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Pick A Winner

There are few things in life more vexing that the purchase of stereo equipment. Audio salesmen are right up their with used car salesmen on the distrust meter. The problem with buying, say home theater speaker, is that there are so many brands and so little chance to actually evaluate the performance of a particular model.

My challenge is to purchase a mini bookshelf style surround sound speakers system (5.1 or 6.1) for under a $1,000. I'm not so much an audiophile that I have to have the state of the art system costing $10K, but I'm not such a novice that I'll settle for the JVC special at Costco.

My guess is that there are some strong opinions out there - now's your chance to sound off. Which company's sub-$1,000 home theater speaker package is "the best," and why? Some of the brands I've come across in my research - Paradigm, Klipsch, JBL, Definitive Technology, Hsu Research, Harman Kardon, etc...

Update: As has been mentioned, sound testing myself is the best answer (preferably with a generous return policy). That is a true enough statement, but if you look at the list of brands above most of those are not in stock at Circuit City or Best Buy. We do have specialty stereo stores in Northern Virginia that carry some of them, but it's a shitload of work to hump all over creation for a purchase of several hundred dollars. And FYI - I'd just as soon buy the $300/set speakers if they sounded great and filled a two story room (we have one of those "grand room" living rooms), I just used the $1K range since most audio sites use that cutoff point.

So I'll subtly change the question... Which company's sub-$1,000 home theater speaker package do you like most (or least). I'm making a short list of brands to look at...

BTW, suggesting a Bose product is the surest way to get yourself ridiculed by audio enthusiasts.

Comments (14)

Unless you've suddenly beco... (Below threshold)

Unless you've suddenly become independently wealthy and you can afford the custom Ifinity system, I would recommend the JBL SCS200.7.

The fact is that most of th... (Below threshold)

The fact is that most of the options are the same, in that the major companies use the same technology and largely the same components. Furthermore, the very high-end stuff is usually a waste of money, unless you have it custom fit to the size of your room, and even with consideration to what kind of flooring and wall covering you have. The average human simply cannot hear the difference in most cases.

So don't kill yourself over the tiny details. Figure out a price range, and try to get the second or third highest model from whatever brand has the features you are looking for.

If you are willing to spend... (Below threshold)

If you are willing to spend up to $1000 on the speakers alone, then go to a store that will allow you to return whatever you buy "no questions asked" as long as you try other products from that store. There is so much interaction between the room and the sound from ANY speaker system (AND the amplifier or receiver the speakers are hooked up to) that it is impossible to recommend an speaker system in the price range you mention without testing the room first. You should stick with whatever sounds best in your room for your preferred source of sound (movies, CDs, MP3s, iTunes, ect...) from your sound system. Different speakers have different strengths and weaknesses in different room configurations. Bose does quite well in the psychological aspect of music reproduction, but they do not reproduce the actual, measured response of the music, which is why many audiophiles sneer at them. I say, if it sounds good to you, and you feel it's worth the money, buy it.

I know this isn't exactly the help you are looking for. If you are looking for brands, I've always been happy with JBL (that's what I'm using in my current apartment in France), but that's because their speakers have usually suited my room setups.

BTW, suggesting a Bose p... (Below threshold)

BTW, suggesting a Bose product is the surest way to get yourself ridiculed by audio enthusiasts

hehehe right!

(I am not familiar with the current versions of products but I stay pretty much up on this stuff. My comments are limited to long term observations.)

Anyway find a listening room and close your eyes while your spouse changes from one set to another. I've done this repeatedly and to my ears JBL wins "bang for the buck" every time.

Klipsch is scratchy to my ears. Great if you think the measure of a speaker is how loud it goes.

HK rocks I've been more impressed by (the few) newer products I've heard.

more later gotta run

This may not be exactly wha... (Below threshold)

This may not be exactly what you're looking for, but I just purchased an iPod with the JBL speaker set up to replace my home stereo. It came in right around $500 and sounds great!

I know you're looking basically for a speaker system, but I'm thinking the integration of JBL with the iPod means there will be a higher level of integration between JBL and Apple to come. So, it could be worth building your system around that.

It's not the ideal system, but it does allow portability (since you can grab the iPod from the dock and take it with you). And now they just came out with something called the AirPort Express which will let you play stuff in other rooms in your home without worrying about the wires. (Sorry if this sounds like an ad, but I'm really excited about my iPod and speaker system!)

Anyway, my experience is basically with JBL and I love mine. Good sound for an affordable price. Jack brought up a very good point about hearing the system in your own room to make sure it's compatible with your surroundings. VERY good point.

Hope you tell us what you end up purchasing.

My father has operated a sp... (Below threshold)

My father has operated a speaker repair shop since he retired from corporate life 15 years ago. He also laughs at Bose. He makes no bones about which manufacturer is best: JBL.

Make sure your sub-woofer... (Below threshold)
John from Detroit:

Make sure your sub-woofer is really good too. I've got a mid-grade Sony system that works really well, but the sub-woofer is poo. It tends to get distorted with REALLY heavy bass signals, such as one of the ships from the Matrix landing made me think that the thing was blown. I've also a pair of Yamaha speakers driving the right and left, with the center and surround speakers the stock Sony's that came with the system.

Bass - It does a body good. :)

I look forward to the post ... (Below threshold)

I look forward to the post where you ask your readers to explain how to use your new equipment.

I don't think you're praying hard enough for guidance, like a good Republican!

But... but... Paul Harvey e... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

But... but... Paul Harvey endorses Bose! And Paul Harvey would NEVER endorse anything but the best of the best of the best! And who better to trust on matters audio-related than a man who's been in the radio business for over 70 years! I mean, the man has heard it all, and if he says that Bose "is to audio as color was to television," who are we to question him?

Go Bose, Kevin! Trust the man with the disturbingly-large teeth!


Gonna have to do your own r... (Below threshold)

Gonna have to do your own research on this one, Kevin. We can sit here and give you brand recommendations all day long, but eventually it's gonna come down to you picking a price range, then going down to some place like Circuit City or Best Buy, a place with a listening room, and then, without looking at what the brand name says, spending a while cycling through the selections available and narrowing it down to something that sounds ok, and is in your price range.

Just go on in, and make a total butt of yourself, if you're down to seriously buying them. Hog the room. Cycle through your options. Listen to various inputs (radio, CD, etc). Walk around to hear how they sound in various parts of the room, don't just sit in the middle.

But don't go overboard with it, because after about three, and certainly by four, if you can't tell a discernable difference, then it means that you're over 40, and certain parts of your hearing range are not as sensitve as they used to be, so it doesn't really matter any longer.

But if you can tell a difference, get what sounds ok, and has a reasonable price tag on it.

Not something we can do for ya, audiophiles, or audioputzes.

Jack and others, I'll go ou... (Below threshold)

Jack and others, I'll go out on a limb here: Can you explain why you say "Bose does quite well in the psychological aspect of music reproduction, but they do not reproduce the actual, measured response of the music, which is why many audiophiles sneer at them. "

I am/was a musician, trained as a band director, player of clarinet, saxophone and bassoon. I am reasonably good at what makes good live music, but have never really delved into the intricacies of stereo equipment. The seat in the auditorium that I want is one that puts me somewhere between the cellos and trombones, in front of the basses, and I've never heard a sound system that could do that.

I went to a Bose store for a demonstration once, and they had me in tears in the first five seconds - so, I believe you about the psychological manipulation part, but please can you explain what you mean, how they do it?

I just picked up a new left... (Below threshold)

I just picked up a new left-over Yamaha receiver/amp from Best Buy (HTR-5660) for $289 (the current year version 5760 sells for $499). Very nice even at only 85 watts/channel. I will pick up some paradigm atoms (~$170) this week - this room is smaller - this is my "office system." I still need a power sub (~$150-200), but I don't know what I want there yet.

I don't put too much stock in the surround speakers - I buy them based mainly on price. They just fill gaps and I usually turn them down at the amp anyway. I focus on a decent amp, decent main speakers, decent (tight) sub. The rest takes care of itself...

Teri, I'm sorry but I canno... (Below threshold)

Teri, I'm sorry but I cannot give a good answer to your question of how Bose speakers sound so good to so many people. There is an entire field of science called psychoacoustics that focuses on how people hear, and Bose uses techniques from this field of study to make speakers "sound" good as opposed to reproducing sound as accurately as possible.

A starting place that may answer some of your questions is here:


After much searching..liste... (Below threshold)

After much searching..listening and debating, we decided to build our own.
I love Harman Kardon for their receivers and especially their customer service!! I have that for power and nothing else will do.
I went with Bose 501 towers for the front ( a true BOSE fan) and the Bose surrounds for the rear. Of course, the Bose center channel too. Since Bose did not make a seperate sub woofer at the time we went with a harman Kardon on that.
I absoultely hate buying packages where I am locked into a particular component when all I really liked was one aspect of the package.

Now I have the best sound for music and for home theater and total cost was over 1m but it was well worth it.
It really is a viewer/listener choice. No one thing is perfect for everyone. We all hear differently and see things differently. Go with what sounds good to you. You are the one who matters.






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