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Home theater speaker upgrade help - with many limitations

Bornsceptic

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May 8, 2021
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So, I want to improve my HT setup, within some very limiting parameters. I currently have a 2.1 configuration, with high mounted front speakers. It actually sounds pretty good, considering. The Monitor Audio Apex A10 are good speakers. Of course, with the sub-optimal placement and lack of center, the dialogue could be better. There is however a fairly good enveloping sound.

The receiver is old and needs to be updated.

Aesthetics are big limit, as well as furniture placement. I can’t buy big Front speakers, only small bookshelfs. Couch is up against the wall, and I can’t move TV or couch. Possibly i could place discrete surround backs at ear level on side of the couch, but the will be very close to the seatings.

What I want to do now is update the sound, as much as possible given the limitations. I am thinking of mainly two options, and want your input on what you think could be the best.

  1. Atmos soundbar that can be used with my current sub (eg Bluesound Pulse Soundbar+)
  2. New affordable receiver, (eg Denon x1700), Small new front speakers (eg Elac DBR62, or my Apex A10s), and a Center, and use the Apex 10s as Front height for Atmos (or buy cheap Atmos speakers meant to be placed where my Fronts are today) - basically running a 3.1.2 system of sorts.

Any thought on the options? The latter is quite more expensive, but could maybe be done in stages. What Atmos/Surround experience can I expect from this setup. And from what I read about modern Atmos soundbars, they can give a fairly good experience for HT anyway…

(Music is handled by a different (much more optimized :) ) system.)
 

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RickSanchez

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I was in a similar situation a few years back and decided to go with option #2. (For HT only, not music.) Admittedly, the pricing differences weren't significant in my case. Good Atmos soundbars were $600+ at the time, and I put together a system for ~$850. (A Denon AVR-X750H running everything, along with two mid-size bookshelfs for L/R, a slim center channel, a sub, and two front upward-firing Atmos speakers.)

For me the decision making process was:
  • I wanted the advanced room correction (in this case, Audyssey).
  • I wanted the ease-of-use of an AVR to manage all of my connections: TV, Blu-ray player, Apple TV, etc. Most soundbars have a more limited set of HDMI inputs.
  • I had a non-Atmos soundbar setup before and wasn't impressed by the sound. And from the reviews I had read I didn't think the newer soundbars could pull off legit Atmos immersive sound.
  • Again, at the time and given the gear I purchased, the price difference wasn't that significant.
I'm very happy with the setup. Even without rear surrounds there's a lot more depth to the sound vs. using a soundbar, IMO. And to your point it can be built in stages if necessary.
 
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Bornsceptic

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May 8, 2021
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I was in a similar situation a few years back and decided to go with option #2. (For HT only, not music.) Admittedly, the pricing differences weren't significant in my case. Good Atmos soundbars were $600+ at the time, and I put together a system for ~$850. (A Denon AVR-X750H running everything, along with two mid-size bookshelfs for L/R, a slim center channel, a sub, and two front upward-firing Atmos speakers.)

For me the decision making process was:
  • I wanted the advanced room correction (in this case, Audyssey).
  • I wanted the ease-of-use of an AVR to manage all of my connections: TV, Blu-ray player, Apple TV, etc. Most soundbars have a more limited set of HDMI inputs.
  • I had a non-Atmos soundbar setup before and wasn't impressed by the sound. And from the reviews I had read I didn't think the newer soundbars could pull off legit Atmos immersive sound.
  • Again, at the time and given the gear I purchased, the price difference wasn't that significant.
I'm very happy with the setup. Even without rear surrounds there's a lot more depth to the sound vs. using a soundbar, IMO. And to your point it can be built in stages if necessary.
Thank you for sharing your experience - very helpful. I also levitate towards this route. I’m keeping my eyes open for a used Denon or maybe Marantz AVR (but new enough to receive Atmos from TV) and then a fairly slim L/R speakers. For my particular placement I have now started looking at the Arendal 1961 Monitors. Slim and tallish - thinking of placing them very low and angle them slightly upwards (we have a low listening position so it should work).
 

dshreter

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I think surround is not worth the significant trouble it would be in your room. Concentrate your spending on fewer better speakers.

A pair of KEF LS50 Meta could be placed horizontally below the screen and dramatically improve your sound. I can’t recommend surround sound there, and would get a sound bar before doing that.

Good stereo speakers > sound bar > surround sound with poor speakers and poor placement
 
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Bornsceptic

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I think surround is not worth the significant trouble it would be in your room. Concentrate your spending on fewer better speakers.

A pair of KEF LS50 Meta could be placed horizontally below the screen and dramatically improve your sound. I can’t recommend surround sound there, and would get a sound bar before doing that.

Good stereo speakers > sound bar > surround sound with poor speakers and poor placement
I agree in principal with this priority. Interesting enough I have had my ”good” speakers (Atohm GT1) placed on stands in this location at one point. They sounded amazing with music - great soundstage, imaging etc - but quite ”meh” with HT. Not very enveloping sound, and unprecise dialogue. Could be the directivity, or something else…Or I just need the speakers placed tighter together to get the center image correct.
 
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