Surround Sound

Some may argue that the most important piece of any home theater is the sound system.  I agree with this completely. The problem is that there are so many to choose from these days, how do you choose the right one? I’m a huge fan of product reviews. I’m not talking about the reviews that some journalist writes, I’m talking about reviews that shoppers write based on owning the product themselves. I find that the kind of people that write reviews are the kind that are either really happy about their purchase or are pissed off. There aren’t too many inbetween, you usually see a bunch of 5 stars or 1 stars. I tend to read the pissed off reviews before anything else. In my life, if there is something that could go wrong with a product, it will go wrong with me, so I like to be prepared on the problems that are definitely coming my way. I also like to use the 80/20 rule here. If you add up the percentage of reviews that are 5 stars or 4 stars and they are greater than 80% of all the reviews together, then I’m probably going to be happy with my purchase. However, if you add up the 1 stars and 2 star reviews and they surpass 20% then I’m not purchasing the product.

Of course there are exceptions. Sometimes I’ll buy a product even if the reviews are flat simply because I like the brand. This brings me to my first purchase for my sound system, before a home theater was even on my mind, the “Pioneer VSX-1021-K 7.1 Home Theater Receiver”. The reviews were almost split 50/50 at the time, but I’ve owned another Pioneer receiver and have not been disappointed so I took the risk with this one.  Add to that the fact that a lot of the negative reviews were around features it was missing, difficulty of configuration, etc. all things I figured I could live with.  I purchased this thing back in December of 2011, almost 5 years ago to the day. It still plays music and video without any issues. The biggest complaint I have is that it doesn’t support Bluetooth. These days you can buy a Bluetooth adapter to plug into it, but it would have been nice if it was built in.

You can see in the picture below that the number of inputs and outputs is insane:

The biggest thing I wanted at the time was 7.1 surround sound and this thing had it. What is 7.1? These days there are 2 popular configurations of speakers and sub-woofers, 5.1 and 7.1. The 5.1 configuration has been around for a while. In this configuration there are 2 speakers behind you in the left and right corners, 2 speakers in front of you in the left and right corners and 1 center speaker right in front of you, which gives you 5 speakers. The “.1” is the sub-woofer which you can put almost anywhere, I usually put somewhere in front of me. In a 7.1 configuration, everything is the same as the 5.1 configuration, except you have 1 additional speaker directly to your left and 1 additional speaker directly to your right, giving you 7 total speakers. Again, the “.1” is the sub-woofer. Another configuration, though less popular, is a 7.2 system which adds a second sub-woofer, hence the 2 sub-woofers gives you the “.2”. For most people, the 5.1 configuration will work just fine, but for a little more money you can upgrade to the 7.1 configuration.

Besides the 7.1 surround sound, I also wanted a single HDMI connection to my TV or BenQ projector. This Pioneer unit allows you to connect 5 HDMI inputs (blu-ray player, cable box, satellite dish, XBox, Playstation etc.) with 1 output to the TV or projector. This saves on a bunch of cables having to be run to the TV or projector and allows you to place the inputs in a cabinet somewhere with just one long HDMI running to the TV or projector.

The next decision to be made was which speakers to purchase.  It’s not like I’ve owned a ton of home theater speakers in the past, so I had to really rely on reviews here.  I obviously needed 7 speakers and 1 subwoofer for my 7.1 configuration. I simply started search for “7.1 speakers”. After a bunch of searching and reading reviews I ended up choosing the “Onkyo SKS-HT870 Home Theater Speaker System” for my setup. Back when I purchased it in 2011 I paid $285 but today I see it’s offered for $499. I definitely got it for a bargain. But…let me tell you something, this set of speakers is incredible! Each of the 7 speakers can handle 130W and the sub-woofer can handle 230W. Add all of that up and you have an incredibly loud system to blast music, TV, gaming, etc. on without any disappointment. If I had to purchase another speaker system, I would purchase this set even at $499!

There is one thing I must mention here about my speaker setup.  Prior to putting them in my home theater, I had already owned the “Polk Audio PSW110 10-Inch Powered Subwoofer” sub-woofer. What I found was that since my home theater is in my basement directly on a concrete floor with carpet on top, the Polk sub-woofer sounded a bit better than the sub-woofer that came with the Onkyo 7.1 speakers. But, for most people, and especially if your home theater is on a wood based floor, the Onkyo subwoofer will work just fine. I still use it upstairs in my living room and it sounds great.

I hope this information helps you when you’re ready to build your own theater room. Below are links to the actual products I purchased on

Here is the “Pioneer VSX-1021-K 7.1 Home Theater Receiver” I purchased:

Here is the “Onkyo SKS-HT870 Home Theater Speaker System” I purchased:

Here is the “Polk Audio PSW110 10-Inch Powered Subwoofer” I purchased:

Any comments or questions, use the form below and I’ll answer them for you.

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A mix of home improvement ideas, DIY projects, product reviews, compiled from years of owning my own home and refusing to pay anybody to do, build or fix anything that I couldn't figure out myself.