Crank up the experience with home theatre sound systems

Up high: Bruce Willis is a test for systems.The old rule of thumb is that to get good home theatre you need to spend as much on sound as you do on vision. It’s still a reliable rule, but much has happened to suggest there can a bit of flexibility here, especially at the cheaper end.

For a start, sound systems have improved and you can get reasonable to good surround-sound audio now for $500 – good enough to play your music through, unless you want to listen in fine detail.

Meanwhile, the audio in televisions is now generally so crook that an outboard sound system is just about a necessity. Without one, you’ll find soundtrack music sharp and jagged and voices difficult to understand over the rest of what’s going on; and low bass will either be just about non-existent or sound phony.

You can get a good, if basic, 126-centimetre television for less than $1000, and, teamed with a good $500 surround system, you’ll have a set-up that a few years ago would have cost $5000.

The trade-off for these low prices is longevity. Equipment is built down to a price and it won’t last long without care. Consistently high volume, a lack of proper ventilation and dust build-up all exact a heavy toll.

But it’s OK to crank up the volume from time to time, especially during a Bruce Willis movie, which is when you may discover another shortcoming of such systems – some of them don’t handle high volumes at all well. A standard part of your testing should be to turn the volume up to max when some low bass is happening and listen for distortion, where the sound goes all furry, is poorly defined and ragged. Some systems can handle it, others can’t, and still others avoid it with a volume limiter that restricts it from going much over normal listening levels. That’s only acceptable if you don’t like Bruce Willis et al.

Test the system with both music and movies, and close your eyes during the movies so you concentrate on the sound; it’s amazing the extra detail you hear.


Spotted for $498lg爱杭州同城论坛m/au

The sub looks a bit crook but the surround speakers are slim and elegant and the centre channel is nicely compact. The rear speakers are wireless but need a power outlet. The sound can be routed to your iPhone for listening with headphones. There’s an FM tuner and it’s 3D compatible. An excellent performer with nicely clear highs and good sound quality throughout the range, including very well-defined bass. It can go loud enough to do justice to action movies and at full volume remains free of distortion.

Samsung HT5550W

Spotted for $449samsung爱杭州同城论坛

It’s $50 cheaper than the LG and Pioneer, but the high notes can become thin and brittle, and higher-pitched female voices can be sharp. But the sub is better-looking, the centre channel compact and corner speakers slim. The rear speakers are wireless (but need power) and it’s Bluetooth and 3D-compatible. Programming can be streamed to compatible devices. Bluetooth and FM tuning, but no headphone jack.

Pioneer HTP072

Spotted for $497 plus a disc playerpioneer爱杭州同城论坛

No disc player, but it’s the most flexible for future expansion and upgrading. The smaller speakers will be of appeal if you live in an apartment, and the sound is rich and spacious for such a compact system, with an accurate high end and tight bass from the rather large subwoofer. The sound quality remains stable all the way up, which is good and loud. It streams programming from compatible devices and there’s an AM/FM tuner and night listening mode.Verdict

If you have any plans to upgrade and extend some time in the future, the Pioneer is the way to go, and it’s also the best if space is limited, with great sound from very compact speakers. Otherwise, the LG is good-sounding, good-looking and excellent value.

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