Home audio catch-all

Pages

This is a thread for anyone interested in home audio, whether you just want to share your latest you, home entertainment setup, or need advice on what to buy. Feels like a natural extension of gaming and movie watching so I figure there's at least a few people here with some interest to chat about it.

Here's a little guide based on what I've learned:

Receivers
Onkyo, Yamaha, and Denon are generally considered the best of the mainstream brands. My only recent experience is with Onkyo, which seems to work fine for me. However I'd strongly recommend choosing a receiver that comes with some form of auto-equalizing technology. In Onkyo and Denon this is called Audyssey, while Yamaha uses its own version called YPAO. Receivers with these technologies come with a mic that you place at various listening points throughout your room to measure test tones generated by the receiver, which are used to calibrate speaker levels across a range of frequencies. Higher-end receivers come with more advanced versions that will EQ a greater number of frequencies.

As far as performance goes, Onkyo may run comparatively brighter than the other two, meaning higher frequencies are emphasized a bit more, so you may not want to pair it with speakers that are known to be bright. My speakers run pretty flat in the high-end, so I have actually boosted treble slightly. Denon's run flatter and cooler than Onkyo (my Onkyo is only 60 watts/channel and runs quite hot, so I can attest to this) and Onkyo has had some reliability issues in the past few years, particularly with HDMI outputs quitting on you. The 2014 models just came out, so it's too soon to say if they will have the same trouble.

Other than that, all receivers tend to have pretty similar features at a given price point, so it really just comes down to which brand produces the kind of sound you like most.

Speakers
Generally, you get what you pay for though I'd say the cost-benefit analysis is somewhat logarithmic. Going from $50 speakers to $1000 will give you a pretty significant boost in quality, but you'd have to go from $1000 to $5000 to see a similar boost. Audiophile consensus is Bose are overpriced, and frequency response measurements show this to be pretty true of their Acoustimass models (bass is anemic below 40hz and more surprisingly, the satellites drop off precipitously above 13khz. Human hearing is generally decent up to 15khz and theoretically to 20khz or so). There are plenty of decent speaker makers within the $300-$800/pair range, though.

Satellite + Sub or full-range tower speakers?
Hugely subjective, always depends on a number of factors, but actually this question is likely moot. Of course you need a sub if you get satellites or bookshelf speakers if you want anything resembling decent bass performance, but even most towers will benefit from a sub as well because most towers will rely on your receiver to drive their woofers, and bass requires a lot of power. A dedicated sub with its own amp helps take the load off the receiver, allowing it to drive your speakers more cleanly. Personally I like having towers because it ensures that when I add my sub later, I won't need the sub produce bass above 80-100hz, which is where sound starts to become localizable (i.e. you can tell the sound is coming from a particular direction. Bad when your sub is off to the side somewhere).

Note that if you're building a 5.1 or 7.1 setup, the center and surround speakers will most likely be satellite or bookshelf size, but you'll always want to buy models from the same line as your main speakers to ensure consistent performance.

Oh, and always use at least 16 gauge speaker 100% COPPER wire (If your surrounds are more than 20ft away, get 14 or even 12 guage to be safe). I recommend buying from monoprice as their wire is actually all copper, unlike many you find on Amazon that are a copper/aluminum blend.

Subwoofers
Since I'd been researching one to buy recently, this is probably what I know most about right now. Subs are a very different beast than your other speakers. While the latter need to be places in specific locations, the non-directional nature of bass means a subwoofer can be placed just about anywhere in the room.

Theoretically speaking, that is. In reality, you'll find that's not the case. But before we go there, it's important to understand the basics of subwoofer design and what makes one "good".

For the most part, there are three types of subwoofers: sealed, ported, and bandpass.

Sealed
Sealed subs are the simplest form: a driver (the woofer), screwed into a box with an amp attached to the back. No holes, thus it is sealed. They are the smallest of the sub types and tend to be neither the least expensive nor the most. They also are usually not as sensitive as the other sub types (meaning they aren't as loud per unit power), and they don't drive as deep as the other sub types. What's good about them is their small size (easier to place in a room) and that they typically produce a cleaner sound because the frequency response rolls off gradually as it drops, and because without a port, you never will hear port noise, also called "chuffing". The sealed design also makes them harder to damage via overexcursion, where the driver is pushed to move back and forth farther than it was designed to do, since the internal air pressure provides additional resistance.

Generally people looking for a more "musical" sub go with sealed.

Ported
Ported subs are the most common. They feature everything the sealed sub has, except there's also a hole, the port, on it, possibly on the front, side, bottom, or rear. Ported subs are almost always larger than sealed, and range from being the cheapest to the most expensive. Why cheapest? Because adding a port is a very easy way to extend bass performance to lower frequencies. The sensitivity is also greater than in sealed subs and good ported subs will drive deeper than a sealed one ever can. The main downsides are the size and port chuffing, which occurs usually when the sub is trying to play low frequencies at high levels. Ported subs can be trickier to build because the port needs to be tuned to a specific frequency, and where the sealed sub's frequency response rolls off gradually, the ported sub's will drop off a cliff once you get below the port's tuned frequency. This means that a sub with a port tuned to 20hz will play louder than an equivalent sealed sub down to 20hz, but below that the sealed sub would take the lead.

Because of lower frequency response and the potential distortion due to chuffing, ported subs tend to be preferred for movies over music. However, if you pay enough money ($1000+) for a ported sub, they tend to perform as clean as a sealed sub in most situations.

Bandpass
Most home subs are not bandpass, so I'll only mention them briefly. This is the kind that has the driver(s) completely contained within the enclosure, so you couldn't ever see them without taking the sub apart. All Bose subs are like this. This is an extremely efficient design, so it's great for building with small drivers. I think in the Bose sub module they're a couple of 5 1/4" drivers, which are tiny. The problem is, unless you want to pay $thousands, the sound is the least accurate of any type. These tend to be very boomy, typically peaking at a certain frequency, which, due to harmonics, ends up reproducing all bass with that frequency dominating. Fine perhaps if you are very tight on space and only want something to create a bit of feeling, but for most people it won't cut it.

What makes a sub "good"?
There's no magic here, really. It comes down to the components used, and generally you get what you pay for.

The enclosure should not vibrate, therefore it needs to be thick. At least .75 inch MDF (medium density fiberboard) on all sides. Better subs will also use internal bracing to keep vibrations to a minimum. When you knock the enclosure, expect to here a dull thud. If it sounds hollow, it's not so good.

The driver should be rigid (minimize distortion) and lightweight (for fast response, avoid creating a muddy sound). Sub drivers are made from a range of materials, including treated paper, aluminum, and kevlar. They all have strengths and weaknesses, but paper tends to be the cheapest though not necessarily bad if made right. If it's ever untreated paper, avoid at all costs.

And when it comes to drivers, size matters. Simply put, the larger the driver, the more air it can push, the lower it can go. I recommend nothing smaller than 12" (which is not to say there aren't great 10" and even 8" subs out there, but they won't hit as low).

If you want a ported sub, keep in mind where the port is located. Rear ported models tend to be the most compact, but the port needs to be at least 5" from a wall.

Where do I put this thing?
Good question, and the answer will always be different for everyone. While it's great that bass is non-directional, the problem with bass is that the sound wave is so damn long that when they bounce around the room, it's pretty easy for all those reflected sounds to start cancelling each other out. Areas in your room where they cancel each other out are called "nulls". Naturally there will be other areas where waves meet and reinforce one another, and these are called peaks. Both are bad, but nulls are kind of worse because you can't really fix them with through your receiver's built-in auto-EQ system.

To minimize the nulls, and assuming you're not restricted to any one location, you'll want to do what's called a sub crawl. This means placing the sub in your primary listening position, even if that means right on your couch, wire it up and start playing some bass through it. Doesn't need to be super loud, but it should be clean and clear enough that you can hear it fluctuate, which it will as you're doing your crawl. Once the sub is playing, you'll literally crawl around the room listening for location in which the bass sounds best to you, ideally without any nulls. Wherever that location is is where you'll want to place the sub.

Now is a good time to talk about those dials on the back of your sub, connected to the sub's amplifier. Typically these are all more or less the same. One for gain, one for frequency response, and either a switch or knob for phase.

Gain is like volume, except it will be relative to your receiver's volume so be careful not to set it too high, as it could damage the sub.

Frequency response sets the low pass filter, meaning all sounds above the frequency you choose will be filtered out and the sub won't play them. You'll want to keep this set to max and just let the receiver choose for you, however.

Phase switch/dial. Leave it on 0. You don't need to mess with it unless you've got multiple subs.

So once you've found the best place for your sub via the sub crawl, you'll want to run through the EQ process via Audyssey/YMAO. Make sure your sub's gain knob is set pretty low, like a 1/3 of max before running the EQ. You'll probably need to run the EQ several times, adjusting the sub gain in between tests until the receiver sets its own sub gain at about -6 to -9dB. Once you get that done, feel free to turn up the sub's gain as high as you like it.

And that's about it! You're system is ready to rumble (I'm assuming you have all the cables connected correctly, of course).

If you're curious, here's my system (very budget, far from ideal as my mains/center/satellites don't match):
Receiver: Onkyo HT-RC430
Main speakers: Fluance SV10
Center speaker: Boston Acoustics Soundware XS
Surrounds: Leviton AESS5-WH (drivers made by JBL)
Sub: Reaction Audio BPS 212 (on its way)

Total cost is about $1040, almost half of which is the sub.

What should I buy?
If you're going for a 5.1 setup from scratch, you should probably plan to pay at least a grand for a basic setup. Cost would go something like this:
Receiver: $300
Main speakers: $200-$500
Center: $60-100
Rears: $80-200
Sub: $150-300

As far as specific models, well, sound is such a subjective experience and everyone's room is going to have unique acoustics. But here's a starting point:

Receiver
$295 Onkyo: TX-NR525
$279 Denon: AVR-X1000
$249 Yamaha: RX-V377

Main speakers
$126 each Pioneer: P-FS52-LR
$499 pair Fluance: Fluance XL7F
(I don't know anything about satellite/bookshelf speakers, so feel free to recommend!)

Center and surrounds
best to match with your mains. So e.g. if you get the Pioneer speakers mentioned above, you'd want to get the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR ($97) for surrounds and Pioneer SP-C22 ($97) center speaker.

Subwoofer
Unlike the center and surrounds, the subwoofer does not need to match the rest of your speakers. It's creating sound that doesn't overlap in frequency range.

The good news is that while most cheap subs are crappy, they don't have to be. Here are a couple that produce very good sound for the price.

~$150 Dayton Audio Sub-1200 (It's slightly cheaper at Parts Express).
$260 NXG NX-BAS-500

There's a lot of good knowledge in this post.

I have experience with both Onkyo and Denon, and my general impression is this: Denons are built better. Onkyos run hot, and they tend to be 'bright' -- that is, their treble is strong. If you pair them with speakers with strong treble response, this can become actively painful, as I discovered a number of years ago. Onkyos pair better with warm speakers. Denons tend to be flatter, and should pair well with almost anything. And, because they run cooler, they cost less to have powered on, and they'll probably last longer. Recent model year Onkyos have not had a good reputation for quality... my personal belief is that this may be directly because of the heat they put out. As their electronics have become more advanced, I think they're tending to die early in the fairly high temps from their amplifier technology.

They may be fixing the problem by now, but I'd still avoid Onkyo for another year or so, just to be sure.

Both companies make good products, but having owned three Onkyos and three Denons, I like Denons much more, even barring the reliability issues. Just, dear Lord, their manuals are indecipherable.

Excellent info Mao. Favorited.

I'm jealous of your Fluance towers.

Thanks guys, I'm glad the info is useful! I'm going to add in some of your thoughts on the receivers, Malor, and I'll keep making revisions as I think of other tips to include.

These Fluance speakers (I think) are a very good deal for the price I paid. I think they were only $300 (originally $400) when I bought them because they were probably trying to sell off the last of them, since it's now a discontinued model. They sounded pretty flat when I got them, but after breaking them in over a few months the high end has opened up a fair bit, giving more depth to the sound stage. I think their XL series has received some favorable reviews and are worth looking into, if you're ever interested in getting a pair. However I've heard that the Pioneer SP-FS52-LR Andrew Jones Designed Floor standing Loudspeaker are among the best of low-cost main speakers, and they're less than $300 a pair on Amazon.

I'm also going to add some speaker/sub recommendations based on price points, but my knowledge is definitely limited in that area. It's also so hard to know for sure without just listening to them yourself, because sound is sooo subjective. When I read all the user reviews on AVSForum or Home Theater Shack, I still find it very hard to translate what people say about their speakers/subs to how I would perceive those same models. On top of that every room will reflect sound differently, so it can be really difficult to get anything close to an objective review. That said, for subs at least, cheaper ones (under $500) generally don't produce a lot of volume below 30-35hz, which is where the real room shaking sounds play.

It's also worth stressing that you don't need to spend a mint to get great sound. There's a huge amount of trickery and outright voodoo in the audiophile world, and you can easily be fooled into spending insane amounts of money on literally nothing.

Roughly speaking, spending money in this order will get you the best sound for your dollar:

1. Front speakers. You can get away with everything else being cheap, if your front L+R pair are stellar. This is where most of your money should go. At the lower end, at least half your budget should go here, and that percentage should climb steadily as your overall budget improves. This is the purchase that really matters, and the thing you should take the most time and attention to find. You will always be using these speakers whenever your system is running, no matter what you're using it for.

Typically, you see the biggest improvements up to about $1K/pair. They keep improving after that, but not as quickly. At $3K/pair, that's about as good as you're likely to reasonably find, but keep in mind that speakers are not good because they cost $3K. Anyone can slap a big sticker price on something, and bloviate about it being great, and there's plenty of bloviation in audio. And, even at that, even if a $3K pair of speakers really has $3K worth of engineering and materials, they may not suit you at all.

Everyone learns to hear a little differently; the brain does not devote that many neurons, relatively speaking, to the ears, and your background and any musical training will have huge impacts on the strategies your particular brain worked out to make sense of its inputs. And all speakers make tradeoffs; the whole idea of using just two point sources to duplicate an entire soundscape is, well... it really shouldn't work as well as it does. What you're looking for is a set of speakers that fit how you hear, and nobody can tell you what matches well except for you.

Take the time to go and shop in person for your L+R pair, and once you find a set you love, buy them (and, in fact, as much of the system as you reasonably can) from the brick and mortar store that you liked the best. There aren't too many places left where you can go audition speakers, so that service is very valuable, and you should pay for it.

It's also worth taking some time to train your ears to what should sound good, before sinking a ton of money into speakers. Getting yourself a quality pair of headphones (high-end Sennheisers or Beyerdynamics, perhaps) and a quality audio source, and spending a few months with them, will make an enormous difference when making a speaker purchase. If you've trained your ears ahead of time, and you're willing to take the time to shop (perhaps several weeks), you can literally buy speakers that will last for most or even all of the rest of your life.

Do not cheap out here. There are very few consumer purchases that can last as long as speakers. I'm still using, for instance, a set of Energy Take 2s that I bought in the mid 90s. I didn't spend that much on them, relatively speaking, but they sounded great to me then, and they still sound great to me now, just about twenty years later. They're on computer duty now, instead of being in the living room, but I use them every day, and I still love them.

I do have one problem with them: the glue that holds the fronts on is finally giving out, and I need to figure out a good replacement that can bond plastic to the wood backing. But a little glue after twenty years is, you know, not exactly high maintenance.

2. Subwoofer. Get a good one, and just like speakers, you may never need another. Subs are something you can safely buy online, because they're relatively simple devices. Roughly speaking, they're a three-way tradeoff between size, power, and price: pick any two. You can get something powerful and (relatively) cheap, but it will need to be large. If you want it both small and powerful, you will pay a mint for it. If you want it small and cheap, it's going to be quite anemic.

If your main goal is music, then sealed subs tend to be better; they're just big speakers in a box, almost exactly like your main speakers, so they tend to sync up really easily and really well. A little tweaking to get the phase right, and it'll just make your speakers sound bigger. Ported subs use a resonant enclosure to increase their power (often by a huge amount), but their output comes out a little 'smeared' in comparison. This doesn't matter in the least for movies, but it can reduce the bass quality a little bit in music.

A big, ported sub is the cheapest way to get the big bass for movies, and reasonable bass for music. A big sealed sub is the best choice for music, usually, and is still pretty good for movies. Hsu Research is an excellent source for ported subs, as is SV Sound. (they used to be SV Subwoofer, but branched out.) They may offer sealed subs, too, but I haven't been shopping for a long time.

The really big subs from SV will, and I kid you not in the slightest, shake your entire house. They can literally knock pictures off your walls. You've probably never even imagined how powerful bass can be. They can pressurize enormous volumes of air, and watching a movie like Master and Commander on one of those things will leave you wrung out, afterward. You may think I'm overstating this: I am not.

Fortunately, down in the $500-$650 range, you can get very powerful bass, strong enough to be excellent, but which shouldn't scare the neighborhood. Hsu's VTF-4 is a great choice in that price range. Again, it's something that will probably last most or all of your life, so don't be scared by that price tag. These things are cheap when you consider how long they last. Buy quality, and you may never need to buy another.

3. Center speaker. This is what brings dialog to life in movies. You can get along without one; if you've got a great L+R pair, you can do a phantom center, and it will sound fine. But a quality center will usually sound better. If you've sunk a ton of money into your mains, buying a cheap one may actually sound worse. This is another case where auditioning is really nice; buying a center from somewhere that will let you audition in-home is ideal.

4. Receiver. Surprisingly, you don't need anything too wonderful here. The $250 models are okay, the $500 models are genuinely good, and that's about as far as you normally need to go. You don't need big power in a receiver, because, assuming you're sensible and have a powered sub, the subwoofer will be doing almost all of your heavy lifting. With a powered sub, 50 watts per channel is fine, although because most people don't know that, it's hard to find quality receivers with less than 100wpc.

Basically, just find something from a quality company that has enough inputs. My favorite right now is Denon; I love their build quality and dedication to great sound. Other companies put more focus on their video processing, but I honestly like to have the receiver do as little of that as possible. This is an area that I'm behind the times on, and so I suggest learning something about current video processing before making a choice. avsforum is usually a good source for things like that.

For sound quality, at least, you won't get very much as you go up in price classes. Chances are nearly certain that you will hear no difference between a $500 receiver and a $1500 one... or, if you do, it's probably placebo. There may be video processing advantages in the higher end models, but in terms of sound, even a midrange receiver will do fantastically well. After the first $500, sound quality improvement per dollar is close to zero.

Note, however, there is one exception to that: Audyssey, the room-correction program built into modern receivers, has multiple levels, so they can extract more money from wealthier people. The MultEQ XT level is quite a bit better than the lesser versions, and if the price difference to get into the better flavor isn't too excessive, it may be worth it. The actual sound reproduction won't be any better, but the better correction algorithm can improve perceived output substantially. I believe the XT level includes subwoofer correction, and that's one of the biggest reasons to have sound correction at all.

5. Surrounds. You don't actually need all that much, here, Even now, most films don't use them for all that much; it's still mostly about giving you a sense of space and air. There are some exceptions, but by and large, you can get along well with almost any cheap piece of crap you can slap on the wall. A $250 pair with a reasonable timbre match to your front L+R will be more than enough. Heck, a $50 pair from the Goodwill store would probably be okay for most movies.

Basically, overall, a $500 receiver and a $500 sub will solve those problems quite thoroughly; a $650 sub from Hsu will absolutely kick ass and take names. Nearly every other dollar you spend should go into your L+R pair, even to the point of skipping surrounds for awhile. If you need to, pick up a used receiver and skip the sub.... get that fantastic stereo pair up front, and then build around that. As I said earlier, the L+R pair are the linchpins of your sound system, the things you use all the time, in everything. Get something truly great there, and it's amazing how cheap the rest of your system can be.

Basically agree with all that. I would probably advocate for home theater shopper to match their center channel to their mains, i.e. if your mains are part of a home theater series, get the center from that series to ensure the sound is consistent across all front channels, even if this means opting out of a higher end center.

Also, the Denon and Onkyo I linked both include MultEQ, which does subwoofer correction as well. Not sure about Yamaha's.

SVS definitely gets a lot of attention, and by all accounts rightfully so. They do ported subs as you mention Malor, but they also do sealed ones. The ported will definitely hit harder, but the sealed models are impressively compact for the kind of output you get, and should definitely be considered for tighter spaces.

I went out on a limb with a new brand, Reaction Audio, because it seemed like a great deal $449 (including shipping) after 10% off for a dual 12" sealed sub that will just fit into the space next to my left main speaker. With two opposed drivers in it, the SPL efficiency should be pretty great. Arrives Thursday (if Fedex is to be believed).

Here are some pics of my current setup
IMAGE(https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2906/14544630795_68cfda471c_h.jpg)From the front

IMAGE(https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2924/14564744433_44f20b0910_h.jpg)Mains with grills

IMAGE(https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2908/14358043988_7f902dc1fa_h.jpg)Mains sans grills

IMAGE(https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3887/14543696122_0931522aad_h.jpg)Main speaker sans grill

IMAGE(https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2927/14543696282_7c1f153300_h.jpg)Had to lower the left shelf because Onkyo makes em too fat

IMAGE(https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2898/14358026849_b6aa20ce40_h.jpg)Wiring. I hate seeing wires, so I had an electrician come and run speaker wire under the house to reach the surrounds mounted above the kitchen cabinets.

IMAGE(https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3910/14543108394_53a0656996_h.jpg)Center

IMAGE(https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5555/14358167427_65cca3d789_h.jpg)Surrounds

IMAGE(https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2905/14544628255_321ec6b865_h.jpg)Surround

In rereading and comparing with Chairman_Mao's suggestions: overall, I'm suggesting to spend more money. The primary reason is because speakers and subs last. As I said, I have a set of speakers I've been using for just about twenty years, and they still sound great. Quality speakers can last you as long as a house, so going upscale to some degree is money well spent. But don't go over about $1K/pair without very careful listening, and being really in love with what you're hearing, because the improvements past that point slow down dramatically.

You might happen into a $2500 pair that makes your knees weak. Grab them if that happens. But you might find a $1K pair that sounds even better; spending big money is no guarantee of quality. Don't go over $1K/pair unless you're really sure that's what you want. A lot of audio stuff (like Bose) is focused as much on prestige as sounding good, and if you're buying for prestige in audio, you're being taken for a ride.

And be careful not to spend too much on your electronics, because electronics don't last. They're not that reliable, and new technologies and sound formats keep coming out all the time. Don't buy crap, buy something decent from a good name, but don't overspend, because you'll be replacing it. Lifetime speakers aren't that unusual, but lifetime receivers basically never happen.

Further, and this is repeating what I said before: receiver sound quality improvement, per dollar, is near zero after ~$500ish, particularly with a powered subwoofer. There are times when it makes sense to spend more (I went up to a $650 receiver the last time I bought, so that I could get the MultEQ XT version of Audyssey), but think carefully before making the plunge.

Perhaps it will make more sense to break down suggested builds by cost? I'm all for spending as much as one can afford and prioritizing the main speakers as well, but that's not really coming across in my recommendations, which is really for a "budget" home theater. I'll see if I can structure that better.

I will disagree on one point--subs don't last the way main speakers will, only because they've got amps attached that will die before the driver does. That's one reason to consider buying subs that use off-the-shelf components, so you don't need to replace the whole thing if the amp goes out.

The electronics in a sub are very, very simple; it's basically a low-pass filter and an amplifier. There's no reason a well-built amplifier can't last for decades, and they should be pretty easy to repair if the electronics break.

A passive sub and a separate amp may make repairs easier, but the up front cost is higher. Passive subs tend to be pretty expensive, because they're low-volume.

I have to err more toward Mao's side on the sub reliability thing. It seems to always be the first thing to go in everybody's systems, be it my buddy's VTF-2 that the amp died in or... well every sub I've ever owned that eventually died while the rest of the systems I used them with kept right on going.

It's anecdotal, of course, but has been my experience.

If I ever have the space for one, I totally plan to build my own. There's a lot of amazing sub designs available online. You can just download plans, order parts, and make one yourself and end up with bass response that people pay $1000+ for, and get it for ~$400 in materials and some of your time. Most of the designs I've seen are very large though and I just don't have the room for one.

Ugh, Fedex screwed up the pickup of my sub from the seller, and now it's delayed until after the holiday. Boo, Fedex, BOOOOO.

Thin_J did you ever consider the knock-down kits that Parts Express offers? It's sort of a half-step between a complete DIY and manufactured subs that still allow for some customization and are not nearly as huge as some of those massive ones people build from scratch.

Just as an anecdotal counterpoint to the Denon love here, my AVR-1912 just stopped working, conveniently 6 months after the 2-year warranty expired. It's worked fine for 2.5 years, but as of last night no image is making it to the TV and no audio to the speakers (HDMI cables are fine, I can connect the straight from device to TV without an issue).

Oh, crud, that bites. Has Denon told you how much a repair will be?

One thing that's worth looking into for anyone in the market for a new receiver is that there's a growing list of receivers with issues decoding Dolby Digital Plus signals. This is notable because it's the format both Netflix and Amazon use for 5.1 in their streaming video.

The issue usually manifests as a harsh sibilance or even warbling noise on high frequency sounds, and sometimes sound can cut out entirely from certain channels for brief moments. It tends to effect a lot of dialogue and louder musical cues.

For my part I've never heard it on Amazon streams but have experienced it quite a few times on Netflix. My previous receiver, a Sony STR DN1030, experienced it and so did my current Denon AVR-X1000. I just updated the firmware on my Denon recently and haven't tested DD+ since so I'm not sure if it'll be resolved or not. Both of my receivers exhibit the issue in the left surround channel. This first led me to trying different speakers (same issue, same channel) and then to changing speaker wiring. The issue remains regardless of speaker and cabling configuration.

For what it's worth, Onkyo and Yamaha both seem to be avoiding the issue entirely, at least as far as I've read. I'm not sure about Pioneer. Denon and Sony seem hardest hit.

The quickest solution is disabling DD+ on the playback device where possible (this is easy on the PS3, and once disabled it simply outputs as regular DD 5.1 and the distortion is eliminated entirely) but that isn't always an option. A good example of that is Amazon's Fire TV, where the audio choices over HDMI are DD+, Stereo PCM, or go pound sand

Just a heads up.

Thank you so much, Thin_J. We've noticed that on our old Marantz, which is still an amazing receiver that there's no way I can afford to replace with a more modern equivalent. Now that I understand what's going on we can do something about it.

It's something I fought with for a while that led to me replacing my receiver... inevitably with another receiver that has the same issue

I hoped putting it out there might save someone else the same frustration and possibly some money.

On the positive side the Denon X1000 is otherwise pretty great. Sounds awesome when running everything other than DD+.

Granted, the Sony worked pretty great itself. People crap on Sony a lot but they've made big improvements to their overall receiver lineup in the last year or two. The STR-DN1030 and it's successor the 1040 are actually pretty solid receivers that include a lot of useful features for the relative price. It takes some research to find out what's what, but I think everybody has at least a couple receivers worth consideration depending on your price range and feature wants/needs.

This is timely, as I've been debating picking up a new receiver for my HT setup. I'm still using a pretty old Denon AVR-1800 paired with a full set of Klipsch Synergy bookshelf/surround speakers and a KSW-12 sub. The receiver itself still works great, the problem I have is that it has no HDMI support, and almost all of my current video sources use HDMI almost exclusively for digital audio. Our XBox 360 is the main Netflix source, and it's HDMI only. Cable - HDMI only. The Blu-ray player gets by with digital coax, so we at least have Dolby/DTS for Blu-Ray movies, but 95% of our movie viewing is Netflix or Amazon Video so that means we watch in pseudo-Dolby ProLogic.

So I'm debating something quality but basic like the Denon E200. It has enough HDMI inputs and HDMI switching, 5.1 surround that will match up with all my existing speakers, and at only $159 it's hard to argue the price. Higher-priced models seem to offer networking/streaming and other features I don't really care about, although I am somewhat intrigued by the Audyssey feature. It's also nice that this price point coincides almost exactly with the $150 in birthday cash I just received, so it feels almost free.

Then there's a part of me that wonders if I should even bother. We don't have the best physical arrangement in our living room for surround/movie viewing, but I do miss the experience.

Good information here.

I just had set up my room in my new house and already had to install a new receiver. I originally got a Harmon Kardon AVR 1610 which worked great for about three weeks, then it kept on saying it was requesting a software update - it would do this for about 2 hours then reset itself and I would have to do the set up all over again. HK replaced it with the AVR 1710 - but I had to pay shipping to return the old receiver and get the new one. The 1710 software never worked correctly, it would enter some kind of "scanning" mode where I couldn't adjust anything. I bought an Onkyo (TX-NR737) and it works perfectly.

So my only wisdom is to avoid Harmon Kardon.

Boudreaux, I think that not having a great physical arrangement in your living room might be a good reason to get an AVR with Audyssey, as it will help smooth out the frequency response and ensure you're hearing all of your speakers at an equal volume even if they're not ideally positioned. Peaks and valleys in frequency response are especially noticeable in the low end, so it will help create a tighter bass response from your sub by flattening out the curve a bit.

On the other hand, if that's not something you typically pay attention to when watching movies, you'll probably be fine with the E200. I will say that I kinda regret now not getting an AVR with Audyssey, and now that Amazon Prime has added music I really wish I had an AVR with Bluetooth.

Part of the reason I bought the X1000 was it's the cheapest quality receiver out there with the top end Audyssey XT stuff on it. Plus it's down well below $300 at this point which is kind of a steal. It was $400 when it was new.

But again. DD+ issues. The E200 is also on the distorted DD+ playback list when it comes to Netflix. Basically Denon's entire lineup and most of Sony's. The Denon stuff in particular is excellent beyond this one issue... but if you watch a lot of Netflix on any devices other than the PS3 or Xbox it's a big sticking point.

Thin_J wrote:

The E200 is also on the distorted DD+ playback list when it comes to Netflix. Basically Denon's entire lineup and most of Sony's. The Denon stuff in particular is excellent beyond this one issue... but if you watch a lot of Netflix on any devices other than the PS3 or Xbox it's a big sticking point.

Can you elaborate on that last sentence? Are you saying that if I watch a lot of Netflix on the XBox (which I do) then it is NOT a big sticking point? Is there something the PS3/XBox do differently with respect to digital audio that gets around this?

I like the idea of HDMI switching all by itself, since that's almost exclusively what I'm using for video for all my sources and my HDTV only has 3 HDMI inputs. Getting 5.1 digital audio back for Netflix/streaming video would be awesome, as would digital audio for XBox games (is that a thing?).

We rarely use our HT receiver for music, we have a really (really) nice iPad/iPod dock that my parents gifted us that we use for all our music needs, so I'm not as concerned with the streaming capabilities. I'm on the fence about the Audyssey stuff.

Boudreaux wrote:
Thin_J wrote:

The E200 is also on the distorted DD+ playback list when it comes to Netflix. Basically Denon's entire lineup and most of Sony's. The Denon stuff in particular is excellent beyond this one issue... but if you watch a lot of Netflix on any devices other than the PS3 or Xbox it's a big sticking point.

Can you elaborate on that last sentence? Are you saying that if I watch a lot of Netflix on the XBox (which I do) then it is NOT a big sticking point? Is there something the PS3/XBox do differently with respect to digital audio that gets around this?

I like the idea of HDMI switching all by itself, since that's almost exclusively what I'm using for video for all my sources and my HDTV only has 3 HDMI inputs. Getting 5.1 digital audio back for Netflix/streaming video would be awesome, as would digital audio for XBox games (is that a thing?).

We rarely use our HT receiver for music, we have a really (really) nice iPad/iPod dock that my parents gifted us that we use for all our music needs, so I'm not as concerned with the streaming capabilities. I'm on the fence about the Audyssey stuff.

Sure! There's separate reasons the Dolby Digital Plus issues aren't a big deal for those consoles. The PS3, as I mentioned earlier, gives you a giant checklist of basically every audio format out there. You can open that up, uncheck DD+, and then watch all the Netflix you want in normal Dolby Digital 5.1 and it will all sound perfect. It takes all of 30 seconds.

In the 360's case it doesn't even support outputting DD+ to begin with. It automatically resamples all that stuff to straight DD 5.1 right from the start, again, sidestepping the DD+ decoding mess entirely. This also goes for the Xbox One, which encodes every signal you get from it to the format you select in it's audio options, the choices of which are regular Dolby Digital and regular DTS... or Stereo.

Other devices like Blu Ray players, Roku boxes, Amazon's Fire TV, etc, that all have Netflix apps on them and support outputting DD+ do not give you the option to force regular Dolby Digital. You can either listen in stereo or deal with the distortion issues. If any of these other devices is your primary or only source for Netflix streaming then having any of the receivers with this issue is a big headache.

With the consoles, at least the ones I mentioned, they either don't support the DD+ output anyway and downsample it or they offer the flexibility to work around it. I'm not sure about the PS4. I don't have one so I've got no experience with it.

The PS4's audio options are really lousy at the moment. I don't know how it handles the DD+ issue, but if it doesn't do it correctly automatically, you probably won't have the option to fix it. I currently can't even play Blu-rays from the PS4 with optical out to my old receiver because it defaults to Linear PCM output and you can only do 2 channel uncompressed audio over an optical audio cable.

I could upgrade, but compressed DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 is just fine for my "home theater" setup and being in an apartment. I hope they add some better options like the PS3 has in the future.

I have a complete separate setup for music and my PC which is where I prefer to spend money.

Edit: Well, after writing that up and before posting, I did some googling, and I guess there is a solution to the PS4 Blu-ray 5.1 compressed audio over optical audio. Separate from the PS4 audio settings, there is a Blu-ray app that launches when you start a Blu-ray. I guess there is an additional setting that you have to set in there to prioritize bitstream over Linear PCM.

The irony here is that DD+ is not only is it supposedly designed to be backward compatible with DD5.1 but that its main benefit, supporting higher bitrates, are not used by streaming provider. DD+ contains a "core" stream that is supplemented by the higher bitrate streams, where the core is the old school DD5.1 and the supplementals are the new shiny. When connected to an older receiver, supposedly the receiver will only see the core stream (I'm paraphrasing, but I think that's how it is meant to work) and should theoretically work flawlessly.

Clearly not the case.

After reading some Amazon reviews of the Denon receivers, it seems that a) this DD+ issue is pretty widely known, and b) Denon apparently released some firmware updates in Feb/Mar of this year that (for some) completely fixed the problem?

So now I guess I'm torn between E200/E300/wait.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

The irony here is that DD+ is not only is it supposedly designed to be backward compatible with DD5.1 but that its main benefit, supporting higher bitrates, are not used by streaming provider. DD+ contains a "core" stream that is supplemented by the higher bitrate streams, where the core is the old school DD5.1 and the supplementals are the new shiny. When connected to an older receiver, supposedly the receiver will only see the core stream (I'm paraphrasing, but I think that's how it is meant to work) and should theoretically work flawlessly.

Clearly not the case.

It actually did work exactly that way on a much older Sony receiver that I had when DD+ first became the standard for Netflix. Unfortunately if both the output device and the receiver are supposed to support that DD+ signal then that's what you get. Whether you can force the stream down to that core DD 5.1 is dependent on the device running the Netflix app.

Boudreaux wrote:

After reading some Amazon reviews of the Denon receivers, it seems that a) this DD+ issue is pretty widely known, and b) Denon apparently released some firmware updates in Feb/Mar of this year that (for some) completely fixed the problem?

So now I guess I'm torn between E200/E300/wait.

I can confirm that the firmware updates did nothing to solve the issue for me. I still hear warbling/waterfall type distortion and weird sibiliance out of my left surround channel on occasional scenes in DD+ on Netflix.

The most confusing part of this is that DD+ from Amazon seems to play perfectly fine, at least for me. I cross-tested it on several titles that are available on both services. In both cases my receiver gets a DD+ stream, but only on Netflix do I get the distortion. Makes zero sense.

Thin_J wrote:
Chairman_Mao wrote:

The irony here is that DD+ is not only is it supposedly designed to be backward compatible with DD5.1 but that its main benefit, supporting higher bitrates, are not used by streaming provider. DD+ contains a "core" stream that is supplemented by the higher bitrate streams, where the core is the old school DD5.1 and the supplementals are the new shiny. When connected to an older receiver, supposedly the receiver will only see the core stream (I'm paraphrasing, but I think that's how it is meant to work) and should theoretically work flawlessly.

Clearly not the case.

It actually did work exactly that way on a much older Sony receiver that I had when DD+ first became the standard for Netflix. Unfortunately if both the output device and the receiver are supposed to support that DD+ signal then that's what you get. Whether you can force the stream down to that core DD 5.1 is dependent on the device running the Netflix app.

I see what you mean. I did read of some people with older pre-HDMI receivers having trouble with DD+ (like not getting any output at all), but that is probably a separate issue.

In other news, come on Wednesday, hurry up and get here! I was playing some test tones and found I actually get audible bass down to 25hz on my main speakers, though it's definitely dropping off a lot by that point. The ports are tuned to something like 42hz, so continuing to get bass that far down is somewhat surprising, and probably related to my room's acoustics. I hope that bodes well for the new sub. (On the downside I have a huge peak at around 60hz, which I have no way to flatten without Audyssey :()

Mao, my front channels are also towers (MUCH cheaper BIC DV64's) that will run all the way down to ~29hz or so but with similar volume dropoff relative to what you're talking about.

Do you leave your towers set as large fullrange speakers in your receiver settings or do you force them to small and let your sub handle all that work?

I've heard arguments for both ways and am not any kind of expert on bass so I have no real way of knowing who's right, when they're right, or why.

Also, I will say that if anybody is looking for a great sounding 5.1 setup on a budget... BIC makes some excellent stuff. None of it will look nearly as nice as some higher end stuff, but as far as sound quality goes it rocks. My entire invest for my 5.1 speaker setup for the small room I watch movies and TV in is under $600. I've heard $1500 systems that didn't sound nearly as full or natural.

(On the downside I have a huge peak at around 60hz, which I have no way to flatten without Audyssey )

You can build fiberglass baffles and tuck them into the corners of your room; this will usually do a lot to tame both peaks and nulls. Peaks aren't that big a deal, you can correct those electronically, but nulls can't usually be fixed that way. Treating the room is usually the only option. If you look up "DIY room treatments", you should be able to find some instructions.

If you build them yourself, you can do it without spending a mint, but making the baffles look semi-normal can be a little challenging.

If you've got a good receiver, you can sometimes set separate crossover points for the different channels. It's pretty normal for mains to go fairly low; my bookshelf fronts will go to about 34Hz on 5.25" drivers, so IIRC, I set the crossover at 40.

Sub arrives on Wednesday, so right now I have the mains set to large, but from what I've read most people say you should set all speakers to small once you add a sub, then let the AVR control the crossover and set your sub's crossover as high as it will go to ensure it's not interfering with the AVR's setting. I will certainly try this, but I'm going to also try running the sub in tandem with the mains set to large for comparison if nothing else.

I will second your opinion on BIC. No direct experience with them but again all I read is positive for their speakers and subs especially at their price point. The only thing you don't get with the subs, as with almost any low-cost sub, is that ultra-low frequency response and overall output (150 watt amp can only do so much), but the sound is clean and reasonably tight.

edit: Malor unfortunately my AVR is the basic of basic AVRs, no separate crossovers per channel. It's definitely on my upgrade list.

Malor wrote:

If you've got a good receiver, you can sometimes set separate crossover points for the different channels. It's pretty normal for mains to go fairly low; my bookshelf fronts will go to about 34Hz on 5.25" drivers, so IIRC, I set the crossover at 40.

This is a thing my Denon X1000 (again, $280 on Amazon right now!) does very well. You can manually set Crossover on each speaker and also EQ each speaker individually at a very respectable number of frequencies. It's a good receiver.

If you can get around the DD+ mess.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

Sub arrives on Wednesday, so right now I have the mains set to large, but from what I've read most people say you should set all speakers to small once you add a sub, then let the AVR control the crossover and set your sub's crossover as high as it will go to ensure it's not interfering with the AVR's setting. I will certainly try this, but I'm going to also try running the sub in tandem with the mains set to large for comparison if nothing else.

After you do your fiddling with that I'd love to hear how you feel after and which way you settle on.

I mention it because Audyssey and the other auto setup routines always detect my DV64's as Large full range speakers. I've run them both ways but am never quite sure if I'm tweaking either way right.

Pages