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Advice for 2 channel TV/theatre/music system?

Robbo99999

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#1
I'm currently exploring upgrading my sound system for my TV/Movie/Music listening experience. I currently have an old Sony HiFi system (MHC-S3) from 2001 hooked up via Optical to my TV, and I would say I'm generally happy with it in terms of it being an upgrade from built-in TV speakers - I've been running it like this since about 2004 with various TV's through the years, ha! But I figure there's better sound to be had, and I've recently upgraded my sound chain for my headphones (as well as EQ'ing them to the Harman curve using Oratory1990 data) with the help of this excellent site, so I figured I'd explore some options with the good people here...I don't know if I'm actually gonna buy anything new right now...but I enjoy researching the options and learning about it, and buying something as an upgrade could be on the cards.

For reference this is the Sony MHC-S3 that I currently have hooked up to my TV (not my video by the way and also the sound is distorted in this video, but you can see the system I have at least):

What are my best options for an upgrade and how much difference can I expect in sound quality and immersion? I don't really use my HiFi much for music listening anymore, mainly TV/movie, as I use my PC and headphones for music listening, but it would be nice to have a decent setup that could also be used for music listening, although I'd probably have to work out how best to get music to that system because my desktop PC is about 3.5m away from my TV on the same wall.
 

Cahudson42

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#2
Just a quick comment: I suggest you will be happiest sticking to your separation of music listening via headphones, and TV/movie via AVR/speakers. For a few hundred $$ you can get a SOA headphone system (mine - LG V20, Liquid Spark, HE400i) which you can kill/bankrupt yourself trying to equal using an AVR/speakers. So a focus on the TV/movie experience with equipment an alternate to the Sony system makes great sense to me.

Now looking at that - say AVR/speakers - some decision points before equipment - are you going to stick with stereo? Or go 5.1, or 7.1, or? Maybe stereo to start? But with - or without - an AVR with multichannel capability, or just stereo? Generally, for the same $$, you can expect better performance from stereo only equipment. So the ability to simply add more speakers is not really free...

Not familiar with the Sony at all, but I suspect that Room Correction is something you will definitely want in your new - let's say AVR. Most likely will have some form of it, and you will find many opinions of whose is better, or worse.

If you go stereo, you might look at 'external' Room EQ via free PC software REW for measurement and AutoEQ for implementation. Lots to search and learn from here at ASR.

Now the speakers. Opinions vary, but a good number will suggest 60% -70% of your budget here. I'm looking at those apparently giant Sony's, and no idea what they sound like. And if they might be reuseable - maybe as subs? Amir is starting to get a nice library of results with his new speaker testing setup.. I've been reading every one, but still not comfortable deciding on replacements for my old stereo KLH 6s.

Have fun!
 

Sal1950

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#3
How much are you willing to spend, that has to be question #1
 

Willem

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#4
The idea of using a stereo system to improve on tv sound is a good one. I have done the same for many years. I do so with a very powerful and expensive system, but even a pretty basic one like yours will be much better than what comes out of the TV. The first lesson to learn is that the electronics side if things can be relatively cheap. Audio quality largely depends on the speakers, and good speakers are relatively expensive. Count on spending 75-90% of the budget on speakers. So the first question really is how much you want to spend. The second is in what continent you live, because speakers are still a quite geographically segmented market. The final question is, of course, how large the room is and if you have size restrictions for the speakers.
 
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Robbo99999

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Thread Starter #5
Hi, thanks for the 3 replies there. I'm potentially looking to spend ideally less than £500 and certainly less than £1000. My room currently is 4m x 4m x 2.4m (height) with a little alcove (where my PC is) off behind my sofa of about 1.3m x 1.8m (so it's not a totally square room). Viewing/listening sofa is 2.3m away from the TV & speakers. I don't really wanna go down the route of many speakers (e.g. 5.1) because I don't really want them placed around the room...it's possible I might want to do that if I move somewhere else. I live in the UK, which you worked out from the £ too! :) My current speakers are 23cm x 47cm x 25cm and I don't want them to be any bigger than that.

It's interesting that two of you have both said spend most of the money on the speakers rather than the AVR unit, so far with a range from 60-90% of my budget. That's probably gonna be good advice I sense.

Will I want to go multi-channel in the future? Maybe, not here where I'm living now though. How much price & quality difference/sacrifice are we talking with deciding between 2 channel fixed vs an AVR with multi-channel capability (with which I may only start out with stereo)? If I'm staying stereo would I just buy a reasonable quality amplifier without AVR abilities and combine with 2 good speakers? Is 2 channel simulated surround a "thing" and is it worth it when it comes to movies...and I'm guessing I'd need an AVR for that rather than a simple amplifier? (and that last question I'm getting at something similar to virtual 7.1 surround sound which I currently use with my headphones when gaming (SoundblasterX G6 DAC), and that works for me, so I'm a fan of that technology when it comes to 3D positioning of audio in games, as a pointer....but don't know if that translates well to a 2 channel movie speaker system for watching movies)

EDIT: if I stay 2 channel, would it make sense to buy two good speakers & just hook them up to my Sony amplifier...or is that not getting much out of the speakers?

EDIT#2: @Cahudson42 , regarding "external room EQ" I'm not sure how viable that's gonna be as my PC is on the other side of the room, so I can't really visualise how that's all gonna be connected up because I guess that would mean the sound would have to be sent to my PC from the TV on the other side of the room and then back across the room to the speakers....I'm not sure on the specifics of how that's done, and if that's an issue. I'm also not sure how that would marry with my SoundblasterX G6 DAC / JDS Labs Atom Headphone Amp setup.
 
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StevenEleven

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#6
For speakers, wait for @amirm to test the Sony Core bookshelf speakers and the JBL 530s. I think I remember he has both on hand. Then that price range will be filled in a little better. IMHO. ;) Then after you’ve decided on speakers decide on an AVR or amp that’s a good match for them.
 
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Sal1950

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#7
I'll make it simple, go to HSU Researh and get the Hybrid 2 2.1 package of 2 speakers and 1 subwoofer.
Then add a nice integrated amp that includes a DAC along with digital, USB or HDMI inputs. Amp should have at least 50, preferably 100 watts output..
Or a AVR, mainly for it's room correction software, not all the extra channels.
 

TimW

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#8
I agree most of the budget should go towards the speakers. Something that should be factored into that budget is whether you want a subwoofer. Many speakers in that budget range have limited low frequency extension. Due to better extension and placement in the room, a subwoofer can make a big improvement in sound quality. Ideally your electronics will crossover the signals from your speakers to the sub. Room correction can also bring a big improvement. The easiest way to get these features is with an AVR. Unfortunately you could easily spend your whole budget on an AVR and still not get excellent performance. I would consider looking around on the used market to see what kind of used AVR's are available.
 

Chrispy

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#9
I'll make it simple, go to HSU Researh and get the Hybrid 2 2.1 package of 2 speakers and 1 subwoofer.
Then add a nice integrated amp that includes a DAC along with digital, USB or HDMI inputs. Amp should have at least 50, preferably 100 watts output..
Or a AVR, mainly for it's room correction software, not all the extra channels.
Hsu has a UK outlet now? By use of the pound symbol on his budget.....

That said am not really familiar with your choices there but I'd suggest at least a 2.1 setup, probably using an avr.
 
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#10
I have been looking at getting away from AVRs and surround sound actually.

You can get much better sound for way less money by sticking to stereo and just getting a MiniDSP or Subwoofer with built in EQ than trying to get an AVR with XYZ Feature and Full Room correction suite that fixes the sound for one seat and ruins it for the rest.

Honestly, your approach could be considered "better" on many different levels.
 

Putter

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#11
In the short term, I'd concentrate on upgrading the speakers and/or adding a subwoofer. Your setup does have a sub out jack so acquiring a sub may be the best first upgrade. This could certainly add impact to movies as well as reducing the load on your speakers and thus reducing distortion from the existing speakers. You might want to look on places like Craigslist for used subs. I've had good luck with that acquiring a Definitive Technologies sub for my computer system. A good sub also allows the option of using bookshelf speakers instead of full range floorstanders.

The nest step is to replace the speakers. Your current amp looks to put out around 40 watts per channel with reasonable distortion specs. This would require reasonably efficient speakers. It's hard to recommend speakers without knowing room size, listening levels, types of music you listen to and of course listening to different speakers. You can certainly get some ideas by looking at various reviews. Revel seems to be a favorite around here, but is probably out of your budget. Infinity which may not he available and JBL seem to follow the Harman curve.

You might also want to look at the JBL powered speakers such as the LSR 305 and 308 particularly if you plan to stay with stereo.
 
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Putter

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#12
I have been looking at getting away from AVRs and surround sound actually.

You can get much better sound for way less money by sticking to stereo and just getting a MiniDSP or Subwoofer with built in EQ than trying to get an AVR with XYZ Feature and Full Room correction suite that fixes the sound for one seat and ruins it for the rest.

Honestly, your approach could be considered "better" on many different levels.
There are a couple of problems. One is that most movies are actually mixed for surround and many including myself would disagree that a stereo presentation even with better speakers will be an improvement over a good albeit not great 5.1 system. For my part I'd rather listen to music and movies that is mixed for multichannel in its proper form rather than downmixing it to stereo.

The other is the idea that room correction systems only optimize the sound for one listener. The better ones such as Audyssey require multiple measurements at different seating positions to determine the best sound for multiple listeners.
 

TimW

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#13
Looking at the Sony MHC-S3 system manual it does have a sub out. Unfortunately I don't think it will high pass the mains when a sub is connected. However it may make sense to buy a sub and then better speakers to use with this Sony system like @Putter recommended. Then upgrade to an AVR when you find a deal.

A miniDSP will give you more flexibility and better performance than an AVR. I use a miniDSP SHD with my main system which is a 2.2 configuration. I'm completely satisfied with the performance of this system for movies and TV and have never heard a surround sound system that made me want more channels. However an AVR at least gives you the option to add those channels and is much easier to use than a miniDSP. All AVR room correction systems I've come accross give you the option to correct for multiple seating positions. You are much more likely to get bad results with a miniDSP and manual corrections if you are new to room correction EQ. Plus the sound quality difference between an AVR and a low end miniDSP is likely inaudible.

@Robbo99999 maybe after you get a sub and try that out, you could look at finding some Pioneer SP-BS22LR speakers. Maybe buy them from a place where you can return them because plenty of people here dislike them. They measured very well in Amir's testing though so might be a good option for you.
 

Sal1950

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#14
Hsu has a UK outlet now? By use of the pound symbol on his budget.....
No but he will ship anywhere in the world AFAIK.

You can get much better sound for way less money by sticking to stereo
A lot less costly for sure, but "much better sound", nope. Anything a 2 channel rig can do, a multich rig can do better.
AVR with XYZ Feature and Full Room correction suite that fixes the sound for one seat and ruins it for the rest.
"Ruins it for the rest"? You seem to be very misguided in these statements..
But the OP asked about stereo on a low budget so no sense in loading this thread with irrelevant info.
 

Blumlein 88

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#16
If you were sure you were sticking with stereo one of the active/powered speakers is a good choice. LSR305 or if no sub, LSR308, or maybe one of the Kali or Neumann speakers. Don't know what is available where you are.

If going multi-channel, then not easy to do well on your budget. I think going with an inexpensive good performing DAC and active speakers in stereo might be the best quality result overall for your budget. If you were to use say five JBL LSR305s then $750 is used on that only. You might pickup a 2nd hand 5 or 7 channel AVR with preamp outputs to feed the JBL's and do okay just within your budget. I don't know of better speakers for less than $150 each at which you can get the LSR305 speakers. So you'll burn nearly all the budget on those in a five channel system, and have to buy 2nd hand for something to process the MCH sound. An interim measure might be 3 LSR305's up front, use your Sony speakers for the rear surrounds, and that frees up enough money to get a decent AVR staying within your budget.
 

Willem

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#17
I am afraid I do not find all of the suggestions that useful. The budget is modest, the room is small and he is in the UK where many of the speakers that are suggested are either not available or not competitively.
So my suggestion would be to keep the existing amplifier as it will probably drive any 85dB speaker quite alright in this room. Go to the nearest Richer Sounds on a quiet morning and listen to what you like from brands like Dali, Monitor Audio. Wharfedale Diamond, Kef and what else they have in your price bracket. Don't waste money on cables.
 
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Robbo99999

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Thread Starter #18
@Sal1950 , I think the HSU Research option is problematical because I would be paying shipping and import duty fees, also that's a 'big' spend all at once when combined with purchase of integrated amp....if I was living in the States then I think this option would be a lot more attractive.

@Putter ,@TimW , and @Willem , I think I'm more on your wavelength here in terms of liking the incremental improvement ideas of adding parts to my existing system...and parts that could be used later with a 'full' AVR surround system if desired. And you're right that my room is quite small and my current amp has plenty of power as in I don't want to wake up my neighbours, I listen to movies at a maximum of 15 out of 30 on the digital scale of the Sony volume control...but to be honest I don't think that scale is linear because it starts getting increasingly ("exponentially") louder with each increment above 15, so I think it's got more than enough volume there in the amp. Yes, I like the idea of adding a sub first, and then some speakers if I feel I want further improvement. I found the specs for my Sony amp, I'll cut and paste them here, are they sufficient in driving most subs & speakers to sufficient volume & quality?

DIN power output (rated): 60+60 watts (6 ohms at 1kHz, DIN)
Continuous RMS power output (reference): 80 + 80 watts (6 ohms at 1kHz, 10% THD)
Front Speaker Out: accepts impedance of 6 to 16 ohms
Sub Woofer Out: Votage 1 V, impedance 1 kilohms

Is there anything I would need to consider re the above specs when buying a subwoofer or speakers? Are those specs sufficient/'good'? (On initial glance with my limited knowledge the 10% THD might be the worrisome part?). Any recommendations for subwoofers and speakers? If I am going to upgrade anything, I think I'll start with adding a subwoofer.

(@Blumlein 88 , I don't know much about active speakers apart from I think they have their own power supply and you can EQ them from the individual speaker itself...I don't know if they are compatible with my Sony system....I like your idea of keeping the Sony speakers I have for rear speakers in a future multi channel system I might have one day).
 
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Willem

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#19
The specifications are vague and not very helpful, but I am sure you will get some 40 watts per channel at below 1% which should be fine for now. Replacing it by a better and more powerful stereo amplifier like the Yamaha AS501 would cost at least some 300 pounds. The choice between going for subwoofing or better main speakers depends a lot on what you are missing most: uncoloured midrange and refinement or power and drama. Do not underestimate the challenge of subwoofers in small rooms. You may want two small ones rather than one bigger one, for a smoother sound and fewer room modes. In the UK the most affordable decent subwoofers are those by BK. You can also connect them at speaker level.
 
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Robbo99999

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Thread Starter #20
@Willem , when you say "40 watts per channel at below 1%", do you mean the THD normally decreases when you lower the volume?

I'll look into subwoofers from BK like you suggest.

The part where you mention "what am I missing the most: uncoloured midrange and refinement or power & drama", that might actually make me rethink the subwoofer vs better speakers as a first purchase. It's possible that clarity of sound might be my first priority, with my current setup sometimes voices sound a bit muffled...I mean that could be the mumbling thing that happens in movies to some extent, but maybe my speakers don't reveal much detail and clarity...would you expect such a characteristic from the speakers I have in my system or do you think it's just "mumbling" in movies? Hmm, I'm conflicted re get subwoofer first or get new speakers first. It's possible that addition of a subwoofer to my current Sony speakers that I describe as not quite having enough clarity...I expect that might further reduce clarity in the overall sound by adding a subwoofer to those speakers?

EDIT: been listening to a little bit of music on my Sony speakers through TV radio stations and my initial impression is that they V-shaped in their noise characteristics, plenty of base and a bit bright at the top end with perhaps some vocals in the lower to mid range losing some shape & clarity. That's the best way I can describe it, it's sooo subjective, ha! Perhaps I would benefit from replacing the speakers rather than adding a subwoofer to them as a first step?
 
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