Buying Surround Sound
Surround Sound Basics
The two main ingredients you need for surround sound are a multichannel speaker system, typically with five or six speakers, and a digital surround (A/V) receiver. You can’t get surround sound without both of these anymore than you can play tennis without both a racket and a net. (We’ll assume you already have an HDTV and a DVD player.)
You might think there are just too many speaker systems and receivers to choose from. But the buying process isn’t as complicated as it seems once you narrow down the choices to what best fits your needs. You can start by answering these questions:
• What’s your budget? If you’re working with a grand or less, you’re obviously going to have far fewer choices than if you have a bigger bankroll. Either way, you should set aside at least a few hundred dollars for the receiver and maybe twice as much for the speakers, since they pretty much define the system’s sound. Cheap home-theater-in-a-box packages are, well, cheap, so they have to make compromises — especially in the speakers — to achieve those prices. You can forget about high-performance sound. It also doesn’t make sense to spend beaucoup bucks on gargantuan speakers and then try to drive them with a low-power receiver — or to buy a megawatt receiver to drive a set of minispeakers.
• How big is your room? You need a system that can produce enough sound to fill your room. So if you have a large room — say, 20 x 30 feet — don’t try to get away with little cube speakers. And if you have a small room, it doesn’t make sense to have space-hogging tower speakers.
• Do you like it loud? Room size isn’t the only thing that determines maximum volume. If one of your goals in life is to experience the Star Wars Trilogy at Death Star-splitting volume in your cavernous den, you’ll need bigger speakers and a more powerful receiver than those of us with more reserved tastes and smaller rooms.
• How much gear do you have? Make sure the receiver has enough inputs for all of your audio/video source components. As receivers go up in price, the number of inputs and outputs you get increases. A small bedroom system with just a cable box, DVD player, and TV won’t need a receiver with as many connections as an all-out installation with a DVD player, high-def cable box, TiVo hard-disk recorder, game system, VCR, and so on.
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