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Two-channel home theater vs. sound bar speakers

It's a dirty little secret: So-called sound bar speakers are merely glorified stereo speakers.

Let's face it, setting up a home theater with five speakers and a subwoofer is a hassle.

Home-theater-in-a-box systems ease the pain somewhat, but you still have to run wires to five speakers and a subwoofer. Single-speaker sound bar systems? Sure, they eliminate the tangle of wires, but they're just glorified stereo bars and never really sound all that good. You can get much better sound from a decent set of stereo speakers.

You could put together a much better sounding system with Integra's DSR-4.8 DVD/AV receiver ($600) and a nice pair of speakers and possibly a subwoofer. It's a stereo receiver with 50 watts per channel with a built-in DVD/DVD-Audio/SACD player; video connectivity includes a 1080p HDMI output, one HDMI input, and two composite inputs. (You can multiply the usefulness of that single HDMI input by adding an inexpensive HDMI switcher that multiplies the number of available outputs.)


Let's compare and contrast an Integra DSR-4.8 based system with Yamaha's YSP-4000 single-speaker surround system ($1,800). The Yamaha is self-powered so it doesn't need an AV receiver, but it doesn't make much bass. So, you'll need to add a subwoofer, like Yamaha's YST-FSW150 ($280) and a DVD or Blu-ray player.

Fifty watts may not seem like much, but Integra components sound pretty good; pair the DSR-4.8 with efficient speakers you'd get a big sound. Klipsch's RB-61 bookshelf speakers ($499/pair) would be ideal and make better and more powerful bass than the YSP-4000, so some of you won't have to get a sub. But if you're thinking about going whole hog, I like Klipsch's Sub-12 subwoofer ($500). That's all together a $1,600 MSRP system, so it's at least $500 less expensive than the Yamaha system.

The Integra/Klipsch system would be way, way more dynamic, with vastly greater clarity for movies and music (single-speaker systems never quite sound right for music). To be fair, the Yamaha big claim to fame is its ability to produce a facsimile of surround sound from the single speaker, and it's the best of its type (I've reviewed a ton of single-speaker surround systems for CNET--both units with built-in video connectivity and those without--so I should know). The Integra/Klipsch is strictly stereo, but it'll be really good stereo. Big and wide, with a great sense of depth and spatiality.


But the Integra is really intended for audiophiles; it has good stuff like 192 hHz/24-bit digital to analog converters and plays SACD and DVD-Audio discs. That's a big plus for those of you who already have large collections of high-resolution audio discs. Building a system around the DSR-4.8, maybe for a bedroom or office system, would make a lot of sense.

I've written about Home Theater 2.0 before, but to recap: it's a whole lot easier to set up, it eliminates stringing wires across your room, and it focuses your speaker budget, whatever it is, on two rather than five speakers. That way you wind up with better sounding speakers for the same investment as you were planning on dropping on five. It's a quality over quantity approach to home theater. A room full of lower quality speakers will produce more so-so sound; two higher quality speakers will always sound better.

Hey, you pays your money, you makes your choices. If five speakers and a sub, or even a sound bar don't cut it Home Theater 2.0 or 2.1 is at least worth thinking about.