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What is the Best "Bang for the Buck" Sound-Quality Upgrade?

Poll Results: What is the best "bang for the buck" sound-quality upgrade?

 
  • 51% (315)
    New speakers
  • 11% (70)
    Upgrade AVR
  • 27% (168)
    Acoustic room treatment
  • 7% (45)
    Multiple subwoofers
  • 1% (8)
    Replace generic cables
606 Total Votes  
post #1 of 264
Thread Starter 
Upgrading a home-theater system's sound quality is fraught with economic and technical decisions. And of course, the law of diminishing returns always applies. Which approach yields the most improvement in sound quality for each dollar spent?


There are numerous approaches to improving sound quality in a home theater

Speakers are a popular choice for major upgrades because they add their own character to the sound. By focusing on efficiency, it is possible to improve the dynamics of a home theater system with nothing more than a speaker upgrade.

Upgrading the AVR can offer added power, new surround modes, and sophisticated room correction. The latest high-end AVRs feature 11.2 channel audio and are capable of very sophisticated DSP audio processing.

Room treatment is finally getting the respect it deserves. If a system is already capable of good performance, often room treatment will make the difference between good sound and great sound by controlling unwanted reflections.

Subwoofers can effectively extend the range of a sound system and add visceral impact to music and movie soundtracks. Using multiple subwoofers offers advantages such as smoother response, lower distortion, and higher maximum output. A good subwoofer system can make life a lot easier for an AVR trying to drive seven or nine speakers at once.

Cables are a contentious upgrade option; some people feel cables make a big difference, while others think there is zero difference between two different brands of cable with the same specifications. Still, replacing generic cables with premium cables remains a popular upgrade.

What is the best "bang for the buck" sound-quality upgrade?

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Edited by imagic - 7/21/13 at 7:47pm
post #2 of 264

Good headphones.

biggrin.gif

post #3 of 264
its a toss up between avr and speakers
post #4 of 264
Hoping results show room treatments a close second as I am starting an acoustic treatment project this weekend. It starts with acoustic panels to cover some of the walls. We will see where it goes from there.
post #5 of 264
Best bang for the buck is by far speakers. Everything else is essentially tweaking to get the best out of what they produce, either on the front end with source equipment, or on the back end with acoustic treatments.
post #6 of 264
I'd say it depends on what you already have. You've got them in the right order though...no point in acoustic treatments, upgrading your cables or adding a second sub if your speakers and AVR are lacking.
post #7 of 264
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by bd2003 View Post

I'd say it depends on what you already have. You've got them in the right order though...no point in acoustic treatments, upgrading your cables or adding a second sub if your speakers and AVR are lacking.

I think a second sub can help more than many people realize. By smoothing out bass response and making it less localizable, multiple subs allow for the use of a higher crossover point, which can help modest-sized speakers and modest-powered receivers to function at a considerably higher level without distorting. Plus, when it comes to "bang," nothing beats effortless deep bass extension IMO.

Having performed all of the upgrades in the list except for cables, I think it's a tie between speakers and multiple subs—but my AVR upgrade did make a difference and so did covering the walls of the HT with black drapes that also help absorb sound. I am a certified cable skeptic.
Edited by imagic - 7/18/13 at 7:40pm
post #8 of 264
If your source is poor quality, or it is decoded poorly, the end of chain after amplification is speakers. Therefore in my opinion I can't see switching speakers on a poorly preforming system as best bang item. Yet almost every room can be improved to take the sound in the room to a higher level of enjoyment and clarity for very little cash. Heck moving your books on the bookcase so they cause diffusion is free and helpful. Drawing your curtains so glass does not reflect harshly is another freebie. speakers could be the most sexy upgrade, and no doubt they will make a difference, even a solid difference on a mature well designed system. But the room is so much of the sound. In my opinion.
post #9 of 264
This one is going to be different for everyone depending on situation, but the first two key components for good sound are the AVR (or amp preamp) and speakers. Now acoustic treatments should be a key component, but let's face it, very few of us have a room that is a "true" dedicated theater room. A good sub only makes sense if you have good speakers; and generic cables, well I'm pretty sure there are a lot of those running out there with good results.
post #10 of 264
I voted for room treatments because I noticed much more from that than when I upgraded my speakers.
post #11 of 264
+1 on the room treatments. I have hardwood floors, and I found something as simple as a small rug and heavier drapes made my room less "lively" at a minimal cost.
post #12 of 264
I am looking at upgrading to a second sub so hope it makes a difference!
post #13 of 264
Quote:
Originally Posted by LastButNotLeast View Post

Good headphones.
biggrin.gif
That too, especially if you live in a condo or apt.
post #14 of 264
id say both, speakers and acoustics as well.
post #15 of 264
It depends. If it were me, and I had crappy everything, I would probably upgrade the AVR first, then get better speakers. I'd hate to ruin the speakers or, at the very least, not bring out their potential by using a garbage AVR with them. I did that, and have since upgraded my speakers twice. Every time I have noticed a pretty jaw dropping difference. But I still have my nice AVR. smile.gif

A second sub could help, but man I was at a friend's house and he had just amazing bass. I was certain he had at least two subs. Turns out it was just one really good one, properly positioned in the room. There were other factors (lots of carpet, posters, non-square room, etc), but I would look at room acoustics and messing around with placement before forking out the coin for a new sub. Acoustical treatment will help out every facet of sound, not just the LFE.
post #16 of 264
I vote acoustics.

Better sounding speakers, in an untreated room, will not perform as well as average speakers in a treated room, IMHO.

The room, and therefore the acoustics, has to be first.
post #17 of 264
Quote:
Originally Posted by swarm87 View Post

its a toss up between avr and speakers
YES. Speakers would win outright but, they usually cost the most to upgrade to better what you already have.
post #18 of 264
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by THE TRUE ONE View Post

YES. Speakers would win outright but, they usually cost the most to upgrade to better what you already have.

All too often I've run into folks dissatisfied with their speaker system, and after some tweaking it turns out the speakers were not the issue after all. In fact, the issue I witness most frequently is "upgraded" speakers that are not fed sufficient power, and bad speaker placement. That's where an AVR upgrade can come in handy. Inexpensive AVRs are only good for rated power on one channel, perhaps two. No speaker upgrade is going to make up for that.
post #19 of 264
Clean power

Room acoustics and good placement

Speakers

good source

Good preamp or processor

Good power amp

Good cables and yes that includes powercables tongue.gif

Now your ready for great recordings of music and movies

enjoy wink.gif
post #20 of 264
The question said "Bang for the Buck." In my theater, acoustic treatments control reflections, smooth response, improve vocal and dialogue intelligibility, and reduce decay time. I don't believe that acoustic treatments make the single biggest impact on my system's performance. However, since they are the cheapest upgrade, I do believe that they are the best "Bang for the Buck" in my case.
post #21 of 264
Quote:
Originally Posted by bd2003 View Post

I'd say it depends on what you already have. You've got them in the right order though...no point in acoustic treatments, upgrading your cables or adding a second sub if your speakers and AVR are lacking.
upgrading your cables? Are you serious? That will do absolutely zero to improve sound quality unless there was something wrong with the ones that you had.
post #22 of 264
Well placed speakers get my vote with AVR second. I just upgraded my front 3 speakers and pre/pro and the speakers made the biggest difference. Actually all the choices can make a big difference, except cables. Hopefully this doesn't turn into the great cable debate once again wink.gif
Edited by comfynumb - 7/19/13 at 4:29am
post #23 of 264
Quote:
Originally Posted by flyng_fool View Post

upgrading your cables? Are you serious? That will do absolutely zero to improve sound quality unless there was something wrong with the ones that you had.

No, I'm with you. It's so far down my list that it might as well not even be on it.
post #24 of 264
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by bd2003 View Post

No, I'm with you. It's so far down my list that it might as well not even be on it.

Especially in the digital era, cable upgrades make no sense. High quality, well-shielded analog interconnects at least make a tiny bit of sense. If one's system is built around HDMI and speaker cables, upgrading is pointless if everything works already. I've spent some time over at Stereophile arguing about cables that cost as much as cars; if someone believes that hype, there's no telling them otherwise.
post #25 of 264
Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post

Especially in the digital era, cable upgrades make no sense. High quality, well-shielded analog interconnects at least make a tiny bit of sense. If one's system is built around HDMI and speaker cables, upgrading is pointless if everything works already. I've spent some time over at Stereophile arguing about cables that cost as much as cars; if someone believes that hype, there's no telling them otherwise.



Your opening up a can of worms biggrin.gif
post #26 of 264
it's the room treatment ... hands down
pushing aside the single seater my wife puts in front of the left speaker makes the biggest difference at all and this one even comes for free biggrin.gif
post #27 of 264
Quote:
Originally Posted by comfynumb View Post

Your opening up a can of worms biggrin.gif
Mark opened it when he included "upgrading cables" on the list.

I vote for speakers if only because the improved sound quality when upgrading from (for example) a 5.1 satellite set to really nice speakers is immediately apparent no matter where you have them. However, nothing will improve sound quality in a room with a lot of reflective surfaces more than a proper acoustic treatment. But the degree of improvement hinges on how awful the room is to begin with.
Edited by repete66211 - 7/19/13 at 6:57am
post #28 of 264
Room treatment x 10000. Everything else is pointless unless you attack the room first.

The problem is that ti's nothing 'sexy' to look at because often they're hidden behind fabric in walls or under the riser, and/or the person has to understand what they're doing (there's some work involved), and/or aethetics do not allow them use room treatment after the room is built.

Kal
post #29 of 264
Pointless poll. Your best 'Bang for the Buck' is whichever category you're currently weak in. The least, however, IMO is cables, unless you have a broken one.
post #30 of 264
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by olyteddy View Post

Pointless poll. Your best 'Bang for the Buck' is whichever category you're currently weak in. The least, however, IMO is cables, unless you have a broken one.

That's not always true, many systems are well balanced. There's no rule that says all home theater systems have some obvious weak link. If there is no obvious weakness, then what? Should perfectly good speakers be replaced? I would argue that room treatment and a second sub qualify as additions, as opposed to replacements, and therefore offer more "bang for the buck" to AV enthusiasts who already have decent, well balanced systems.
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