I’m upgrading my home theater to 7.1 surround sound

Baby, let me upgrade u.

The old 2003 home theater setup

The old 2003 home theater setup

In late Nov/Dec 2003, I bought my first true surround sound system, an Onkyo HTiB (“home theater in a box”) package from Vann’s (it arrived Dec 1st). I used to use an Aiwa stereo for surround sound but this was a poor man’s home theater setup. Now, I’d have a true home theater system — a 5-disc changer, a dedicated A/V receiver, two fronts, three rears, and a subwoofer. It was one of the newer 6.1 surround sound configurations. The remotes were a bit busy, but the overall sound was excellent for the price. And I was ready to experience the hotness of 6.1 surround sound.

In reality, Hollywood didn’t produce many DVDs with DTS-ES 6.1 surround sound. Apart from Peter Jackson’s excellent Lord of the Rings trilogy, most films came out with Dolby Digital or regular DTS 5.1 surround. My poor surround back speaker went unused and took up valuable living room space.

The new 2011 home theater setup

The new 2011 home theater setup

These days, we’re an HD house — I ditched the old DVD player for my upscaling PS3, and bought a newer Pioneer with HDMI ports. Even better, it supports a wide variety of surround sound formats, including DTS-HD MA (“Master Audio”) in 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 formats. I’m a big fan of Blu-ray discs that support DTS-MA 7.1, as the sound is much improved, and I get more usage out of my lonely surround back speaker. Even with a disc that doesn’t natively support 6.1, a 7.1 system will mix the surround sound, but you do lose some directionality with the rear surrounds. It works, but I would love a true 7.1 setup, as more discs are coming out supporting 7.1.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a video and audiophile. You will never catch me watching a film for the first time on a bootleg DVD, or sitting in the worst-seat-possible at a movie theater. When I watch a movie, it should (reasonably) be the best video and audio experience. The video should be clear and encompassing. The audio should be bombastic. I need to be sitting in the best possible location (“the sweet spot”.) When it isn’t, it irks me greatly. I’m not crazy. I just know what I like. And having a sucky setup at home quietly irks me.

True story: I remember one time I was at someone’s house, and he had set up a 5.1 surround system in their living room. However, not only were the positions of the speakers off, but the speakers were in wacky and mismatched places. A surround speaker in the front, a subwoofer… somewhere over there, a front speaker pointing only God knows where. Suffice it to say, I was absolutely appalled. I volunteered to help make right what was wrong. Seriously, it was killing me inside. 😉

So, as I mentioned, I’ve been waiting patiently as I looked for the right speaker/speakers to upgrade the current setup. Earlier this year, I found a guy on Craigslist who had a matching Onkyo HT-767 surround back speaker, but he jerked me around for two weeks without meeting up with me, and I ultimately gave up on the guy. Seriously, a jerk.

Today, we took the plunge. This week on eBay, we bid on and purchased a pair of matching Onkyo SKB-540 (later model) surround back speakers. They can hang on the wall, and sport a slightly slimmer profile.

I’ve had my one surround back speaker sitting on a speaker stand, but this always runs a risk of being knocked down by the kids, the cats, or guests. The new speakers will be slimmer, and I intend to hang them on the back wall. I’m pleased that I had the foresight earlier this year when we had the carpet installed to pre-wire for 7.1 surround sound — I went out and bought 20′ feet of heavy gauge speaker wire, and ran it under the carpet while the carpet installers were working. It’ll be a piece of cake to fix the back wall setup without disturbing the carpet too much.

The speakers will be here early next week, and I can’t wait. I’m a tech head, and I love an upgrade.

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