Totally Confused about home theater

I have been many years in audio, but video is an alien field to me...I recently purchased my first TV ever (27" Sony WEGA) and I'm 39!

I was wondering just how critical it is to match the surround speakers. I bought a pair of Swans M-1 satellites with ribbon tweeters and have a pair of Mirage MBS bipolars with polycarbonate dome tweeters.

This has become very confusing, for I have an extra pair of Wharfedale Diamond 7.1's with the same polycarbonate tweeter. Definitely, I have enough gear to have two separate systems (including an old Proton 600T Preamp/Video Tuner I picked up at a pawn shop and an Audio Control 5 band EQ with knobs).

Should I go for two channel HT? Should I keep them in separate rooms or as two separate systems in the same room? Is there any real difference between 5.1 and 7.1?

For the record, I *do* appreciate the simplicity of my Melos SHA-1 hybrid preamp: just On/Off, 3-input selector and volume--that's it. Not even balance or a tape loop. Straightline design...and extremely musical.

I would appreciate any suggestions, since after e-mailing several members here they are all 100% audio and could not help me...and when I go to stores the HT systems sound so awful I just have to leave! Salesmen knowledge is nonexistent, also. Have you ever heard those dolls that you pull a string and it says a sentence? That's exactly how those kids sound to me!!! They just repeat the same things over and over and reasoning power whatsoever.

Francisco, i think that matching mains, center and surrounds are far more critical when doing multi-channel music as compared to setting up a system for multi-channel video reproduction.

I would suggest keeping the systems separate in two different rooms ( if possible ). Otherwise, if you must run one system for both, concentrate on hi-fi reproduction first and video / HT reproduction strictly as more icing on the cake. Even a "decent" 2 ch system makes watching movies a lot more enjoyable than just hearing the sound come out of the TV.

As to audio / HT stores, i recently went into a local "hi-end" store that does both 2 channel and HT installations. Like anything else, they have swung quite a bit of their resources towards HT since that is where the market is going. I spent almost 2 hours in their 2nd to best HT demo room. This consisted of a $9K surround processor, several multi-channel amps, three subs, etc... All of this was supposedly professionally set up and dialed in with the appropriate test equpiment, etc... I would not doubt if the entire system with installation would be valued at WAY, WAY in excess of $50K.

Quite honestly, the sound was QUITE lacking in punch, dynamics, detail and natural timbre / harmonic overtones. Voices sounded very flat and boxy. Even the bottom end lacked "thunder". After looking at the type of speakers that they had chosen and how they had the speakers set up, i completely understood why. While others came in and marvelled at the "wondrous sound reproduction", i kept thinking that this system sucked and was a mega-dollar joke. Not only did it verify that someone going to a chain store has little hope of getting good sound out of a stereo or HT system, even those going to a mega-dollar "custom" type of installation would be hard pressed to do any better.

Go with what you know and you'll be head and shoulders above what any "HT" type of salesperson tries to shove down your throat. Sean
Sean-Very good points, I think I agree with you that most people in HT today assume more is always better and that just isn't the case. I imagine that the room you where in could have sounded better, maybe if a few things had been removed and other things had been relocated, most all systems have potential the problem is usually trying to release that potential.
Sean, you are right on target! I wonder if the problem isn't that many HT people don't know what sound is supposed to sound like. If they've been watching VHS played on a Circuit City special sending RF to a 27" Magnavox, even horrid HT sound is a vast improvement. I've found that lots of folks who buy those $50K HT systems are replacing exactly that kind of junk.

At the risk of sounding like just another horribly snobbish audiophile, I find a great many--a majority--of HT buyers lacking in listening skills and naive about what can be achieved with a little care and effort.

"Don't call me naive. I have a Runco projector. I have Cinepro amplifiers. I have a line sextupler. I have electric drapes. I have a Crestron control system and the programming fees, alone, cost more than your speakers. I have an original Jimmy Dean poster. And I payed a fortune for these speakers that mount right in the wall...."
Thanks, Sean--you're the only one of my guys I hadn't e-mailed (I've given up).

I started this thread because I got a cheap Sharp two channel DVD player which I'm running through my Soundstream/Krell DAC. It was by far the heaviest model of all the cheap DVDs, so I figured it had the better power supply. With the JMlabs it just sounded really clean and dynamic. When I hooked my new Swans it was even better sounding, if not as dynamic. It was then that I realized that I had no HT installation to use as reference.

There's a local Barrett's Adio Video, Circuit City and Best Buy. Barrett's has a projection screen with an M&K satellite system which although loud and clean doesn't impress me a bit. I have my Mirage on classified and so far only one guy was intersted and eventually tried to offer me $100 for them. They are new in the box and I am not giving them away. NFW. Those were $300 a pair and nowadays if you want Mirage bipolar surrounds they start at $600/pr. So, that's why I'm thinking of separating the systems. The other consideration is that bipolars are tricky to place, so I hear.

Still, I want to do the best I can and if I get my old Wharfedale Diamond 2's from a friend who's not using them I would be able to use the 7.1's up front, the Mirages on the side and the 2's in the rear. I think it could be a pretty neat system which would put to shame many many megabuck systems--no sweat.

On the other hand, when my Swans are finally placed on their custom stands the tweeters' centers will be at 37.5 inches. The tweeters have a controlled dispersion pattern (15 deg vert, 60 deg hor) so I don't think my stereo image is severely compromised (I place an RPG Pro Foam level one panel in front of the TV when playing music). I haven't tried A/B'ing this because the TV *is* heavy...

Like you said Sean, with what I already know I'll go way farther than most...

Still confused nonetheless.

Tim, this was a dedicated A/V room and set up as such. There is no excess clutter, acoustics were taken into consideration, the system was dialed in using their "in-house professional testing methods", etc...

The thing that i think REALLY killed the sound was the placement of the mains. Since they were using an overhead projector and were trying to make it look as "neat" as possible with no "clutter" on the floor, the mains, center channel and three subs were mounted in recesses on the front wall. All of the gear was built into a "closet" off to the side. The speakers and components were in turn covered with opening "hatches" or doors that were open framed with grill cloth covering them. As such, the speakers had to be tucked in somewhat behind the flat surface of the wall or they would have protruded, ruining the "clean appearance" that they were shooting for.

Besides the fact that there was NO imaging taking place (sheesh, i wonder why ??? ), the speakers that they had selected were of a mirror imaged vertical array or "D'Appolito" design. Starting from top to bottom, they had a woofer, a mid, a tweeter, a mid and then a woofer. As anyone that has used this type of design or knows anything about speaker dispersion characteristics, this type of array has very limited vertical dispersion while producing a very wide horizontal radiation pattern. The fact that they had the tweeters centered appr 2' - 3' over your head while in your seated listening position made NO sense to me at all. The mids and highs were simply beaming over your head. This is what probably accounted for the complete lack of "crispness" or "dry" and "boxy" characteristics in vocals and spoken word that i noticed.

I was told that they had to position the mains that high in order to fit a subwoofer underneath each main and provide isolation between the two different cabinets. Keep in mind that the speakers were by a well respected manufacturer and probably capable of quite good performance IF properly positioned. I didn't name any of the gear used here, as it is not the manufacturers fault that one of their dealers does not know what they are doing. As such, they should not receive "bad press" due to sales incompetence.

If i would have stood up while watching the movie clips or snippets of music, it might have sounded MUCH better. I'm sure that the person doing the "acoustic analysis" of the system probably was standing up and moving about, so it would look good during that type of test in terms of "specs". To me, it just goes to show that you can have all of the right components, know how to go through the motions of "proper testing procedures" and still screw things up due to lack of common sense. They trusted their test equipment without ever taking time to listen to what they were hearing.

Then again, the salespeople doing the demo's are always standing up, so they've probably never really noticed nor do they hear exactly what the seated customer hears. If they would have trusted their ears and used the system as an end user would, they would have known right away that this system was NOT very good. Regardless of what they spent or the brands used, it was a tremendous effort put forth that resulted in utter failure. Sean
Well Mr. Bishop, what should I do with my Mirage MBS Bipolars? Will it be OK to use them as rear surrounds with the Swans' ribbon tweeter? I have a back wall adjacent to my couch. Would it be worthwhile to use them as side surrounds and get some others for the rear?

I think the video guys are following a "Top-down" approach to their rigs. Just look at this guy's system:

Sonically, it is not what any of us here would do (my ears can't stand Polk speakers for a start), but he knows what he's doing: He has setup a HOME THEATER. A pretty damn good one if you ask me.

Just as we strive to bring the 'spirit of the music' in our systems and then move on to 'audio Nirvana' this peregrine falcon has achieved the 'spirit of the movie theater' in his residence. To go to HT Nirvana he would need to upgrade to separates and some bad ass JMlab's...he would forget Polk in a snap!
Psychicanimal - I'm not sure what your goals are, but I'd offer the following points:

A major consideration is whether you're going to go with one system or two. I love both music and HT and space dictates one system, so my focus is on making a system that is as good as possible for both which, necessarily, involves some compromise. I'd make that decision first.

For HT, I'd set up a simple 5.1 setup (though agree with Sean that even 2-channel HT is a HUGE upgrade over straight TV). I'd set my decoder on Dolby Digital and forget about it for a good long time. There are more formats coming out every day. They undoubtedly have a lot to offer. You might decide you want to pursue them some day. But for the time being, brand new to this part of the hobby, I'd just do DD and forget about it. Every DVD is compatible, no confusion, lots of fun.

For your rears, use whatever you have laying around, at least to start. The front three really need to be a matched set, but the rears can be fine as just a pair of decent speakers set up in back. Again, if you find yourself loving it, you might decide to upgrade them, and there would be benefit to doing so, but the basic experience will be there without spending more to get matched rears.

If you go with a single system, you'll have to decide how you want to optimize for sound - there are many more things that might matter to you in a combined system than in a 2-channel, music-only system, unless you decide up front that you're going to optimize completely for 2-channel sound. There are many threads around detailing how you might achieve better sound for both through various options. Lots of gear to choose from, most of which has significant strengths and weaknesses.

I sympathize with your audioMart experiences - I can't find anybody at any store who offers any kind of real advice. I think anybody reading this forum knows LOTS more than most people who make a living at this about gear just by reading the magazines and forums, etc.

Hope this helps. -Kirk

stay away from home theatre

and stay away from circuit city type places

find a reputable audio store, even if it's a long drive to audition (bring familiar discs with you)

home theatre is a made for the masses "more is better" mentality. it's designed to make you think your stereo system from yesteryear is obsolete, nothing could be more deceiving.

now I have heard a few nice HT setups, and sold a few (B&W speakers), but outside of select movies - nothing is recorded in a 5 channel setup. IT's a gee wow thing.

2 channel done properly can interface very well with video

I have taken HT nuts over to my house and watched their jaws drop on many occasions. then they feel robbed for all the money they spend on less musical - more dramatic boom boom stuff

How about a reasonable middle ground, Audiotomb? One does not have to abandon HT all together to have a satisfying all-in-one system.

Just understand that there are compromises to be made and you need to prioritize what you want when selecting components and speakers. Many of the old "high end" manufacturers are delving into the realm of HT and their products represent a satisfactory way of getting a nice balance.

Stick with matched speaker systems if possible, and definitely across the front, but there is more room for fudging w/ the surrounds. If you can't match the surrounds, look for speakers w/ similar drivers/materials, and sensitivity as your front speakers. Listen to them on two-channel music side-by-side w/ your mains. You can match things up that way.

Go for separates so that you can always integrate (or convert to) a pure 2-channel setup. Many of the better pre/pros offer a pass through for a two-channel configuration. And, increasingly, they have analog bypass features that allow you to use a top-notch CD player or upgrade to an outboard decoder/processor. Flexible bass management is also important and will allow you to get the most out of your surrounds.

Don't allow so-called "purists" to scare you into not giving a combo system a try. It can be very satisfying if configured and calibrated properly.
But there's a way I can use them 'separately'...

I bought a six input switchbox from Decware. I can hook up my VCR and DVD to the Proton Preamp/Video Tuner up front in a separate rack (along with my tuner) and send the signal to the third input of my Melos SHA-1 preamp. I am routing the DVD's digital out via a 50 ft coaxial cable to my Soundstream/Krell DAC and am getting decent movie sound.

My concerns are:

1) Whether the Mirage's Bipolar polycarbonate tweeters would be OK to use in conjunction with my Swans' ribbon tweeter.

2) Since I'm still living a nomadic existence (and it looks it will be so for a few years), will a Bipolar surround be the ticket? I even thought of making my own stands and rigging in a rotating paddle (like in the earlier Bose 301 models). That way I could redirect the rear firing surround energy as needed...

3) If the Bipolars are OK but the tweeters are not a match for the ribbons, would it be worthwhile to replace all four tweeters?

This is where I am at right now...
Psychic- I think you are getting too hung up in high end details. I would agree with Kirk; use three matched speakers across the front for HT (center is actually most impt.) and then use whatever you have for surrounds. A sub for the LFE channel (the .1 in 5.1) is critical for movies and then then switch a processor or HT receiver to DD and let er rip. Best if you can separate the two systems cause the TV monitor plays hell with imaging. For virtually all movies, most decent speakers are a major improvement. Note that this advise is completely wrong if you are going to multi-channel audio with an integrated system.
Multi channel audio! Are you insinuating the use of a "panpot"? I haven't gone into that you think they're worthwhile? I have the book The Joy of Audio Electronics and it has the plans for one. Also SESCOM sells the cabinet for it.

Swamp Man, I just want to make the best with what I have...and given my nomadic existence I don't know if I should stay with the Bipolars. That's why I came with the idea of making the paddles. Right now my couch is right agaist a wall. I have three RPG Pro Foam Level One panels mounted on black foam board above the couch and they really help. Then there's one on the wall between each speaker and TV, plus the floating one I place in front of the TV when listening to music. To the right I have a sliding glass door and I turn the shutters sideways at an angle and I diffuse the glass' reflections. It works.

I am a working man, with limited resources. But I make the most of them. Why do you think I have a modded 1200 TT? Because for my budget it's simply the best way to go. I'd really like to have a bad ass SOTA...the $6,000 one!

I truly appreciate everyone's help.
What I was trying to say was that for modest HT, the exact configuration of your surrounds is probably not critical. Many use various methods of diffusing sound for rears. Its a real kick to have DD/DTS in your LR with any decent HT receiver. So I would say just enjoy what you have, esp. if your means are modest. You can probably get a used HT receiver for $200 or so, add a used sub for another $200 and away you go. With respect to multi-channel audio, I was talking about SACD, etc. There you would probably want 5 carefully matched speakers and a music-oriented sub. A typical HT set-up would probably not be near as good for that source as equivalent $ invested in 2 channel. BTW, I've probably got 4-5x as much in my 2 channel as my HT; its just for fun (use NHT superzeros all the way around for speakers in the HT).
Guys, I'll wait for the custom stands for the Swans to arrive sometime next week and I'll take it from there...

Steve Deckert (an imaging freak himself) told me over the phone that I could use a 'reasonable sized' TV and still have decent imaging. Since the Swans have a controlled dispersion (15 deg vert, 60 deg hor) I'll audition carefully. The stands place the center of the tweeter at a height of 37.5 inches. It might just work.

A friend of mine used to have a 27" TV with two ProAc Super Tablettes and a 12" Janis sub in a very small room. It was rigged with a Linn Sondek, a Klyne SK-5A pre and a CJ tube power amp. It sounded REALLY good...
psychic, yust unload all the periferal stuff ya have & take the proceeds to buy that vmps larger sub i emailed ya about. set yer tv on that, & w/yer new swans, it will give ya the best h-t possible, on yer limited budget. will also give ya a huge audio upgrade as well! :>)


doug s.