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Choosing a home theater system for a small 12x14 crowded room

16063 Views 40 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  phreak
I'm slowly upgrading my ancient equipment. First came the Panasonic BMP BD60 Blu-ray player, then the Samsung LN40B650 TV. I got an HP E-140f computer with an i5 processor, 1TB memory and 8 GB RAM to stream Hulu and Crunchyroll (anime).

Since my last TV was a tube TV, now I need a sound system, something I've never had before. I'm not into gaming, and base vibrations give me terrible migraines, although I LOVE music and agree that music doesn't sound right if you can't hear the deep notes-I just have trouble with the vibrations. However, I seriously want a 7.1 surround sound system.

So. The choices are overwhelming. The room I live in (an apartment; I have neighbors I don't want to bother) is not only small-12x14 feet-all the walls have bookcases lining them, as my room is a combination bedroom/library/den. So my room is, in effect, actually a few feet smaller.

I've been doing some research online. Acoustics-wise, the bookcases may actually improve the acoustics, as I have the books pushed back to make room along the front for various resin/plastic figurines, which ought to act to reduce echoes, is that right?

Also, my room has wall-to-wall carpeting, a twin bed, a small Laziboy recliner (cloth-covered, not leather, if that makes a difference) and a flat-topped particle-board computer table with 23" flat-screen monitor. There are two windows (one opposite the door, the other on the wall between that window and the door-wall), covered with heavy lined drapes that do not reach the floor (the bottom 2 1/2 feet are bare wall, to allow for fresh air due to severe allergies).

The effect of all this wall-covering stuff and furniture is that you notice an immediate sound-muffling quality when you step through the doorway, which is a plus in my book since it means it acts as a buffer between me and my apartment neighbors.

I want a 7.1 surround sound, which I think will work as the seating is approximately in the center of the room.
I have no experience and not much inclination to fiddle with wiring, so I was thinking of going with a Home Theaters in a Box, HTiB, if I can get something of decent quality. Since it's a small room, with (I think) good acoustics(?) I won't need an extravagant system, right? Also, I'm paranoid about reliability.

So how should this affect my choice of home theater components? Any words of advice will be welcome! :ponder:

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I have the onkyo hts 7300 7.1, and it does a fabulous job! Wires are color coded and it sounds amazing!!
I work for MHT so I'll list stuff I know we carry.

DefTech pc600 (5.1) package add DefTech pm800 for front LR

Marantz slim AVR

That would be a good starting point.

If you went 5.1 you could step down the AVR and drop the 800s. That would come in at about 1200.

Now that's just shooting from the hip. There are far better sounding systems out their but 1 your room is small and 2 I don't know your budget.

If music is first surround second I might suggest simply going to a store with some CDs and listening to your options. Once you pick your stereo sound work with the salesman to help select good matches for your surrounds and center.
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Welcome to the Shack! It is generally better to have a good 5.1 system rather than a mediocre 7.1 setup. But again, this is all dependent on your budget. I think the more you can spend the better, but at a certain point diminishing returns starts to drastically kick in. Of course, this is not really applicable until you get to the higher end stuff. Still, let us know how much you want to spend and we'll help you out further!
It doesn't matter how good your room accoustics might be, an entry level sound system will still sound like an entry level system. If you want decent sound you have to buy a decent sounding system.
Since you LOVE music and live in an apartment not wanting to disturb neighbors, I would suggest buying big bookshelf speakers, or small tower speakers and skip the subwoofer.
The only way I would recommend using a subwoofer in an apartment is if you use small bookshelf speakers that need a sub to play the bass properly. If not using a subwoofer, you can set your AVR so that all LFE (the signal normally for the sub) will be routed to your main speakers.

Here are 2 examples of systems with a lower and a higher price point, let us know what kind of budget fits you:

1. (more expensive) PSB
main speakers:pSB Image B6 bookshelf speakers $439/pr (the Image B6's are near the bottom right side of this website http://www.saturdayaudio.com/picturepages/psb_bstock.htm ).
surround speakers:pSB Image B4 compact bookshelf speakers $264/pr (the Image B4's are on the same website directly under the Image B6's).

2. (less expensive) Pioneer
main speakers:pioneer SP-BS41-LR bookshelf speakers $170/pr ( http://www.amazon.com/Pioneer-SP-BS...S6DE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1332915332&sr=8-1 ).
surround speakers:pioneer SP-21-LR bookshelf speakers $80/pr ( http://www.amazon.com/Pioneer-SP-BS...WZE4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1332915524&sr=8-2 ).
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Welcome to the Forum. Have fun. Dennis
I have no set limit, but although quality and reliability are important, but I don't want to spend crazy amounts of money, either. I would not feel comfortable spending more than $400 or so.

I will be using this system 85% movie, 13% music, 2% audiobooks, more or less.

Thanks for responding :)
Thanks for getting back to me. I'm only looking to spend roughly $400, as I will mostly (85%) be using this system to watch movies.

I was looking at 7.1 partly because I'd heard that 7.1 systems were supposed to have a higher average build quality than the average 5.1 system, and partly because of the increasing numbers of 7.1-tracked blu-ray movies being sold. I don't want to have to upgrade again for at least ten years.

My favorite movie has someone rolling a wheeled chair from one side to the other, behind the listener. Would this sound right with 5.1?
John Liu,
Thanks for answering. As to whether I should go for a 5.1 or a 7.1, I'm thinking future-proofing here.

Also, my favorite movie is in 7.1. For example, there are explosions with various glass and metal bits hitting all around you and another scene with someone rolling a wheeled chair from one side to the other, behind the listener. Would this sound right with 5.1?

My budget's in the $400 price range, give or take $100, counting wire and tools, etc.
Hi, gdstupak,

CAN I skip the subwoofer? I know when I turn the base down in my car it sounds weird sometimes. I'm always adjusting it up or down to match songs that have lots of treble or base, but sometimes I seem to have the choice between vibrate or off, no in-betweens.

Would no subwoofer make the base sound wrong? (Not that I would mind spending less money, mind you, and certainly I'd be happy to not have to trip over the thing in my moderately cluttered room...)
I can't say that I've ever heard that a 7.1 system has better build quality than a 5.1. Usually the 7.1 just adds 2 more of the same surround speakers.

8 speakers for $400? If you can find a 7.1 set for that price just go ahead and get it because even if you had to decide between 2 or 3 different sets, I assume they would all sound like $400 sets, not good enough to tell any difference between them.
Hi, gdstupak,
CAN I skip the subwoofer?
Good main speakers should be able to play bass appropriately. I suggested skipping the subwoofer because you didn't want to bother neighbors. A proper subwoofer plays very low frequencies that travel through walls even at very low volumes.

With a budget of $400 for a 7.1 system, you won't get good, proper mains, nor will you get a proper sub. So I'm not sure what to recommend

Not having low bass and sub bass doesn't sound wrong, it just won't sound full and exciting.
My favorite movie has someone rolling a wheeled chair from one side to the other, behind the listener. Would this sound right with 5.1?
If set up properly with proper equipment, it should sound great with 5.1.
Would it be noticeably different and better with 7.1?...Maybe, maybe not.

I have been very pleased with 5.1 from 1995-2009. Then when I had the money to upgrade, I added speakers for a 7.1 set up. I never did an A/B comparison between the two different set ups. I don't know if it's any different or better, but I always use the 7.1 because I do have it and I tell myself it should be better.

If I had to start from scratch today with a low budget, I would start with a smaller set up of a 2.1 or 2.0 or 3.0 with better speakers. Then I would add more speakers as I got the money.
Oh, and one more thing: the distance from my TV stand to the bottom of the TV screen is only about 6¼ inches. I didn't realize they'd make speakers bigger than that, but I can't do what some people do and start drilling holes in the walls of my apartment to mount it over the TV.

I plan to get speaker stands or use bookcases for the side speakers.
If you can deal with 5.1 right now, instead of 7.1, I would highly recommend this Pioneer set for $399:


The sub in this system probably wouldn't play the lower sub frequencies very loud and you could keep the sub's volume down a bit.

Although this center speaker is probably too tall for you, unless you can find some way of putting the center speaker above the TV without drilling holes.


If you wanted to get bigger main speakers and skip the sub, you could get these Pioneer tower main speakers and surround speakers (skipping the sub would bring the price down):

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I took a look at the Pioneer sets you suggested. I do not have the floorspace for tower speakers; my TV is squeezed in between a bureau and a window. For the PK 21bs-where did you find out how tall the center speaker is? I didn't see a specs sheet.

I am of two minds about having a subwoofer. I don't want to disturb my apartment neighbors, and when visiting a friend's house I used to get migraines and this weird irritated-skin feeling on the back of my neck when we watched TV with his subwoofer on, but when he turned it off I could definitely tell that the deepest notes were missing. Music I was familiar with didn't sound right at all. My old tube TV had better sound than I ever thought! But since I never had headaches from watching the tube TV, that means it's possible to hear very deep notes without being forced to feel them as well, right?

From the reading I've been doing, it seems the basic assumption is that even for a small room like mine, (I measured-with all my bookcases it's 10x11) that people are going to want to blast their TVs. Well, my Samsung TV's volume goes up to "100" units. I've never been able to watch it louder than 22, and even THAT was uncomfortably loud during certain scenes.

I certainly don't need a home theater for the power-just that magical surround-directionality. And the crispness that might mean I don't have to watch mumbling American actors subtitled like I do now. Even my computer's $10 powered speakers sound great when compared to my TV, even if they can't play the deepest notes and have only a 6-foot cord between them. Are you sure there aren't any decent 7.1 (or 5.1, I guess) sets out there for those of us who truly do not need a very powerful setup and already have a blu-ray player that does Dolby HD Master Audio?
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5.1 systems done right definitely can sound better than a 7.1 system done wrong. That said, a proper 2-channel system done right can even sound better than a mediocre 5.1 or 7.1 setup. It's all about taking the time to find the proper placement for the speakers. Of course, 7.1 done right can improve the sound, very much so. I've spent most of my life upgrading my home theater experience, and I think what you're asking for is a good "Starting Point." It's just hard with a small budget to be able to suggest something that is going to give you that "magical" experience, but a definite starting point is definitely something we can suggest.

Here are some other suggestions:

Onkyo SKS-HT540
Onkyo SKS-HT870
Sony HT-SS360
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