Home | Jon | Decent Home Theater On the Cheap
Spewed on: February 4, 2006
Sure, you can stroll into Wal-Mart and pick up a cheap Home-Theater-In-A-Box (HTIAB) for a few hundred bucks, and you might find said item to be perfectly adequate. Me, I'm an audio snob. But I'm also a bit of a cheapskate. So while the $199 HTIAB wouldn’t cut it for me, I was not in the mood to spend thousands of dollars to get decent-sounding components either.

I’ve been buying hi-fi gear since college — usually more than I could actually afford. I’ve been a big movie fan forever, too, and when I decided to spring for home theater gear, I was already spoiled listening to pretty decent two-channel hi-fi. After auditioning a few examples of HTIAB and reading some of their dismal specifications, I figured that I could probably cobble something together on my own that would perform much better. I knew it would probably cost more than the cheapest HTIABs, but I hoped to keep the total cost under four digits.

The Components
With a cheap HTIAB, speakers are usually the chintziest bits in the box. Fortunately, there are lots of inexpensive and not too shabby options that can perform well as home theater speakers. Case in point: for years, Radio Shack sold in one incarnation or another, a small metal-cased two-way loudspeaker (most often referred to as the Minimus 7). This speaker was well-regarded in audio circles for its value. As luck would have it, they were on sale at the time I was shopping, and I picked up five of them (for the front and rear satellites and the center channel) for about $160.00. For a while there, Radio Shack had a cooperative deal going with RCA, and the speakers are branded as such. They feature 3.5" woofers, 1" fabric dome tweeters and they’re magnetically shielded. For the price, they sound pretty decent, although their midrange is a little thin and of course, they are altogether lacking in bass. No matter. That’s what the subwoofer’s for, and for that item, I took a chance on a 12" KLH powered subwoofer I found at Costco for $99.00. Costco also had an AV receiver in stock, the Pioneer VSX-D511, so I picked up one of those, too. The VSX-D511 is a basic 5.1 100 watt/channel AV receiver. At $229.00, it seemed a bargain. For the DVD player, I grabbed a random cheap unit off the shelf at Best Buy. I paid $79.00 for the Toshiba SD-2800.

What Worked and What Didn’t
The Radio Shack speakers are very satisfactory. The subwoofer was another story. First of all, it was not magnetically shielded. I had it positioned directly beneath our CRT television, and it was a pain getting it situated so as to minimize the color bands that the woofer’s magnetic field generated on the TV screen. It also had grounding issues and hummed at 60Hz continuously.

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Decent Home Theater On the Cheap
The Heals