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Need a decent HT audio setup that costs less than my car

DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
So when I got a new job, I got a generous "miscellaneous moving expenses" bonus, which, combined with the fact that my actual moving expenses were pretty slim, allowed me to buy a relatively nice TV. (A 46" Sharp Aquos, if you're curious.)

And it's been great and all, but the built-in speakers leave something to be desired, especially when playing music. I got a Buckethead album recently (A Real Diamond In The Rough, if you're curious) and got about three tracks in before I couldn't take the speaker rattle anymore.

So I need some decent speakers. I used to have a relatively nice (for a high school/college budget, anyway) set from Creative, but the controller hardware sort of broke, leading to random volume fluctuations, and in any case were pretty small (they were definitely computer-sized speakers and not HT speakers). So I want to put together a proper HT setup, and I don't want to have to declare personal bankruptcy afterwords.

I figure I'll need a receiver and two side speakers to start out with, and I'll expand to a 5.1 surround set later. Some questions, if anyone here has been there before:

What's a decent budget reciever? I don't need a lot of fancy features or anything, I just need it to take sound from my PC and consoles and move it to some speakers. Right now my PC and 360 are going through HDMI, but I can certainly live without an HDMI-capable reciever, using the other audio outputs on the things. (Indeed, ATI's HDMI audio drivers aren't really all that great in the first place).

Also I'll need a pair of decent speakers. What brand has the best ratio between good and cheap? And should I get a subwoofer, or wait on that? My plan is to get two pretty good front speakers, ones that will last a while, and then get good center and rear speakers and a woofer later, as I have more money, rather than half-assing a full 5.1 set upfront. Is this feasible, or will I be better off with a HT-in-a-box setup?

Also, what do I need to know about compatibility? I'm technically inclined (I hook up my own network, build my own PC, code for the Cell in assembly language, etc.) but this is outside my area of expertise. How do I know that everything will work with everything else?

I'm not a crazy audiophile, I just need something relatively competent. And I need to keep the price down; if I start heading towards $1000 (or at least, a grand all at once), my fiancee will probably cut off my testicles.

edit: also, where do I buy this stuff? Newegg is good for computer parts, but kinda sucks for TVs. Are they good for speakers? If not, where?

Daedalus on
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Posts

  • RaynagaRaynaga Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    This thread from awhile back is only about 4 pages long and goes over a lot of the basic stuff as I recall. Might be helpful.

  • WulfWulf Disciple of Tzeentch The Void... (New Jersey)Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Ebay is a good place to look for refurbished Harmon-Kardon theater systems, as the company itself has an 'e-store' sorta thing going on there. My father was able to get one of their more recent receivers for about $250. With the latest firmware they can really push the sound too. I have a 250 myself, and it has enough HDMI ins for all my systems, controls them all with independent default volumes, and can shake my house more than the freight trains that roll by every few hours.
    And this is all with some tiny little Panasonic home theater speakers I had from about 6 years back, and two tiny Sony ones to make it 7.1.

    That being said, I did splurge on the powered sub woofer I bought (set be back a good chunk of change). I haven't turned it up above 25% yet for fear of it breaking plaster off my walls.

    Everyone needs a little Chaos!
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    So I think I'm going to get two of these:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16882290017

    and power them with one of these:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16882117303

    which is the only $200-ish reciever that actually processes HDMI audio rather than just passing through the video signal.

    This keeps the price down around $400 plus shipping, which I can fit into the budget because I just got in some extra money.

    Will this all work? Am I missing some vital component? Am I spending too much on one thing and not enough on some other thing? Should I just get a cheaper stereo receiver and throw it out when I want to do surround later? Gah! I've never done this before.

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  • RaynagaRaynaga Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    I would usually recommend an Onkyo or one of the Sony STR-DG units so I don't have a lot of experience with Pioneer as a brand. I will say the low number of HDMI ports would be a concern for me personally, particularly if you are planning on building up your system over time. The last thing you want to do is save 50-100 bucks now on a receiver, then find that a year from now you are having to look at buy a new one because you are out of inputs.

    I put my HT together over the course of a year or so, usually adding a component or two around my company's quarterly bonus period. The way I went about it (and the way I usually recommend to people looking at an 'assembly period' when looking at putting a system together) is to get the receiver first and to get the best one you can possibly afford. All the speakers in the world don't mean anything if you don't have something to plug all your components in to. After that, for me, was front channels, center speaker, subwoofer, rear channels.

    As for the spending per component, the common wisdom so far as I've ever known it is that you should put the most money down on your receiver and center channel speaker. This isn't to say "buy the most expensive thing you can find!" but that if you look at your system as a whole, those two items should be at the top end when compared to your other components. The vast majority of your sound will come from your center channel, when you get one, and the receiver powers the whole kit. After the receiver/center in cost comes your subwoofer (or front channels, its up to preference and living conditions on this one) with your rear channels bringing up the rear on cost and importance.

    This combo option from the same site is only about 200 more than what you'd be spending on the stuff you have so far, and the receiver is much less likely to need eventual replacement and you would have the full 5.1 system. The speakers themselves look to be decent but not amazing, but you'd be set with the full 5.1 and the ability to replace individual speaker components if you find yourself wanting more fidelity later on. I don't know your budget or financial situation, but sometimes its better to hold off for a few weeks or a month for a little extra cash now to prevent you having to spend a lot more cash later on down the road.

  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    I'm not really worried about the number of HDMI inputs. Right now I'm using one from my PC and one from my 360, and that's it. And as far as my computer goes, I think I'm going to go back to TOSLink, as ATI's HDMI audio drivers kinda suck. Besides, Monoprice has HDMI switchers cheap. I'm more worried about whether or not the receiver can drive the speakers properly, won't spontaneously catch fire, etc.

    So you think I should worry about the center channel before worrying about the front left&right?

    edit: how's this receiver look? http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16882120131

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  • RaynagaRaynaga Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    The center channel is for if you are building a 5.1 right now, or are planning on doing so in the near future. If that's more down the road, then the front channels are a good first buy as you may be relying on that first purchase for all your sound for quite some time.

    On the receiver, much better on the inputs, and Onkyo is known to be a good brand in the bang for your buck realm; only caveat is that this receiver has slightly lower wattage compared to the Pioneer you were looking at earlier. From what I can gather based on your comments, though, the power issue shouldn't be a concern for your uses.

  • xzzyxzzy Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    I still swear by my Z5500's. About as low end a 5.1 set as you can get, yet sounds pretty decent.

    Worst case, they'll hold you over while you penny pinch you way to affording the setup you really want. That's my strategy anyways.. saves me having to stress over which low end receivers are decent.

  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Okay, so I'm going with that Onkyo reciever and two Polk Monitor 50's: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16882290013

    and I'll pick up a subwoofer sometime next year and then fill out the center and rear channels later on. This keeps today's bill below $500, which is apparently the magic number for Significant Other Acceptance Factor.

    edit: good thing Newegg is offering free shipping because otherwise it'd be a goddamn fortune.

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  • RaynagaRaynaga Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Enjoy the set, let us know how it goes :D

  • GrimReaperGrimReaper Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    The 46" Sharp Aquos you've bought, is it this one by any chance? (backlit LED LCD tv)

    I'm currently aiming for the 40" one, let me know what you think of yours (picture quality, gaming on it etc) i'm likely to buy mine in a few days.

    PSN | Steam
    ---
    I've got a spare copy of Portal, if anyone wants it message me.
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    GrimReaper wrote: »
    The 46" Sharp Aquos you've bought, is it this one by any chance? (backlit LED LCD tv)

    I'm currently aiming for the 40" one, let me know what you think of yours (picture quality, gaming on it etc) i'm likely to buy mine in a few days.

    Hahahahaha, no, I can't afford that shit. I bought last year's model (cathode backlit, not LED), so it was marked down because they needed to make room for the one you just linked. Got it for a cool $999.

    But Rock Band 2 tells me that Game Mode on my set gets like 16 ms of delay, which is about as short as you can really get on an LCD screen. So that's not bad. The brightness by default does that annoying thing where when the frame is dark, the backlight dims the whole frame (dynamic contrast or something) but you can turn that shit off in the menu.

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  • GrimReaperGrimReaper Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Daedalus wrote: »
    GrimReaper wrote: »
    The 46" Sharp Aquos you've bought, is it this one by any chance? (backlit LED LCD tv)

    I'm currently aiming for the 40" one, let me know what you think of yours (picture quality, gaming on it etc) i'm likely to buy mine in a few days.

    Hahahahaha, no, I can't afford that shit. I bought last year's model (cathode backlit, not LED), so it was marked down because they needed to make room for the one you just linked. Got it for a cool $999.

    But Rock Band 2 tells me that Game Mode on my set gets like 16 ms of delay, which is about as short as you can really get on an LCD screen. So that's not bad. The brightness by default does that annoying thing where when the frame is dark, the backlight dims the whole frame (dynamic contrast or something) but you can turn that shit off in the menu.

    But overall you'd say it's a good tv? If I get this newer led revision it should be the same kind of quality. (yeah, I hate dynamic contrast too.. whoever thought of that should be shot)

    PSN | Steam
    ---
    I've got a spare copy of Portal, if anyone wants it message me.
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    GrimReaper wrote: »
    Daedalus wrote: »
    GrimReaper wrote: »
    The 46" Sharp Aquos you've bought, is it this one by any chance? (backlit LED LCD tv)

    I'm currently aiming for the 40" one, let me know what you think of yours (picture quality, gaming on it etc) i'm likely to buy mine in a few days.

    Hahahahaha, no, I can't afford that shit. I bought last year's model (cathode backlit, not LED), so it was marked down because they needed to make room for the one you just linked. Got it for a cool $999.

    But Rock Band 2 tells me that Game Mode on my set gets like 16 ms of delay, which is about as short as you can really get on an LCD screen. So that's not bad. The brightness by default does that annoying thing where when the frame is dark, the backlight dims the whole frame (dynamic contrast or something) but you can turn that shit off in the menu.

    But overall you'd say it's a good tv? If I get this newer led revision it should be the same kind of quality. (yeah, I hate dynamic contrast too.. whoever thought of that should be shot)

    Sure, but a couple caveats:

    1) I don't watch actual TV (the thing is essentially a giant monitor for an HTPC and several consoles) so I have no idea about the quality of this thing's built-in tuner.

    2) 1080p video sources look great, 480p video sources don't look so great. But my last TV was a high-def CRT, which are awesome at 1080i and 480p (and not so awesome at 720p or 1080p or PC input or correct geometry or weighing less than a midsize car) so maybe my expectations are too high.

    3) The "PC audio input" can act as the audio for either the VGA connector or one of the HDMI connectors. If you have a Dreamcast and a PC without HDMI audio, this means you don't have enough inputs. (Not that big a deal).

    4) The controls to switch to Game Mode are behind a goddamn hidden panel on the remote, and the manual doesn't tell you this because it reads like Chinese input into Google Translate. At first I thought there wasn't a Game Mode and I'd need to deal with 200+ ms of input lag before I found this out. Also Game Mode has some horizontal tearing sometimes, but I don't know how else they'd get sub-16ms delay, so I guess it's the cost of doing business. If you're not playing Rock Band or a fighting game or whatever you can switch to a mode with more delay and better picture.

    5) The speakers kinda suck, hence this thread.

    But yeah, it's a pretty capable set, and if they didn't fuck up anything for the LED version I'd say get it if you can find a good deal.

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  • GrimReaperGrimReaper Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    Daedalus wrote: »
    GrimReaper wrote: »
    Daedalus wrote: »
    GrimReaper wrote: »
    The 46" Sharp Aquos you've bought, is it this one by any chance? (backlit LED LCD tv)

    I'm currently aiming for the 40" one, let me know what you think of yours (picture quality, gaming on it etc) i'm likely to buy mine in a few days.

    Hahahahaha, no, I can't afford that shit. I bought last year's model (cathode backlit, not LED), so it was marked down because they needed to make room for the one you just linked. Got it for a cool $999.

    But Rock Band 2 tells me that Game Mode on my set gets like 16 ms of delay, which is about as short as you can really get on an LCD screen. So that's not bad. The brightness by default does that annoying thing where when the frame is dark, the backlight dims the whole frame (dynamic contrast or something) but you can turn that shit off in the menu.

    But overall you'd say it's a good tv? If I get this newer led revision it should be the same kind of quality. (yeah, I hate dynamic contrast too.. whoever thought of that should be shot)

    Sure, but a couple caveats:

    1) I don't watch actual TV (the thing is essentially a giant monitor for an HTPC and several consoles) so I have no idea about the quality of this thing's built-in tuner.

    2) 1080p video sources look great, 480p video sources don't look so great. But my last TV was a high-def CRT, which are awesome at 1080i and 480p (and not so awesome at 720p or 1080p or PC input or correct geometry or weighing less than a midsize car) so maybe my expectations are too high.

    3) The "PC audio input" can act as the audio for either the VGA connector or one of the HDMI connectors. If you have a Dreamcast and a PC without HDMI audio, this means you don't have enough inputs. (Not that big a deal).

    4) The controls to switch to Game Mode are behind a goddamn hidden panel on the remote, and the manual doesn't tell you this because it reads like Chinese input into Google Translate. At first I thought there wasn't a Game Mode and I'd need to deal with 200+ ms of input lag before I found this out. Also Game Mode has some horizontal tearing sometimes, but I don't know how else they'd get sub-16ms delay, so I guess it's the cost of doing business. If you're not playing Rock Band or a fighting game or whatever you can switch to a mode with more delay and better picture.

    5) The speakers kinda suck, hence this thread.

    But yeah, it's a pretty capable set, and if they didn't fuck up anything for the LED version I'd say get it if you can find a good deal.

    Well, currently I occasionally watch freeview tv (576p).. however I do intend to get a freesat box soon, which means I'll be able to watch hd tv. And my freeview box is a pvr, so i'll simply connect that up to the tv via scart or something. (I won't use the inbuilt freeview decoder)

    I intend to connect my freeview pvr, PS3 (HDMI) and Xbox 360 (VGA, it's an older 360 without a HDMI port) and possibly a freesat pvr too.. If I buy one then i'll likely sell the freeview box. And finally my media center pc which I use with XBMC will be connected up via HDMI.

    As to the remote control, at the moment i'm mulling buying a Logitech Harmony remote.. but I can't decide on which to buy. So I likely won't use the remote that comes with the tv.

    So, you can't set one of the HDMI ports to have a unique setting? Like say game mode on this port?

    Bit of a bugger about the speakers, I think I may have to look at some of the stuff posted here and buy myself some speakers too.

    PSN | Steam
    ---
    I've got a spare copy of Portal, if anyone wants it message me.
  • GrygonosGrygonos Registered User
    edited November 2009
    I have a very similar receiver (Onkyo 606) and Monitor 50s.. you will be very happy with them... even w/o a sub these perform surprisingly well. I'm not sure if the 507 has bi-amp capability.. but if it does you should definitely do it. Some people can't tell a difference.. but given that you're not holding back 7 speakers vs. 5.. there's no reason to not have the piece of mind knowing that you're sending a frequency band per channel :)

  • solsovlysolsovly Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    xzzy wrote: »
    I still swear by my Z5500's. About as low end a 5.1 set as you can get, yet sounds pretty decent.

    Worst case, they'll hold you over while you penny pinch you way to affording the setup you really want. That's my strategy anyways.. saves me having to stress over which low end receivers are decent.

    That seems expensive as a hold over. To the OP, I was in a similar mindset as you a month ago when I moved to a new place. I even looked at the same 507 receiver and 50 monitors. I wanted something that could output all the video via hdmi. For about 50 more dollars you could get the Onkyo RC160 or 607 that will also handle analog video --> hdmi and have the option for 7.2 down the road. The upscaling is not really noticable on the Wii.

    Things I ended up buying
    Spoiler:

    The nice thing about buying the system one piece at a time is that you can recycle the speakers. I went with a decent low/midrange receiver that I know I could keep down the road. When I want to buy the rear speakers, I can choose to upgrade the front (and move the front speakers to the back).

    edit: Same boat as Grygonos, no sub yet but these are pretty beefy as is. The sub will come after I move out of an apartment.

    XBOX Live Tag: Solsovly
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    So UPS got me the receiver and one of the speakers today, and will deliver the other speaker "later", despite them both originating at the same location and going to the same destination.

    Fucking idiots. How does that shit even happen?

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  • RaynagaRaynaga Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    I learned a long time ago to not question the why's and how's of the shipping gods. No answers lie there, only madness.

  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited November 2009
    So I got the other speaker (a process that involved driving to a UPS sorting facility, being told to go away, talking to a supervisor, etc. etc.) and set everything up.

    Setup on this receiver is a bit of a pain. The input buttons on the remote are labeled with things like "DVD/BD", "VCR/DVR", "CBL/SAT", "CD", etc, none of which are things that I actually own or have connected the receiver, so I just need to remember that DVD/BD really means HTPC, VCR/DVR means X360, etc. etc, at least until I break down and get a fancy programmable remote.

    Which is something that might happen pretty quick, because if I want to switch between my PC (connected with HDMI) and my Wii (connected over component), this is a process that involves two separate remotes (the reciever that did video conversion cost an extra $150, and a programmable remote is cheaper, so there you go).

    Now, on the good side, once you have everything all work-y, the speakers sound really good. They're a bit lacking on the really low bass, so the next thing I'm buying is going to be a powered sub, but the midrange is nice and strong and the high-pitch stuff is good too. I was worried that the Monitor 50s might not be loud enough (they've got fewer drivers than the 60s and 70s I was looking at, and are correspondingly cheaper) but I'm in an apartment, and these go up about as far as the laws of common courtesy and Baltimore County dictate, so it's all good. (When I get my own house I'll need bigger speakers, of course, but that won't be for a while.)

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