do I buy a home cinema set up or improve what i have?

30 Oct 2011
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United Kingdom
Hi all,
I have a Sony Multi channel AV receiver model STR-DH800, lots on the web about this item, but I am not using it to its full potential.

I run my sky box into it as well as a DVD player. TV sound is off and I have centre speaker and two small rubbish speakers to each side of TV wired to the AV

The centre speaker is of a very good quality, I purchased this myself from a High St hifi shop 20 or so years ago, I can’t recall what I paid, but it wasn’t cheap. They still trade, this is off their website.
Soundcraft Hi-Fi are one of the UK's longest-running specialist dealers, with over 40 years experience offering the best in Audio and Home Entertainment products in the world. Our range includes the exclusive Bowers and Wilkins 800 Series, Linn , Rega Products, Arcam and the astounding Naim 500 Series.
Unfortunately there is no make on my AV, the back label simply says designed and built in the UK, 8 ohms Ser no, AK 010571. It is of really solid construction, for a speaker about 450mm long x 150 deep x 125mm tall it is quite heavy, so I suspect it is a quality bit of kit and I am loathed to part with it, plus combined with the Sony AV unit I am thinking that I am part way there. So if I get a subwoofer and some satellite speakers will I have a better set up than buying a complete home cinema system. These home cinema set ups I see from about £75 on ebay, or there are these sound bar things in the supermarkets and Curry’s now for about £175, but they bounce sound off the walls to deflect to the rear, and my room is not a regular shape.

I am not looking to blow the roof off the house, I just want to experience a good surround sound so quite favour speakers to the rear.

If I go down the buying a subwoofer and speakers road, will any do?

On rear of the AV I have 14 connections for, Centre +&- , Surround L and
R +&-, Surround back/BI-AMP/front B +&-, and front L and R +&-

I also need to buy a new remote for the Sony AV, and I have seen these on the net, so thats no problem and then I can use the auto calibration mic for the Sony AV.

Any advise will be appreciated, thank you, Steve
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You're on the right track that surround speakers rather than a soundbar will give the most convincing surround effect. An AV Receiver such as the Sony you have, combined with good surround speakers, will wipe the floor with any of the surround kits from Currys. Those all-in-ones they sell aren't the best. The £175 soundbars are a step lower again. None in that price range do a proper job of bouncing the sound off the side walls. For that feature you'll have to spend significantly more (Yamaha YSP1600 @ £500 or YSP5600 @ £1599) for the soundbar and then add some more money for a sub to go with it. Even then, these are not the sonic equivalent for a proper 5.1 surround kit. I can't comment on what £75 buys from Ebay other than to say you get what you pay for :mrgreen:

So, this brings us back to your Sony receiver, the mystery speaker, and where you can go from there to complete a surround system.

For good convincing surround you need a centre speaker, front stereo pair (Front L & R), a pair of surround speakers (Surround L & R) and then to round the system off with a subwoofer. The surround speakers live on the sides of your seating position rather than behind it. The sub' connects to a phono socket (audio out - subwoofer) on the rear of the receiver rather than to any speaker sockets. While covering the basics, the smaller the satellite speakers then the more work that has to be done by the sub and so the better it has to be. IOW, if you cheap out on the main speakers then you'll have to pay more for the sub to compensate. The sub is generally already the most expensive of the speakers that you'll buy unless going for audiophile quality stereo reproduction, so upping the game even further by asking the sub to carry more of the frequency range due to very small and/or cheap satellite speakers can quickly become a really expensive game.

Prices.... What's a sensible performance match?

When launched back in 2009 the Sony STRDH800 was a couple of steps up from entry level. It was pitched at street price of around the £300. The entry-level model launched around the same time was the STRDH500 at a street price of roughly £150. It would have been (and still is) entirely appropriate to partner the 500 receiver with a 5.1 speaker package in the price range of £150-£250. The DH800 receiver deserves something better. That's not to say it can't be used with cheaper speakers; it can, but it would sell the whole system short. If you were looking then to buy a complete 5.1 package I would mate the 800 amp with Canton Movie 75 (£270) or Tannoy HTS101 (£299) at the bottom end, and Monitor Audio MR1 5.1 (£549) at the upper end of the price range. However, you already have what you think might be a decent centre speaker, so in your case you might be better served looking at adding two pairs of stereo speakers and a sub.

One thing you said is that you don't want to blow the roof off. That means you need speakers that are going to work well at lower volumes. Very small satellite speakers and those in the more budget-oriented speaker packages (say under £300) tend to need quite a bit of volume before they start to perform at their best. Better quality larger speakers are the type that also work well at lower volumes as well as when played loud. There's one other thing to mention before making some front channel recommendations; that's matching the voicing of the centre to the front L&R. All speakers have a tonal characteristic. Some sound thin (bass light), or sharp (lots of treble), or fat (bass heavy) or soft (lacking treble). Whatever you might be considering buying, it's worthwhile taking your centre speaker along and listening to a complete system to make sure that there isn't a massive difference in the tone across the front three speakers.

Front speakers.... a short-list

If I was drawing up a short-list of candidates for demo's then there's one set of speakers that stands out head and shoulders above the crowd: Monitor Audio BX2. These are currently going end of life to be replaced by the Monitor Audio Bronze 2 at £280/pr. The qualities that make BX2's a "must demo" speaker are firstly their size. These are stand mount speakers but they're quite a bit larger than the other speakers in their price class, and that means they produce a decent amount of bass; enough in fact that you can quite happily do without a sub for a while as you build your system. Next, their performance. (1) At 90dB/W they are far more efficient than similarly priced speakers and they're an easy load too at 8 Ohms. This means that your amp will run cooler and have better dynamics because there's a greater reserve of power. (2) These are proper Hi-Fi speakers rather than AV speakers. They dig out and portray detail and information with far greater accuracy than would be expected at this price level. They'll quite happily work with AV receivers up to £800, so they're an excellent long term investment. The final benefit is their current price. If you can find a store with stock then you can bag these for an amazing £130/pr.

Other worthwhile contenders:

Q Acoustics 3020 - 88dB, 6 Ohm - £189/pr
Wharfedale Diamond 220 - 86dB, 8 Ohm - £199/pr
Dali Zensor 1 - 86.5dB, 6 Ohm - £199/pr

Surround speakers.... a question of poles

Most speaker manufacturers simply use the same speakers for the surrounds as for the fronts. Other times you'll find a smaller sibling product used. For example, the Dali Pico (£159) is 30% smaller than the Dali Zensor 1. The rub though is the efficiency drops to 84dB at 6 Ohms. That means your amp has to work harder to drive the rears than the fronts which means slightly less power reserve left when the soundtrack gets busy. The other common thread with all these speakers is that they are monopoles. That means they are designed to fire forwards. This makes their location easier spot, especially in smaller rooms where the surround speakers might be quite close to the seating position. That's not a good thing. But without an alternative design what can you do? Well, there is an alternative.

The objective with sound from the front of the room is to have precision placement of the voices and effects. You should be able to point to exactly where the sound engineer has positioned sounds across the front channels. The job of surround sound towards the back of the room is different. This should be ambient sound, it should be more enveloping and less directional. That's hard to achieve with monopole speakers. They want to do the same trick as the fronts. What's required then is a speaker designed to make the sound spread over a much wider field. The answer is a bi-pole speaker. This is a wall mounted speaker that has drivers facing towards the front and rear of the room rather than point at the listening position. The different layout of the drivers compared to monopoles produces exactly the kind of diffuse sound field that is ideal for home surround sound. Monitor Audio makes such a speaker. It is the BXFX, and being a speaker that hangs directly on a wall it is lower profile than a monopole speaker on a bracket and of course that also means you save money because there's no bracket to buy as an extra. Once again this model is going end of life to be replaces by the Bronze FX @ £280/pr. The BXFX can be had right now for the bargain price of £149/pr but you'll have to be quick.


All of the manufacturers listed above also make subwoofers too. However, there's a company called BK Electronics that makes and sells subs direct to the general public. I would strongly recommend you look at the BK Gemini and BK XLS200 subs. They are cracking bits of kit at great prices.
Well that's certainly a reply I can get my teeth into, thank you. I have already started looking for the Monitor Audio BX2 and from their website there is a shop in Maidstone that has them, so I will call them in the week. They also show a Monitor Bronze BXW10 sub at £250 so I may look at getting that too. It shows as 44% off, but I am not a believer of markdown prices unless its definitely end of line, and unlike the BX2 it does not say that.
But anyway, you made up my mind, thanks again. Steve.
The whole BX range is going end of line and that includes the subwoofer too. The BX-W10 is replaced by the Bronze W10. Although the same size and looking very similar, there are quite a few key differences between the products.

The new sub goes marginally deeper (27Hz vs 30Hz) but doesn't extend quite as high* (120Hz vs 150Hz). The Bronze W10 is more powerful (220W vs 200W) and there's a big difference in the driver layout. Both speakers have a forward firing 10" long throw** main driver. The Bronze W10 adds a second driver. This is a passive radiator (auxiliary bass radiator - ABR), that means it just the driver diaphragm and not the coil and magnet of a full driver. Both subs are sealed box units. That means there is no bass reflex port on the sub which is a trick used to get deeper bass and better efficiency at the expense of some evenness and speed. With a sealed box (infinite baffle - IB) design when the driver moves forward to create a sound wave then it creates a partial vacuum inside the cabinet. This acts as an acoustic suspension and helps pull the driver back in ready for the next pulse of sound; That's why IB designs produce tighter and better defined bass. As the cone moves back it creates an equal and opposite phase sound wave. That energy goes in to the cabinet, some of it is heard as sound but most is lost as vibration that is damped out by the mass of the sub. In effect it is wasted energy. An ABR driver seeks to use some of that wasted energy and turn it in to sound going out in to the room. As the main driver diaphragm moves back then the air pressure inside the cabinet forces the ABR diaphragm to move forward and create a pulse of sound energy. The ABR in the Bronze W10 is a downward firing 10" driver. The change from a sealed box design to one using an ABR affects a few of the design parameters for the main driver. One of the key changes is the suspension which needs to be stiffer since there won't be as much vacuum pressure helping to pull the driver back to its rest position. That then means the sub-amp has to work a bit harder, hence the power increase to 220W, and so the magnet and coils are often uprated too to cope with greater amounts of current. This then goes to explain part of the 2kg weight increase for the new sub.

The BX-W10 was a £450 retail sub but often sold at £350 in shops. The price of £250 is a genuinely discounted price. It is funded by Monitor Audio because they want to clear the old stock through the channel. So £200 off the £450 rrp does represent a discount of 44%. I think though that it's more realistic to think of £100 off the £350 typical selling price which gives a true clearance discount of 28.5%. That's still very good; you're getting a very high performance sub for not a lot of money.

If I was to compare the BX-W10 to its nearest rivals from BK Electric, the Gemini II @ £215 has the same size driver but a smaller cabinet and less power on paper. It doesn't go as deep but has better controls (completely variable phase control and dual inputs for speaker level and LFE inputs with dual crossovers). If space is a premium then the Gemini would be a better purchase. The BK XLS200 MKII at £315~£380 depending on finish is, IMO, in a different league altogether. If is was a straight fight between this and the MA BX-W10 at £350 then no contest; the BK wins. I still think it's a win for the BK even with the Monitor Audio sub's clearance price. The BK is a stonkingly good sub partly because of its design and components and partly because of the huge price advantage because it is sold direct.

* The high frequency point would only be an issue if matching with tiny cube satellite speakers that produce almost no midrange. It's not an issue with bookshelf speakers such as those I have recommended because they go down to at least 60Hz so there is plenty of range overlap between them and either of the Monitor Audio subs.

** Long throw: Producing sound is about moving air. The bigger the speaker diaphragm then the more air that can be moved. However, larger diaphragms have greater inertia and that results in a limit to the upper frequency range and greater distortion. Smaller diaphragms react quicker and have lower distortion but for the same amount of excursion they move less air. The obvious answer then is to increase the amount of excursion... hence the long throw driver.

P.S. You said you were going to get a remote for the receiver to you could run auto calibration....... Getting a remote is a good idea. However, I'd be tempted to try a manual calibration rather than relying on the mic. You'll generally get better results that way. You can buy a sound meter for around £40, but if you have a smartphone then you can download sound meter apps for free that will be accurate enough for the task. All you need then is a tape measure and some time.
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Terrific, thank you again, so good to be able to get impartial advice. Have a good afternoon. Regards Steve.
Lucid, if you are reading this, after taking your advice I have decided on a BK XLS200 MK11 but notice I have a choice of FF or DF. For mostly home cinema use is it there any benefit to forward or rear facing? Thanks Steve.
There's a lot of debate on this amongst the specialists, and of course much disagreement too. I'd rather avoid becoming embroiled in a debate with other FMs on this. If they have strong views then that's fine. I don't think there's any clear cut "better", so I'll just give my view and try to leave it at that.

FWIW, my view is that than room positioning has a bigger effect on a sub's performance than the driver direction. Where I think there is a difference is in the consistency of the results. The mass loading effect on a DF sub is consistent because the distance from the driver to the floor is fixed by the height of the feet. This means it matters less if the sub is closer to the wall or out further in the room. With a FF sub there's more scope for adjustment. The driver can fire at the wall, which then means that the distance from the wall plays a greater effect, or it can fire in to the room.

(edited to aid clarity, I hope)
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I think lucid is suggesting if you have scope to move the big sub box around the lounge, the forward firing might be better.. If not then get downward firing.

To be honest, either, set up with the rest of the kit, will sound miles better than any of your other options you considered.

Show us a PIC or two of your lounge and we can advise on where best to position and point your speakers..

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