Published On: February 21, 2011

New Home Theater Trend - 2.1 Speaker Surround Sound

Published On: February 21, 2011

New Home Theater Trend - 2.1 Speaker Surround Sound

The latest trend in home theater technology is 2.1 speaker surround sound. This allows audio and video enthusiasts to bring investment grade audiophile gear to an audio video system. Previously, the equipment was practically considered disposable.

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When I worked for Mark Levinson in the mid-1990's at the lofty Cello Music and Film showroom, Mark was selling the biggest, most high end music and home theater systems in the world at his New York showroom. While Joe Cali and I were catering some of Hollywood's elite for their audiophile and AV feats, Mark was selling systems on Park Avenue back then for north of $1,000,000 per installation. These installations included all of the $20,000 per component Cello equipment you could dream of, amazing room acoustics from RPG, sets of sound-proof studio doors, window sound isolation to prevent the deafening sounds of Manhattan life from leaking into your audio room - all culminating into one hell of an AV system.

Additional Resources
• Read more original stories like this in our Feature News section.
• Find a subwoofer to integrate into your system.
• Look for some floorstanding speakers to embrace the 2.1 movement.

What was missing? Surround sound. Mark could have given a crap. And so could his clients. They loved music. And they love movies too. Yes, they had 9-inch CRT video projectors, Faroudja line "quadrurplers" and top of the line roll-down Stewart screens - and they didn't have the mess of trying to make a system work via 5.1 surround sound. These nine and ten figure clients loved the results. They recorded prodigal talent from Julliard playing Stradivari violins that they owned via systems Mark set up. They burned the performances on $15 per disc CD-Rs at a time when a Marantz CD-R cost $15,000 per component.

Roll the tape forward to today and many of the apex-predator audiophiles are pissed at the world. They love vinyl. They love tubes. They love music and they even love movies - but they do NOT love the equipment used to play back movie soundtracks. And who can blame them? An audiophile who bought an Audio Research REF3 preamp 10 years ago has owned a top-of-the-line audiophile preamp for maybe $250 per year at most. That is the definition of "affordable luxury." Conversely, the guy who bought a top-of-the-line AV preamp from that era would have needed to spend $10,000 plus to upgrade a Meridian 861 or Theta Casablanca to current standards and those are the two BEST examples in their class who deserve HUGE kudos for being upgradable. The rest of the class are useless. $10,000 investments from 1999 are worth $250 today. If your stockbroker bought you a stock like this - you'd fire him. Most audiophiles feel the same way about the people who sell them ultra-high-end home theater.

Who's to blame? I'd start with Silicon Image - the people behind HDMI. From HDMI 1.0 to HDMI 1.4a today - they have left a pile of spent, high end AV components rotting in a dump site that is purely shameful. They ask the most loyal and wealthy audio and video enthusiasts to keep spending and spending with little to no reward. Audiophiles have become tired of the financial insult and have rebelled, which has begun the 2.1 home theater movement.

The 2.1 Home Theater Movement
Today's HDTVs inspire audiophile and mainstream consumers alike to spend. They come packed with waif-like thin form factors, uber-bright LED or plasma screens while performing tricks like Netflix, Amazon VOD, CinemaNow, Pandora, YouTube and beyond. People know why to buy a new HDTV and how much to spend on it. It's not an investment. It's a consumable product just like the Cheerios that it's sold next to at Costco.

Continue reading about the 2.1 Home Theater Movement on Page 2 . . .

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2.1 home theater allows audio and video enthusiasts to bring the investment grade audiophile gear to an audio video system in ways that make sense on many levels. A pair of speakers with a sub can make a suitable surround sound much like a soundbar - and likely much better. Today's video systems are top notch. My 65 inch Samsung LED needed little to no video calibration out of the box and was disgustingly good as soon as it hit its video wall mount and was beaming DirecTV and Blu-ray. Speaking of Blu-ray - Blu-ray discs pack studio quality, uncompressed master tape sound for 2.1 sound. While it doesn't in ANY WAY surround you like 7.1 surround does - 2.1 systems appeal because of their simplicity.

I own both a top-of-the-line, reference-grade 7.1, stadium seating, light controlled home theater room and a 2.1 home theater system with a 65 inch LED, $10,000 PSB in-walls, Krell and Benchmark electronics and Crestron controls for both. My wife and I spend far more time watching the 2.1, smaller system than the bigger system. She streams movies and TV content via CinemaNow to the set. I play Apple TV into the system and enjoy its modern form factor. Today, when I had a true audiophile guest over to my house for a demo - we got geeky on 24/192 DVD-Audio discs and 5.1 SACDs in the big room and did a 7.1 demo of The Dark Knight on my nine foot Stewart Filmscreen-JVC D-ILA system. It was better in every way but our 2.1 system fits our lifestyle better more often, and for audiophiles who can't afford to have two dedicated systems - the lure of an investment grade 2.1 home theater audiophile system is stronger than ever before. Believe it.

Additional Resources
• Read more original stories like this in our Feature News section.
• Find a subwoofer to integrate into your system.
• Look for some floorstanding speakers to embrace the 2.1 movement.

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