Looking for fit, form and function

Sound & Control in The Lounge

with 3 comments

We’ve been enjoying The Lounge for a few months now and continue to make tweaks and modifications to the whole system. Before I talk about optimization I thought that you might want to read about the sounds system and the amazing remote that ties it all together.

The amplifier/receiver was a key element in the system but not as complicate to select as some of the other elements. I narrowed it down to the Sony STR-DG820, Onkyo TX-SR606 and the Yamaha RX-V663. They were all well rated by Consumer Reports and other online reviews. The Yamaha was rated best. From CR, “The Sony and Yamaha both had 7.1-channel receivers have built-in decoding for the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio high-resolution surround-sound formats found on Blu-ray movies. They also support Dolby Digital and DTS, used on DVDs and HDTV programs.  Common features include auto-calibration circuitry (plus microphones) for setting speaker levels in your room. The Yamaha can send a second audio source to another room, is XM and Sirius ready, and has 7.1-channel analog audio inputs.” An additional consideration was that I needed to include was that I needed to upscale a SD progressive scan output to 720P. The Yahmaha seemed like the best bet but if I needed trim a few dollars the Onkyo would be a good fall back. In the end I went with Yamaha.

Speakers were much more challenge in making the right decisions. In doing my basic research I found that good 5.1 channel system were not always good at basic 2 channel playback. My first short list of speakers included Harman Kardon HKTS 15, Polk Audio RM705, Energy RC-Micro 5.1, Mirage Nanosat® 5.1, Mirage Nanosat Prestige 5, Mirage OMNI S8 Powered subwoofer, Energy Take Classic 5.1 Speaker System, and Klipsch Cinema 8 System. I also put the

Aperion Intimus 4B Harmony SD on the list since it’s a local company that many of my friends have bought and enjoyed. I have a pair of the Aperion in-wall in the kitchen and love them. I really wanted small bookshelf speaker for FR, FL, RR, & RL with a great dynamic sounds, tight highs and a solid full range center speaker. I figured that if these 5 were rock solid the sub would just make it sound even fuller. After further research I narrowed things down to the Aperion, Mirage and Energy.

The next step was to pick out some music that I knew REALLY well and go listen to the systems. I grabbed Sting’s “Bring On The Night” live CD, his “Noting Like The Sun” and “December” by George Winston since I listened to all of these on a regular basis in college. I also brought along Ironman for some multi-layer 5.1 music, dialog and action scenes. My first stop on the listening tour was Aperion Audio. I check out the Intimus 4B Harmony SD. It was great in 5.1 but real thin in 2 channel especially with the live “Bring On The Night” and the higher end register of George Winston’s piano. In 5.1 they made Ironman come alive but need all 5 and I did not feel that there was much head room if I really needed to make things punch. Their tower system were amazing but to big for what I needed and my budget did not really allow for the almost $2,000 system.

I then headed off to Magnolia Hi-Fi at Best Buy. I listened to the Energy and Mirage system and started to warm up to the Energy Take Classic 5.1 and the Mirage Nanosat Prestige 5. But I did was not able to hear all the system that were on my list at Magnolia so I headed out to Home Video Library to check out the Kilpsch and other systems. While there I also listened to the NHT Absolute Zero with the NHT Absolute Center and NHT Classic Ten. I was very impressed that the NHT system could deliver an amazing range in such a small package. They had the best high end for George’s piano and really sounded full in 2 channel mode.  It was almost a slam dunk but I’m not an impulse buyer so I had to head home to do my research. The Absolute Zero combines a 5.25″ woofer and 1″ aluminum dome tweeter with a frequency response of 71Hz-20kHz and a sensitivity of 86dB. I read tones of NHT review and determined that I could get better sound reproduction for more money but for what my requirements were these speakers were the best bet. My ears LOVE them.

Logitech Harmony 890A good friend of mine had recommend that I pick up a Logitech Harmony universal remote to tie the whole system together. At first I was skeptical, I had used programable remotes in the past and found them more cumbersome than having a dedicated remote for each piece of consumer electronics. But with the HDTV, DVD, CD, AMP, Mac and lights all having their own remote it seamed like the table was filling up quickly. So when I was ready to buy the amp and speakers I had them throw in a Logitech Harmony 890 with a RF extender for about 1/3 the retail price as part of the negotiation. Everything is negotiable when your spending over $1000 on gear.

To say that the Harmony is a universal remote is not a complete accurate statement. I think of it more as an activity based remote, and here is the key. With one button you tell your system what you want to do and the Harmony resets each of your component’s configuration for that activity. For example if you want to watch a DVD it turns on the DVD, HDTV, AMP and changes the HDTV and AMP to the correct configuration and input setting. One button switches from Live HDTV to a DVD in less than a second. In addition it has backlit display for your most frequently accessed command. For me it was the IR light adjustments and 2 to 5.1 channel switching. Put simply once I got the Harmony properly configured it turned out to be one of the best parts of the whole system.

But getting the Harmony configured was not as easy as just telling it what components I owned. Configuration requires installing software on your computer (PC or Mac) and then typing in all the model numbers. You then tell the software what actives you want to set up and what setting you want to use for each component. It took about 45 min to get the first configuration set up and then downloaded via USB to the remote. It was then a few cycles of trial and error to tweak the configuration. For example when I went to power down the system the first time it turned off the lights as well and I was sitting in the dark. Other issues were with using the repeater and determining which components worked best with the signal coming from the wand or the repeater. I’ve probably transferred about eight different configuration to the Harmony and am now VERY satisfied with the tool. But it took much longer than I anticipated and the software was not as intuitive as I would have hoped.

Written by mediumtall

April 13, 2009 at 2:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. I picked up the Onkyo TX-SR606 myself, about a year ago, and am very pleased (it does run a little warm, though). From what I read, it was the most affordable piece of kit to support HD audio codecs and multiple HDMI inputs. It will handle upscaling of any video source (including composite and S-video sources), but you may want to do some additional research before you decide which component you ultimately want to handle the upscaling. For instance, your HD set will handle upscaling to whatever native resolution it supports (by definition). Different upscalers perform better than others, and you may want to just have your receiver simply hand off the native video resolution to the TV and let it handle the upscaling. The upscaler in my Panny plasma is excellent, and I pretty much have each of my components pass native resolutions to it for upscaling.

    As for the HD audio decoding – caveat emptor. Our PS3, for instance, decodes Dolby HD and DTS MA natively, and then passes the uncompressed linear PCM audio off downstream to the receiver. So, in my case, the receiver doesn’t actually receive the HD audio bitstreams for decoding. This means that I need to set my receiver to just pass along the 5.1 audio signal for amplification without further processing.

    I’d love to get on the Harmony universal remote bandwagon, but until they support Bluetooth natively, I’m unlikely to blow the cash required by the investment. Last month, some news surfaced regarding Logitech’s planned foray into remote PS3 control, but it is still vaporware as of today.

    Three Eyed Toad

    April 13, 2009 at 4:18 pm

  2. I’m thinking of buying an onkyo home theather system also, but I will have to check some reviews till I find the best with price/quality ratio


    July 24, 2009 at 12:15 pm

  3. […] i also brought along ironman for some multi-layer 5.1 music, dialog and action scenes. my first stop on the listening tour was aperion audio. i check out the intimus 4b harmony sd. it was great in 5.1 but real thin in 2 channel …Read more… […]

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