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Fool On The Hill » Blog Archive » In defense of “Adequate Audio”

I’m from the old school of HiFi so please don’t misconstrue. I spent most of my high school and college years (~1970) lusting over MacIntosh, Marrantz and Bose. I remember hearing some Bose 901s and fell in love. Have you ever seen the Marrantz 150 FM tuner with the built-in oscilloscope? I got to play with these high end toys when I was young and they set my standards very high. Unfortunately my budget for such audiophile delights was non-existent. I bought my first true HiFi system in the Early 80s just as CDs were taking over. I was able to purchase a Kenwood system (all separate components) that pretty much fulfilled my audio lust –

  • 250 watt/channel Power Amp
  • Preamp
  • Surround Processor (w/ rear channel amp)
  • FM Tuner
  • Turntable
  • Dual Cassette Deck
  • CD Changer
  • Kenwood 3 way Speakers – 10” Woofers
  • Kenwood bookshelf rear Speakers

The components were all connected with a ‘network cable’ that allowed them to talk to each other. To listen to a CD you only had to turn on the CD player and it would switch on all of the other components and set up the inputs to play the CD. If you switched on the Turntable, it would switch everything over to that input automatically. I used it a lot for around 20 years. I used it to educate my children with the Beatles, Beach Boys, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jazz. Over the last ten years I’ve hardly used it at all. Now I listen to music on portable systems (Zune with Etymotics ER4 ear buds), very nice audio systems in my cars, and on my computer. For critical listening on my computer I start with a high end Creative X-Fi sound card, into a wonderful little T-Amp that I built (modded), and finally drive a pair of Klipsch RB35 reference speakers. Since I installed my new HT System in the living room, my Kenwood HiFi has been sitting in the basement covered in plastic.

You can read about my T-AMP project here – http://hugger.us/?p=27

I still believe there is a value in high quality audio. My listening habits have changed over the years, but I still hate compromising on audio quality. I’ll get to my point now. I love quality electronic gear and my home theater reflects this –

  • Samsung LN46A950 46″ LCD with matrix backlighting
  • Samsung BDP3600 Bluray Player
  • Dish Network Duo DVR VIP 722
  • Yamaha YHT-591 5.1 Receiver (4:1 HDMI) 105W x 5
  • 10” 100w powered Sub-Woofer
  • (Harmony One remote of course)

I rarely use this system to listen to music except as background (with Pandora). This system is mainly for watching video. I didn’t mention the speakers and here is where I differ from the popular, expert opinions I often hear. I can possibly see a value in spending more for a good Center Channel speaker and a good Sub-Woofer. Installing huge floor standing stereo speakers for the L&R front channels seems like a waste to me. This also applies to any other channels you may have (5.1, 7.1, Height, etc). I’ve heard it stated that 90% of the audio from a movie comes out of the Center channel. I just can’t see spending thousands on the L&R fronts when they are of such minor importance to cinematic sound. I ‘need’ my speakers to sound OK for video and also take up little space (small living room). I have found that these Yamaha speakers fill my needs very well –

I understand that these small speakers are full of compromises. I also trust that some engineer at Yamaha designed them to sound as good as possible within the capabilities of the receiver and design constraints. My HT is not a dedicated room where I could hide the speaker so smaller satellite style speakers were a definite plus. I have the three identical front speakers flush mounted on the wall*** and the two rears are on adjustable wall mounts. For my needs and budget they are fine. My speakers are in phase and balanced. TV and even cinematic audio rarely involve a pure stereo musical listening experience (the exception being the big soundtrack movies like Top Gun). Most of the time the music is in the background with effects and dialog on top. This argument is similar to one I remember from years ago – high end audio in your car is dumb. The car is so noisy to begin with, high end audio is wasted. Yes, there are minimum quality levels that are acceptable. I simply believe that above those minimum levels the benefits drop off exponentially as cost increases. My HTIB audio system is not the best, it is good, perhaps even very good and doesn’t deserve the harsh opinions that systems of this type often receive. There are two major shortcomings of this HTIB that require some minor work to overcome. The Yamaha remote is simply horrible. This is easily overcome with the Harmony One. The second shortcoming is how power to the Subwoofer is controlled. It’s always powered on. There is no audio sensing circuitry that will turn it on when needed. The receiver has no switched power outlet on the back (no non-switched either). This was solved with a current sensing power strip. When the power strip senses the receiver power on, it turn on the subwoofer.

I was listening to the Home Theater Geeks podcast by Scott Wilkinson this week. He is a true audiophile at heart and firmly believes in all that label entails. His guest this week was very interesting if you can get past his personality – Jeff Rona. Jeff is a musician and makes a living scoring movies. He uses top-of-the-line Pro Audio gear in calibrated environments all day for his work. His home theater is much more modest. His reasons for this were music to my ears. The last 20 minutes of the interview is where he describes his home system.

Home theater Geeks interview with Jeff Rona – http://twit.tv/htg36

*** Update
I have my TV wall mounted on an articulated Sanus mount. I have a window in the center of the wall and love the ability to move the TV over to the side when not in use (doesn’t block the window). Sometime I just watch it from the side. The wall mounted center speaker was sometimes several feet away from the TV. I recently found a center speaker mount from Sanus that securely holds the center speaker just below the TV. Now it’s perfectly placed no matter where the TV is positioned.

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