Thinking about getting / switching to 5.1 sound.

Discussion in 'Home Cinema Speakers' started by andrewfee, Aug 14, 2006.

  1. andrewfee

    andrewfee
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    Now that I've got a projector for my room, a few friends have been telling me that I need to get a 5.1 sound set-up to get the most out of it. As it is just now, I'm really happy with my 2.1 set-up - JBL XTi20 speakers, BK-XLS200DF Sub, and a Cyrus 7 amp.

    Back when I was thinking about buying a better sound system, I was trying to decide between 5.1 and 2.1 and ended up picking the latter, as it would sound better for music, most of my sources were stereo, and I didn't think my room was big enough to do justice to 5.1 (it's basically a 2.5m cube)

    Well, I didn't think my room was big enough for a projector set-up either, but I've got one now, so I'm thinking maybe 5.1 is an option after all.

    Now, I've had 5.1 in the past, but I've not really done it well - I had some £90 Creative speakers first, which were something like this:

    [​IMG]

    Hardly audiophile quality ;) but the best I could afford at the time.

    Eventually, I sold them and upgraded to Logitech Z-680s:

    [​IMG]

    For £250 they were a good step up, but still tiny PC satellites that don't do justice to the source. They did do DD5.1, DTS, DPLII etc. though.

    When I got my Grado SR-80 headphones for listening at night, I ended up using them 90% of the time - the Z680s just couldn't compete quality-wise, so I ended up selling them and just sticking to headphones for some time, putting money away for a speaker upgrade.

    So I got a few great deals, saved about £300-£400 and spent £1200 or thereabouts on my current set-up, the JBLs, amp and sub:

    [​IMG]
    (old photo of my setup)

    [​IMG]
    (couldn't find the pic I had taken myself)


    Since getting my 2.1 set-up, I haven't missed surround at all. I have missed digital sound from my consoles though, as their analogue outputs are fairly crap, and I know the games could sound better.

    I see that I can get a Cyrus AV8 decoder for about £800 on offer now, but it feels like that money would be wasted considering there are some new "HD" audio formats out/coming out. I believe Cyrus is supposed to be bringing out a new decoder for them soon, but it'll no doubt cost at least £1200, and I'm not sure I just want to spend that (or £800) on just a decoder.





    I guess I'm just not entirely sold on the whole 5.1 thing - when you just get it, it's great, but it's just felt a bit "gimmicky" to me. Perhaps it's because the speakers I've had just didn't do it justice (not enough separation / clarity?) or maybe my room is too small for it, but I'm not sold on it yet.

    The way I see it, I've got a couple of options: buy a centre channel, a couple of rears and an AV amp, and integrate it with my current set-up - but this has a number of problems. Firstly, trying to get speakers to match up with my JBLs; they're quite unique at this price point (I believe) because they're rather refined for American speakers, yet they have a bit more kick than British ones tend to. I don't think they do the XTi20 range any more, so there's no chance of just getting the centre/rears that are made to match up. (and I'm sure the rears would be too large for my room - they would have to be quite small) I'd also have to have it so that the AV amp decodes everything, but sends the fronts to be handled by my Cyrus amp, so I can still have it hooked up for music. I'd then use the low-level input on my sub for LFE and high-level for music, but this would no doubt leave me with unmatched levels, and if the extra speakers didn't match up well, then it'd drive me mad. It'd probably cost a lot too, considering these are £600/pair speakers (iirc) that I'd have to match.

    So the other option would be to buy a 5.1 set-up in addition to my current speakers. Obviously I'm thinking about satellites rather than full-size speakers, as I just don't have the room for both.

    I've been looking around, and the new KEF "eggs" look pretty good. They're not tiny, but they're not huge either, and the black gloss would help "hide" them. (I'm thinking I'd fix them onto the black border of my screen when it goes up)

    Has anyone got any experience with the KHT3005 kit?

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    http://www.kef.com/ht3000/index.htm

    They're about a grand, and as KEF don't allow them to be shipped, I'd have to find somewhere local that does them, and find a decent amp to pair up with them. (not looking to spend too much there - something that will do the speakers justice, but with the HD audio formats coming, I will probably upgrade eventually)

    This way, I don't have to worry about them matching up to my JBLs, as they'll be totally separate. (2.1 kit for anything that doesn't support surround, KEFs for 5.1)

    I do have another concern though - the kit has a subwoofer, and I'm happy with the one I've got. I doubt I've got room for two, unless I have the KEF out in the open. (the BK is under my desk) Now, obviously 5.1 needs a sub, but I've had my JBLs without the sub for the last week or so (been rearranging things, so I didn't have the sub hooked up) and it really helps "fill out" the sound nicely, so I don't think I could get rid of it and just have 2.0 along with 5.1.

    The KEF sub is supposed to be perfectly matched for the satellites, and while price doesn't necessarily reflect on quality, it's a £500 sub, whereas my BK-XLS200 DF is about £250. So, I could potentially replace the BK with it, but I doubt it has multiple inputs, so I'd be switching leads all the time, which is hardly ideal. (unless I can find some sort of switcher that doesn't affect quality noticeably)

    I'd love it if I could just replace the JBLs with the KEFs an sell off my current kit - not that I want rid of it, but it'd be a hell of a lot easier (and should pay for most of it) however I just can't see them coming close quality-wise at that price.




    So I guess I'm asking whether or not you think it would be worth it? Is my room too small to do 5.1 justice, or is it just that I've not had good enough speakers to get the proper effect? Should I just stick to my 2.1 set-up, or should I get rid and just go 5.1? Or should I buy another amp / decoder / DAC to get digital sound from my current equipment? (going by the prices of things these days, an AV amp would probably be the cheapest way of doing it, and then sending the decoded signal to my Cyrus to drive the speakers)

    While the KEFs probably won't sound as good, I'm not sure if it makes sense having them in addition to my stereo set-up, rather than replacing it - I don't spend much time just listening to music now - it sounds amazing, but I've not bought a new CD for quite some time now, and when I've got free time, I'm almost always watching a film/tv, or playing a game these days.

    For movies, I don't watch a lot of DVDs really - it's mostly whatever is on Freeview (Film4 has been a great addition) but while it's only stereo, that's heavily compressed audio, and I can't see it sounding any worse on the KEFs. Games are all 5.1 now, and due to the crap analogue outputs on consoles, will likely sound better on the KEFs too, as it'll be digital.

    I think my main concern is spending a lot of money, and potentially selling my stereo set-up, only to be stuck with something that doesn't sound as good, despite there being perhaps better positioning - there's no way I'll be able to get something sounding as good as this set-up for the price again.

    And that's not to mention the hassle of selling - I've never had much luck selling on the internet - I've lost about £200 after someone reversed the charges, and despite proof of delivery, Paypal sided with them. And I've "sold" my laptop here and only had £500 out of the £2200 it's worth so far. (I had worked out a deal where the guy could pay me off over time and get it once it was all paid for, but that stopped after a few weeks - he claims he still wants it, but it having financial issues right now)


    I should mention that I'm disabled, and it's not very easy to go around a number of hifi shops demoing speakers. Infact, other than to collect my current setup, all my purchases have been made online, and I've never demoed anything first. (I know that's a terrible thing to do, but that's just how things are)

    Seeing as the KEFs can only be bought instore, I'd have to get someone else to go and pick them up for me.


    If you get through all that (I didn't realise it was going to be so long) thanks for taking the time to read it, and I appreciate any suggestions / advice you can give me.
     
  2. dingwall

    dingwall
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    My two penneth: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    I've heard all those £5,10+ k's surround-sound setups in demo rooms and the best cinemas in the land, truth is "Dolby Digital" just doesn't do what it claims. Your friends will be recommending 3D specs next: "It will look much better after all because we see things in three dimensions in real life. It's not just for the odd piece of shrapnel hurtling out the screen at you, the depth and visual perspective will lend atmosphere that a flat picture can't recreate."

    Words like amazing don't crop up often, stick to what you have and enjoy, surely?

    PS Have you tried out a Pioneer plasma in your home yet? As someone who owns Panny and Pioneer plasmas, I have a hunch this is exactly the picture quality you are after - Panasonic's plasma naturalness, but with much, much less movement solarisation, crisper and detail-retaining video processing and excellent plasma black levels but with far less reflections than the Panasonic - blacks still look black even with the curtains open! I cant stress how less reflective and more black looking the Pioneer's front is (it uses plastic not a great thick pane of glass!).
     
  3. andrewfee

    andrewfee
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    Thanks - I suppose that's what I'm worried about really - I'm very happy with how this sounds, but if I were to get a 5.1 setup, I get the feeling I may neglect the stereo setup, even if the speakers themselves aren't as good - games are all 5.1 now (and I spend at least an hour or so playing each day) and I get the feeling that, even if the speakers are worse, stereo things like Freeview would sound better via a digital output, rather than the average analogue output on the box hooked up to better speakers.


    As for a display - I've now decided that I'll be using this 17" LCD (which was bought as a temporary measure) for daytime viewing and the projector to get a 55" image at night. I've been very happy with the image on this LCD (the XBlack coating makes it look better than any "regular" LCD I've seen) but my issue had been size.

    As I'm not looking to get a large Plasma / LCD now (and got a great deal on the projector) I've got a lot of money left over, which is why I've been considering the new speakers. (or buying a decoder / DAC of some sort to improve what I've already got)
     
  4. dack

    dack
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    Yes get 5.1.

    sure for dts/dd movies most of it is panning effects and widening the soundscape but imo games(well created ones) really make the most of 5.1 immersion.

    both of them are great in 5.1.

    all other else 2.1 is more than enough.

    i think you can get a cheap surround pairs will do the job.
     
  5. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes
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    Not sure I agree with dingwall and seeing as you have already broken the audiophiles sacred law and added a subwoofer, you might as well completely cross over to the dark side :D

    If you like your current speakers and sub then keep them. The BK in particular is highly rated on this forum (do a search in the subwoofer forum) and unless you like watching furniture move about, it should be fine for your room. ;)

    You can keep the Stereo Amp if you like and get an AV Amp (Denon, Yamaha etc.) and use its Pre-Outs into the Cyrus to drive the front 2. Just remember to set the volume to a certain level for 5.1 playback or as you suggest the levels will be wrong.
    This way you can still listen to 2.1 when you fancy it using your current setup.

    I can't recomend any speakers to go with what you have as I don't really know anything about them but if you can find at least a centre to match that would be great (eBay would be my first port of call but there are many other classifieds for second hand gear). In an ideal world all your speakers should be identical but the front 3 are the most important to have a tonal match. You may want to post something specifically about finding a match to your current stereo pair as some people won't have made it to the bottom of your post ;). For the rears you have a lot more options, the best small rears I can think of would probably be M&K (Miller and Kreisel) K4 tripoles which are excellent for movies and RRP at £470 so second hand you should be looking at a little over £200.

    I buy all my gear 2nd hand or ex-demo and haven't had a bad thing happen yet so hopefully your bad luck will come to an end pretty soon. :) I regularly check Audio-T and Sevenoaks for their clearance sections, it is suprising what comes up.
     
  6. Badger0-0

    Badger0-0
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    In your size room, I'd stick with what you have.
    If the 680's didn't do it for you, I doubt anything would.
    And I doubt you would get good results without spending mega money and not having anywhere to sit :D
     
  7. andrewfee

    andrewfee
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    :rotfl: I had no idea there was any rule about that. To be honest, there are times I'm not sure if the sub was necessary - the speakers do a good job on their own, and I'm quite conservative with how I've got it set, so it integrates with them very well, and doesn't overpower things. As I think I said, it just helps give the sound more impact and depth.

    I put up a post like this on another board I visit, and over there, I've been recommended against doing that - apparently the amps will have a different sound to them, as will any different speakers/centre that get hooked up. To me, that makes sense, and it was a concern I had.

    I don't think I'll really be going down that route now - I think it's now really a question of whether I buy the KEFs in addition to my current speakers, replace my speakers with them, or stick with what I've got. (and possibly get a DAC/Decoder etc to let me use the digital outputs on some things)

    Hmm, that's a bit worrying - I had no idea you would lose that much for selling second hand. I figured that as long as it was good condition and working, you'd get most of your money back on the stuff.


    I had thought about just getting a cheaper 5.1 setup for gaming, as someone else recommended but really, I think I would just get sick of them and sell them on. I don't expect to get the same quality as I've got now, but I do need something good.
     
  8. dingwall

    dingwall
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    OK. If you must go tampering :suicide: :) , this is my personal recommendation:

    Replace the Cyrus amp with an Arcam AVR, as this is the closest thing to the Cyrus sound and power. Forget having a centre speaker and use phantom mode. Use a pair of bipole speakers wall-mounted at 1/3s along the rear wall if this is an option - the Mordaunt Short 903i's from Richer Sounds are good value.

    I'd first try the Arcam amp by mail-order to see if it suits you for stereo. Then add on the bipoles...
     
  9. Dave

    Dave
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    My 2p's worth.

    As an avid gamer, I couldn't live without 5.1 now.

    It was good on the xbox and and PS2 but the 360 is absolutely superb. It makes the game a hell of a lot more immersive and also gives you a tactical advantage because you can really hear the direction of approaching enemies.

    A hell of a lot of effort has gone in to sound on games these days and a good 5.1 setup really makes the most of it.
     
  10. AngelEyes

    AngelEyes
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    From what I have gathered here second hand value seems to be somewhere between 60% and 40% of RRP depending on age and condition etc. What someone is prepared to pay for what they really want, is another matter. :)

    With regards to different amps sounding differently, I am sure that it is true but when listening to movies and games it will not be as noticeable as with music. It all depends on how keen your ears are :) I had 3 missions (The L&R a few years older than the centre) across the front and they were quite different tonally, the centre being more forward... When a movie was in full swing I never noticed, as the fronts are rarely asked to present the exact same sound, the centre handles around 60-80% of the soundtrack.

    I understand your reservations of course, just tying to help you keep the stereo you enjoy so much at the moment :).
     

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