How do I upgrade an old speaker system to a home theater?
Q. I have an older stereo system with bookshelf speakers. How do I upgrade this system to a home theater? What should I add next? — A.C.
A. Besides getting an A/V surround receiver with Dolby Digital/dts 5.1-channel decoding, you could start by getting a center-channel speaker and two surrounds, using your existing bookshelf speakers as the main front channels. Although you may have some tonal differences between the center and your older bookshelf speakers, you would still be able to enjoy full 5-channel home theater, albeit without the deep bass impact that a subwoofer would bring with the ".1" channel.
Depending on your budget, I would next add that all-important subwoofer, because part of the thrill of current DVD soundtracks are the deep bass music and sound effects.
Assuming you’ve budgeted for the DVD player and A/V receiver, another approach would be to retire your existing bookshelf speakers to the role of surround speakers, and, depending on the room size, replace the front left and right speakers with modern floor standing or bookshelf speakers.
You needn’t get a center channel immediately (although I consider it fairly essential) because the movie dialogue will be roughly centered between the main speakers so long as you don’t sit too far to one side. Later on, add the center channel, the subwoofer, and, if you want a more enveloping sound field, a pair of bipole/dipole multi-radiating surrounds.
About the Author
Alan Lofft was, for 13 years, Editor in Chief of Sound & Vision, Canada's largest and most respected audio/video magazine. He edited Sound & Vision (Canada) until 1996, when he moved from Toronto to New York to become Senior Editor at Audio magazine.
Lofft has been writing about hi-fi and video professionally for over 20 years, ever since his first syndicated newspaper column, "Sound Advice", began appearing weekly in The Toronto Star, Canada's largest-circulation daily newspaper. In the late 1970s, he became a contributing editor, columnist, and equipment reviewer at AudioScene Canada, the leading national consumer electronics magazine at the time.
He also wrote on consumer electronics for Maclean's magazine and made occasional appearances on TV on "Canada AM," the national CTV morning show, and on June Callwood's national afternoon TV talk show.
In 1983, he was appointed editor of Sound Canada magazine, which he relaunched in 1985 as Sound & Vision, incorporating video content and reviews as well as hi-fi and audio features. He also became a contributing editor to Stereo Review in New York, and an audio columnist for Music Express, a Canadian rock magazine.
An audio and electronics enthusiast from childhood, Alan began building vacuum-tube hi-fi gear for his father, who was an audiophile in the 1950s. Lofft's passion for audio continued through college, during which time he hosted and produced "On Campus", a radio show taped on location (on a portable Ampex 650 open-reel recorder) at Wilfrid Laurier University and broadcast locally in Kitchener, Ontario.