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All About That Bass

Posted on November 26th, 2018

Dave!I was upset with myself for going into credit card debt to buy the Sonos SUB (subwoofer) to complete my Dolby 5.1 setup... but couldn't pass up the $100 Black Friday savings. The thing is SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS and knocking a Benjamin off the price was just too good to be true. Even if it means that I've spent my tax refund before I've even seen it.

Now that I have it installed though? Amazing. Absolutely amazing. No regrets. Totally worth the three months' worth of groceries this thing cost me.

XXX

I knew that adding a subwoofer would give me better bass. I had one with my old audio system, so I knew what to expect. What I didn't expect is that Sonos would take the bass load off my front and rear channels so they can focus on producing bright, crisp midtones. Movie dialogue is phenomenal. My music is more alive. The room sounds bigger, fuller, and sound fills the space better. Acoustics with the SUB enabled are drastically improved.

As expected from Sonos, the build quality is excellent. The SUB weighs 36 pounds so you know the thing is capable of pushing serious air volume. The face-to-face drivers cancel cabinet vibration, which means it can be placed upright or lay flat. Sonos had mentioned you could put it under your couch if you wanted, so I attached the felt pads to a face, placed it on its side, then shoved it underneath mine (where the cats can't get to it). This has the side benefit of adding a nice punch under your butt when the bass is firing!

Setup is dead simple. You just open the Sonos app, tell it you want to add a SUB speaker, press a button on the unit, and everything happens automatically. You can then balance the sound by sitting where you'll be listening from and having the phone app "listen" to the room acoustics. Then you can use Sonos Trueplay tuning to walk around the room while the app "listens" to the space and adjusts to best fill it. The app makes the entire process fairly painless.

The first thing I did once I was all set up was to play Postiljonen's Plastic Panorama which is a beautiful piece of music that has soft, haunting vocals that can be overwhelmed by the punchy bass-line on a bad stereo. My Sonos system with the SUB added played the track beautifully. I've never heard the song sound so good...

Halsey's Without Me is particularly good with the SUB in play...

I then proceeded to play a wide variety of different music from every style and genre I could think of. Sonos took everything I threw at it and performed flawlessly. I then ran some movies with excellent sound design through the Sonos Dolby 5.1 separation and was consistently thrilled by what I was hearing (Blade Runner 2049 is incredible). I thought my stereo system sounded good before... and it did... but now it's next level. I turn the SUB off and on while listening and the difference is not subtle. This is one piece of equipment that will not be returned to the manufacturer because I don't want to live without it! I spend a huge chunk of my time listening to music and watching television or movies. It deserves to be the best experience it can be in my life. Even if I had to go into debt to do it.

I was worried about the cats adjusting to the increased bass, but they have completely ignored it. Don't ask me how they can sleep while music is playing, but they've never had a problem. There are quiet places they can retreat to but they don't. With that in mind, I try not to get too loud so as not to damage their sensitive ears.

So... to sum up...

If you've got a Sonos audio setup... especially if you've got a PLAYBAR with rear speakers for your home theater... the SUB is a fantastic addition. Perhaps even a necessary addition if you spend a lot of time watching movies at home like I do. Without it, you're kinda missing out.

The problem, of course, is the price tag. $700 is insanity. The $600 I paid on sale was still absurd. This is a $500 piece of audio equipment, tops. And yet... it sounds like a million bucks, so go figure.

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Gray Friday

Posted on November 23rd, 2018

Dave!Black Friday is the one day of the year I set aside to shop for clothes. Not in stores, of course... never in stores... but online. I put aside money every month so that when today arrives I can buy my clothes for the following year at 40% to 80% off. This year all my savings went to pay for vet bills, so I didn't end up buying a stitch of clothing. But it wasn't a big deal. I have a pile of summer clothes I bought for my Hawaii vacation (but didn't get to use because Jake got sick) and I still have loads of winter clothes left from the stuff I bought for Antarctica last year.

Guess I'll be wearing a lot of Hawaiian prints next year at Summertime. I rather like Hawaiian though, so I'll survive.

And so... no new clothes. But that doesn't mean I didn't purchase anything for Black Friday. On the contrary, I just blew my tax refund before I even have it! Something I try very hard not to do... but there were some bargains I could not refuse...

   
SONOS SUB
Ever since investing in the SONOS wireless speaker ecosystem (which I love, for the most part) I've been saving money for the subwoofer to complete my Dolby 5.1 setup. My existing SONOS speakers already have pretty good bass, but I miss that punch you can feel when watching movies. Problem is, the thing is SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS!!! The amount I've managed to save? $120. Which means buying a SUB was a few years off yet. And then SONOS went and had a Black Friday sale for $100 off the regular price...

SONOS Sub Speaker

I could not pass up $100 savings, even though I only had a fraction of the remaining $599 I needed. And so... there goes a huge chunk of my tax refund!

   
Philips Hue LED Smart Bulb Starter Kit
I was set against the Hue LED lights because they were hideously expensive and require a hub. Instead I went with hub-less bulbs that were a fraction of the price. And... you get what you pay for. The cheaper bulbs I bought are crap, and refuse to stay connected to the internet (even though they are practically sitting on top of my Google WiFi router). They also refuse to change color via IFTTT, which is what I use to remind me when it's recycle day. So I made up my mind that I'd invest in the Gold Standard of smart-bulbs (Hue) next year. But then Amazon had the $149.99 starter kit on sale for a ridiculous $79.99, and I couldn't pass that up...

Hue Hub Lighting Kit

The side-benefit of investing in Hue is that Alexa can control them directly, which is kinda nice. I probably won't be turning my porch lights on manually (they're programmed to turn off/on automatically based on sunrise/sunset times), but it's nice to know I could tell Alexa to do it if I needed her to.

   
iTunes $100 Gift Card
I buy all my apps, movies, music, and TV shows from Apple. Which is why I wait for Amazon to put their $100 iTunes cards on sale for $80, because it's like getting free money... money I'd end up spending anyway. I do this every year. Sometimes I get lucky and manage to find a different store (like Best Buy) who put theirs on sale as well. $200 covers the bulk of the stuff I buy at Apple in a year, so paying $160 is a no-brainer...

iTunes Card

UPDATE: I kept checking all day to see if Best Buy dropped their price. They just did. Not on the $100 card, but $10 off their $50 cards, so I got two of them. Sweet!

   
Dyson V7 Animal Absolute Vacuum
I am not a fan of Dyson. Their technology is great, but their construction is cheap. I still have the one I bought my mom sitting in the garage with a burnt out motor (which I really need to have fixed one of these days since it's still under warranty). So when I wanted to buy a cordless "stick" vacuum to replace the dying vacuum I use to clean my hardwood, it was not going to buy a Dyson. But when I did the research, the Dyson models came out on top every time. And so I bit the bullet and bought the model they make for pet hair (V7 Animal) because it was on sale for $240 (regular $399)...

Dyson V7 Animal Vacuum

I am really hoping that this last longer than my mom's upright, which didn't even make it a year. I'll only use it once or twice a month (Carl the RoboVac does the day-to-day cleaning) so fingers crossed.

UPDATE: I received a notice from Dyson that the V7 "Absolute" which also comes with a fluffy head for better cleaning on hardwood (which is all I have) was on sale for $238 (regular $450)... two dollars less than the "Animal" I bought that doesn't have the fluffy head! So, essentially I'm getting the $100 head for free, PLUS a "deep clean kit" that retails for $80... plus everything that comes with the "Animal" version. This is pretty shitty... why didn't Dyson offer this deal yesterday with all the other deals? And so... I ordered one of those and will just refuse delivery of the original shipment. If you buy direct you get a money-back guarantee, and I am definitely taking advantage of that.

   
What I Spent
My grand total for the day? $1078. Factoring in the $120 I had saved up for my SONOS SUB, I ended up putting $958 on my credit card (probably close to $1000 once tax is added). I loathe, loathe, loathe having credit card debt, but I'm trying to be okay with it since I'll be able to pay it off with my tax refund next year. Given that the full price of all the crap I bought was $1580, I can't complain about getting 1/3 off.

   
What I Didn't Buy
There were a few things I had in the back of my head to purchase. Stuff I want... not need. But once I ended up getting the SONOS SUB, everything else was taken off the table because that ate up way more money than I was wanting to spend. Guess these Black Friday deals will have to wait until next year...

  • Nintendo Switch — Probably wouldn't have time to play it much anyway, so I'm good.
  • Beats Solo3 Wireless Headphones — I have a nice pair of wired headphones, so I'm good.
  • Cookware Set — The old stuff I inherited from my mom works fine, so I'm good.
  • Cat Tree — Jake and Jenny's cat tree is getting pretty raggedy. My ultimate goal is to build one that doesn't look crappy (like most all cat trees do). But, in the meanwhile, I was going to get a fresh replacement. Theirs still works just fine though, so they're good.

And so... until next year then...

   

Shoe Money Tonight!

Posted on April 19th, 2018

Dave!For the money, the most versatile piece of furniture I've found has been HEMNES Shoe cabinets from IKEA. At just $99 each, The four-drawer version is nicely shallow... just 8-5/8" deep... and since it mounts directly to the wall and there's no rear legs to push it away from the molding, there's no wasted space. On top of that, the drawers themselves are deep and spacious so they are actually useful. Not just for shoes (though they are great for storing shoes) but for all kinds of things (the one in my kitchen holds placemats and napkins!).

Once I found out that I wouldn't be able to wall-mount my SONOS One speakers as I originally planned, my first thought was to purchase a couple of HEMNES units, drill holes in the top, then hide the SONOS cords behind them. They're the perfect height, allowing the speakers to rise just above my couch...

IKEA Hemnes Show Cabinets for Sonos One

IKEA Hemnes Show Cabinets for Sonos One

Since the table-top on these extends from the ends of the cabinet, I had to modify them slightly so I could get the two units to sit flush against each other, but they turned out great. Even more importantly, they work perfectly for giving me excellent surround sound.

And, as a bonus, my LaserDisc collection now has a home. A perfect home, actually, since they are stored vertically, but pull down at an angle so I can read the spines easily...

IKEA Hemnes Show Cabinets for Sonos One

It's kind of weird that I now have seven of these shoe cabinets in my home considering I don't own many shoes, but they're just so versatile and functional. The shallow depth also means they can go just about anywhere. Yes, quality control at IKEA is shitty and you may get a defective part that will need replacing, but if you've got a tight spot you're looking to fill, these are definitely worth a look.

Something tells me I haven't purchased my last Hemnes shoe cabinet.

   

Things I Bought Week: Part 5

Posted on January 9th, 2016

Dave!Welcome to the fifth installment of Things I Bought Week, showcasing stuff that I recently purchased and what I think of what I got for my hard earned money!

What did I buy this time? The Denon AVR-S910W Dolby 7.2 Channel 4K Receiver.


Denone AVR-S910W

I loathe having to buy new stereo equipment.

But receivers are handling a heck of a lot more than just audio now-a-days... receivers are the hub for both audio and video. So whenever video standards change, your equipment has to change with it. When we went from RCA jack video to composite video and optical sound? New receiver. When we got S-Video? New receiver. When we went to HDMI? New receiver. And now that HDMI has been improved with a new version 2 at 4K and shitty fucking copy protection has been unimproved with HDCP 2.2? New receiver.

I mean, sure, you can always use old inputs on an old receiver... I've been doing that for years and living with the lower quality picture... but it's time to upgrade.

I've been a huge fan of Pioneer equipment over the years, but they don't seem to be pushing the envelope now-a-days. My next favorite brand is Sony, but it was a more expensive option for what I wanted. So I spent days researching which receivers were getting good marks now-a-days and settled on Denon. The have a number of different models, but the AVR-S910W was on sale for a great price and did more than I needed, so here we are.

Aesthetically, the unit could easily be confused with dozens of other receivers since they're all looking the same now-a-days... though this line seems to be a bit more minimalistic, which I like. It has a fraction of the buttons of the old Pioneer it's replacing. Since most HDMI electronics can talk to each other via CEC (Consumer Electronic Control), you rarely need to press anything anyway. Turn on your AppleTV and CEC switches the receiver for you. It's mostly automatic and entirely awesome. What's crazy, however, is that the buttons you most need for non-HDMI devices (because they can't be automatically controlled) ARE MISSING. Want to switch the audio source to Bluetooth so you can play music off your iPhone? Hope you have the remote handy, because there's no button for that on the receiver itself.

And speaking of the remote... it's yet another button nightmare where you have to go hunting for what you want. Which sucks to be sure (why is it only Apple can minimize crap on remotes?) but it is fairly well organized, so there's that.

In addition to the afore-mentioned HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2 compliance on all 8 of its HDMI ports (nice!), the 910 can also handle the forthcoming HDR picture spec and upscale signal from your old video equipment to full 4K. It's this last feature that sold me on the 910 over the cheaper 710, as I have old 8mm decks that will benefit from the upscaling technology. Since the 910 has an $80 instant rebate in effect, the price difference was $0, which is money well-spent.

For gamers out there worried about video processing lag, I couldn't detect any. But, then again, I'm playing everything on a Wii U now-a-days, which isn't quite so demanding compared to next-gen consoles by Sony and Microsoft. I'm assuming it won't be a problem, as the 910 has plenty of processing power to get the job done.

But enough about the video... what's going on with the audio?

Since I prefer to listen to music in headphones, the primary function of my new Denon receiver will be for home theater surround sound. Support for 7.1 surround is a given, but the unit can also handle new 3D spatial sound technology like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X... which seems a cool idea, but there's nothing really available in the consumer space encoded with those technologies yet and it requires adding more speakers than I want in my small living room. Still... nice for future-proofing the unit, I suppose. Surprisingly, you can run two subwoofers off this receiver, which I didn't even know was a thing. Since low frequencies are non-directional, I thought this was a one-and-done, but apparently two subwoofers provide a richer bass experience.

The sound itself seems very good. I'm no audiophile, but everything I've listened to is well-defined and separated out perfectly on my speaker system. Since my setup is small and fairly undemanding, the 910 is massive overkill in the power department, but it's nice to know I've got the ability to run some serious speakers at 185w per channel if I ever need to.

Denon has its own proprietary system for wireless speakers called "HEOS" which is meant to be direct competition with SONOS. If I could afford a wireless speaker system, I'd bypass HEOS because it has to share your WiFi network instead of creating a separate mesh network like SONOS does. This is a serious deal breaker, because most WiFi networks are close to saturated given all the crap we keep connected to the internet in these modern times. So while HEOS support is nice, I supposed, I have a feeling most people won't bother with it.

If you sacrifice 2 channels from a 7.1 system and can live with a 5.1 surround setup, you can repurpose those two channels as a different speaker "zone" which can be placed in another room and play from a completely different audio source. I honestly think this is kind of silly, but I guess there are some scenarios where it might be useful.

Like most receivers today, the Denon has built-in Bluetooth and WiFi for live streaming. It has support for Pandora, Spotify and Sirius XM on-deck, and can also interface with Apple Airplay-enabled devices like iPhones, iPads, and Macs. There's also support for internet radio, but the "stations" are kind of clubky to access, so I probably wouldn't. Thanks to Denon's apps for mobile devices, you can control the receiver with your iOS and Android devices. It seem capable, but also overly complex and cluttered. Still, it does easily allow you to control functions and tie into media servers as sources fairly easily, so worth the free-fitty-free pricetag.

When it comes to set-up, the AVR-S910W is dead-simple. You can use your iPhone to grab all the WiFi settings via Airplay which is super-sweet (no WiFi? Ethernet is also available). Then it's just a matter of following the on-screen instructions displayed on your TV to match your speaker setup. Thanks to the Audyssey Bronze calibration system being built-in, you can optimize your levels with ease. Just place the included microphone on a tripod in the middle of the room and the 910 will play tones to measure your speakers. The system them creates a custom profile based on room acoustics to give you optimal sound at every volume level. I know this reeks of silly gadgetry that usually ends up being useless... but can honestly say I noticed an immediate quality improvement after running through the Audyssey program. Pretty cool.

The on-screen user interface is serviceable enough, but kind of pathetic by today's standards. Mostly a bunch of text staring at you, it looks badly dated. Why Denon would invest money in all the latest bells and whistles only to choose to saddle it with a 1990's wrapper is more than a little inexplicable.

Something I've never seen before is Denon's "Eco Mode" which attempts to save electricity by restricting power to each channel based on the volume you've set. I notice no difference on my tiny speakers with Eco Mode on, so I've just left it there.

If there's a flaw to be found with the AVR-S910W, it's this... THERE IS NO SWITCHED POWER OUTLET ON THE BACK! Which means your subwoofer gets to be powered on all the time unless you want to get up, walk across the room, and manually cycle the power off when you aren't using it. Which begs the question... WHO FUCKING DOES THIS?!? Seriously, what idiotic excuse could they have for leaving off a switched outlet for your subwoofer from the feature list? Every fucking receiver I've ever owned has had a switched power outlet until now. It's senseless bullshit like this that takes great products and sabotages them utterly. This is such a moronic oversight that I am compelled to drop a grade from my score even though the unit is otherwise perfect. I just naturally assumed I'd have my outlet and was dumbfounded when I went to plug in my subwoofer and saw there wasn't one. Somebody at Denon needs to pull their head out of their ass on this one, because it makes the company look like complete idiots. Had I known about this inexcusable flaw, I don't know if I would have purchased it. But probably. There's just so many great things about it compared to the competition in this price range.

RATING: B • RELUCTANTLY DAVE APPROVEDCurrently selling for $479 at Amazon.

   

Things I Bought Week: Part 3

Posted on January 7th, 2016

Dave! Welcome to the third installment of Things I Bought Week, showcasing stuff that I recently purchased and what I think of what I got for my hard earned money!

What did I buy this time? Energy 5.1 Take Classic Home Theater System Speakers.


Energy 5.1 Speakers

When watching movies at home, there's really no substitute for a good set of surround sound speakers. Without them, everything is forced into two channels (left and right) which means all the dialogue, audio effects, ambient noise, and other sounds are fighting each other as they travel to your ears. This results in you having to turn the volume up and down and up and down as you try to hear what people are saying in quiet moments, but don't want to have the volume blow you out of your chair the minute something loud happens.

As that weren't bad enough, when you have only two speakers... whether they be in your television or outside of it... the sound is blasting towards you in one direction rather than being the immersive experience it was designed to be.

Enter surround sound.

A typical 5.1 Surround Sound speaker setup works like this...

CENTER CHANNEL: This is where all the main spoken dialogue comes from. Sound engineers separate out people talking because (in most cases) it's the most critical audio in the film, and they want to be sure it's not trampled over by other sounds in the scene. It's critical that the center speaker be put as close to your television as possible so that voices seem to be coming from the mouths of the people speaking it.

LEFT & RIGHT FRONT CHANNEL: Most everything happening in the camera that's not dialogue (plus all sounds recorded to the sides of the camera's view) comes from these speakers. If you watch a car zoom past the screen from left to right, the sound should start in the left speaker, then travel to the right speaker.

LEFT & RIGHT REAR CHANNEL: These are the speakers that provide sound for what's going on behind the camera, and are critical for an immersive audio experience. When you're watching Star Wars and a TIE fighter screams into the scene, you hear it coming from behind you before you see it, then the sound moves to the front channels as it becomes visible.

SUBWOOFER: That deep, rumbling bass that accompanies sounds from explosions, thunder, and other massive-volume audio is supposed to be something you feel when you hear it. A subwoofer is built to do just that. And since low frequencies like this are non-directional, you can put the subwoofer anywhere you like... though placement next to objects can affect the sound, so it's always good to experiment when choosing a spot.

There's also 7.1 Surround Sound, which adds two additional channels to the rear of the room to further distinguish audio cues that are placed behind you. It's nice if you've got the space for it, but not essential if you don't. Other sound setups which add additional channels for high sounds and side sounds are also out there, but you need a pretty high-end room with space to spare in order to best make use of them.

As if all that weren't enough, companies have developed even more sophisticated sound technologies (such as Dolby Atmos) which do away with the channel model altogether and have the ability to create spatial sounds within a matrix of specially-designed speakers in a 5.1.4 or 7.1.4 configuration (definitely a topic for another time).

Anyway...

This surround sound stuff is all well and good... but if you have a smaller room (like I do), where are you going to fit all those speakers? Using typical stereo speakers would not only be overkill in my 11-1/2' square living room... but they would take up a considerable chunk of space. Smaller speakers that are worth a crap tend to be very, very expensive... so what to do?

Enter Energy 5.1 Take Classic Home Theater System Speakers. Small speakers engineered to have big sound for smaller spaces at a great price.

And boy howdy are they nice.

After I took the time to get everything balanced and optimized the levels on my amp, I'm getting pretty remarkable sound out of these babies. All five speakers are the same size (despite the center channel having a different enclosure) and provide clear, crisp sound that's perfect for a terrific surround experience. The subwoofer has really good low-frequency response and pushes bass you can feel with minimal distortion.

Surprisingly powerful for their size, the Energy speakers have no problem filling my small room, and can even fill my entire home at higher volumes. I bought this set to replace my faithful Pioneer speakers that I've had for decades after I decided they were just too big for the space available. Even though they are a tiny fraction of the size, I honestly don't feel I've sacrificed anything. If anything, I've gained quality by going from stereo to 5.1 surround.

The speakers come with a screw-hook mount to hang them against a wall, but it's really recommended that you buy speaker stands so they can breath a bit (I like the Atlantic Satellite stands). The plugs are nice enough... don't know that they're gold at this price, but they do have pop-outs if you use banana plugs like I do. I wish they weren't angled weird and were a little more spaced apart so my stand brackets weren't so tight between them, but these aren't deal-breakers.

If I have a complaint it wouldn't be anything related to the sound... but the look. The speakers are enclosed in high-gloss black cases that attract dust like a magnet and show every smudge and fingerprint. It's really tough to keep them looking their best, and I really wish there was a textured matte option for people who don't want to dust their speakers every day.

Overall, a good set of speakers for a home theater system that will also do a decent job with music if space is at a premium. Fairly priced too.

RATING: B+ • DAVE APPROVEDCurrently selling for $316 at Amazon.

   

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