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Upgrading your PC and display to a Home Theater

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Well, computers and home theaters have really converged. Since the pandemic, I’ve been using a 55″ OLED television(thank you LG 55B9!) as a computer monitor. It’s awesome to have six (?!) windows open and to be able to write code in all of them.

But what if in the evenings, you want to reuse this as a home theater. Well, the crappy speakers that are built in don’t cut it. Fortunately, I have a 10 year old Energy Take 2 system that has been lying around. It’s actually incredible how this little system with 5″ micro speakers and an 8″ subwoofer still sounds pretty good. We also have an old Outlaw 1050 which was one of the first direct-to-consumer brands. It has lots of component inputs and an optical and coax digital input and it stills sounds OK.

I had nearly forgotten how to configure it, but setting each speaker to Small and then the subwoofer to full input and then the crossover at 100Hz definitely did the trick

So just hook up the TOSLink from the LG and then from the PC, there’s even an digital cable output. Not bad! Only a few wires from the parts bin. Well three problems:

  1. The receiver is definitely flaky. the right rear is broken and when you run Test feature doesn’t sound the left front. And of course, there are zillion new audio formats. This thing does decode DTS and Dolby 5.1, but there are way more format.
  2. The cabling is really hard to make work. So Amazon has a binding post to banana plug adapter. Then it is a matter of getting some decent banana plug cables from IT Gear and it works. I first tried the Monoprice cables called Monolith, but surprisingly these didn’t work. They look solid, but they shorted the receiver. I’m actually thinking this is what killed the left speaker.
  3. That last problem is that the world has moved to 7.1\2.4 sound. This means seven speakers instead of Left, Center and Right plus two surrounds, you instead, have the Left and the right now pointed at a 60 degree angle to you, so much wider than before. The surrounds change too, they are also much wider and pointed at you. Finally, there are mid speakers that are parallel to you. The world now looks like seven speakers all pointed at the exact center of your seating. This makes sense because with Dolby Atmos, you can place a sound anywhere in this space, so you want everything pointed right at you. Finally, you need so called “elevation speakers”, these are either ceiling mounted at the room corners for elevation speakers that fire upwards and bounce off the ceiling. This let’s you hear explosions “above you”. Then you stick not one but two subwoofers in the room.

So what is a geek to do?

  1. First, it’s time to upgrade the receiver. The Denon AVR-X3700H looks like a real winner, it’s 9 channel amplifier that can be split as 7.2.2 or 5.2.4 which is plenty. It’s been winning awards as a really quiet system and a great value. The budget version is the AVR-S960H with 7 channels at half the price so a great value choice. Audioscience Review seems to be one of the few sites that take real measurements of these systems and they like it. The previous model was loved by Wirecutter.
  2. The cables themselves, while you can precut your own wire, the GearIT 12AWB is a great choice. It uses oxygen-free solid copper and is reasonably (for audiophiles) prices at $2/foot. It has really nice and solid Banana Plug tips which makes it easy to connect. It comes in 6 feet all the way up to 35 feet lengths.
  3. To adapter the spades on the back of the Energy Take 5, I got these SHTCUS Banana to Spade Adapter. Turns out I made something of a mistake, they work, but they are for narrow binding posts.
  4. Finally, you can get these elevation speakers, these are angled and fire upwards. These nominally you put on top of your existing speakers. That works great for bookshelf sized, but these Energy speakers are tiny, so we Make Life Click has a great review of 15 Atmos speakers that are of different sizes. They really like the ELAC DEbut 2.0 Dolby Atmos speakers. Andrew Jones long of Pioneer helped redesign them. But they are a little big for mini speakers. For these little guys, the NHT Atmos Mini Add-on‘s would seem to work better. These are supposed to be mounted ear height so that’s about perfect. They sit on top of the front speakers and at $99 each, if you are splurging, you can get a set for the rear speakers too.
  5. Logitech BRIO Ultra HD Webcam. While you are at it, for $233 (a small premium over the $199 list price, you can get this camera. The main reason is that it includes Windows Hello hardware and is great for doing zoom calls from your PC.

And as always with electronics, think about using your American Express Platinum card to extend the warranty by a year 🙂

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