Q: We are moving to a new home and want to make changes to our audio system. We currently have a surround system with a Marantz AV receiver, small Klipsch speakers and a subwoofer. The new music room is about 20-by-20 feet, and we will use the Marantz receiver in it with new speakers, but just stereo this time.
We have about a $500 budget that can be flexed to $700 if you think it will make a big difference in the sound. Right now, we are looking at the $120-a-pair Sony Core bookshelf speakers, leaving around $380 for a subwoofer.
Do you think we are going in the right direction, or is there something else you would recommend?
A: With your budget and the size of your room, I think you can do much better.
My first observation is that you have too much of your budget devoted to the subwoofer and not enough allotted to the main speakers. In fact, I am recommending you not get a subwoofer at all. Automobile enthusiasts are familiar with the term "there is no substitute for cubic inches." It means a 300-cubic-inch engine feels more powerful and performs more effortlessly than a 200-cubic-inch engine. A caveat to car buffs: Yes, that's an old saw that has been impacted by technologies such as direct fuel injection that enable small engines to produce more power than engines of the past. But even today, all things being equal, a bigger engine will perform better than a smaller one.
The same can be said about sound systems. While high-tech bookshelf speakers combined with a subwoofer can reproduce the range of frequencies of a larger tower speaker, there is still nothing like the dynamic range a larger speaker provides. A good tower speaker will give you all the bass you need without a subwoofer. Doing without that also removes the need to fuss with subwoofer adjustments to try and get the correct balance between it and the bookshelf speakers. You can just hook up the towers and go. (We're talking about music, by the way. If you're big on movie sound effects, then a subwoofer helps.)
Earlier this year I wrote about the Polk Signature S20 bookshelf speakers (polkaudio.com). They are now my top recommendation in the $300 range, by virtue of their great looks and dynamite sound. Their sonic signature is cut from the same cloth as the expensive, high-end brands.
There are larger models in the Polk Signature series, and that is what I am recommending to you. The Polk Signature S50 tower speakers can be purchased for under $500 per pair. I have been testing them recently, and I have been thoroughly impressed.
Better yet, bump your budget just a bit and get the Polk Signature S55 towers. I have not heard them, but by all accounts they are even better than the S50 towers and make more bass, which you will appreciate in your large room. The S55 towers can be purchased for under $650 on sale.
When you set up your system, be sure to go into the Marantz receiver's speaker setup menus and set the subwoofer, center and surround speakers to "off" and the front speakers to "large." I usually prefer a simple stereo receiver to an AV receiver for a system like yours, but that is the subject for another column.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.