Buying a new speaker system? What should you avoid?

Tony V.

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Are you looking for an inexpensive speaker system and starting from scratch? There is a lot of miss-information and simply bad sales tactics from sales people at the big box stores. Here is some good information on what to look for.
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Many times when I am in a big box store I hear sales people recommend systems that customers simply won't be happy with. Even on the on line forums I see people comment about the poor quality of their speakers in the room they have them set up in and when asked what they have we find out that they bought a small HTIB (Home Theater In a Box) system that is way undersized and simply poorly designed.

One of the biggest issues with these so called HTIB, such as the Bose cube systems, is their upgrade potential. They usually have integrated components and strange hookup connections that make it nearly impossible to replace one piece if it fails. Also if it includes a DVD or Bluray player and they fail, you are stuck and can't replace it without starting from scratch in most cases. Onkyo and Yamaha have some decent systems that are simply normal receivers and speakers that can be replaced if necessary and as budget allows, and are a far better way to go if you must go with a HTIB system. None of their lower priced systems offer what I would call good quality. You would need to spend about $700 to get into what I would believe is satisfactory.

HTIB systems tend to be under-powered and in medium to large rooms they lack the power to fill the space. They are usually unable to allow for connection of HDMI directly to the receiver needed for all the new uncompressed audio formats coming out.

Ok, so now we get into the more technical side of things.

Why should I not get a HTIB system or a system like Bose you ask, besides the above mentioned?

First of all this thread is not going to be a "Bash Bose" thread so lets keep this focused on the real discussion.

They are all built with small speakers and all 5 or 7 speakers including the sub are smaller then what should be used. The drivers in the satellite speakers are too small to produce high volume levels known as decibels (db's). A standard db reading of movies is generally no less than 85db, which is loud enough to make you feel that the movie is surrounding you. Almost all systems in this group simply can not reach this level safely and will distort. Put simply, if the speaker drivers are smaller than 5-6" across and or the cabinet is smaller then a spray paint can, then don't expect much form them no matter what the specifications say.

The other problem is speaker design, a small speaker physically can not reproduce the lower frequencies needed. A so called full range speaker will have a frequency response from around 45Hz (low) to 20,000Hz (high). The cube or satellite speakers only play as low as 300Hz at best and that leaves a big hole where no sound is produced below 300Hz, down to about 140Hz where their so-called subwoofer takes over. For example a nice full range speaker will sometimes have three or more drivers, a tweeter that reproduces the highs, a mid-range driver and a bass driver for the lows. Buying one of theses systems would be like taking out the bass driver and then still using the rest. You end up with a whole lot of the sound missing.

This is where some companies fool you with that so called sub that supposedly has the ability to reproduce those missing frequencies. What they don't tell you is that the subwoofer will not reach high enough frequencies and you still end up with a hole in your sound field. The other big issue and huge design flaw is that the so called subwoofer that comes with theses systems is far to small to make enough of an impact in the low frequency range, and never go below 40-60Hz, which is where most real subs are just starting to work and make an impact where it counts. A true subwoofer goes no higher than about 120Hz and if they are good will go as low as 10Hz, but most start to roll off at about 25Hz. These frequencies are necessary for movies to reproduce things like thunder, a freight train going by, or a Harley Davidson motorcycle driving by, to be heard, or I should say felt.

If you want to stay small get yourself some good bookshelf speakers that have a good solid wood cabinet, not cheap thin plastic, and get a good subwoofer from a reputable company. If you remember that cheap speakers give you cheap sound then your off to a good start.

What I am saying is if you must go with a HTIB system, do not spend the money on weaker and cheaper systems, as most are over priced and do not preform well, and are over hyped. For around $1000 you can get into a good system that is far better and won't need upgrading right away.
Save some money before buying, or buy a receiver first and look for used speakers. Another option is to buy all used equipment, and there are lots of ways to go about this that I wont go into here.

I hope this helps inform some who may be looking and keeps you from making a mistake that will be regretted down the road.
 

Mark C Flick

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In general I agree but I'd say there are a few, very few HTiB systems that are reasonably priced that delivered reasonable performance.
Onkyo HT-S7800 / HT-S7700
Kenwood KS-505HT
Orb Audio Complete Home Theater
and one or two from Klipsch, Denon and Yamaha.
 

Todd Anderson

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The HTIB concept is completely lost on the audiophile... and completely embraced by your typical buyer and the big box store employee. I have a lot of friends that would gladly walk into a store and leave with an all-in-one box system. It's that whole convenience and ease of install thing.

I agree with Mark that there are some systems that have decent performance... but ultimately, the conclusions by Tony are on point.

Nice write up!
 

1_sufferin_mind

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What I am saying is if you must go with a HTIB system, do not spend the money on weaker and cheaper systems, as most are over priced and do not preform well, and are over hyped. For around $1000 you can get into a good system that is far better and won't need upgrading right away.
Isn't that the truth! Wouldn't it be great if the Big Box stores hired knowledgeable sales staff, or educated their existing one? Then consumers could see how the other half lives by having other options demo'd right alongside Bose.
 

Tony V.

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That truly would be an eye opener for many if the box store staff had the opportunity to hear a comparable priced system beside a Bose system.
 

ShpongleDMT

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I actually laugh out loud when I opened this thread and saw a picture of a Bose system.
 

GFOviedo

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My first HT was a HTIB by Onkyo HT-S7100 I believe. Then I found AVS Forum and started looking at the infinite amount of information for better HT equipment. We have so many options out there that many people do not know about. Many rely on Best Buy employees recommendations.

The good thing is that my local Best Buy has a few guys who know their stuff. We always get into long conversations about different set ups and new equipment that they can get such as SVS Sound. Many people do not know that Best Buy can get SVS Sound.

Oh wow! I just realized I've got a Best Buy credit card.....
 

Robbie Hewitt

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Certainly avoid the HTiB route! You can do so much better.
I'd suggest you go used as well, eBay has lots of product to choose from and Craigslist can be a good source, even searching it nationally. There are many many options for older well made speakers and subs at great prices. Audiogon is also a good source and caters to the higher end products. Stay away from dipole surrounds. Buy speakers that were intended to be used in a HT setup so they all have the same sound. Two smaller matching subs over one larger one.
 

Tonto

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2 larger subs over 1 smaller sub! :bigsmile:
 
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