The 5.1 speaker dilemma!

It has become very apparent in recent months that the speakers than came with my Onkyo HT-R380 A/V amplifier is pretty poor, they only have a single 3 1/2 driver on each of the five satellites, which lacks real high end definition and there is a sizable gap in the low mid frequency range. The differences are highlighted when switching between the Onkyo HT-P380 speakers and the Pioneer SP-FS51-LR floorstanding speakers, both running in straight stereo mode. When switching the the Speaker B output which are running the Pioneer speakers, the sound is firstly much louder, a 35% volume jump, the sound is fuller and warmer, bass response is much improved even without the added weight of the subwoofer, and the overall clarity is much improved.

Yes, I realise that smaller speakers won’t give the same depth of sound as my floorstanders but that’s why there is a subwoofer to fill in the sub 500hz range, this is where the setup is lacking most. Although the lack of frequency response above 5khz is also troublesome, frankly my son’s $35 Hot Wheels CD/radio has a better frequency response, despite it’s 100hz low frequency cut off. I did try using my floorstanders as main left/right speakers but the blend of sound was poor with the Onkyo centre and rear channels, I’d rather have poor speakers that are matched in tone than speakers that don’t blend as the sound moves from speaker to speaker in 5.1 applications!

I would like to buy the matching centre and rear channel speakers for the SP-FS51-LR’s, but the issue is mounting them as they are quite bulky and not really wall mountable, especially when you don’t have solid walls. Which leaves me with using speaker stands, for the SP-BS21-LR rear speakers, and some sort of shelf above the TV for the SP-C21 centre. The shelf for the centre speaker isn’t such a huge problem, but the stands for the rear speakers are more troublesome as I have limited floor space, we have a bulky sofa running along the back wall and we also have two kids that will no doubt be constantly knocking the speakers off their stands, so I’d like to avoid stands!

I have been massively impressed with the Pioneer SP-FS51-LR floorstanding speakers so the choice is obvious from a sound point of view, I would like to get the matching centre and bookshelf speakers (for rear channels) but their size makes me think twice as I would like that quality of sound with smaller wall mountable speakers. I fear that smaller satellite speakers won’t come close to reproducing the sound of the much larger Pioneer FS51-LR, C21, and BS21-LR speaker setup!

Since writing this article, I have made some tweaks to the speaker configuration, increasing the crossover frequency between the subwoofer and satellite speakers and increased the subwoofer volume from +/-0 to +5, which has filled in a lot of the low-mid frequencies, still not as good as the SP-FS51-LR’s but voices have much more weight now, so overall I’m happier, but I will never be completely happy, there’s always something better out there that I would like to have!
Update [26th March 2012]: I have now upgraded the Onkyo speakers to the Pioneer C-21 & BS21-LR speakers used in conjunction with my SP-FS51-LR floorstanders and Onkyo 130w passive subwoofer, which I am happy with. You can read my opinions on these speakers here.

4 thoughts on “The 5.1 speaker dilemma!

  • Greg commented on April 20, 2012 at 10:18

    what stand hdid you get for the BS21-LRs? Is it height-adjustable? I’m having a tough time finding ones that are compatible with the size and weight of these.

  • Hi Greg, I used a set of VideoSecu 1RW;

    I used Velcro pads to hold the speaker onto the stand, because I have young kids who are likely to knock the speakers off their stand, but even without the Velcro pads, the speakers are stable despite the stands’ 4″ square top plate! The stands are height adjustable from 23.6″ to 46.5″

    Hope this helps?

  • Matt commented on August 9, 2013 at 23:12

    Hey Jason! I started with an Onkyo HT-S3300 package (which contains the HT-R380 receiver), and just the other day purchased a pair of the Pioneer SP-FS51-LR s. Being fairly inexperienced with audio configurations, I’m not sure why the Pioneers aren’t as loud as the original Onkyo left/right speakers that I’m trying to replace (SKF-380 s). It would seem that the receiver should be providing enough power to the Pioneers, so what gives? Did you replace the original wires that came with your Onkyo system with a higher grade (guage?) of wires? I’ve tried messing with all of the audio settings on the receiver, and nothing seems to be making these louder. I can turn the gain up for the left/right speakers, but they still aren’t that loud and don’t sound good at all. Any thoughts or ideas?? Thanks in advance, and sorry for asking a question on such an old post!

  • Matt,

    I did use better cable, I used RCA 16 gauge cable, but I also used the same cable on the speaker package that came with the A/V amp package, the original cables are still in their plastic wrapper. Using better cable never hurts, the cable that comes with the package are designed to get you started out of the box.

    I never had any problems with the FS51’s that you mention, but here’s some suggestions; check that the positive and negative wires match at both ends, e.g. red to red and black to black, the striped cable is always positive, reversed polarity can cause a lack of volume and definition. Have you tried adjusting the other speaker channels down instead of adjusting the FS51’s up, more volume isn’t always the answer, I believe before I bought the full set of Pioneers that I had to adjust the center channel to -3, rears to -5 and the Pioneer’s to +5 which seemed to give a fairly even balance in volume terms.

    It’s also possible that you have a dud set of speakers, can you test them on another amplifier, or use the B set of speaker outputs, see if that makes a difference to the quality of sound.

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