What is the best bang for buck upgrade one can make?

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  • P-Dub
    Office Moderator
    • Aug 2000
    • 6766

    What is the best bang for buck upgrade one can make?

    Okay, here's some basic assumptions on the minimum type of HT setup.

    1. Have 5 speakers. I know some don't but if you want the full HT exeperience get those speakers.
    2. Have a sub. Any sub regardless of performance is better than no sub.
    3. Have a receiver that decodes DD. This is the minimum.
    4. Have a DVD player. Well this is where you get picture and sound.
    5. Have a TV/display device. You have to watch it on something, well until there's the direct cerebral implants.

    Now for bang for buck upgrade/improvements.

    1 - Calibrate all 5 speakers. Buy Avia or Video Essentials and a SPL meter. This should only cost about $100 and will allow you to callibrate your speakers sub and display for optimal performance.
    2 - Set your speakers to small. cost is $0 Let your sub handle the lower frequencies.
    3 - Create mattes for your display. cost is around $20. This helps in focusing your eyes to the picture.
    4 - Speaker placement. cost is $0 - ? Moving speakers out from behind the TV, having rears placed up and to the side, having enough breathing room. However, there may be other space implications and SAF.
    5 - Replace cabling. cost $100 - $? Start with main devices, DVD to Receiver, DVD to display device, speaker wire, you can spend quite a bit on cables, but I think after a certain point it can get ridiculous.
    6 - Upgrade subwoofer. cost $500 - $2,500 - $? Your first sub could be a budget or could be a nice kick ass sub. But getting additional woofage I think is the best bang for buck upgrade. This is one you'll feel.
    7 - Upgrade display device. - cost $1,000 - $15,000 - $?? 27" set, get a 36", 50" RPTV, get a 65" RPTV, 65" RPTV, get a 100" FPTV. This is one improvement you'll see a difference.
    8 - Upgrade receiver. $1,000 - $? This gets you better DAC's, and more power. Also moving from receiver to seperates is the next step.
    9 - Upgrade speakers. cost $??? This is probably the toughest. Finding the best set of speakers to match with your equipment.
    10 - Upgrade the room. cost $? room treatments, sound treatments, lighting control. This can have a great effect on the overal ambience and sound. The ultimate would be to buy a new house or build a new house to improve your overall enjoyment.
    11 - Start all over. There's 11 cause it's 1 higher than 10.




    Paul

    There are three kinds of people in this world; those that can count, and those that can't.
    Paul

    There are three kinds of people in this world; those that can count, and those that can't.
  • Andrew Pratt
    Moderator Emeritus
    • Aug 2000
    • 16507

    #2
    I tend to think a lot of people tend to concentrate efforts in the wrong area's of their HT's to improve sound. For starters the room the speakers are in and their positioning are huge factors in determining the sound you hear. It may surprise a lot of you to play some white noise then walk around your room with an SPL meter...I'd be willing to bet that there's going to be some major dips and spikes in that response. Try moving your sub to a corner location since this position tends to even out the dips and peaks in response across the room...also check where your chairs are positioned since moving them a little may provide you with a huge boost in levels (may or may not be a good thing) or at least some place with a flatter frequency response. Ballencing the speakers with an SPL meter is virtually mandatory for getting a seamless sound stage...don't think for a moment that you can do this by ear. Same goes for the video display. DVD's like Avia Guide to Home Theater (see contest area's for a chance to win one!) offer and easy way for the home user to quickly calibrate their TV's to provide a much superior image then the factory settings. Obviously the worlds best speakers aren't going to sound that good when driven by a cheaper receiver but by and large I'd be willing to bet the room and the speakers play the largest role in sound quality. Once you have those up to a level you are comfortable with I'd next concentrate on the video cables if you're more into movies or the CD transport if you're more into audio. With the newer technologies like DVD-A and SACD coming out now you may want to think about adding a DVD or CD player that supports these new formats. If video is really important to you I'd highly suggest you consider having an ISF tech come and properly calibrate your TV. You can get very good results using Avia but the ISF tech's and set the grey scale and do other essential tweaks that aren't available to the home enthiusiast (we simply don't have the measuring devices that they have)




    Comment

    • John Holmes
      Moderator Emeritus
      • Aug 2000
      • 2703

      #3
      I like items 1 and 4 as the best bang per buck. I have done them (with much help from our board) and the results are 10 fold the price of admission.

      I have yet to try the mattes but, the theory makes sense.

      And you hit the nail about the sub. I'll add that this is not an area to skimp on. Whatever your budget, get the best sub you can afford. Clean bass will do more for your system than just boom. It will also allow you to hear the rest of your speakers nice and clear too. You will find that you can enjoy movies at lower volumes and still get good impact.




      "I came here, to chew bubble gum and kickass. And I'm all out of bubble gum!!!" My DVD's
      "I have come here, to chew bubblegum and kickass. And I'm all out of bubblegum!!!"

      Comment

      • Sonnie Parker
        • Jan 2002
        • 2858

        #4
        Good post Paul....

        Originally posted by Andrew
        It may surprise a lot of you to play some white noise then walk around your room with an SPL meter...I'd be willing to bet that there's going to be some major dips and spikes in that response.
        Well, say no more...... I'd bet that same.

        And a great "bang for the buck" tool to help solve this problem in the low end is the Behringer Feedback Destroyer Pro 1124P Parametric EQ. If you look at the specs on this baby and read Ken Bruce's (brucek) review here, where he test it, you will see it's really a great bargain. It can do so much to tame some nasty peaks you might have in your room. From experience (and quite a bit of testing myself), I can tell you, it will make a good difference.

        You can buy it at Lentine's for $129.

        And, if ya happen to need help setting it up, I may know where some info is.






        SONNIE

        Cedar Creek Cinema

        DVD Collection

        BFD Comprehensive Setup Guide

        Comment

        • Andrew Pratt
          Moderator Emeritus
          • Aug 2000
          • 16507

          #5
          Sonnie when I finally get my IB sub build I'll likely be asking you about that little wonder peice...




          Comment

          • JonMarsh
            Mad Max Moderator
            • Aug 2000
            • 15272

            #6
            Originally posted by Paul Wu
            Okay, here's some basic assumptions on the minimum type of HT setup.

            1. Have 5 speakers. I know some don't but if you want the full HT exeperience get those speakers.
            2. Have a sub. Any sub regardless of performance is better than no sub.
            3. Have a receiver that decodes DD. This is the minimum.
            4. Have a DVD player. Well this is where you get picture and sound.
            5. Have a TV/display device. You have to watch it on something, well until there's the direct cerebral implants.

            Now for bang for buck upgrade/improvements.

            1 - Calibrate all 5 speakers. Buy Avia or Video Essentials and a SPL meter. This should only cost about $100 and will allow you to callibrate your speakers sub and display for optimal performance.
            2 - Set your speakers to small. cost is $0 Let your sub handle the lower frequencies.
            3 - Create mattes for your display. cost is around $20. This helps in focusing your eyes to the picture.
            4 - Speaker placement. cost is $0 - ? Moving speakers out from behind the TV, having rears placed up and to the side, having enough breathing room. However, there may be other space implications and SAF.
            5 - Replace cabling. cost $100 - $? Start with main devices, DVD to Receiver, DVD to display device, speaker wire, you can spend quite a bit on cables, but I think after a certain point it can get ridiculous.
            6 - Upgrade subwoofer. cost $500 - $2,500 - $? Your first sub could be a budget or could be a nice kick ass sub. But getting additional woofage I think is the best bang for buck upgrade. This is one you'll feel.
            7 - Upgrade display device. - cost $1,000 - $15,000 - $?? 27" set, get a 36", 50" RPTV, get a 65" RPTV, 65" RPTV, get a 100" FPTV. This is one improvement you'll see a difference.
            8 - Upgrade receiver. $1,000 - $? This gets you better DAC's, and more power. Also moving from receiver to seperates is the next step.
            9 - Upgrade speakers. cost $??? This is probably the toughest. Finding the best set of speakers to match with your equipment.
            10 - Upgrade the room. cost $? room treatments, sound treatments, lighting control. This can have a great effect on the overal ambience and sound. The ultimate would be to buy a new house or build a new house to improve your overall enjoyment.
            11 - Start all over. There's 11 cause it's 1 higher than 10.


            I like Pauls general suggestions, and the follow up comments from Andrew and John. I'd like to suggest "consolidating" and perhaps re-ordering slightly....

            • Using a program like RPG Acoustics Room Optimizer or CARA (or, your previous oodles of acoustics experience and self written MathCAD boundary analysis programs ) analyse your room setup set for optimum speaker placement for midbass and midrange smoothness.
            • For your mains, (at least), use the old mirror trick to identify the first major early reflections from your wall and ceilings, and install simple absorbtion panels. These can be something as simple as a home made hardboard 2X4 sheet with 1X2 framing edges, with fiberglass or poly batting such as quilting batting, covered in a nice decorator fabric (solid or print, your choice).
            • Using Avia and an SPL meter, set your reference levels for mains, center and surround.
            • (Here's where I get controversial)If using pink noise, and listening to your mains and center, if you don't have essentially identical tonal response, ditch the center channel speaker and convert to a center phantom mode. (ah, yes, you've hit on one of my dirty little beliefs- NO center is a better choice than a mis-matched center)
            • Calibrate display device. This means AT LEAST a good, long session with AVIA, and if you have an RPTV, I'd suggest popping for a true ISF calibration, unless you're knowledgable and willing to pay for a service manual. The Toshiba RPTV in my daughter's bedroom has been gone over with a fine tooth comb, using the factory manual (and with my experience setting up FPTV's); it still has a better NTSC picture than any set I've seen in a local Good Guys, SoundTrack, or Best Buy, because it's dialed into the full design potential- which isn't even close to the case when these sets ship. Even most FPTV LCD and DLP projectors have similar issues regarding color balance, brightness and contrast optimization, etc. My best friend locally bought a brand new Toshiba 57" widescreen, and he was appalled at how bad the picture was out of the box, especially on cable. With about an hours time with Avia, he thought it looked like a totally different TV.
            • Replace primary music DAC with a good quality NLFB source device. This could be a stand alone complete player, like the Ayre CX-7, or a DAC add-on, like the MP-DAC. Forget anything with opamps. The rest of your system can only be as good as your source. Cost is no sure sign of quality, unfortunately. This is more important than 'zoot" cables, power conditioners, etc. A good DAC will retrieve more info in a more "musical" way from your existing player, but don't expect to hook one up to a $200 CD player and be totally pleased with the results. The best "cheap" transport I've heard is a modified CD-753 from APN in the Netherlands. (about $700). It bests a Sony SCD777ES SACD player as transport (about $3000 MSRP, new). Used high end Sony CD players may be a good starting point as a basic transport- like an XA7ES.
            • Power amps. Can't live with them, can't live without them. If you haven't heard something like an Ayre or Theta or BAT, or a very good tube amp, you don't know how much of the stuff you hear on your CD's and DVD's that annoys you in the upper mids and highs is due to your amplification. Thomas W has been finding that out first hand, since bringing one Ayre V-5 into his home. If music on your system is a priority over HT, then replace your main front amp with a good tube or zero feedback design. This is more effective than power conditioners, tweak cables, etc. In fact, without an amp like this in your system, you don't have the fidelity and resolution to evauate cables. Strong words, but true. You can tell there are "differences", but you're not in any position to say one is more neutral or accurate than the other. I know I'm being a little hard *ssed here, but the truth will set you free and make you more productive in your HT and music upgrades.
              My old Denon monoblocks, which don't have the power and control of the Aragons, nevertheless don't use feedback around the output stage, and they also don't have the edge and grit the Aragons exhibit at times. I'm just suggesting you give a listen to an Ayre or Theta amp, for example, and see if you don't wind up recalibrating your expectations. For music and HT on a budget, I'd consider the Ayre AX7 integrated, which has HT passthrough/interface options as well.
            • Subs are cool, for the things they do for the dynamic range of the overall system- but if you haven't taken care of the items above, you've just got loud midfi if you upgrade your sub first. Subs are one of the easiest ways to get into DIY on a low expertiese and effort budget; there's so much info on the 'net and so many helpful people to draw upon, like ThomasW, Jack Gilvey, to say nothing of the help given by some of the supportive company owners like Dan Wiggins of Adire. Whether you start with a Shiva based design with a premade box and a plate amp, or you configure everything yourself with the advise of friends to meet your own specific requirements (12 Shiva's dancing, anyone?), subs are a low buck slam dunk. Go for it.
            • Speakers - if you've gone through the above, and find you're still somewhat dissatisfied with the state of your system, maybe it's time to re-evaluate your speaker choice. Things I look for in a speaker system are low inherent driver coloration, using the drivers only in their pistonic range, and as a plus, dipole operation to reduce sidewall and general room affects. For the money, it's hard to beat the "low end" Magnepan, though they do command a bit more room space. If the dynamics of box type speakers appeal to you, try listening to some Avalon and Monitor Audio models, also perhaps the newest Joeseph Audio designs. This just to "re-calibrate" your expectations of what a good "box" speaker can sound like. DIY is another possibility in this area, but it's one fraught with peril unless you already have lots of tools and time on your hands, as well as a fair amount of elctrical knowledge. If you want to consider DIY, try to audition some of the better known kits, and see what appeals to you. Again, it's in the context of your own system that all this really matters. In my experience, DIY is a way to use up copious amounts of spare time, meet interesting new people, and learn a lot about your own limitations- it's not a way to save money!


            Above all, have fun, don't take this all too seriously!

            -Jon




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            Comment

            • George Bellefontaine
              Moderator Emeritus
              • Jan 2001
              • 7637

              #7
              I'm pretty happy with my setup, but if there's an upgrade coming it will probably be in a move from an lcd projector to a DLP. Aside from that, the only other area I might consider is in the sub. I'm using a 10 incher and an 8 incher and would like to go to a 12 or 18 sometime down the road. Mind you, my present sub arrangement can make my pantleg flutter on certain discs like U571
              so I am not in any rush.




              My Homepage!
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              Comment

              • Uncle Clive
                Former Moderator
                • Jan 2002
                • 919

                #8
                I read somewhere.......... which BTW makes good sense..........is to balance or steady wobbley speakers by adjust the spikes. Speakers do tend to move when played at higher volumes and a speaker/s that's not sitting firmly will also produce rattles. This also applies to speaker stands. Please check yours today! $0.00!




                CLIVE




                HEY!! Why buy movie tickets when you can own a Theater?
                CLIVE




                HEY!! Why buy movie tickets when you can own a Theater?

                Comment

                • Andrew Pratt
                  Moderator Emeritus
                  • Aug 2000
                  • 16507

                  #9
                  Uncle C thats where a peice of blu tack can work wonders




                  Comment

                  • Uncle Clive
                    Former Moderator
                    • Jan 2002
                    • 919

                    #10
                    Originally posted by Andrew Pratt
                    Uncle C thats where a peice of blu tack can work wonders
                    Funny!! :LOL:




                    CLIVE




                    HEY!! Why buy movie tickets when you can own a Theater?
                    CLIVE




                    HEY!! Why buy movie tickets when you can own a Theater?

                    Comment

                    • David Meek
                      Moderator Emeritus
                      • Aug 2000
                      • 8938

                      #11
                      Definitely, 1 and 4 are the least costly (money-wise) steps you can take to a major improvement. I'd go so far as to say calibrate your setup first, then experiment with the placement:

                      1) move mains a couple of feet away from ANYTHING if possible
                      2) play with toe-in in each of the positions you try

                      then calibrate again when done. If you haven't done this yet, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the results - ie. wider, taller, deeper soundstage, better separation, etc.

                      The CARA option is also a good one. It caused me to rotate my entire set-up 90 degrees and produced a much more coherent sonic presentation that had been missing in the new HT room.

                      As always, just my 2 cents.




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                      Comment

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