Originally Posted by Paul Carlton
Thanks for all the helpful replies!
Some clarification to the responses:
Sub - I hadn't a spent a lot of time thinking about the sub to be honest. As I'm in a very small room with not a lot of soft furnishings and laminate floors, the bass can be overpowering even with my tiny existing sub! It may be a placement issue too, as it's very close to the wall. A general question - is spending more on a sub usually a volume thing? Or will I still significant quality benefits if I don't need the extra power? To NuSoardGraphite's point, if I do go for towers, I may see what the bass is like out of them minus a sub and then invest in a good sub down the line if it's lacking.
If the bass is already "overwhelming" with the small sub you have, just keep that for now and test it out with a variety of configurations. With a proper AVR with room correction software that also adjusts the bass, it might tame that issue. If you get capable towers, you can use the bass from the towers AND the sub and have more than enough pressure to fill your small room. But even that might not be necessary.
There are several factors and reasons why you want to spend more on a sub:
1: Volume. As you said one of the primary reasons is volume. A bigger room requires more pressure to fill meaning you need a bigger woofer capable of pushing more sound. This is your 8" vs 10" vs 12" vs REALLY BIG debate. Most tend to go with 12" but in a smaller room, a 10" or even an 8" sub might be adequate. In larger rooms, you need at least a 15" sub or bigger, or multiple 12" subs to fill in the gaps or smooth out the peaks and nulls that will be created.
2: Tonality: A sub meant for music should have tight, accurate bass. Not just "boomy" bass. Generally this is ported vs sealed, but that doesn't tell the whole story. A sub with boomy bass may actually sound better for movies/gaming (gunshots and explosions are very boomy) as long as the bass isn't loose and rattling. However if your system doubles for music, then you want tighter bass for better musicality.
3: LFE: Low Frequency Effects. This is bass frequencies lower than 120hz. It is specifically what the subwoofer is supposed to handle, which is why it can be placed on its own channel. The goal for many HT enthusiasts is to get good bass down below 30hz. Even the most capable of tower speakers have difficulty reaching down into this category. A properly built sub with a quality woofer and enough power can do so. In fact they can reach below 20hz in some rare cases. At this point, you cease being able to hear the bass and you more feel it in your bones. Generally speaking, the bigger the woofer, the deeper the bass can go. However this is not a hard rule. It has a lot to do with the design of the cabinet, the quality of the woofer and the effects of the room.
In your case, Volume is not going to be your primary concern, since your room is small, and any subwoofer with middling efficiency should be more than loud enough for your purposes. So you would have to decide if Frequency or Tonality is your priority. If its frequency, you want to go with a larger woofer and cabinet possibly ported (ported subs usually go a few hz lower than sealed ones, again not a hard rule though), if its Tonality, you probably want to go with a smaller woofer in a sealed cabinet. There is no wrong choice here, just the type of bass you prefer.
AVR - One thing I hadn't mentioned here is that I'll need at least 4k/HDR pass through - my next big investment will be a 4k OLED in a couple of years and I don't want to re-buy a a receiver just for that. I appreciate I could get more value out of a refurb for the same money though and I still won't be future-proofed for ever. As mentioned, it looks like a lot of entry-level receivers cover 4k/HDR/Atmos now, so it's not a huge stretch for my budget.
Absolutely. You want at the very minimum, 4k/HDR pass through. That means an AVR new enough that it can handle HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2. I would also suggest you get at least a 7.1 amp AVR with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X "just in case". As I mentioned earlier, they aren't very expensive. Also a Network capable AVR has a lot of little extra features you might find handy, like automatic updates and streaming radio apps. Those are the minimum features I would look for.
Levels - Picking up on capo4u's point on impedance, it's worth mentioning that I'm not going to have the luxury of playing anything super loud. Again, with a little one in bed after 7pm and I live in a semi-detached house with a shared wall in my living room. That being said, I still don't want a mismatch between the receiver/speakers. The Denon x2300W I was looking at is 150 watts per channel and claims to be able to drive speakers down to 4 ohms. In general, I'm also going to be looking for something that is going to sound good at relatively low volumes.
Most modern AVRs can handle 8 ohm, 6 ohm and 4 ohm speakers just fine. I don't think its something you have to worry about with a small room. Or even a mid-sized living room like mine. If you have a voluminous dedicated theater meant to play at reference levels, that is probably something you need to consider, but not with an average living-room setup.
Piece-by-piece or big bang - Most people seem to be recommending starting small and building up, which I can really see the logic in, but some of those bundle deals seem very tempting! For example, the Q acoustics bundle I mentioned, if I bought just the towers and the AVR - that'd be around £900 new, for an extra £250 I get two good rear bookshelf speakers, a decent centre and a sub!
Piece by piece is just fine. If you are patient, you can slowly put together your surround sound system with quality components, and when all is said and done, have a very kick-ass system to impress your friends with. But it is also okay to go modest if you want it all right now. As I said before, I have very inexpensive speakers and I am happy with all of them except the center. I do feel the need to upgrade, but that's because I want better speakers for playing music. I have no complaints about my surround sound for games or movies AT ALL (except wanting the center channel to play dialogue louder/cleaner). If I didn't listen to music on my system, I wouldn't even consider upgrading.
You already have a subwoofer. Keep that for now. You can always upgrade it to something better as you go. Find your primary three speakers....your Front L/R and center. repurpose those AE speakers to your surrounds at first. Then replace them when you are ready, with whatever you decide to go with. Then upgrade your sub when you are ready.
I noticed that AEGO 2.1 is kind of like a Bass Module that has the amps for your little speakers in them. It should still be usable as a stand alone subwoofer if you go from the LFE port on the back of your AVR to the audio input on the back of the sub. This is what you have, correct?
Wall mounting - to pase22's point about the wall mounting the front channels. I wasn't sure about this, because most of the speakers I've been looking are rear-ported and I have read they can sound a boomy/off if placed to close to the wall. I suppose I have the same concern about towers too - as they are going to be close to the wall, should I be looking at front-ported exclusively? Or am I overthinking it?
Depending on the towers themselves, as long as you can get them 6" to 12" away from the wall, it should be okay. I had my front L/R speakers wall mounted with a shelf and bracket setup I made myself and I made them long enough to keep the speaker about 6" from the wall and I had no issues with that. My speakers are rear ported. (now I have them mounted on stands though. Makes it easier to adjust placement)
Thanks again for the all the responses. I've been doing a a tonne of independent research but it's a huge help to get your opinions. To be honest, i'm looking forward to making a decision just so I can stop over-analysing the whole thing
No problemo. welcome to the rabbit hole!