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521 posts

Ultimate Geek
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Topic # 247825 25-Feb-2019 11:36
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I have a Pioneer 5.1 system, which consists of an entry level receiver, 5 basic satellites and a subwoofer. It’s basic stuff but I’ve been happy with the sound quality over the years – I don’t have a very large living room (about 3x4m) and it meets my needs for now.

 

The problem is that a year or two ago the HDMI board in the receiver died. I’ve been using it as an amplifier only since then using the TV as a HDMI input with an optical out to the receiver. Fine but not optimal.

 

I've just inherited a fancy new receiver (Onkyo TX-NR646) and can finally replace the limping old Pioneer. As I looked at the rear panel I noticed that the subwoofer connection is RCA plugs rather than binding posts. My subwoofer is bare wire, as are all the speakers in the set. I did a little research and learned that this is because it's a passive subwoofer - something generally only used in cheap sets (or in specialist applications). "Real" subwoofers are almost all active, and proper AV receivers are set up to be used with active subwoofers only. My passive subwoofer won't work unless I buy a dedicated subwoofer amplifier – clearly not a sensible thing to do just to use a cheap bundled subwoofer.

 

I tried removing the subwoofer from the system and the result is seriously disappointing – as you'd expect from a cheap system, the subwoofer does a tonne of the heavy lifting in the low end, and what’s left from the satellites is completely anaemic.

 

My dilemma is – do I attempt to simply replace what’s missing by buying a new active subwoofer, given that I was happy with the overall sound profile with one in the system, or would I be better off spending the money on better quality front speakers and going without a subwoofer? I have a very limited budget at this point in time (first baby on the way) and can't afford to do both – I really don’t want to spend much more than $300 and so will be looking second hand. My requirements are modest – I don’t need (or even really want) room-shaking bass and rumble. I just want a "complete" sound that doesn’t sound like it’s lacking a low end. Pleasant sounding music is more important to me than big explosions in movies.

 

At this stage my thinking is I'd be best to spend my $300 on some bookshelf speakers and if the result is still lacking bass, to grab a cheap <$50 old sub on Trademe and configure the receiver to use it as sparingly as possible.

 

Thoughts? Would really appreciate if anyone could suggest some starting points for models in this budget too.


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3402 posts

Uber Geek
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  Reply # 2186826 25-Feb-2019 12:19
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My 2cs' worth: I don't think there's any point trying to eek out a longer life for your current speakers; they are always going to require a 'sub' to ensure anything in the lower frequencies, but even if you sort a sub out you'll still be limited by their quality.

 

Given your budget, then s/h is clearly the only way to go. And, yeah, starting with a pair of bookshelves (or even potentially floorstanders; at least then you won't also need to get stands?) is a good option. That said, if the intent is also to use it for HT purposes, I suggest you chose carefully if only initially buying fronts - select something that you know you'll easily be able to purchase a matching centre if not also surrounds. (It's really critical that the front three speakers have a similar timbre) Personally, I have a real dislike of a 'phantom centre', which is where the fronts are used for centre channel info, but others have no issue with - as such, I'd be keen on getting a centre ASAP. 

 

This way you can add to the system as you go: eg start with fronts, then add a centre, then a sub, then surrounds. Models like Wharfedale Diamonds are very common and will offer good value for money, especially if you're looking at older models; that said, you'll want to be sure they're in good quality!

 

It's not so critical that a sub is the same brand as your other speakers, so you've got more flexibility there; as you say yourself, you can even assess whether you need one.

 

 




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Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 2186913 25-Feb-2019 13:31
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jonathan18:

 

My 2cs' worth: I don't think there's any point trying to eek out a longer life for your current speakers; they are always going to require a 'sub' to ensure anything in the lower frequencies, but even if you sort a sub out you'll still be limited by their quality.

 

Given your budget, then s/h is clearly the only way to go. And, yeah, starting with a pair of bookshelves (or even potentially floorstanders; at least then you won't also need to get stands?) is a good option. That said, if the intent is also to use it for HT purposes, I suggest you chose carefully if only initially buying fronts - select something that you know you'll easily be able to purchase a matching centre if not also surrounds. (It's really critical that the front three speakers have a similar timbre) Personally, I have a real dislike of a 'phantom centre', which is where the fronts are used for centre channel info, but others have no issue with - as such, I'd be keen on getting a centre ASAP. 

 

This way you can add to the system as you go: eg start with fronts, then add a centre, then a sub, then surrounds. Models like Wharfedale Diamonds are very common and will offer good value for money, especially if you're looking at older models; that said, you'll want to be sure they're in good quality!

 

It's not so critical that a sub is the same brand as your other speakers, so you've got more flexibility there; as you say yourself, you can even assess whether you need one.

 

 

Thanks - this is very considered thoughtful advice that pretty much confirms the suspicions that led to me posting. I agree that it seems pointless to make purchases based on the "placeholder" speakers I currently have - this is the concern that made me thinking buying a subwoofer as my first decent speaker was the wrong call. I'll go the bookshelf route.

 

I had been looking at the Diamond 9.1s, tidy examples of which seem to be generally available on Trademe in the $250-300 range (and new for $450, which maybe I could juuust swing). Good to hear that's the right track. The Elac Debut series also seems very well regarded, though it's outside my price range new and there are scant options on Trademe at the moment, so I'd have to be prepared to wait.

 

The Pioneer set has a centre (though as anaemic as the rest of the speakers) so that will at least provide something in that channel until I can afford to replace it with something that matches the fronts. 

 

Thanks again - this is exactly the advice I was looking for.


 
 
 
 


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  Reply # 2186921 25-Feb-2019 13:50
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No probs.

 

I've got two pairs of those Diamond 9.1s as my surrounds; they are a decent speaker for the money for sure. I bought one of those pairs s/h and they were in perfect condition, but this is certainly never guaranteed with s/h products, especially speakers! One advantage though if you do go s/h is that the money you save could go towards additional (or higher-quality) speakers.

 

Once you get a pair of fronts, I'd have a real good listen to what it sounds like in phantom mode vs using your current centre; you may find this difference in quality is such you're better off bypassing any centre (this is the only time I'd consider not using a centre!).




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Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 2186931 25-Feb-2019 14:12
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jonathan18:

 

No probs.

 

I've got two pairs of those Diamond 9.1s as my surrounds; they are a decent speaker for the money for sure. I bought one of those pairs s/h and they were in perfect condition, but this is certainly never guaranteed with s/h products, especially speakers! One advantage though if you do go s/h is that the money you save could go towards additional (or higher-quality) speakers.

 

Once you get a pair of fronts, I'd have a real good listen to what it sounds like in phantom mode vs using your current centre; you may find this difference in quality is such you're better off bypassing any centre (this is the only time I'd consider not using a centre!).

 

 

Thanks again.

 

Looking at what I can get new for $300 so I have a basis of comparison for the second hand options - the best I've been able to find so far are Pioneer Andrew Jones and the Q Acoustics 3010. Both seem pretty well reviewed (consensus is that while they have limitations they are outstanding for their low price), and are recent enough models that adding a matching centre/rears in a year or two should be pretty easy. Bearing in mind the risks of older second-hand speakers, would you go new or used?

 

Good tip on the centre. Honestly it's so gutless I think I probably wouldn't even notice it wasn't there.


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Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 2189103 28-Feb-2019 21:57
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If you're more interested in music I would say go for a speakers only solution.

 

Reason: It's hard to get the sub to line up with the speakers in time , cross over frequency and volume throughout the range.

 

it will be hard/impossible for a separate sub to approach the integration offered by full-range speakers.

 

Book shelf speakers will not fill the room with bass but they can sound quite punchy for their size.


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Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 2189112 28-Feb-2019 22:43
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My 2xc - get better fronts first.

 

 

 

These are in your budget - Image 302's. NZ handmade by Chris Ball - quality construction - quality drivers:

 

 

 

https://www.trademe.co.nz/electronics-photography/home-audio/speakers-and-stands/floor-speakers/listing-1964525152.htm?rsqid=a4e3a9e17e22490d8fb8d187a9f03aa7

 

 

 

Have these in my 2nd set up and i think i might like them more then the speakers I have in my main set up - which had a RRP much higher than the 302's.

 

I would even suggest you won't need a sub as they have decent bass - and i would bet it would best all cheap 5.1 sub/sat systems.

 

 




521 posts

Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 2189319 1-Mar-2019 11:57
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Thanks both.

 

Since I made the post I dug out a forgotten and unused pair of Sony speakers from a mini system and replaced the fronts with those. Obviously not high fidelity stuff, but a huge improvement over the awful satellites. I tried with and without the centre and found it sounded marginally better/clearer without it. So at least I have a workable system while I work out a replacement, and can afford to wait for a good secondhand deal to pop up.

 

I am also leaning towards picking up bookshelf or tower speakers and using those without a subwoofer for the immediate future. Obviously tower speakers would have significantly more bass presence so would be preferable, but would probably require a fair bit of furniture rearranging in my current setup (whereas I have a convenient bookshelf at speaker height). There are a couple of no-reserve pairs of Diamond 9.5s on Trademe right now which I'm watching. Those Image 302s also look really interesting, and I'm close to the shop selling them so I could probably pop in and have a listen.

 

jonathan18's advice about the importance of matching a centre speaker down the line is also forefront in my mind. I discovered PB is selling Infinity Reference bookshelf speakers for a really good price, and that these are very well regarded indeed - but the rest of the range isn't sold here, and would be far too expensive to import. Certainly makes things tricky when you don't want to invest in a whole system at once.

 

Really appreciate all the advice.




521 posts

Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 2189707 1-Mar-2019 22:48
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The Reference 162s are currently on sale for $266 at PB, down from $308. These sold for $450 USD when introduced in 2014 and were very well-reviewed at that price. The line has now been discontinued, so they're being sold off for bargain prices in the US - bargain being $200 USD. Not often we can find a new speaker locally for less than the US price - more often it seems to be double it.

 

Anyway I impulse bought them. They won't be as full-bodied as a big tower speaker, but they'll definitely be the best sounding speakers I've ever owned, and will fit perfectly in my current shelves. The bass should be enough for now, and if not I'll add a cheap sub. With regard to the lack of a matching centre... I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Worst case scenario, the 162s will make an amazing PC or 2.0 music setup down the line.

 

Thanks to all who advised. Glad I didn't just run out and buy a sub.


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Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 2189716 1-Mar-2019 23:54
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To have a matching centre you could just add another of the same speakers you have used in your other positions, or do left and right surrounds first, and then centre front and back and eventually a sub to get you back to 6.1. A centre doesn't have to be in an odd-one-out horizontal cabinet if you've got the space to fit a standard speaker beneath the screen.



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Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 2189812 2-Mar-2019 14:00
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rhy7s: To have a matching centre you could just add another of the same speakers you have used in your other positions, or do left and right surrounds first, and then centre front and back and eventually a sub to get you back to 6.1. A centre doesn't have to be in an odd-one-out horizontal cabinet if you've got the space to fit a standard speaker beneath the screen.

 

Interesting - so like this? I quite like that idea. There's much more chance of me picking up another set of these than ever coming across the centre model. I've never really heard of 6.1. The Onkyo supports it, but the guide image is 2 front, 2 side, 2 rear - so no centres at all.


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  Reply # 2190749 4-Mar-2019 14:47
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My advice , after learning the hard way,

If buying used speaker , you MUST be able to hear them before paying. Even a small transistor radio will do the job, if they claim they dont have an amp .

 

Plug them in one at a time, and make sure the tweeter works in both. Ive been caught out , twice, with used speakers that had a faulty tweeter. Often the original owner doesnt even know
Low volume & put your ear next to the tweeter .
And make sure you get a good pic of both if on trademe, I had a couple where they hid the pushed in speakers . Look for pushed in tweeters that have been popped out: creased or dented.
Got my money back on one faulty set I bought (then resold as faulty for $2), got no refund on the other set (wharfdales)

 

As for sub's , size and shape of room makes a huge difference. My lounge is a shape that makes sub's sound boomy , even placed well out from corners.
A single good brand bookshelf speaker makes a great centre speaker. I used a very old mission as a centre. It doesnt really need to match the others , if they are good speakers they will be near enough in the way they sound . Near enough for movies anyway.

 

 

 

Image 302s are pretty damn old now. Chances are they will be overpriced ?  , considering more modern Image's can often sell for $400ish used.




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Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 2191670 5-Mar-2019 21:17
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Thanks for that - very good advice, and makes me glad I went new for now.

 

The Infinities came in today. Big upgrade (in multiple ways - I think they weigh about five times what the Sonys did). The sound is great, very balanced and very detailed without being sibilant or harsh. Speech is much easier to understand and I think I'll get by with a phantom centre for now. In terms of matching in the future, they sound very neutral and transparent with no unique or unusual character at all, which makes me confident I can get a seamless integration with a non-matching centre if I need to.

 

There's a good boost in quality at the the low end but to be honest not quite as much quantity as I was expecting - still missing that subwoofer on the floor providing the rich bottom end to the sound. Music with "good bass" sounds exceptional, but these speakers aren't really emphasising it when it's not obvious in the mix. I think I'll end up getting a sub before too long, and probably before a centre, but I'm good for now.

 

Last question from me for now (honest) - I've hooked these up using the thin 22 gauge wire that came with the HTIB. Can I actually expect an audible improvement with thicker cable?

 

 


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Ultimate Geek
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  Reply # 2191697 5-Mar-2019 21:43
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allio:

 

Last question from me for now (honest) - I've hooked these up using the thin 22 gauge wire that came with the HTIB. Can I actually expect an audible improvement with thicker cable?

 

 

 

 

For a short run, probably not



521 posts

Ultimate Geek
+1 received by user: 282


  Reply # 2191702 5-Mar-2019 21:47
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rhy7s:
allio:

 

Last question from me for now (honest) - I've hooked these up using the thin 22 gauge wire that came with the HTIB. Can I actually expect an audible improvement with thicker cable?

 

 

 

For a short run, probably not

 

Hmm. They're 8 ohm speakers but the cables probably are around 12 feet. Doubt it's audible even if I am hitting an electrical limit.

 

I won't rush out, but I think I'll pick up something better next time I'm at Jaycar or Bunnings.

 

Thanks everybody - this stage of my audio adventure is done!


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