Upgrading My Home Theater Speakers

It’s been 12 years since I first got a surround sound system. Back then, it was a huge leap for me, and I found a good deal on a quality Onkyo system (something sort of like this one, though mine was a 7.1 system.) And for those twelve years, things have been good. My AV receiver had to be replaced about six years ago (and I expect to have to upgrade it again at some point), but it was great to have the surround sound going for my media viewing experiences.

That said, when we switched the movie room to a larger space, I noticed that the small speakers I’d gotten back in 2008 were no longer really cutting it. Especially for the voice track on films (which runs through the center channel): I had to have subtitles on for almost everything to be able to always understand what people were saying. Also, the subwoofer wasn’t as woofy as I really wanted.

So I started looking into ways to upgrade the sound. From my research, bumping up just the center speaker wouldn’t be a good idea, since it would create a really bad conflict with the front left and front right speakers. You want those paired if at all possible, so that the sound at the front of the room (where most of the sounds come from) is balanced. A bigger subwoofer is easier to get on its own. So I started looking into potential speakers and deals (because who wants to pay full price on anything?)

For a lot of the research I do into things like this, I use Reddit pretty heavily. Reddit does a great job of connecting people who are interested in the same topic, giving you a place to ask questions and read FAQs that aren’t influenced by paid reviews and salespeople. Is it perfect? No. But it’s an easy way to find quality information quickly. There’s a Home Theater reddit with a great FAQ that gives a number of recommendations around speakers.

Once I started looking at the actual recommendations, however, I discovered it was much more complicated than I initially assumed. I didn’t want bookshelf speakers–I wanted tower speakers that would be more robust. But when I looked at the actual dimensions of those suckers . . . they’re huge. Some of them are more than two feet deep and a foot wide, and the idea of having such big speakers in my room was . . . less than ideal. (Funny side story: I kept seeing the abbreviation WAF, and I had no idea what it meant. People talked about how important it was, and how it was necessary to make compromises in some cases due to WAF, but no one said what it actually meant. After some googling, I discovered it stood for “Wife Approval Factor.” Which makes a ton of sense . . .)

For a while, I was thinking I’d have to compromise with nicer bookshelf speakers, just because of size issues. But in the end, I went through all their recommendations, paying attention to the dimensions. I found some potential speakers that would work, and then checked their Black Friday deals. (Checking out the subwoofers, as well.) Long story short (too late), I found some tower speakers I liked (these, with the accompanying center speaker), as well as a subwoofer, that all were on a good 30%+ off sale, and I pulled the trigger.

Actually installing the speakers was pretty straightforward. The wiring was all there, and I just had to take off the old speakers and hook up the new ones. The difference (to me) is remarkable. The sound is much fuller and I no longer need subtitles for everything I’m watching. (Huzzah!) The subwoofer really shakes the room now when it’s called for, and it’s made my home theater feel more like a real theater.

This essentially bumps up my speaker system to “mid-range” for the primary speakers. (I’m leaving the surround speakers as Onkyos for now, because I just don’t feel like they need the extra kick.) It’s hard for me to believe I’d ever want to go to high end speakers. The cost would be 5-10 times what I just paid, and I don’t think I’d get that sort of use out of them. So for now, I’m happy to have my system where I’d like it to end up, from an audio perspective. (Ultimately, I see myself upgrading the AV receiver to an 8k model and getting a new projector at that time, as well. But that’s for the future . . .)


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