written by Mike Shea on 3 January 2003
My mother is always talking about how much she likes my reference screening room and how much she wants one herself. This Christmas I called her bluff and bought her a new home theater audio system including a Yamaha RX-V630 receiver and the Boston Acoustics System 8000 speaker system. Filling out the accessories, cables, and stands ran a total of $1200. I would consider this a very high quality sub/sat system for the money and I would recommend it to anyone with the same needs and price range.
If you've read any other articles of mine, you know I'm a snob. You know I hate Bose. You know that I rarely compromise. I don't care what a speaker looks like as long as it accurately reproduces the source material. I don't have any problem taking 1/3 of my living space for a one-person home theater. Yes, I am single, watch out girls!
This system, however, was not my own. I was barging into my mother's living room like a freight train, but I didn't want to be too destructive. I knew that a system had to be small, but I wasn't about to sacrifice quality. I also knew it had to be easy to use, a far more daunting task given the complexity of today's feature-bloated systems. I also wasn't going to break the bank. I had a limit of $1000 to $1500 for the audio components. None of the home-theaters-in-boxes looked like they were worth the box they were in. Some of the bargain speaker packages like the JBL NSP1 mark 2 would end up costing as much as a good package anyway, so I stuck with the Boston Acoustics Micro systems.
The system 8000 fit the price range and just about all the quality concerns. It has six speakers, the two mains built from their well-known and highly rated Micro 90t system. The sub, center, and surrounds aren't quite of the same quality as the $500 higher System 9000 II. The bass module (it's a sub, but takes some load between 80hz and 120hz, see setup) isn't huge, but can put out quite a bit of bass.
Dolby Digital and DTS decoding are required for any good receiver today. I wanted one with real amps and after five years of good service from my Yamaha DSP-A1, I trusted Yamaha. The $500 RX-V 630 had some great features including Dolby Digital EX decoding, six 75 watt amplifiers, binding posts on all speaker connections, four optical and one coax digital input, and component video switching for two inputs. It is a whole lot of receiver for $500. Cutting $200 from the price for the 430 model cut out almost all of the features worth mentioning other than bare bones DD / DTS decoding, only two digital inputs, and springclips on centers and surrounds. The 630 seemed like a much safer bet and a much higher quality component that will last for years. For $500 the RX-V 630 is a steal.
Setup for the system wasn't much different than any other system, save some unconventional speaker wiring. The best thing to happen to home theater usability in a long time is the digital audio connection, requiring only a single cable between a DVD player and a receiver. Two analog RCA cables connected the TV audio output to the receiver. The 27" Sony TV had it's internal speakers turned off and audio volume set to "fixed" so the receiver handled all volume changes. The digital signal from the three year old DVD player was connected with one half of a stereo pair of Acoustic Research analog RCA cables. That special $40 digital signal cable you see for sale is a bunch of crap. Any shielded RCA connector can do it just fine.
I set up the speakers a couple of different ways to try to get the ideal sound out of the System 8000 and the Yamaha amp. The Boston speaker instructions had four different configurations including the one that balances out the cross over of the speakers with the six channel output of the receiver. Each of the five main speakers were connected with 16 gauge Acoustic Research speaker wire directly to the Yamaha's five way binding posts. The Boston subwoofer was connected with a 15' Monster THX subwoofer connector. This is a traditional setup for a Dolby Digital system, but one more connection was added. An extra set of speaker cables ran from each of the two front mains to the left and right speaker inputs on the subwoofer. See page seven and page nine of the Boston System 8000 Manual (pdf).
This unconventional setup offers two advantages. The Boston System 8000 speakers are tuned to work optimally above 120hz. The Yamaha's crossover is set at 90hz. This leaves quite a gap at the low end. By plugging the speakers directly to the subwoofer, the sub can handle the 120 to 90hz that the mains miss. By connecting the RCA Subwoofer line as well, the sub handles the full Dolby Digital LFE channel. The disadvantage of this setup is having to run a separate set of speaker cables between the main left and right circuit and the subwoofer. The receiver had all speakers set to "small" and LFE sent to the sub. This setup offered the best overall sound with both music and movie soundtracks.
The speaker package included wall mountings for all four speaker excluding the center channel. I picked up two extra mountings for the front two speakers which were set up at just below ear level. Surrounds were wall mounted five feet up, parallel to the ideal viewing position.
Home Theater usability is in a sorry state. Components have too many options for all but the most technically astute users. Options like DSP modes, Dolby sound compression levels, bitstream, PCM, analog connections, speaker settings, Dolby Digital, and DTS all make life far too hard. Daily operation of just about any receiver requires full knowledge of the system. The risk of not properly learning how to operate a system is to not utilize all the required features and to miss out on the director's vision of a film.
I followed the basic checklist to make sure I was properly using the receiver for an optimal setup:
The Yamaha RX-V630 is no different than any other. By offering many inputs, many DSP modes, many internal settings, and many other extra features, it has made the operation of the receiver very difficult. It is possible, for example, to hit an input button twice and cut all sound until it his hit again, resetting it to autodetect the input. While the Yamaha is difficult to use, it is no worse than any other receiver. If you choose any receiver, you should spend a good long time reading up on it's operation.
There are a few tips for making a home theater more usable. Teaching this to someone who doesn't really understand anything about home theater is difficult, the difference between DTS and Dolby Digital for example.
The remote control of the receiver isn't too hard to work with, but a single good universal remote should be used to control all basic functions of an entire system.
This $1000 audio setup sounds as good as any sub / sat system should. The speakers are very accurate, leaning heavily towards higher frequencies. There is a gap in the lower midrange, just before the subwoofer picks up the signal. This isn't noticable unless you have been listening to full bookshelf speakers for a long time with a powerful amp and in a well conditioned room. If you do not need a smaller system, there are better bookshelf speaker setups for the same price. For their small size and modest price, the Boston System 8000 is as good a system as I have heard.
Music sounds just as good as movies on this system. Enya's "Paint the Sky With Stars" was as strong as it ever is. Details in the music came out of the background and even with two channels, the music built a very deep and broad soundstage. Contemperary music like Nora Jones's "Come Away With Me" sounded full, realistic, and rich. There never felt to be a lack of power, even when ran at relativly high volumes (I'm never one to really blast a system).
As cliche' as it sounds, this system reminded me of what movies sound like in a theater. The original Lord of the Rings cut sounded excellent, although a tad harsh. This is the case on my reference system as well, however, and thus appears to be the quality of the DVD itself.
There are a couple of weak points in the Boston System 8000 but for $500 it is a powerful and high quality system. A smaller center leaves a little bit to be desired in dialog strength. The subwoofer is small, with only a 7" main driver and a 65 watt amp. The surrounds are single driver cubes, thus lacking in extreme highs and lows. For $500 more ($1000 total) one can purchase the Boston System 9000 II includes better surrounds, a better center channel, and a more powerful subwoofer. If you only have $500 to spend on speakers, the System 8000 is an excellent system but if $1000 is within means, the System 9000 is worth the extra money.
For $1000 I highly recommend the Yamaha RX-V630 and the Boston Acoustics System 8000 speaker package. The receiver has more than enough features, many highly useful including Component switching, Dolby Digital EX, high power output, and many digital inputs. At $500 it is an excellent buy. The Boston System 8000 was able to accurately reproduce both music and movies with no distortion and only a slight lack of lower-midrange frequencies. The subwoofer outperforms its modest specs. Together the RX-V630 and Boston System 8000 make a high quality Dolby Digital and DTS sound system and for $1000 it is an excellent bargain. I highly recommend it.
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