New surround sound/ceiling speakers questions

gailrolfeDecember 6, 2008

We are in the early stages of a kitchen/family room remodel and all the walls and ceilings are open and my DH is interested in setting up surround sound to go with the new tv as well as adding two ceiling speakers in our living room for the stereo. Our GC referred us to a local specialist who just keeps asking us how much we want to pay for the system; we were hoping to get some recommendations. We know he can probably spend any amount we give him but we would rather that he tell us what we can get for different price levels and somehow we can't seem to get any communication going. We went looking today for some other local places that had been recommended by friends who had used them in the fairly recent past and they are both closed now! We would like some help understanding whether we have unrealistic expectations of this guy or what it is that we would be paying him for exactly. If we just go buy the hardware (DH loves to research these kinds of things though time is running short), can the regular electrician set it up or is it truly a specialized area of expertise? Thanks for any guidance you can offer a couple who appreciate the benefits of all this new technology but know nothing about it!

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Not an area of expertise for me, but with no replies I can fill you in a little.

Wireless systems are making inroads, the technology and transfer rates are getting there...but "wireless" speakers, while they don't need speaker wire, still need line voltage, or household current, to work.

If you can't get your specific system hammered out, at least try to anticipate the locations of your speakers, as well as the location of your theater/TV components. Then you can at least run speaker wire through the walls/ceilings. The drywall crew can do their thing, and then when your speakers do get installed the speaker wire will already be in place.

Conduit for "future proofing" could be an option, but in your case, just running the speaker wire now would suffice.

You could even run wire below the floor for seat rumblers.

Subwoofers can be located most anywhere, but you'll usually need line voltage available so the subwoofer can be plugged into the wall, plus a cable running from the receiver to the subwoofer.

If you have your screen location chosen, you'll typically want:
1) a center speaker, located centered and just below the screen.
2) front left and front right speakers, located...yup, to the left and right of the screen.
3) left and right rear surround speakers. if the room is open behind the seating area, then these are usually put in the ceiling.
4) subwoofer.

As far as sales people giving you the ambiguous design vs budget run-around...yeah, that happens. It is good to have a ballpark estimate, as systems can run form a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. However, it seems like you're just doing surround "TV" versus a full-blown home theater, so they should winnow their offering to you based upon the practicality of what you are trying to accomplish.

The best thing to do is to hear the speakers and decide what sounds good to your ears.

In a basic setup, decent in-wall and in-ceiling speakers can be had for roughly $150 each, +/- $25. You can get a very good free-standing subwoofer for $250-$350.


    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 11:38AM
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I think mongoct is pretty much on point. The rep's you are talking to are being more fair than not IMO. You really can spend the sky depending on your definition "average to high end" and who you talk to. For example, when we were designing our theater system, one high end AV retailer's view of a "good mid-tier AVR" was a $2,000 unit... it took $5-6K to get into their happy zone. I spent a little less than half that ($900) for a comparable AVR that spec'd out "line for line/stat for stat" almost identical to their unit and it is what I call great bang for the buck. Again, this retailer's happy zone for a really good system was starting at $10-12K for AVR and speakers alone (no HDTV/Blueray...). Again, I spent a bit less than half that and the system is, IMO, a knock out.

I think your center speaker and subwoofer are critical and I spent a little more for those (500 for the center and 1,000 for SW). The center channel carries 85% of the movie/program dialogue and is critical to a good system. I have found that SW ranges are noticeably average or below at the low ends (IE when the program is not absolutely hammering heavy bass) and distorted when pushed.

As to wiring, I found it to be very simple if you understand basic AV wiring to speakers but a little research may be warranted if you have not done it before or lately. Most decent speciality/boutique AV shops are usually happy to help advise you. Beware of the setup expertise/advice from the big box shops. They often have good prices but are not very knowledgeable on configuration.

I have yet to hear acceptable reviews of wireless systems. Running conduit or stubbing wire behind walls/ceilings for future use is great advice. Just document where it is so you can find it later. I love HDMI... I initially wondered if it is "all that" but it is indeed wonderful. It won't really save you money but will save you cabling and complexity b/t components.

Sorry for rambling and the long post. Good luck.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 8:06PM
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Mongo and Breezy, thanks so much for your very helpful comments. Actually, Mongo, I see that somehow my response to you from a few days ago does not appear to have posted but I did think I had responded in a more timely way as your info was very timely and helpful. Since we are in the middle of a remodel with unknown other costs that could still come in, we have decided to just run 2" conduit behind the walls to where speakers etc will be and wait to make more detailed decisions after this project is over. We found that although we had thought we "just want a couple of speakers", we got quite intrigued with some of the other fun things we could do but just felt we couldn't take the time and energy out right now to really feel comfortable with our choices with everything else going on so our a/v decisions will have to come in Phase 2. We have learned a lot but have a steep hill still to evidenced Breezy by my next question: what is HDMI? Thanks again to both of you for your good responses.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 8:38PM
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SORRY! HDMI (although I am not sure what the acronym stands for) delivers all audio and video through one cable... not to be misinterpreted as all data over a single wire but rather multiple wires combined into one main cable and delivered using a multi-pin plug. HDMI has become the gold standard for today's HDTV set ups and the quality is truly superb.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 9:27PM
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Thanks, Breezy...I knew I'd heard the term but never quite made the connection between the letters and the function. Fun to see how much can be done!

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 9:30PM
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HDMI = high definition multimedia interface

    Bookmark   January 19, 2009 at 12:40AM
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Well, in the heat of the demolition and early remodel, we decided we were going to "hold off" on doing anything about our audio-visual, after we talked to a few experts who made us realize there was a whole lot out there we hadn't even considered. Our contractor put conduit in the walls and cielings to the places where it was pretty much agreed our rear and kitchen speakers would go and we thought we were just going to leave it like until after the remodel. But as we settled into our new routine and had more opportunities to talk to people, everyone encouraged us to at least "do something" so we did a little research on our own and ended up buying Polk TC60i speakers for our rear speakers for our tv and for the kitchen. We have found a guy we can hire to come pull the wire through the conduit and put the speakers in the cieling which was our second level of "well, this is all we'll do for now". And now we're thinking, geez, we've gone this far, let's at least get the surround sound for the tv in place so we researched receivers and are pretty convinced we'll get the Onkyo 876. (We started out with the 806 but then realized we will eventually want to hook up an Ipod, our son's Wii and PS3 so decided the 876 was a better choice.)

So we think the next "final step" is to get the front and center speakers BUT we don't want to put the front speakers in the wall and we think we understand that we can have our center and front speakers in the form of a bar.

However, when we tried to read about this, we didn't make much progress. Can anyone enlighten us as to what the main things are we need to consider in looking at these front-center speaker bars? Are there aspects about the rear speakers we need to consider in looking at a speaker bar? Any hints to help getting us going on this step will be appreciated....thanks!

    Bookmark   February 17, 2009 at 8:06PM
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