I'm a big proponent of stereo home theater, but I'd quickly concede that most home theater buyers are looking for multichannel systems. Of all the available multichannel options--11.1, 9.1, 7.1, 6.1, and 5.1 --that last one is the most popular, but that hasn't stopped most manufacturers from only offering 7.1-channel models. Budget-priced models are the only 5.1 receivers you can buy.
If you listen to music over your iPod or computer, it's safe to say you're listening in stereo.
Cars are a different story; they can have speakers in all sorts of places, so I'll grant that music in the car may not be in stereo.
But the music itself at least started out as stereo; MP3s and CDs are strictly stereo, so unless you listen to a lot of 5.1 channel SACDs or DVD-Audio discs, stereo is where it's at.
Most, but not all post-1980 films are available in 5.1. So if you have … Read more
Some users are experiencing an issue after upgrading to iTunes 9 where purchased content from the iTunes Music Store contains static during playback in 5.1 surround sound. The issue does not appear to affect Apple's movie trailers or DVD playback in 5.1 surround sound, though all purchased TV shows and movies from the iTunes Music Store appear to suffer the problem.… Read more
Sound bar speakers vastly simplify home theater setup and installation, but their sound quality always falls short of bona fide 5.1-channel speaker-subwoofer-based systems. The single-box Zvox Z-Base575 get closer to that ideal than most.
The problem with sound bars is they're too small. Even pricey bars like Yamaha's YSP-3050 ($1,199 MSRP) can't generate full-blown home theater impact. And it's a bit bigger than average (31.5 inches wide by 6.1 inches high by 6 inches deep), but films like "Mission: Impossible III" sound tepid over the YSP-3050. The film's explosive effects lack the excitement you'd get from a 5.1 system. Yamaha's technology is amazing, but it can't produce high-impact sound from skinny cabinets. I'm not singling out Yamaha here; Denon, Marantz, Polk, Samsung, and Sony sound bars all--to varying degrees--squash dynamic range of movies.
Stepping up to the YSP-4000 ($1,600 MSRP) won't make that big a difference; in my CNET review I noted that it stumbled with big special effect-driven flicks like "Mission: Impossible III." The explosions fell flat, the bass was rumbly, and the Yamaha couldn't play loud at all. Hooking up an Acoustic Research HT60 subwoofer to add extra muscle helped a little, but the YSP-4000 still lacked punch.
Part of the problem is that almost all sound bar speakers are too small. Zvox's Z-Base575 is big and very, very deep. How deep is it? Sixteen inches! So unlike other surround bar speaker systems that can either be wall-mounted or set on a shelf, the Z-Base575 was designed to be used as a base under your TV. Don't worry, the sturdy medium-density fiberboard cabinet can support heavyweight displays. … Read more
MB Feng Shui Bagua is a fun, easy-to-use bit of freeware that helps you apply the Chinese system of feng shui to your own home. The simple graphic interface takes you step by step through the process of mapping your home, including all the rooms and doors. The program then breaks the area into "bagua" to give advice on everything from furniture to colors.
Although the graphics are rudimentary, most users should be able to re-create their homes fairly accurately. We had some problems with things like multiple floors or rooms that weren't symmetrical, so it would … Read more
It's interesting. Tens of millions of homes are equipped with multichannel home theater systems, but multichannel music is a dead issue. Stereo rules the roost, for going on 50 years.
Ten years ago it looked like stereo's days were numbered--the two new multichannel formats, SACD and DVD-Audio, were on track to be the next big things. Funny, it didn't work out that way. I cover the subject in detail in my "Whatever happened to 5.1-channel music?" article that appeared in the July issue of Stereophile magazine.
Obviously, 5.1-channel sound makes sense for movies and home theater, mostly because 5.1 was an outgrowth of theatrical film-sound technologies stretching all the way back to the 1950s.
Every attempt to bring surround music into the home without video has flopped, big time. Are you old enough to remember the rise and fall of quadraphonic in the 1970s? What was needed was a surround format that didn't require music lovers to invest in new playback gear. Surely such a format would prove the viability of music surround...wouldn't it?… Read more
An industry insider recently admitted to me that only 30 percent of AV receiver buyers ever bother to hook up all seven channels to their receivers. That guesstimate seems a little high to me; the standard 5.1 channel setup: Left, center, right speakers upfront, and a pair of surround speakers to the sides of the main listening position can supply a truly immersive sound experience.
Seven-channel home theater adds two more speakers, placed behind the main listening position. That's tough to accomplish in rooms where the couch or chairs are up against the rear wall. There's no "rear" there, so some folks mount the rear speakers up high, or bounce the sound off the ceiling.
Still, the rear surrounds typically contribute little, so it's pretty hard to justify the added expense and hassle of running the extra wires for a marginal sonic improvement. The one exception might apply to very large rooms where the side and rear surround speakers are further apart from each other. The extra coverage may produce a more complete sense of surround envelopment. … Read more
If your PC is pulling double duty as a media center, I can't speak highly enough of the Logitech Z Cinema speaker system. It's a 2.1-channel surround-sound powerhouse that cranks out 180 watts and comes with a sweet media-center remote.
Originally priced at $300, the Logitech Z Cinema is on sale for just $79.99 from TigerDirect. Shipping runs a hefty $22, but that's understandable; these are hefty speakers!
The system consists of a subwoofer that plugs into a USB port and two desk-friendly satellite speakers. On one of the satellites you'll find both headphone … Read more