We’ve been in our present home for over 2 years and like our last home, wanted a home theater in this one. In this house, it meant upgrading our den. I had to decide whether to purchase a projector and 110” (horizontal) screen or get a large flat panel TV.
When it came to screen size, I’ve always felt bigger is better, which favors the projector option. However, the projector solution has downsides. Projectors need a darkened room, which is easier with a dedicated home theater, than an open den that’s attached to the kitchen. This meant mostly nighttime viewing. While a dedicated home theater can usually mean a fixed screen on the wall, our den would require an expensive motorized screen that retracts into the ceiling. Otherwise a big rectangular box on the ceiling would be unsightly. Also, projectors use expensive bulbs, which need to be replaced periodically.
To answer that question of large flat panel vs. projector, rather than flip a coin, I dropped by Evolution Home Theater in Agoura Hills, CA. The owner, Jay Frank put on a demo disk on a flat panel that was comparable to mine and 2 projectors in different demo rooms. The first projector was in my price range, about $4,000 (not including screen) and in Jay’s opinion was the best buy at the price. The second room contained a $15,000 Sim2 projector. The first projector looked pretty good, but didn’t compare to the Sim2 projector. With the Sim2, colors were more vivid, the picture was sharper, and it had depth that drew you into the scene. The first projector was like a nice flat picture, but not as sharp and it didn’t draw you in. Jay explained that the superior optics and processing was the main reason. The picture of the $15,000 Sim2 was more like the flat panel, only obviously larger.
Costco had an 80” Vizio on sale. I decided to purchase it along with a wall mount kit. The picture quality is spectacular, comparable to the high-priced projector and much better than the $4,000 projector.
I’m glad we got the 80” flat panel. We watch it day and night. We gave up a little on screen size and gained a lot in picture quality. Perhaps someday I’ll get a projector, but I know now it will have to be a very expensive one.
One of our favorite brands of audio/video receivers is Integra. Integra is the higher end of Onkyo (like what Lexus is to Toyota). They have great features and sound fabulous! We have used Integra receivers to demonstrate our home theater systems at the past two T.H.E. Shows in Newport Beach. I also use one in my home theater.
We have a resource for great deals on Integra receivers that we’d like to share with you. We have a friend in a neighboring community who has a home theater store. He carries some of the finest equipment including Integra. He often gets factory refurbished units. These are usually current models. He sells these receivers for typically 30% off or more. They include a 2 year warranty. I don’t know why they call them refurbished. I’ve bought several and every one I’ve opened looked brand new to me and has worked flawlessly.
At these prices, they are hard to beat. For more info, contact Jay Frank at Evolution Home Theater (818)879-1312. Tell them we sent you. We don’t get anything for this plug.
One of the questions we get all the time is, “What audio/video receivers do you recommend with your speakers?” We enjoy that question. Because we don’t sell any of the components it allows us to be impartial and we enjoy making our opinions known. Our speakers are pretty friendly to most receivers and it doesn’t take a lot to power them. However, manufacturers play games with power ratings in an effort to seem more competitive. Many receivers rate their power with only 2 channels driven. When you measure the power with all the channels driven, the ratings drop significantly.
Of all the components in your home theater system, you’ll probably have your speakers the longest. Next, will be your TV followed by your blu-ray player. Last will probably be your audio/video receiver (AVR). That’s because the features seem to change very rapidly. Many of today’s reasonably-priced AVRs are quite good. I think the sweat-spot for excellent results with our speakers seems to be in the $500-$1,000 price range.
The most popular brands with our customers seem to be Onkyo, Integra, and Denon. Integra is the higher end of Onkyo (sort of like what Lexus is to Toyota). These are all excellent. There are other good ones out there, but the ones I’ve mentioned seemed to be the most popular. Another brand that is intriguing us is Anthem. We’ve received a few glowing reports about their sound quality. However, they start at about $1,000.
Here’s a suggestion: Today’s AVRs are loaded with features. Before purchasing, go to the manufacturer’s website and download the owner’s manual. If you can’t understand it, don’t feel bad. It’s probably them and not you and I’d look for a different brand. Some owner’s manuals are disasters.
One last thing: all popular AVRs come with an automated setup which includes a microphone. Sometimes these automated programs gets certain things wrong. It’s a good idea to speak with us about how to properly set up your system.
This is nothing to do with speakers, audio or home theater, but I’m sick of being constantly asked to participate in surveys! Anytime you call anybody for help, whether it’s your bank or your trash company, they want you to fill out a survey either through an email or by phone. And, if you buy a new car, forget about it. You’ll get a bunch of surveys. Some of them may even have a dollar bill in it in order to guilt you into filling out dozens of dumb questions that have nothing to do with you and provide answers that don’t fit the situation. And then there are the random phone calls (and don’t get me started!); “We’re conducting a survey, do you have a few minutes?” As a result, people don’t want to have anything to do with surveys.
It makes it hard for us. When people purchase our home theater speaker systems, we really want their feedback. While we get some, many people, although very satisfied don’t bother. We understand why. It’s because of all the surveys we get bombarded with. When we’d have the occasion to speak with them, they’d tell us how happy they were with our speakers. I think the world has gone survey crazy.
Many years ago, while at college, I set up a stereo system in my room the frat house. At the time, I also worked part time at a San Diego radio station. I noticed how great the playback system sounded in the studio, far better than my system. Yet, my system, which sounded very hollow and shrill, had better components and speakers than the one in the studio. The difference was that room at the frat house had hard wall surfaces and no carpeting. The studio had these white tiles with small holes in them all over the walls and ceiling. You may have seen studios like this in old movies. It was then that I understood how critically important room acoustics were.
The acoustical qualities of a room can make or break the sound of a stereo or home theater system. It is one of the most overlooked factors that determine good sound. I have heard modestly priced hi-fi systems in great sounding rooms sound much better than high-priced audiophile systems in lousy sounding rooms. The quality of a room’s acoustics is determined by 2 factors. First are the dimensions of the room, which obviously you can’t do much about. The dimensions affect how evenly the bass is distributed.
All of the sound above the bass is affected by the reflective surfaces of the room. Hard walls and floors allow the sound to bounce around and continue after they should have ceased. The result of this reverberation can be sound that is harsh and “tinny.” Carpeting, drapes, stuffed furniture, and wall treatment can absorb reflections and significantly improve the sound. Many people have family rooms that open into other rooms. This is a good thing for room acoustics as non-parallel walls can disperse the reflected sound.
One quick way that I test a room’s acoustics is to stand in the middle of the room and clap my hands. I’ll then listen to how long it takes for the clap to become inaudible. The shorter the time the better. With a little practice, you’ll be able to walk into different rooms and tell the difference.
At the recent T.H.E. we had two demo rooms at the hotel. These rooms had terrible acoustics. So, we were left with no choice, but to bring some acoustical treatment with us. It surprised us that in many high-end rooms with ultra-expensive equipment, they didn’t make any provision for treating the acoustics. As a result, these expensive systems didn’t sound nearly as good as their prices would indicate. I couldn’t understand why they would go to all the expense of demonstrating at the show without trying to make their products sound their best.
Normally, acoustical treatments for rooms are very expensive. However, Joe Rodgers of our company discovered an incredible resource. It’s called L.A. Sound Panels www.lasoundpanels.com . This is a relatively new company with really nice people located in Burbank, CA. They make sound panels to order in various dimensions. They take a wooden frame and cover it with the fabric color of your choice. Behind the panel, the use a material called Roxul mineral wool. This is a natural material that is highly absorptive and has none of the drawbacks of fiberglass. They supply these panels to the local studios. These panels are very reasonably priced. We used a few 2′x6′ panels in our demonstration rooms and what a difference! Consider putting a few of these in your room and you’ll be amazed. I think it’s one of the cheapest upgrades to better sound, much better than some equipment upgrades. I can’t wait to do this in my office.
My experience with an Oppo Blu-Ray player has changed my point of view. I speak with a lot of customers who want suggestions on what to purchase along with our speakers to complete their home theater systems. It continues to amaze me how technology has produced low priced components that are really terrific.
So, when it comes to blu-ray players, I have recommended inexpensive ones from companies like Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic. These players have really great video quality. When it comes to the audio, it’s usually decoded by the Audio/Video receiver anyway. So, I would normally tell a customer to go to his local Costco and pick one up for under $150 and people have been quite happy. Some of our customers would tell us that they own an Oppo blu-ray player. Oppo has 2 models priced at $499 and $999. They are sold directly on their website http://www.oppodigital.com. I thought, “Why do you need such an expensive player when an inexpensive one will work so well?”.
I decided to order an Oppo BDP-95 when we were preparing for our demonstrations at the T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach, CA. The Oppo is supposed to play just about any audio format. I had downloaded some high-resolution audio files from HD tracks (24 bit – 192 KHz). These files were encoded in Flac (a compressed, but losseless file). Many people at the show bring their own source material. Some of it is on CDs burned at home.
Some of it is be on SACDs The Oppo plays just about anything, except vinyl record albums. Not only did we use it in the home theater room, but we also used it in the stereo room. I hooked it up to a computer monitor so I could navigate the tracks. I loaded all of my music into a big flash drive and plugged it into the USB input of the Oppo. I worked flawlessly and made it so easy for us at the show. So how does the Oppo sound? One answer is to look at the reviews. They all contain superlatives.
My first test was to evaluate its audio quality with CD’s. I hooked it into my system and compared it to my existing CD player, an Audio Research CD2. While it’s an older model, it originally sold for $3,500 and will hold its own against most players today. After carefully listening, I felt the $999 Oppo sounded every bit as good as the Audio Research player! So, if you want a blu-ray that can get the best out of just about anything you can throw at it, be it audio or video, look no further than the Oppo. Even though it is more costly than a good basic blu-ray play, this one will continue to reward you year after year regardless of the kind of source material. I think it is a really great investment.
RSL Speakers participated at the recent T.H.E. Show June 1-3. T.H.E. stands for Total Home Entertainment and included both audiophile stereo and home theater exhibits. Approximately 7,000 people attended. The show was a bit strange, but I’ll get to that in a minute. We had 2 rooms adjacent to each other; one for stereo and the other for home theater. We had a constant stream of friendly people for the three days. We were surprised at how many RSL Speaker owners came to our room. Some were still enjoying their speakers they bought in the 70′s.
Many of the rooms at the show featured the most expensive audio equipment imaginable. Speakers costing anywhere from $20,000 to over $100,000 per pair were not hard to find. When you add the electronics and cables, you’re looking at the same bucks as an exotic sports car. Most of the people we spoke to said that they couldn’t afford this type of equipment, although it was nice to look at. If few can afford their products, I wonder how some of these ultra high end manufacturers justify their presence at the show. It’s probably why at these shows, you see new names every year and many of the names from last year don’t come back. People said that our speakers were more in their price range (I think we were the most affordable speakers at the show). Yet, thankfully nobody used the “C” word (compromise) when referring to our sound quality.
We ran some pretty modest equipment in both rooms, because our theme for the show was affordability. In the stereo room, we ran a Primaluna integrated tube amp (about $1,500), an Oppo Blu-ray player (because it would play anything that anybody brought in), and our super duper buck a foot high resolution 12 gauge speaker wire. Some people who came into our room told us that the last room they visited had speaker wire that cost more than our entire system! In the home theater room, we ran a 7.1 system powered by an Integra 40.3 receiver. The 40.3 is a middle model in their line, but had more than enough power to create an amazing home theater experience. I ran the stereo room and my son, Joe ran the home theater room. Now for the strange.
Even though the show was supposed to be a “total home entertainment” show, we were one of the only ones demonstrating home theater. Most everybody else was demonstrating 2 channel. Last year, I asked those who stopped by our rooms if they preferred stereo or home theater. Many said that they were only interested in 2 channel and wanted nothing to do with home theater. It made me think that when stereo was introduced in the late 50′s, there were probably hi-fi shows where people would come into the stereo room and say that they were sticking with mono. After all, why would you ever need more than one speaker? This year, most of the people we asked said that they were into home theater. Some said they were interested in both home theater and stereo. Very few said they were interested in stereo only.
Yet we were among the only ones with a home theater demonstration room. Go figure. What was puzzling to me was how some of the high end audio components dealt with the acoustics of the demonstration rooms. As you may know, room acoustics can make or break the sound of an audio system and the acoustics of the hotel rooms at the show left much to be desired. Some high-end demo rooms had acoustical treatments, but many did not. As a result, I personally felt that some of the sound put forth by these expensive systems was unimpressive.
I can’t imagine why a high end audio company would go to all the trouble of producing such expensive audio gear and go to the trouble and expense of coming to the show and completely ignoring the room acoustics. Even with its idiosyncrasies, the show was worthwhile for us. People were able to go into rooms and hear megabuck systems priced as much as a condo and then immediately hear our affordable systems. The comments we received brought many smiles. And some from us.