Last time we were gathered here together, class, we took a look at the process of picking up the heart of any home theatre system – the receiver. The receiver is so important because that’s where all your inputs go into and where those inputs get turned in to audio and video for our consumption. The audio and video produced can only ever be as good as what the receiver can handle so picking the right receiver is critical. I picked up a refurbished Sony STR-DH550 receiver that has been praised for it’s great audio reproduction and looked down upon for it’s ancient menu interface.
Today we look at how we get the audio out of our Sony STR-DH550 receiver from our inputs. So there are a few things to consider when you look at a speaker setup for your home theatre system.
One. Wattage output of receiver?
Two. Part out speakers individually or pick up a set of home theatre speakers?
Three. Music performance or movie performance?
Four. Do we need anything besides the speakers to setup?
Let’s tackle number one.
Knowing what your receiver is capable of watt output per speaker is incredibly important. If you buy speakers that cannot handle the output of the receiver your audio will not sound good. Receivers often list their wattage output on their shipping box or on the back panel by the speaker outputs. If you can’t find the power output at either of these locations you can always go to the manufacturer’s website and check out the specs there.
In the case of our Sony STR-DH550 we have three specs to look at (which should be available from any manufacturer for any receiver). We have a rating of 90 to 145 watts per channel. It actually gets much more in depth on this in the specs but keeping the number in our case to around 100 watts should be fine. We also see a resistance rating of 4 to 8 ohms. The higher the resistance on the speakers you choose will change how much power is produced and overall volume (I am oversimplifying that but it is essentially what that means). The STR-DH550 is optimally rated at 6 ohms but can support up to 8.
Yep a lot of numbers there but don’t get too worried. What essentially we want to be focusing on getting speakers rated around 100 watts and at around 6 ohms. The STR-DH550 is also compatible with not one but two subwoofers. In the case of subwoofers we do not need to really worry about power output as they are powered by their own power supply.
There are a lot of options when it comes to picking up speakers out there. You see this immediately when you search for home theatre speakers on sites like Amazon or Crutchfield. I do a lot of my buying on Amazon and their reviews can come in really handy. I would also recommend looking around Google for recommendations on speaker setups.
For the most part almost every home theatre geek or audiophile will tell you to stay away from the home theatre in a box speakers as, while they tend to be conveniently small, the small speakers tend not to reproduce great audio quality. The positive to home theatre in a box type setups is they often come with the speaker wire to setup the speakers. The other option is to buy separate speakers and build the system yourself.
On to three.
This only really applies if you are parting out your own speaker setup. Not all speakers are created equal. In fact not a one is made the same. They all have things in common but all the manufacturers have their own “secret sauce” that they apply to their speakers so they can claim theirs are better than others.
In almost every case in a 5.1 setup we will need two pairs of speakers for front and back and a centre channel speaker.
The “.1” refers to the subwoofer. Of course the STR-DH500 has a 5.2 meaning it’s compatible with two subwoofers. This all said, I would pass on a subwoofer if you have an apartment, small house or a house that is close to your neighbours like most modern houses nowadays. There are different types of speakers as well.
There are the traditional tower style speakers that tend to have more speakers than their bookshelf style speaker counterparts. Usually Tower speakers contain anywhere from one to three or so woofers, perhaps a mid-channel speaker and perhaps one or two tweeters. Centre channel speakers tend to have a couple woofers and a tweeter. You will typically need more space for these speakers but they often are a great choice for your forward speakers in a home theatre setup as they will generally produce superior sound than bookshelf speakers.
Bookshelf speakers are smaller and often only contain one woofer and one tweeter. They often can’t produce the same kind of audio the tower speakers are capable of but it all depends on what you decide to spend on your speakers.
Centre channel speakers are unique as they tend to be wide and low containing a couple woofers tuned closer to mid-range sound with a tweeter. The centre channel is important in a surround sound setup as this is where you are going to hear your dialogue in movies.
All of these things need to be considered when deciding on whether you want louder explosions from movies or a more rounded experience for music.
A system in a box will come with everything you need to setup the surround sound, at least typically. One of the best budget sets is the Monoprice 108247.
If you are building your own system you will need to get spool of speaker wire. I bought a 100 foot spool of 16-gauge speaker wire off Amazon for a reasonable price. A pair of self-adjusting wire strippers are also pretty handy.
If you are running a bunch of HDMI devices now is the time to pick up some extra HDMI cables. They can be found cheap on Amazon as well.
Something else you may want to consider is a good UPS for power conditioning and well, to protect your audio investment.
A lot of audiophiles will recommend you pick up banana clip ends for your speakers but I would skip them. As long as you install the wires correctly your speakers will be fine. The banana clips just add another layer that could fail.
So what did I do? Well, I decided to kit out my own setup. In fact I haven’t purchased my main front stereo speakers yet but I have decided on which ones I will be using. For front stereo speakers I am using Polk Audio’s T15 bookshelf speakers at the moment. The best part of this is for around $100 to $140 dollars you get two speakers. Polk’s T15 speakers are pretty well made but not fancy. They spent the money on the speakers themselves and not fancy woods for the enclosure which is fine by me. I do recommend on any set to take off the foam covers over the speakers as they can inhibit some of the sound unless you have small children that like to poke things. They look good without the foam covers on as well so bonus there. The T15s produce some good audio with nice lows and decent highs though without an EQ the bass may not be enough. The STR-DH550 does have a basic EQ built in and I’ve turned it up to maximum to boost the bass.
To stay on theme I went with Polk’s T30 centre channel speaker. This single speaker costs about as much as the pair of T15 bookshelf speakers but produces very nice clear audio. It projects voice from movies very well and complements music nicely.
For both these speakers they were easy to setup though one thing I would mention is the space where you hook up the wires on the speakers is limited and can be tight when installing the wiring. I managed to do it but it was slightly frustrating.
When buying tower speakers one thing to note is they often are sold as a single and not a pair. It’s the stupidest thing I have ever seen and I honestly thing the industry needs to smarten up. That said the tower speakers I will be picking up are the Fluance Classic Elite Series speakers. Fluance is a Canadian company that doesn’t sell their speakers in singles. You buy direct from them and they sell in pairs. I was turned on to them when I purchased an accessory for my home theatre which I will talk about at a later time. The main killer thing is here they are designed and built in Canada. This is a big deal for me as that is a rarer and rarer thing nowadays. The pair costs $404 CAD. Not bad.
So you can see now that parting together speakers will cost more than a system in a box but I think you will find that the audio performance will be superior. This isn’t always true as you really need to research which speakers are for you. Amazon has a lot of options but a lot of them may look like a great deal but make sure you read reviews.
Sound is also a very personal thing. What one person likes may not be what someone else likes. I am happy with the performance of my system right now and can’t wait to add on the Fluance speakers.
In part 3 of this series we will see what audio and video accessories I have and will have attached to this system.
If you have any questions I will answer to the best of my ability.