My system seems to be dying, as the sound cuts out every time I adjust the volume. I'm going to look into getting it repaired, but I'm not terribly fond of it, so I wouldn't mind replacing the thing either. My current system is a Bose, though I understand for the money, they're really not that great. I honestly have no idea what to look for though, so I'm turning to you.
A couple things to keep in mind: I live in an apartment, so vibrations are a concern. Space is also a concern. The Bose's woofer is the size of a desktop computer, and I'd prefer something a bit more inconspicuous. For the speakers, easy mounting onto a wall would be nice, but isn't a deal breaker. As for price range (and this may be where my ignorance comes into play), I'd prefer to keep it under $200.
What can you suggest for me, PA?
I often recommend these for the budget conscious. They are stunning for the price, and not TOO large. And if you can hook them up with SPDIF, even better, the DAC in these compares favorably with pro level sound cards.
Oh, and your subwoofer is going to be that size.
The previous replies are assuming you want to buy an amp separate from everything else, which is the proper way to do a sound system... no question there. With your space and budget concerns, all-in-one is something you're going to desire. Sure, it's not going to get the crisp whatevers or the smooth whathaveyous but honestly these are still great speakers to use in an apartment.
However, active speakers (amps built into EACH speaker) have several benefits if designed properly. Powered crossovers, true biamplification, perfect amp-driver matching, and no signal degradation due to extra wires.
Edit: Improvolone's suggestion of craigslist is good, I would also encourage looking at reburbished systems if you want 5.1. Heck, $200 will get you a HTiB with a built in tivo if you go refurbed http://www.factorydirect.ca/catalog/product_spec.php?pcode=PH5800
Well, the Bose is a 2.1 system, so no, it doesn't have to be a whole 5.1.
And if you're worried about not having enough bass you could add a seperate subwoofer and still be under $200.
What would you recommend as the "next step up"? Just the next step, not five or ten steps up. If say, the budget was around $350. (And would it be worth the money?)
Could they serve a dual purpose? I'd love to use them for music mainly, from a record player as well as my laptop, and then when I watch the occasional movie.
(I was about to say "no games," but then I wondered if, since I'd prefer them to be in the living room with the TV, why I couldn't also use them with consoles. The TV speakers would probably be fine, but standalone speakers would obviously be better.)
(I just realized I asked for everything on your list. Sorry for not being clear-cut ;x)
OK, I'm gonna recommend these for general goodness. I hope you don't mind the hugeness or the lack of 5.1
Huge woofers for more bass extension than a lot of consumer subwoofers, four amps for true biamplification, magnetically shielded, volume rated to match a subway train, 100dB SNR - in short, very nice.
Also notice that they're 50% off MSRP there, ship free, and apparently come with free stands.
Edit: They have pro audio inputs. You will need a couple of these to use them with normal stereo cables
2 pairs of Boston Acoustics CR57B bookshelf speakers - $80/pair
Paradigm CC120 center channel speaker - $120
Onkyo TX-SR304B receiver - $150
I cheated, that's $420. General idea, though, is that if you get entry-level models of solid brands, you can assemble something very good for around that price point, if you hold off on a subwoofer. By getting full-range speakers, you'll get enough bass that your system can still sound good. Save up a couple hundred for a good entry-level sub down the road and it'll rock. At this point, you'll have all your components, and upgrading becomes simple. You can replace one component at a time.
HTiB solutions can also work, provided the components are all compatible with normal components. Problem is, a lot of them use proprietary or non-standard connection types, which means when you want to upgrade you have to trash the whole thing and start over. Cheaper up front, more expensive down the road.
Those M-Audios should be pretty close to a media speaker, but I've never heard them.
All right, people. It is not a gerbil. It is not a hamster. It is not a guinea pig. It is a death rabbit. Death. Rabbit. Say it with me, now.
What I most appreciated was how when watching 24/96 LPCM music DVDs, occasionally there was a point where the speakers just "dropped away" and if you closed your eyes you could believe it was live. That sort of transparency only comes with flat speakers. Now every time I hear notes hither and thither jumping out of context because "media" speakers lack a flat response, it just kicks my ears in their metaphorical nuts.