purchases early on so you don’t have to make repurchases in the event you have incompatible products.

A lot of the home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) products aren’t compatible with regular subwoofers. If you begin by purchasing a HTIB, you will more than likely have to purchase an A/V receiver later on when you add that sub. The receiver should be the first purchase you make, and then get an inexpensive speaker package to hold you over, upgrading one piece at a time. With the right receiver you should be ready for any subwoofer, speaker or component you’ll look for in the future.

4. Sell your used home theater equipment

As I hinted at above, you might be making smaller purchases on your way to the bigger ones. A lot of people load their old equipment in the garage, or hook it up in the bedroom. Sell it.

Your goal is to have a high-quality home theater, make that your priority. Selling old equipment will help you make your future purchases. When you get to a satisfactory place in your theater system, then look to your other entertainment locations in the house.

5. Stick with your home theater budget

A home theater is a place to relax, and spend time with family and friends. Don’t let your theater add to your debt. Debt leads to stress, and stress is not the goal here. If you follow tip three you should have established a rough budget for the theater. You may consider making a theater fund to place money aside, and when properly funded you can go get your next piece of quality gear.

While it is tempting to go all in and buy a whole system right now, not only will you beat the stress, you’ll also have a lot of fun piecing the system together over time. You’ll soon create a system you can be proud of.

About Steven Kippel

Steven Kippel has worked as a systems designer for a leading high-end audio/video custom integrator in Southern California since 2003. He is responsible for researching new technologies and integrating them into existing systems and new construction projects. He has designed several high-profile systems for discriminating clients on the cutting-edge of technology. When he is not hard at work, Steven is spending time with his wife, playing with his band or promoting concerts and bands in the Inland Empire. His favorite bands include The Cure, U2, Eisley, Living Sacrifice and DragonForce.

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