Help with buying new speakers

Got a new widescreen rear projecion t.v. the other day (Hitachi 57SWX20B):

All the guys at work have convinced me that I might as well throw the thing out the window if I don’t get an audio package as well. So I’m thinking about forking out a couple hundred bucks more for a sound system. Though I’ll hate to part with my circa 1977 box speakers. I guess the fake-o wood would look stupid next to the black t.v.

Anywho, being techno-impaired, I do what every idiot does and I peruse the Sunday ads hoping for divine inspiration. See a couple “surround sound” audio packages from various famous companies. They run the gamut in price, but I’m hoping not to spend more than $300. Upon reading the finer details, I note that they all include a dvd player and a receiver.

Now, we already have (I think) a perfectly good receiver (Pioneer VSX-305) that says “Dolby Surround” on it. (I’m assuming this means that I could hook up the right speakers and have surround sound.) It has a bunch of audio in and out slots on the back if that helps any.

We also already have a nice 5 disc DVD/CD/MP3 player (Panasonic DVD-CV51) that I got for Xmas last year:

So, I’m thinking all I really need is a few speakers. Right? Or totally wrong? Do those itty bitty speakers really give out enough sound? And do they package these things in a way where it is just as cheap to buy the “package” as it is to buy each item (speakers, dvd player, receiver) separately? (I’m thinking Value Meals at McDonald’s where you might as well get the fries because it’s the same price without the extra value part.)

If I order speakers, do they come with the appropriate wire or do I need to make a visit to my local Radio Shack? And if I do just need to buy a few speakers, which kind would you recommend, keeping in mind that I’m NOT spending over $500 for speakers. (I was a good girl and did a search prior to asking my question. $10 grand for speakers? :eek: )

How many would you recommend for a room that’s 20 x 20. Ceiling is sloped from 9" to ~15 feet at the peak. TV will sit in one corner at an angle.

Thanks so much for your audio expertise. Salesmen at electronics stores run when they see me with my notebook.

The “fake-o-wood” speakers will do fine as “front” speakers in your surround setup. I would avoid the speaker packages in the sub-$500 range.

I’m sure plenty of people will point out that you need a new reciever with Dolby Digital 2.0 or DTS or whatever to get the most out of your DVD player, but don’t listen to them- provided the front speakers and reciever are in good shape, keep 'em! You can still set up a great sounding system.

All you really need to add for surround sound is some satellite speakers and a center channel speaker; I’d recommend a decent bookshelf speaker, something at least 2-way with at least 5" cone for the satellites, and use the TV’s speakers as “surrogate” center channel speakers.

If loud bass for explosions and such is important to you, and your reciever has a separate subwoofer output, look around for a powered subwoofer. Don’t waste your time on passive subwoofers.

It will really help if you can find the instructions to the reciever so you can properly set the levels of the various speaker pairs. Try to get them set up as equidistant from the (centered) viewing position as possible. Subwoofer location is usually not critical.

If setting the surround to factory specs leaves you unimpressed, try lowering the level of the tv volume or center channel speaker and raising the level of the satellites.

Whoops, also make sure the other reciever settings reflect the equipment you have hooked up, i.e., front speakers are set to “large”, subwoofer set to “on” if necessary, etc.

you will definitely need a receiver with dolby digital and hopefully DTS too. both dolby digital (aka “AC3”) and DTS are compression schemes and can be decoded either inside your DVD or inside the Receiver. find out if your DVD already does this, if so, you only need a dolby digital “ready” receiver.

just about any crap will do for rear speakers, your old speakers will do for “main” but you will need a good center channel speaker, this is where all the dialouge is in the movies.

you do not NEED a sub if your old “main” speakers are plenty beefy, if they’re not you would benefit from a sub. a good sub can cost up to $3000. Velodyne and Sunfire make those good ones :slight_smile:

NOTE: you can do without a center channel at all, this is called “phantom mode” and hopefully your decoder (in DVD or Receiver) has this feature. that way you could save up some more money on a decent center channel, i would spend about $100 - $150 on a center channel speaker, think Infinity or something.

let my clarify what phantom is, its not the same as disconnecting the center channel. if you diconnect center channel you will hear no dialogue period. if you use phantom you will hear the dialouge through your “main” that is left and right speakers.

analogously the receiver can chanel LFE (low frequency effects) channel into the main channels if you have no subwoofer.

that is dolby digitla is 5.1 → five channels plus one more for subwoofer, but you really can get away with just 4 speakers, two front and two surround. however for best results you need 5 speakers and subwoofer.

but a dolby pro logic will not cut it :slight_smile: pro logic uses just 2 channels to drive 4 speakers, instead dolby digital uses 5.1 channels to drive anywhere from 4 to 5.1 speakers.

sorry again, pro logic can use either 4 or 5 speakers, that is it also can use phantom mode :slight_smile:

Thanks for the input. I’m actually okay with chucking the 2 old main speakers since there’s just no good place to put them anymore. They won’t fit on the sides because the t.v. is taking up too much space. I could fit smaller ones but not these mamas.

So, if I’m hearing you right, I need to buy at least 2 main speakers to replace my old box ones. I also have to buy at least 2 satellite speakers (those itty bitty things) which I have to mount on opposite walls equal distances from the center of the t.v. at a height prescribed by the receiver’s instruction manual.

And finally, if I want a good bass sound (e.g. explosions) I can invest in a subwoofer, which I assume goes on top since there’s only one?

So that’s 5 speakers total. That’s what comes with a lot of these packages (that include the DVD player/receiver). So are you saying these packages (priced $300-900) are not going to cut it?


Since your receiver says “Dolby Surround” on it, it is most likely one of the older versions of surround sound, rather than the current standards, which are Dolby Digital or DTS.

Sorry Lisa,but despite what Stan said, to get the most of your DVD, sound wise, you will need to get a new receiver, unless the DVD player has 6 channel out and the receiver has 6 channel in. That’s because that’s how the sound is recorded on most dvds. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a perfectly wonderful experience with what you have and some new speakers - it just won’t be all that it can be.

With the older types of surround sound, you have two basic types, Dolby Surround, and Dolby Pro Logic. If it’s Pro Logic, you have a center channel speaker that is used for dialogue and other things meant to come from the center, as well as two side speakers and two rear speakers. If your receiver has an output for it, you may also have a sub-woofer which will definately give the low end some punch. However, you don’t want to put the subwoofer on top of the TV - the reason that there’s only one is that low frequencies are fairly non-directional when you hear them - just put it off to the side somewhere. You’d put the center channel speaker on top of the TV (if it’s Pro Logic).

You can probably get a decent set of speakers in a speaker package - nothing spectacular, but one that will do the job. The most important thing is to be able to listen to them first - what sounds good to your ear is a pretty personal thing.

I don’t recommend a package that combines a DVD player and a receiver into one unit for a couple of different reasons. One, you already have a DVD player, so it would be a waste. Two, most of the combination units I’ve seen seem to be very much on the low end as far as sound systems are concerned. If you do buy a package, just either buy a speaker package, or a receiver/speaker package.

If you buy just speakers and use them with your current receiver (and remember, if you buy good speakers now, you can use them with a new receiver if you decide to upgrade it in the future), you will need a front pair and a rear pair at the minimum (if you want surround). Whether or not you get a center channel and/or subwoofer depends on your receiver, your budget, and your desire for the additional toys. And they can also always be added later (that’s how I did it - I had my front and rear speakers first, then added a center channel, then subwoofer as it fit the budget and the sales). Good luck and happy movie watching.

Stan Doubt is pointing you in the right direction.

Your old receiver probably has the older Dolby Pro Logic surround sound. It sounded good back then, and it still sounds good today, although the more modern Dolby Digital is certainly better. (Remember that if you still watch videotapes, they’re only analog—you can’t use Dolby Digital on them anyhow.)

I’m always in favor of working with what you have. I also believe in buying pieces separately----it’s easier to upgrade later, and also, if one component breaks, you can replace just that one component----rather than throwing the whole thing away. For that reason, I’d rather have the DVD player separate from the receiver, though that’s up to you.

At any rate, you could buy additional speakers now, but continue to listen in Pro Logic with your old receiver----you can always buy a new receiver in the future.

In my opinion, those little tiny square satellite speakers, with the separate subwoofer, sound terrible, because the crossover frequency is too high------my ears can always localize the subwoofer. You can somewhat improve things by putting subwoofer on top of the TV set, so at least all the sound is coming from in front of you.

Auditioning speakers is very subjective-----you should buy the brand you like, not the brand I like. But look for something that at least sounds like it has some semblance of bass, even without a subwoofer. Remember that even though the tall “tower” speakers are more expensive, you may have to spend money on stands if you buy shorter speakers. There are some tower speakers that are tall, but narrow, so they don’t take up a lot of floor space.

Ideally, you’d want all five speakers to sound alike, to make the surround sound seem more realistic as things like helicopters fly from in front of you to behind you, although it’s not an absolute necessity.

Sorry to be so vague; I’ll try to summarize.
Pick a good pair of tower speakers that sound good to you, with at least 6 1/2" or 8" woofers. Then buy rear surrounds and a center channel from the same manufacturer.

Buy a good DVD player that you like, with lots of various outputs for future upgrades: component video, digital audio. I think Samsung DVD players are a great value.

Make use of the receiver you have now, or buy a new one with Dolby Digital if you like.

Oh, I should also mention a few things about shopping for speakers.

Bring some music you’re familiar with. The more “natural” sounding, the better: You’ll have a tough time using techno to evaluate speakers. Watch out of the salesman starts playing Kenny G or any of that kind of stuff----it seems to make almost any speaker sound great. If the store isn’t set up for you to play your own music (Best Buy is one of these places), shop elsewhere.

Make sure that the receiver/preamp used in the store has all of its tone controls set to “flat,” and its “loudness” button turned off----you want to compare all speakers on equal ground.

Remember that a more efficient speaker will sound louder----and our ears usually will think the louder speaker sounds better----if speaker A sounds louder than speaker B, adjust the volume up and down each time, so you can make a more fair comparison. Power is cheap; I’d rather have an inefficient speaker that sounds good, and buy a larger amplifier to compensate.

No speaker is going to sound the same in your listening room as it did in the store-----be sure to buy from a place that has a good return policy, with no restocking fee. Just in case you don’t like them when you play them at home.

Also, the store will undoubtedly try to sell you fancy speaker wire----there is much hot debate on this, but all the factual information (and my personal experience) I see says that it makes no difference whatsoever. 16-gauge lamp cord from Home Depot will work nicely.

I have an old (3 years) Dolby Pro Logic amp that I just bought new speakers for. I got the Bose 600 series from Sam’s Club for under $400.00, they list for $700.00 on the Bose website. I know there are a lot of people in the “If it is popuplar it must suck club” who will tell you that Bose are no good. I love them, they are so small that you can place them anywhere and they sound great. They come with plenty of wire but no mounting brackets, brackets are $100.00 for 4. You don’t need brackets for the center speaker.

Good choice!

Well, the “guys” are exagerating but, since you’ve got the video, you might as well upgrade the audio to be worthy of it. But, fake-o wood or techno black are still the most common finishes for speakers, so your old ones wouldn’t necessarily look any worse than new ones. If you like the sound, you could keep them and add one or more additional speakers. Chances are, they aren’t that good, though, if they’re from the 70’s.

Absolutely. Dolby Surround is not the “latest and greatest”, but it’s darn good and a huge step up from tinny TV speakers.

Yes, some of those “itty bitty” speakers sound great! Some don’t. Go here for some of the best values in speaker packages. Great sounding speakers at great prices.

They routinely get rave reviews and you have 30 days to audition them in your own house. You can return them if they aren’t what you want. And, from the sound of it, you’re not interested in joining the lifelong quest for the ultimate home theater. If you’re looking for a quick solution, this is it. You will, as with most speakers, need to buy the wire separately. At least at Cambridge Soundworks (which, oddly enough, is actually across the river and down the road from Cambridge, not in Cambridge), you can order it at the same time you order the speakers.

If you decide to hang onto your old speakers, you could just by a center speaker, to put on/in front of the TV, and a pair of surround speakers. Whatever you decide, please don’t buy one of the chain store packages. It won’t sound any better than your old speakers.

Try asking some of the guys at Home Theater Talk . They are always happy to help someone that is trying to set up their first home theater.

You may wish to try a Home Theater in a Box to start with, then upgrade later if you wish. Kenwood has a good reputation for the lower end HTIBs. Good luck.

On top? Er, no. Usually one puts the sub in the corner. Surround uses six speakers. Front left and right, center, and two surrounds, plus a sub in the corner. There are some systems that use 7 or eight speakers, but you need not concern yourself with all that. Honestly, unless you are into action movies, I would recommend you just get a decent pair of front left and right speakers, and run your DVD in stereo mode. A good brand to look at would be B&W. Look at their 300 and 600 series speakers, and then if you want add surround speakers later when you can afford a new receiver. A dealer who sells B&W will also likely have some used speakers on hand, which can be a great way to increase your bang for buck.

Spreading $500 over a whole surround speaker set up isn’t going to get you much. Buy quality now, and you will be rewarded later. Besides, if you use the system for music at all you won’t need the surround features. Just my two cents.

Thanks for all the information, everyone. I confess that I went out today and bought a Sony home theatre package at BestBuy for $299. After reading all your comments, I’m taking it back. I’m going to just buy a good center speaker for now to sit on top of the t.v. and use it with my old speakers until I save enough to pay $400-600 for a new set of main speakers. I already went over budget with the t.v. so I’m going to have to just wait until I can afford good quality.

I listen to cd’s a lot more than I watch movies, so I’m going to see how the center/main set up works for now. Maybe I’ll ask for a digital receiver and satellite speakers for Xmas next year.

I found a lot of useful information on the links you all gave. Now I have to go into an audio place and listen. I feel a lot less stressed about the whole process now. Thanks.

One final question: 450 watts? 600 watts? How much should I get for a 20 x 20 room?

Lisa, power is not that important for the 5 channels, but for subwoofer the more the merrier. Sunfire sub has 2700 watts :slight_smile:

if a subwoofer is less than about 150 watts its not really a subwoofer, but crap :slight_smile: it must also be “continuous” or at least “rms” power. stuff like “maximum” power is totally irrelevant.

subwoofer goes on the floor, near a wall, and preferrably in corner.

Hope your speaker search continues to go well.

On the amp, I agree with vasyachkin whole heartedly. A 20x20 room is big, but far better to get 35 quality watts of power per channel than to go with some huge Kenwood P.O.S. that claims to deliver 500 w/channel. Find a good dealer (not Best Buy, not Circuit City, and IMHO not Tweater) and they will help you out. Yamaha and Pioineer Elite and Denon make some nice receivers, and there are others too. Don’t get sucked into thinking that you need gigawatts of power to make some music, you don’t. In fact, you will seldom use more than 5 watts per speaker.

I was told I needed 1.21 gigawatts. Then my Mr. Fusion broke. :smack:

Cool. It can be intimidating, if you’re not a gearhead.

Don’t stress over the number of watts, either. You have a good sized room, but not huge. Any good receiver these days is going to be capable of producing at least reasonable volume from any set of reasonably efficient speakers. The speakers play an important part in the equation; some are considerably more efficient than others. It’s comparable to a car engine; the same engine can produce more speed when put into a light car than it can when put into a heavy one. Same thing with stereos, except the result is sound level, instead of speed.

But, as I said, don’t worry about that, because A) as Rhum Runner correctly pointed out, you’ll rarely use more than 5 watts per channel (the rest is reserve, for explosions, musical climaxes, etc.) and B) the difference between 450 watts and 600 watts isn’t even audible. Since those are total system power numbers, you have to divide those numbers by the number of channels being driven; usually five, though sometimes 6 or 7. Assuming it’s 5, that’s gives us 90 watts versus 120 watts. To achieve a difference of 3 decibels, which is about the smallest change in volume most of us can detect by ear, you need to double the input power. And, since 120 is not double 90, you will never notice a difference.

So, if you’re going to upgrade the receiver, pay more attention to the features each model includes than the advertised power ratings (which are often bogus, anyway). If you go to a good stereo specialty store, even Tweeter, the salesman will make sure you get enough power for the speakers you decide on. Or, make sure your existing receiver can drive the speakers, if you don’t upgrade it.

One other suggestion, which I’m sure some purists will disagree with. You may want to consider holding off on buying the center speaker until you’re ready to buy the new main speakers. In the meantime, you could run the center channel through the TV’s speakers. I know, by comparison, they’re still crappy, but they’re much better than TV speakers used to be, and the center channel is primarily used for dialog, which is much less demanding than music and sound effects.

The reason I suggest this is that it’s important for the speakers to have as similar a sound as possible, especially the three front speakers. This is the one drawback to buying a center speaker to go with existing speakers you already have. It’s generally very difficult to achieve a good match with speakers that weren’t made to go together. And, you’re going to be replacing your main speakers, soon, anyway. You could end up with a center speaker that doesn’t match either the old speakers or the new ones. Or you can buy a center speaker that will match the speakers you want to buy later, and live with the fact that it doesn’t match your current speakers. Either way is less than ideal, but the second option is better.

If you’re going to buy a center speaker now, I’d suggest that when shopping, you audition full sets of speakers by the same manufacturer. That way, you can buy the center now, and pick up the other speakers later, and know they’ll sound good together.

Don’t buy it out of a van (esp a white van). There is an ongoing scam with them, but it’s a real company that preys on people thinging they are buying stuff that ‘fell off the back of the tru… um van’

Someone on the SDMB posted that they got taken not long ago.

This scam/company is nation wide, speakers are make to feel like a quality product but have shitty components in them.

wow 20 x 20 is a big room, didn’t take note of that on last reading.

that still doesn’t change your power requirements much for speakers, but

subwoofer performance is very strongly dependent on room size. i would suggest at least 12" sub with at least 200 watts.

subwoofer is one thing where size and power do count :slight_smile:

small rooms tend to reinforce subwoofer output strongly, big rooms don’t.