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  1. #1
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    Audio Equipment

    This thread is meant to be a discussion of audio equipment. Both inside computers to the limit of computer-based audio, and viable alternatives at the high-end.

    This is a topic that I would like to learn more about, and any questions/information on this topic is welcome in this thread.

    The system I use most to listen to music is a near-silent (no hard drive, one 120mm FDB fan @ 7v) high-performance system with a Bluegears X-Plosion 7.1 sound card hooked up to Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 speakers.

    I'm exploring what it would take to get better sound. What is the weak-link in this system, and where should I go with it. My fear is that anything significantly better will be of significant cost. As this is an informative exploration, this shouldn't really be considered an obstacle. I suspect that pursuit of better sound will lead to an external audio amplifier and some good bookshelf or floorstanding speakers.

    An external amplifier will be able to amplify 2 channels (I don't care about surround) but then I'm still dependant on the DAC and opamps on the soundcard. (correct?) The only way around this is to get a full-blown reciever to do the DTS decoding from the sound card. (correct?)

    If I go this route, what should I be looking at for speakers? What is the next appreciable step after where I am?

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  2. #2
    Fatwah on Western Digital Fixture Mercutio's Avatar
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    I'm certain that GaryH is the guy who knows more about the actual electronics than anyone here.

    Also, down the path to better sound lies utter madness. I'm serious. Stereophiles are as bad as drug addicts. One of my brothers has $12,000-apiece mono amplifiers driving single speakers worth another $15,000 each. His listening room is vibrationally isolated from the rest of his house.

    Granted, he can afford to do that kind of crap.

    What I can say is that you can't go wrong buying superior speakers. Klipsch speakers are generally pretty nice. They are. I don't like their sound, they don't suit the kinds of music I enjoy, but without walking into an AV Boutique, you're not going to do better.

    Of course, I can tell you that your speakers are probably fine. You aren't going to believe me, or you wouldn't have made this thread.

    So go to an AV Mecca. Take along three or four discs that you know and love, and have a listen. Their showroom is probably rigged with fantasically nice hardware, acoustic panelling and other dreamy features, but it's a place to start. If you're lucky, the store will let you let you audition speakers in your home.

    You may very well find that you can't hear a difference between speakers. You may want to start with a "blind" listen. Whatever. You may also find out that your ears are ruined from years of listening to shitty loud music on headphones.

    Anyway, there are better speakers out in the world than Klipsch, but finding the right ones is going to be a purely subjective issue. I listened to about a dozen brands of high-end speakers before I settled on Kef.

    I do know that you aren't using a DAC on your sound card if you have a digital connection to something else that decodes your digital audio stream. This is the only way I've EVER hooked up my Auzentech cards, but an external receiver or Amp is still a good idea regardless. I actually prefer single-component Receivers to multiple component systems, in part because it limits how insane I can be about audio. Denon makes very nice equipment, but again, they aren't the only game in town. I like Onkyo/Integra equipment better, and Harmon Kardon is really nice, too. I've had Sony ES hardware and while I had a crappy experience with mine, IIRC it's what Stereodue uses for his audio setup. If you have the budget you might also look at Carver equipment as well. Regardless, I've found the receiver is less important than getting good speakers. On the other hand, I consider a home theater receiver to be part of my standard computer setup, just like the power supply and the DVD burner.

    Anyway, it's late and those are my initial thoughts.

  3. #3
    Storage? I am Storage! Pradeep's Avatar
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    The Klipsch THX Ultra speakers are reportedly excellent (no comparison to the computer speakers).

  4. #4
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    Merc,

    Thanks for the response; yours was one of those I would value most of this group, as you have the budget and the interest to provide valuable feedback at this level. I understand that investment at this level requires an exponential increase in investment for a linear increase in quality, but I'm willing to take it just a step or two further if budget allows.

    If you tell me that I can't do significantly better for less than $2000; I'll trust you and be happy where I am for now. The quality really is quite good; not a day goes by where I'll play a track that I haven't heard in a while and be amazed. Keep in mind that my ideal before this was onboard sound with Sony MDR-V6 headphones, so there was plenty of room for improvement.
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  5. #5
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    FYI:

    P.U.ExtreemeI.: (third bottle: a Pariso '02 Syrah...$50/bottle)

    My apologies for any typos or indirect offense towards other posters...
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    Storage? I am Storage! Pradeep's Avatar
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    You could have a significant improvement in quality with some nice headphones, and a dedicated headphone amp. Plus it takes room acoustics out of the picture. Only works if you are listening for one tho.

  7. #7
    Fatwah on Western Digital Fixture Mercutio's Avatar
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    You might try buying a more modest receiver, something in the realm of $300 - $500. Something like an Onkyo TXSR674, maybe (just as a suggestion; I've never heard one, but it has an appealing feature set). Your Klipsch speakers are REAL speakers IIRC, they have real speaker terminals to be attached directly to home audio equipment.

    If nothing else, the receiver is an A/V switch. You can plug you DVD player, TiVo, PC and VCR into it and then have a single connection to whatever you're using for your video output. Even if you don't hear an improvement, that's still a handy thing to be able to do.

    For what it's worth, Circuit City carries a decent selection of Onkyo and HK equipment. Best Buy has Klipsch speakers if you want a manlier set and don't know where to go. Most of the Hifi stores I've been are actually even more rapacious than Best Buy, if you can believe it.

  8. #8
    Storage? I am Storage! Buck's Avatar
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    Very nice thread. I was recently given some used surround speakers, the center being a Klipsch -- certainly made an enjoyable difference in clarity.
    Do wat du wolt, die Lut snakt doch.

  9. #9
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the responses so far. Multiple inputs is not an issue, unless I want to have discreet inputs for my computers. I have no stereo, no TiVo, no TV, no DVD player, no turntable....nada. I'm just focusing on my one source mentioned above, and getting out to some speakers.

    If the soundcard I have is good, and the speakers I have are "real speakers", perhaps I shouldn't be looking for more?
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  10. #10
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ddrueding View Post
    ...perhaps I shouldn't be looking for more?
    What a silly thought (it's passed now).

    One of the reasons I specifically stated stereo sound was my focus was because I wanted to concentrate on quality over number of channels. Considering 95% of my source material is stereo, I didn't think more speakers would make an appreciable difference.

    Headphones are out; I don't like wearing them (even the really comfortable light ones), and occasionally there are more people listening.
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  11. #11
    Storage? I am Storage! Bozo's Avatar
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    A few years ago I did what Merc suggested: I took a cd that I liked to every store that carried good speakers. I watched as the sales person loaded my cd, insisting that the amp/reciever be set at Nuetral. No bass boost or any help from the amp/reciever. I also ask to have the cd played from what the store considered their best amp/reciever. Then I sat in the middle of the room and had the sales person switch speakers as I was listening.
    The cd I took along was Glen Miller. Thses songs were digitally mastered a few years ago. The reason for Glen Miller is to make the speakers work from the very highs to the very lows. This was round one.
    In round two I went back to each store that had something I thought I might like. This time I brought a cd with the William Tell Ovature on it. Again to make the speakers work.
    The whole process took about three weeks. I ended up buying a pair of Klipsch speakers.
    You will deffinately be able to tell the difference between so-so speakers and good speakers. But it is subjective. Everybody's ears are different.
    This was circa 1990 and the speakers cost $2500.00 then. I still have them and they still sound great.

    You get what you pay for.

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  12. #12
    Hairy Aussie timwhit's Avatar
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    I really hate how Klipsch speakers sound. Horns are for stadiums, not for home listening.

    Go to a high-end audio store and test out some speakers. If they won't let you bring them home for a trial run, then find a different store that will.

    When my Dad was buying a set of Paradigm speakers a couple years ago that were around $500, they even let him take those home and test them. So, even if you aren't spending $10k, you should still expect good service.

    Just don't let anyone sucker you into spending $500 on speaker cables or optical interconnects. That stuff is a genuine rip-off.

    $300-500 on a receiver is plenty. You could even look at used Onkyos or HK on eBay, though I don't know if I would trust a used receiver.

    I love my NHT 2.5i's. I listened to a lot of speakers before I bought those and I still haven't found a pair of speakers I like more for the amount I paid for them ($800 if I remember correctly). They look nice too.

    I would also check out Definitive Technology, I like how those speakers sound a lot.

  13. #13
    Storage? I am Storage! Bozo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by timwhit View Post
    I really hate how Klipsch speakers sound. Horns are for stadiums, not for home listening.
    My Klipsch don't have horns. It's a little round thing. But, this technology is almost 20 yeras old. Some of the new speakers I'm sure sound better.

    Both of my Pioneer speaker sets have horns. But they are even older than the Klipsch.

    Bozo

  14. #14
    Fatwah on Western Digital Fixture Mercutio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ddrueding View Post
    What a silly thought (it's passed now).

    One of the reasons I specifically stated stereo sound was my focus was because I wanted to concentrate on quality over number of channels. Considering 95% of my source material is stereo, I didn't think more speakers would make an appreciable difference.

    Headphones are out; I don't like wearing them (even the really comfortable light ones), and occasionally there are more people listening.
    I concur on the subject of headphones. Being an adult and having my own living space means being able to listen comfortably.

    But, on to more constructive comments:

    You are making a mistake by ignoring surrounds. The addition of discrete surrounds from stereo sources is one of the prime technical advantages of the Auzentech audio card you have now. Even if 95% of your media is stereo only, it can come out your speakers as surround sound.

    Plus, if you watch DVDs, you're missing 3/5.1 of the soundtrack.

    What I would *try* in your place would be to obtain an HT receiver (Circuit City will give you a no-restock-fee return if nothing else), a center channel and possibly two other mains. I'd probably choose to use the speakers you have now as the surrounds, but whatever floats your boat.

    The center channel is the most important speaker in your audio setup. You do not have a center channel. Use of a center implies some kind of surround processing (which is what Dolby Live and DTS Connect are for, man), but it's incredibly worthwhile. Listen to me. I'm not exaggerating. I would not be typing this if I didn't think it was worthwhile advice.

    If you buy a surround setup, try to at least get speakers from the same manufacturer. Good speakers are not necessarily unbelievably expensive, but they should all use the same construction techniques and audio properties (ie, they are timbre-matched).

    As timwhit says, people who push fancy cables are f'in insane. That said, I have them, my brother's hand-me-down stuff. They don't make a difference. They just look nicer. "Monster Cable" is a rip-off, particularly for a digital interconnect. I made a SPDIF cable out of 18-gauge speaker wire that sent the same signals to my receiver as a solid-palladium RS Audio cable.

  15. #15
    Fatwah on Western Digital Fixture Mercutio's Avatar
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    Oh, and on the experience of hearing your favorite music out of better equipment than you've heard before:

    Fully expect to hear things you've never noticed. Picks sliding across guitar strings. Tapping feet. Soft sighs of breath. More cowbell. That stuff was there all along.

    If you're really into what you're hearing, it'll be a gooseflesh-raising, quasi-spiritual moment.

  16. #16
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    If only I had $10,000 to spend on this...these look perfect for my needs.
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  17. #17
    Storage? I am Storage! Buck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ddrueding View Post
    If only I had $10,000 to spend on this...these look perfect for my needs.

    :drool:
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    Quote Originally Posted by ddrueding View Post
    If only I had $10,000 to spend on this...these look perfect for my needs.
    Looks really nice... A cheaper compact alternative might be a Linn Classik Movie connected to a couple of Katans, or something like that.

  19. #19
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fb View Post
    Looks really nice... A cheaper compact alternative might be a Linn Classik Movie connected to a couple of Katans, or something like that.
    Those look great, and include the surround decoder, but I can't find prices anywhere. I somehow suspect it's still a lot of money.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ddrueding View Post
    Those look great, and include the surround decoder, but I can't find prices anywhere. I somehow suspect it's still a lot of money.
    I think the Classik Movie costs around $4000, they also have a Classik Musik for around $2000, but the Movie apparently plays CD's much better, and the Katans should cost around $1000. Maybe it's a little bit of money, but it's cheap for the amount of sound quality.

  21. #21
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    Alright, back to reality. I hadn't seen Merc's most recent posts when I made my last.

    Surround it is. Looking for a reciever and speakers. I'll probably take the Klipsch I have and move them elsewhere, so consider me starting from scratch.

    Getting a reciever like this one? It has so many buttons that I will never, ever use....is there something that just does DTS decoding and amplification?

    Getting speakers like these?

    Would this sound better than what I have now?
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  22. #22
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    Or when you say matched speakers do you mean something like this?
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  23. #23
    Not really a Hairy Aussie
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    What is your total budget? If you're looking for a decent 5.1 system on the cheap you can get a nice HTIB. Or, if you're looking to spend a little more you can get something like this http://www.av123.com/products_produc...s&product=92.1 and a nice receiver that isn't too expensive. Like http://www2.panasonic.com/webapp/wcs...00000000005702

  24. #24
    Fatwah on Western Digital Fixture Mercutio's Avatar
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    Home Theater in a Box setups are usually pretty anemic. If you're LUCKY they rely on the bass module to deliver decent sound. Which, come to think of it, is just like computer speakers.

    I use a set of Acoustic Research AR-HC5s for the audio rig in my office. The center isn't as good as I'd like, but the sub is, and for the money I don't have any complaints. You can find that set for $250 or so. I don't think they're made any more, but they're still available.

    If you are looking for a "starter" set that you might choose to upgrade a piece at a time, be sure you look at companies that actually make more expensive yet obtainable speakers. Not Acoustic Research but Cambridge Soundworks, Klipsch, Polk or Infinity.

    As an alternative, you could look at a digital sound projector. I've heard them. Not knowing what I was listening to, I wouldn't've guessed it was a single speaker. This may be EXACTLY what ddrueding needs.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mercutio View Post
    Home Theater in a Box setups are usually pretty anemic. If you're LUCKY they rely on the bass module to deliver decent sound. Which, come to think of it, is just like computer speakers.
    There are a some reasonable ones out there from Onkyo. If someone's got a max budget of $200-$400 and they want 5.1 surround sound a "nice" HTIB is about the only way that's going to happen.

  26. #26
    Fatwah on Western Digital Fixture Mercutio's Avatar
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    Sort of Tangental to the audio issue, this is a comparison between PC-based video playback and a number of standalone DVD players. Stuff like this is why I <3 my HTPC.

  27. #27
    Storage? I am Storage! Buck's Avatar
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    All this talk about quality home theater systems gave me the urge to use my own eclectic setup. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came out quite good on a Samsung 32” LCD display powered by component video and everything audio analogue, with the help of my favorite: Dolby Pro LogicII – fantastic! Out of all the Star Trek movies, number 2 has the best sound track, in my opinion. During the ending credit, silence all around but the music from the movie is allowed. I wish.
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    Storage is cool Bartender's Avatar
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    Buck, you failed to mention how your movie watching enjoyment was enhanced by the consumption of fresh Leberkäse on rye bread. Oh, and the can of Boddingtons improved your perception of the movie.
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  29. #29
    Storage? I am Storage! Buck's Avatar
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    Nonetheless, Bartender, Technics did a great job almost a decade ago implementing Dolby Pro Logic II.

    The article Mercutio referred to is a nice read. Makes one want to build a HTPC. Thanks Merc.
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  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mercutio View Post
    Sort of Tangental to the audio issue, this is a comparison between PC-based video playback and a number of standalone DVD players. Stuff like this is why I <3 my HTPC.
    I read that article as well, but that's not exactly the best test disc. It's designed to by the Terenex HQV folks to show off their Realta HQV processor. Not surprising, it wins. They put some emphasis on noise reduction and other things that they award points that aren't really an indicator of how good your de-interlacer/scalar is. I would have been curious to see how the results changed if the dvd players output 1080i instead of 480p.

    On a related note, there have been quite a few people at AVSforum who seem to indicate that ATI is cheating (perhaps recognizing the test scenes) to do as well as they do on that benchmark, and that their decoder doesn't work as well on real world dvds as it does on the HQV disc. If I remember correctly the cadence section specifically is what they complain about.

  31. #31
    Fatwah on Western Digital Fixture Mercutio's Avatar
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    Wanna know a movie that's cool to look at and listen to, even if it's not really that good?

    The George Clooney version of Solaris. It's a great test disc for a home theater system.

  32. #32
    Learning Storage Performance adriel's Avatar
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    If you're a 2-channel music listener like myself, as I understand from your original post, I have a few suggestions below. If however, you intend to convert to a movie watching/DTS decoding/5.1++/receiver/ setup, you don't need to read anything more of my reply.

    For serious music listening from a PC, you will need to output ASIO (or similar methods) through a 2-meter glass optical Toslink cable to a jitter reduction device. Then from the jitter reduction, into a DAC designed for hifi, as opposed to a receiver designed for 7.1++ theater.

    If your speakers are sitting right on your computer desk, I would try to find room behind the desk for speaker stands. If you're listening in near-field, I recommend time-aligned speakers such as coaxial mounted tweeters/concentrics/ or full range drivers/whizzer cones/phase plugs. That way you don't have middle frequencies and high frequencies sounding like they're coming from two different regions of space vertically, when in reality, like sitting down at a piano, they should sound horizontally left-right.


    Personally I have a 2-meter glass Toslink cable coming out of my computer (Waveterminal U2A USB, looking to switch to Edirol U5A or similar) into a Monarchy Audio DIP Classic. This model is designed for 44.1, and reclocks the data with a more accurate oscillator. I am looking to upgrade the crystal inside with an Adcom Superclock III for around $300 in the future. Then, from the DIP, it goes to my DAC (currently a non-oversampling multi-bit, digital filterless design).

    The above can be simplified into a one-piece design; the ones I have seen are around $1500-$2200.

    If I was getting back into the hobby fulltime, I would need to budget $2000 for speakers, $2000 for an amplifier, and $600 for a source upgrade for the computer. Unfortunately, the total cost of the car is around $1000 per month and is keeping me in check until it becomes fully paid off in 6 years. I just think of all the gear I could purchase every month for $1000, just by not having a car around...

  33. #33
    Storage? I am Storage! Pradeep's Avatar
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    What kind of car do you have that costs $1K per month?

  34. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pradeep View Post
    What kind of car do you have that costs $1K per month?
    Apparently one that costs about $60+k

  35. #35
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    All,

    Thanks so much for all the info. I'm really enjoying all the dialogue. What I'm most interested in at the moment is the next step after my current ~$300 configuration. Something under $1500 lets say. Not that that is a hard number, if I can be convinced that more could be wisely spent, I could find the work that would find the money. But (as Merc said) that way lies maddness.

    So the next step after mine. DTS out? External surround decoder/Amplifier? Matched 5.1 speaker setup? $500 for the electronics and $1000 for the speakers?

    I'm posting from my hotel room in Sausalito, CA. from the Art Festival where my girlfriend is showing her work.

    I won't be able to actively participate in the conversation until I get home on Tuesday.
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  36. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by ddrueding View Post
    So the next step after mine. DTS out? External surround decoder/Amplifier? Matched 5.1 speaker setup? $500 for the electronics and $1000 for the speakers?
    Given $1500 I would suggest a receiver and speakers. The question to you is do you want a receiver + 2 speakers + maybe a sub now (giving you 2.0/2.1) with the capability of expanding to 5.1 later with matching speakers, or do you want a receiver + a 5.1 speaker setup now?

  37. #37
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    Screw it. I'm not going to go through the added hasstle of a reciever just to get the same 2.1 I have now. I'll get a 5.1 speaker setup at the same time.

    What about 7.1? Snake Oil?
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  38. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by ddrueding View Post
    Screw it. I'm not going to go through the added hasstle of a reciever just to get the same 2.1 I have now. I'll get a 5.1 speaker setup at the same time.

    What about 7.1? Snake Oil?
    Well, it wouldn't be the same 2.1 you have now. It would be much better sounding 2.1

    7.1 isn't snake oil, but depending on your room and other factors it just might not make sense.

  39. #39
    Fatwah on Western Digital Fixture Mercutio's Avatar
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    I can think of maybe a half-dozen DVDs that have 6.1 soundtracks, let alone seven.

    Did you look at that Yamaha sound projector?

  40. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mercutio View Post
    I can think of maybe a half-dozen DVDs that have 6.1 soundtracks, let alone seven.
    But, there is Dolby Pro Logic IIx which will turn any 2.0/2.1 --> 5.1 source into 7.1

  41. #41
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    The Yamaha looks fascinating. If it performs as well as it's traditional competitors in that price range, it may be exactly what I'm looking for. How was the audio quality?
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  42. #42
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    Quote Originally Posted by ddrueding View Post
    The Yamaha looks fascinating. If it performs as well as it's traditional competitors in that price range, it may be exactly what I'm looking for. How was the audio quality?
    I haven't heard it, but it isn't going to perform as well as real discrete speakers.

  43. #43
    Fatwah on Western Digital Fixture Mercutio's Avatar
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    Yes, but taken in combination, the sound projector is a better deal than buying a HTiB kit.
    And for what it's worth, it DOES have real speakers. About 30 of them. As I understand it, there's a longish setup process where it figures out where to point each of the speakers to maximize echos and reflections so that you get the full surround you're supposed to have.

  44. #44
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    That sound projector reminds me of the Bose 901. Dozens of ultra cheap drivers meant very loud, but very crap music. I'm sure the Yamaha is better, but still...

    I would say it is more for the flat panel crowd that don't want 6 or 7 speakers cluttering their living space.

    For speakers, try something like this:

    http://svsound.com/products-spks-sbs01.cfm

    And add a sub to suit when ready.

  45. #45
    Storage? I am Storage! Pradeep's Avatar
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    Try this:

    http://www.svsound.com/products-sys-sbs.cfm

    5 speakers plus sub for $999. Should be sufficient for any apartment dweller. The Pioneer 1015 receiver is good value for money.

  46. #46
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    I'd go with the AV123 X-LS/X-CS setup over the SVS one.

  47. #47
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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    We'll see how good the Yamaha YSP-1000 is; I have a new client in Marin that wants a home theater. I'll be aquiring a demo unit to try out at his place.
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  48. #48
    Fixture ddrueding's Avatar
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  49. #49
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    Quote Originally Posted by ddrueding View Post
    It's a pretty darn potent combo... I've heard the SP3 before with the Ref 1.5's and it's solid. I've heard the Ref 1's on quite a few occasions and they're impressive as well.

  50. #50
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    I should point out that they're a tad bit bright for my tastes, but lots of people swear by them. You can try them out for 30 days and send them back if you don't like them, so there's not much risk.

    I prefer the sound of my RS1000 (http://www.av123.com/products_produc...s&product=46.1) running through my Perpetual Technology P-1A (http://www.av123.com/products_produc...rs&product=1.1). I've got the SOCS software for my RS1000s loaded in mine.

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