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5.1 vs 2.1 for the same $? ($3-$4k)


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I started a thread here but then realised it's probably not in the right forum, and this question deserves it's own thread I think. I did search, but found a limited amount.

 

Am I better off spending $3k on 2 very good front speakers (perhaps second hand), or $3k on 5 less-good speakers? I have a Denon AVR-750H 7.1ch amp. Usage is for my primary HiFi in a medium sized room, for home theatre and music (say 50/50 split).

 

I have just purchased an SVS SB-2000 from a forum member for $1100 (shipped), so I've got bass covered. I've got about $3k left in my budget.

 

Some options I'm considering:

  • A new set of 5x speakers from Adelaide Speakers (2 floor standing, 2 bookshelf, 1 centre)
  • This set of 2x KEF R300, 2x KEF Q300 and 1x DALI C1000 centre at $1970
  • This pair (or another) of 2x KEF R3 at $2500
  • 2x VAF Research Signature i91 MKII or 2x DC-7 MKIII
  • Others?

 

The fewer wires and simpler setup of 2.1 does appeal to me, and my gut tells me I'll get a better audio experience out of spending more on 2 really good bookshelf speakers to pair with my sub for a good 2.1 system than trying to spread to 5.1.

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If music matters, 2.1 is fine.  If HT is your main interest, then a 3.1 is better. IMO The centre and the sub will carry most of the info.  

Wow! Really loving the differences of opinions here. It is a very interesting exercise seeing what different people value.    In the spaces of 2 posts (above) we have an advocate for 2.0 and

I'm with those suggesting you spend the money on mains.   You have a great sub. You have a good receiver.   Before my current speakers I had R3s and had no problems at all driving

If music matters, 2.1 is fine. 
If HT is your main interest, then a 3.1 is better.

IMO The centre and the sub will carry most of the info.

 

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I have a Paradigm CC-170 that I could hang on to for a centre speaker, though I feel it would be outclassed by a pair of KEF R3s.

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I'd be aiming for 2 better speakers over what would likely amount to a fairly anemic 5.1 system. You'll have the option of building it out from there should you choose along with the benefit of better sound right now. $3k can get you a pretty nice pair of main speakers. $3k will get you something less than fantastic as a 5.1 setup.

 

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If you are into 2 CH music, then getting 2 main speakers is the preferred option. However, if you like multi channel music, then go matching 5 speakers.

 

If serious about 2CH music, suggest getting a stereo integrated; AVRs are not designed for music.

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I would only have 2.0  or maybe 2.1 in my music system.

 

However, my journey in home theatre went as far as Dolby digital 5.1 before I decided that was too messy for what it gave me.  I swapped all that out for a high end soundbar with wireless subwoofer.  That gives me 5.1.2 as it includes Dolby Atmos, but the ceiling and side speakers are done reflectively.  However, it sounds just as good as the previous 5.1 system, maybe better, so I am happy.  I could even buy wireless add-on rear speakers for 7.1.2 but don't feel I need it.

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10 hours ago, Ritero said:

I have a Paradigm CC-170 that I could hang on to for a centre speaker, though I feel it would be outclassed by a pair of KEF R3s.

No no, please get matching tweeters for the front three...

You can see my setup in my signature. But do sort out what you want, HT first or stereo. 

(https://peteswrite.blogspot.com/2020/02/my-setup-22020.html)

A more complicated idea is to have a soundbar for HT - mind you the good ones aren't that bad. Try the HK Enchant 1300 for example
(http://peteswrite.blogspot.com/2019/04/harmon-kardon-enchant-1300-review.html

And then a proper stereo system for your critical music listening...

 

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2 minutes ago, petetherock said:

A more complicated idea is to have a soundbar for HT - mind you the good ones aren't that bad. Try the HK Enchant 1300 for example

 

Mine is  this one  https://www.lg.com/au/sound-bars/lg-SL10YG.    I am very pleased with the sound.  I wouldn't be happy with a lot of the smaller ones.

 

Google assistant in the soundbar turns out to be a big plus as well.

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Interesting thoughts. So thinking a better option might be get a sound bar ($1600ish), sell my 7.2ch AVR ($700 perhaps) and buy a good 2.1ch amp and speakers with the left over $2100?

 

Would a set of KEF R3s with an SVS sub not sound better than a sound bar for HT?

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Forget about fixed budget. Bookshelf speakers $3000 + stereo amp $3000 + source + SVS. 

You don't need amp with active speakers. 

If I wanted Kef and didn't have enough money for amplifier I would go with LS50W + SVS.

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I'm not interested in dropping $10k on a system. I like good audio, but it's not my life, I have many other interests on which to spend my money.

 

$3k is my remaining budget, I have a 7.2ch Denon AVR-750H - a $1300 amp (rrp), and I've got an SVS SB2000 on the way. I might stretch a bit further if it really warranted it, but more than doubling it is not on the cards. I could sell the amp and replace it if I felt it was worthwhile. My usage is 50/50 HT and music and my gut tells me I'll get the best value combining the two systems rather than trying to spread cash around to multiple systems. Perhaps not perfect for either, but good enough for both.

 

I mention KEF R3 because they appear universally well liked and fit nicely in my remaining budget for a good second hand pair, and seem like they'd match well with the SVS sub, but I'm not married to any brand. I could do bookshelf or floor standing, but bookshelf seem a bit better value.

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2 hours ago, Ritero said:

Would a set of KEF R3s with an SVS sub not sound better than a sound bar for HT?

Depends on what you want. A sound bar can do pseudo surround sound but the KEFs will provide better SQ.

15 minutes ago, Ritero said:

My usage is 50/50 HT and music and my gut tells me I'll get the best value combining the two systems rather than trying to spread cash around to multiple systems. Perhaps not perfect for either, but good enough for both.

For convenience and ease of use and setup, stay with the Denon. As long as you are happy with the music production, that is all that matters.

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Thanks mate, my gut tells me a set of KEF R3 (or similar type good quality 3-way bookshelves) would be the right way to go. I'm mostly listening via spotify streaming rather than using lossless audio.

 

I think they'll be good enough to fill my room, high quality within budget, and provide potential for an upgrade path - either by picking up a centre like a KEF R2C down the track and some rears (LS50s?) or by moving them to rears and picking up some floorstanding fronts later.

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1 hour ago, Ritero said:

I'm not interested in dropping $10k on a system. I like good audio, but it's not my life, I have many other interests on which to spend my money.

 

$3k is my remaining budget...

 

Ha good one! :yes:

 

It is good that you know yourself especially as there are many here (perhaps including myself) where audio fidelity is by far their biggest hobby and can give advice on the presumption that the person asking is similar in this regard.

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my view is slightly different - given you have the AVR and sub $3,000 is plenty to put together a reasonable set of 5 speakers that will allow you to play music on 2.1 or 5.1 AND cover the surround side of HT.  Sound bars can be good but a proper 5.1 system is better IMO.

I have 5.1.2 - not including the atmos/sub my (5) speakers were under $3,000 (new).  Could I spend more, sure, but I have other hobbies/priorities too and I'm more than happy with them.

 

Given you are in Adelaide it may pay to speak with Edward at Adelaide speakers he is easy to deal with, that said he's not your only option.

 

 

Edited by hometheatrebugbitten
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53 minutes ago, Satanica said:

 

Ha good one! :yes:

 

It is good that you know yourself especially as there are many here (perhaps including myself) where audio fidelity is by far their biggest hobby and can give advice on the presumption that the person asking is similar in this regard.

 

I can understand the hobby for sure! Audio is one of those intoxicating blends of the art and the technical. The same reason some people are into cars or photography - both of which I am also into - and which also cost thousands of dollars, hence the need to limit my spending  😂

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9 minutes ago, Ritero said:

 

I can understand the hobby for sure! Audio is one of those intoxicating blends of the art and the technical. The same reason some people are into cars or photography - both of which I am also into - and which also cost thousands of dollars, hence the need to limit my spending  😂

I lived with just a really good pair of speakers (and a pair of subs also) for a long time. Movies sounded pretty crash-hot and so did music. Then I found an "almost match" centre, and 4 months later I found a matching centre. It's different, and the voices are a little more anchored to the screen. But I'm not sure how much better it is. But it's not worse!

 

And surrounds, I just got some nice, cheap JBL Control 40's (42's?) to run as the 4 rear effects speakers. They blend in and don't detract from the front three at all.

 

I'd suggest the KEF R3's (if you like them, then they'd be excellent). If a matching centre comes up and you've saved a bit, then get that as well. And for your surrounds, you could always use 4 of the smaller KEFs that are often available...if you really think you need them.

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47 minutes ago, hometheatrebugbitten said:

my view is slightly different - given you have the AVR and sub $3,000 is plenty to put together a reasonable set of 5 speakers that will allow you to play music on 2.1 or 5.1 AND cover the surround side of HT.  Sound bars can be good but a proper 5.1 system is better IMO.

I have 5.1.2 - not including the atmos/sub my (5) speakers were under $3,000 (new).  Could I spend more, sure, but I have other hobbies/priorities too and I'm more than happy with them.

 

Given you are in Adelaide it may pay to speak with Edward at Adelaide speakers he is easy to deal with, that said he's not your only option.

 

 

I do like the different perspectives. I have been to see Edward. Part of the reason I've started to drift towards a 2.1 system was that while I liked his speakers, and they are certainly good value, they didn't 'move' me. So I'm looking a little higher end now.

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30 minutes ago, Cloth Ears said:

I lived with just a really good pair of speakers (and a pair of subs also) for a long time. Movies sounded pretty crash-hot and so did music. Then I found an "almost match" centre, and 4 months later I found a matching centre. It's different, and the voices are a little more anchored to the screen. But I'm not sure how much better it is. But it's not worse!

 

And surrounds, I just got some nice, cheap JBL Control 40's (42's?) to run as the 4 rear effects speakers. They blend in and don't detract from the front three at all.

 

I'd suggest the KEF R3's (if you like them, then they'd be excellent). If a matching centre comes up and you've saved a bit, then get that as well. And for your surrounds, you could always use 4 of the smaller KEFs that are often available...if you really think you need them.

That's what I'm thinking. Perhaps start with a good 2.1 and build a good 5.1 from there over time, rather than settle for a less than optimal 5.1. 

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53 minutes ago, hometheatrebugbitten said:

Sound bars can be good but a proper 5.1 system is better IMO.

 

That's what I always thought as well.  However, you have to factor in the cost and inconvenience of positioning those 5.1 speakers. 

 

I have more recently found, in the few living room situations where I have attempted a 5.1 setup, the result is inferior to what I now have via a good soundbar, and that's without atmos - and overheads are quite hard to do in my livingroom.

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1 hour ago, Ritero said:

That's what I'm thinking. Perhaps start with a good 2.1 and build a good 5.1 from there over time, rather than settle for a less than optimal 5.1

 

 

I think that sounds like a good plan. Who knows, you might find that turns out to be just what you want. Whatever, it gives you a firm foundation from which to expand later on, if the fancy takes you.

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7 minutes ago, The Rock Puppy said:

 

 

I think that sounds like a good plan. Who knows, you might find that turns out to be just what you want. Whatever, it gives you a firm foundation from which to expand later on, if the fancy takes you.

Yeah that's the thinking.

 

I found a bloke on this forum who had an SVS SB2000 paired with KEF LS50s. He loved the setup for movies and music, more so than a B&W 5.1 setup. I'm feeling more confident with this idea. 

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I agree with Snoopy. Keep what you’ve got (AVR and sub), and spend your entire budget on two speakers. Sit back, enjoy. If you get an itch down the road, that can be scratched later.  But at that time you’ll be confident that you’ve got good speakers and sub, and can go from there.

 

From there could be a centre channel or surrounds if that’s what you want. Or a 2-channel amp and dac if you go more towards music. Or an integrated amp with home theatre bypass and a centre channel. But that’s future Ritero’s problem haha.

 

cheers,

andrew

Edited by Ruffter
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I have two rigs, one for stereo and one for HT. I picked up the entry level Marantz as I was tired of volume riding because the centre channel was poorly represented on the TV and connected some old Dynaudios to it in a 2.1 config. It transformed the viewing experience and actually did pretty convincing two channel becoming the go to system for the family. I later added some rears and a centre and whilst it’s better I think the advice to pick up two good speakers for your rig is sound and will fit both your use cases.

 

Cheers. Nick

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Could go 3.1 for now, then get surrounds later, I don’t know how the Denon would go driving these but they are a nice speaker;

 

 

 

Edited by Ray H
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Thanks all. I can't quite explain why but for some reason I'm really keen on some nice bookshelf speakers on stands over floorstanding. Aesthetics perhaps. 

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7 minutes ago, Ray H said:

Could go 3.1 for now, then get surrounds later, I don’t know how the Denon would go driving these but they are a nice speaker;

 

 

 

Thanks for the plug, in the interest of transparency I'd suggest a read of my follow-up post re a small issue with tweeter and speaker dome on the same speaker.

 

Also, I have been driving these with a Cambridge Audio Azure 551R to the centre and using pre-out to an Arcam Alpha 9 Integrated / Alpha 9P to bi-amp the main front left and right. In this setup (to my ears anyway) they are fantastic. Not really sure how they would perform when not bi-amped as I've never run them in a setup like that.

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23 minutes ago, Ritero said:

Thanks all. I can't quite explain why but for some reason I'm really keen on some nice bookshelf speakers on stands over floorstanding. Aesthetics perhaps. 

$3k will get you some very nice speakers. Also factor in good stands, which will likely set you back $300-$500.

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Given that 50% of your listening is music, get good quality stereo speakers, don't dilute your quality - more does not mean better!

 

I have (what I consider to be a good) 2.0 system, with music as my priority.  It shares the room with the TV, so I will run the TV/DVD/BluRay audio through the stereo for movies and music video.  Given my stereo system has a good frequency response, good dynamics, and good imaging, I've never felt the need to go to multi-speakers.  The good two-channel sound gives movies plenty of imaging, depth, drama and volume; for my use I don't need anything more. 

 

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If my room was big enough I would be spending the $3K on surround. It does make a difference especially with music recorded for the format (for instance some of Bis' classical recordings). Read Floyd Toole's book--he is a huge advocate. Sadly I don't have enough space so am sticking with bookshelves

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Wow! Really loving the differences of opinions here. It is a very interesting exercise seeing what different people value. 

 

In the spaces of 2 posts (above) we have an advocate for 2.0 and an advocate for 5.1. I'm not being facetious - I think this is great, genuinely.

 

The conclusion I'm coming to is there is no right answer. It's down to preference. It's made me do a lot of thinking, and I think where SQ is concerned I value music above HT. So while my usage may be 50/50, I'd prefer to get music right at the expense of HT than vice versa. 

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6 hours ago, Ritero said:

The conclusion I'm coming to is there is no right answer. It's down to preference. It's made me do a lot of thinking, and I think where SQ is concerned I value music above HT. So while my usage may be 50/50, I'd prefer to get music right at the expense of HT than vice versa. 

👍 There are many answers and it is up to you.

 

Now that you have said that music SQ is the priority, I will change my previous suggestion.  An AVR is not designed for music but it is a convenient 1 box solution.  With music being the priority, you should consider getting the following, but requires additional budget and maybe space:

  1. Separate music system with dedicated speakers.  
  2. Replace with a more "musical" AVR brand e.g. Marantz, Anthem, Arcam, NAD.  Ideally, get an AVR with good room correction for music i.e. Anthem Room Correction or Dirac Live (Arcam, NAD).  It does make a difference for music
  3. Replace AVR with stereo integrated amp and use it for both music & HT
  4. Get best of both worlds 
    image.png.d828ba4c6b1fe1e451d462c102c02a65.png

Again, no one right answer...

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"Results of subjective comparisons in which listeners judged the degree of impairment in perceived envelopment (LEV) when an array of a smaller number of loudspeakers attempted to imitate the performance of a circular array of 24 loudspeakers. Adapted from the data in Hiyama et al., 2002."

Screenshot.png

 

Edit: I would be looking into the Revel M16 for the fronts ($1700/pair) and Revel C25 ($1200) for the centre, and Polk S10 for the back ($350/pair). This leaves $750 for a subwoofer and AVR (if you had $4K to spend). This would be a really nice system. Alternately, if you want to spend less, the ELAC Debut 2.0 series is excellent. Denon AVR-4306 is a good choice as AVR, ~$350 used

 

I am deeply suspicious of the idea that a modern AVR and stereo amplifier could be distinguished in blind tests. Measurements are useless unless we give them a psychoacoustic grounding. What level of noise can we hear?

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3 minutes ago, tma said:

"Results of subjective comparisons in which listeners judged the degree of impairment in perceived envelopment (LEV) when an array of a smaller number of loudspeakers attempted to imitate the performance of a circular array of 24 loudspeakers. Adapted from the data in Hiyama et al., 2002."

Screenshot.png

 

Very interesting.  So, if I am reading it correctly,  (b) illustrates the reason soundbars work as well as they do?  One of the closest results to ideal 24 speakers in a circle (which scores 0), and all the speakers out in front of the subject.

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5 hours ago, aussievintage said:

 

Very interesting.  So, if I am reading it correctly,  (b) illustrates the reason soundbars work as well as they do?  One of the closest results to ideal 24 speakers in a circle (which scores 0), and all the speakers out in front of the subject.

Yes. From a psychoacoustics POV, soundbars have the potential to be great. In real life the implementation has been poor, as soundbars have been marketed to the less-audio conscious crowd, thus there's not been a great emphasis on quality (and so hifi lovers become ever more entrenched against soundbars). Sennheiser is leading the way with their new Ambeo. Probably is the future of home theatre

 

Some notes on the image above, from Toole's book:

  • "Two-channel stereo does not fare well (a), and neither does the “quad” arrangement (f), which performed very similarly, strongly confirming the results of Tohyama and Suzuki.
  • Symmetrical front-back arrays, it seems, contribute nothing to envelopment but only add two more locations for special-effects sounds in movies and voices or instruments in music.
  • A center-rear loudspeaker is worse (g).
  • All combinations of a pair of loudspeakers at ±30° and another pair of loudspeakers at angles from ±60° to ±135° perform superbly (b), (c), (d), and (e). Avoid ±150° (f), or whatever angle identifies the spread of the front loudspeakers.
  • Four loudspeakers behind the listener (h) do not perform as well as four in front, at the same reflected angles (b).
  • The five-channel arrangement described in ITU-R BS.775-2, shown in (i), performed about as well as any other configuration."
     
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46 minutes ago, tma said:

 

  • Symmetrical front-back arrays, it seems, contribute nothing to envelopment but only add two more locations for special-effects sounds in movies and voices or instruments in music.
  • All combinations of a pair of loudspeakers at ±30° and another pair of loudspeakers at angles from ±60° to ±135° perform superbly (b), (c), (d), and (e). Avoid ±150° (f), or whatever angle identifies the spread of the front loudspeakers.

 

This is good confirmation.   A long soundbar, aided by side reflections, can easily put the sound at these angles,  and betters what I used to hear with a 5.1 system with a couple of rear speakers behind me (and even those worked better out to the sides)

 

 

53 minutes ago, tma said:

In real life the implementation has been poor, as soundbars have been marketed to the less-audio conscious crowd,

I found I had to go up to the higher end of the usual price bracket to get decent "hifi" sound, yes.

 

 

52 minutes ago, tma said:

Sennheiser is leading the way with their new Ambeo. Probably is the future of home theatre

That's an expensive soundbar indeed.   Mine is only about half that cost.

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Well I went in to demo some KEF R3 today but my local KEF dealer doesn't stock the R series, so we had a look at some Sonus Faber Sonetto I and Sonetto II instead, as well as the KEF LS50s. 

 

It was a brief demo, but wow, those Sonus Fabers were really lovely. Both speakers were substantially better than the LS50s which seem to review so well. The Sonetto IIs were a bit larger and provided a more 'full' sound, though to my ears they were very similar to the Sonetto I. The SF were gorgeous too, incredible quality and detailing. 

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1 hour ago, Ritero said:

Well I went in to demo some KEF R3 today but my local KEF dealer doesn't stock the R series, so we had a look at some Sonus Faber Sonetto I and Sonetto II instead, as well as the KEF LS50s. 

 

It was a brief demo, but wow, those Sonus Fabers were really lovely. Both speakers were substantially better than the LS50s which seem to review so well. The Sonetto IIs were a bit larger and provided a more 'full' sound, though to my ears they were very similar to the Sonetto I. The SF were gorgeous too, incredible quality and detailing. 

sonus-faber-sonetto-ii-png.44748

 

Sonetto II has great polars

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