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Please help me figure out a good budget home theater audio solution

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June 18, 2014 9:03:29 AM

The extent of my audio setup experience has been 3.5mm jacks and USB ports on a computer. Now I have a legit TV and I want to use external speakers. Here's what my TV has:

1) "Digital Audio Out (optical)"
2) "Audio Out (FIX) R/L" - looks like red/white RCA

Here's what I've gleaned from reading. Please correct me it is wrong.

  • The TV will not provide amplification or volume control. This must be built in to the speakers or found in an intermediary device (like a receiver).

  • If possible, I'd like to avoid using a receiver because they are expensive. I just want something that sounds better than the TV speakers, will enable me and friends to enjoy a movie and some music in a 14' x 15' living room. I'm not an audiophile.

    I'm looking for setup suggestions and/or answers to the following questions.

    1. How should I power my speakers? Should I get self-powered speakers or is there an amp I can buy to go between my TV and the speakers? I actually have some passive speakers with speaker wires, so if I could power them, that might work.
    2. Do I need a subwoofer or a center channel? What's the difference and which would be best for my purposes? Can my R/L RCA output support a 2.1 speaker system or would I have to use my optical output somehow? How would all of that wire up?
    3. How do I ensure what I buy will have the connections I need? If looking at speakers, do I look for RCA and optical inputs? Does converting from RCA to 3.5mm or another form degrade quality?

  • Thanks in advance! I'm excited to learn a bit about home theater, even if it is budgetary for now.
    a b x TV
    June 18, 2014 12:52:21 PM

    1) if you did not want to use a receiver you could just go for an amplifier and connect it up to the red/white rca outputs. this would only be good for stereo sound though. you could use your existing non-powered speakers if you get the right amp for them.

    2)a subwoofer would add some low end kick for bass. if using satelite speakers its required, if using floorstanders or bookshelves then its optional however does provide more low end. a center will handle most of the voice dialog, its optional but worthwhile. you could get a subwoofer to work with the red/white and use the gain knob on it to trigger only on low tones. or better yet there is an in line device you can put between it and the source to cut out all of the high tones. sorry i forget what the name for it was but its used extensively for bass shakers so that they only trigger on low tones. you cannot get the center channel working right with just a left/right and to get it working right you would need a DAC/amp for the optical (which moves into receiver territory)

    3)first you need to decide what connection scheme you are going to go with. rca is fine for 2.0 or maybe 2.1, optical is good for receivers or dac/amps but that gets into more money. also if your tv has ARC you could use hdmi to a receiver from it for sound. also worth noting is that its often much more beneficial to route sources directly to the HT instead of through the tv if using something like a receiver.

    if using some small relatively low wattage (under 50w each) bookshelf speakers you could get away for under $100 with a decent 2.0 system.

    if you want to use some larger speakers (for about $100 you can get a pair of sony bookshelf speakers which are very loud and boomy and pretty good for the price) you would need a bigger amp. its hard to find any decent small/cheap amp to do this so you might need to go with something like this http://www.amazon.com/Sony-STRDH130-Channel-Stereo-Rece... which is a receiver. it can handle the high draw from large speakers and will fill your room with sound

    if you want surround sound you have no choice but to buy a receiver for the most part. they can be had for $150-200.

    technically a z906 computer speaker system would hook right up to optical and cut out the middle receiver however its only going to be average sound and the wires might not reach for true surround sound. its still expensive and not as good as true hifi equipment.

    --

    you need to state:

    -budget
    -expectations
    -how much bass you want
    -what size speakers would work for you
    -do you need surround sound
    -do you want to be able to add more speakers to it to make it surround sound in the future?
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    l
    June 18, 2014 1:31:30 PM

    ssdx, thanks for the fantastic answer. You've taught me a few things and helped me think through the situation. I think that, considering my budget and simple needs, getting an amplifier would work. I found a couple of sub-$30 amps on Amazon that would work. Here's one. Here's another that includes a remote. After reading some reviews, they seem like good options and they'd allow me to use the passive speakers I have.

    My second choice would probably be to get a subwoofer which--correct me if I'm wrong--could take my RCA signal, give it some bass, and power my passive speakers for 2.1 sound.

    That said, I found a nice A/V receiver and speaker combo on Craigslist. For $40 I could have a robust receiver and two more speakers that could contribute toward eventual 5.1. For the record, this is the craigslist ad, this is the receiver, and these are the speakers. If they all work as claimed, it's a great deal and solves my problem.

    By the way, these speakers are 8-ohm and the ones I already have are 6-ohm. Are there any dangers in mixing different speakers? And with a receiver, would I route everything through it and have it as the only input to my TV? Thanks!
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    Best solution

    a b x TV
    June 18, 2014 4:06:10 PM

    i remembered what that in-line filter was called. its a "low pass"

    those lepai amps are pretty popular for mini hifi systems. they arent anything special and if you turn them up too loud you can get some distortion however for the price they cannot be beat. high quality amps are often in the $100 range while lepais are in the $30 range.

    no, you will still need an amplifier. the speaker high level in/out are just pass throughs see here http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=319942 and then see here http://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-hook-up-a-subwoofer-t... for more information.

    insignia are the bottom of the barrel junk when it comes to receivers. the sony speakers arent half bad for the price they retail for. for $40 though its going to be hard to beat.

    typically yes you would route everything through the receiver first and send the one single hdmi through to the tv for video.

    yes, you can mix and match 8 and 6 ohm speakers. you can read about that here http://www.avsforum.com/forum/89-speakers/1431907-can-i...
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