Introduction for Beginners

Hi-Fi vs Home Theatre

Hi-Fi generally refers to 2 channel audio reproduction by playing records or CDs. Home Theatre focuses on the playback of visual media by playing LDs and now DVDs. I've ignored inferior formats such as VHS tapes (are these still around?) and VCDs. Home Theatre also has a audio aspect. You can simply plug in your LD player into your 2 channel hi-fi system, or you can get a Dolby Digital processor (i.e. AC-3, DTS dosen't really exist around here, and Dolby Surround is of course obsolete and restricted to TV/cable, and computer games, but TV/cable here doesn't broadcast in Dolby Surround-- would love to watch Babylon 5 in Dolby Surround), and have surround and center speakers.

In the newspapers you can see Japanese brands like Sony, Kenwood, etc, and American brands like Harmon Kardon offering 'all-in-one' home theare audio systems with 5 speakers and a subwoofer. I can assure you that your standard 2 channel hi-fi system, sans surround and center speakers, sounds far better than this 5 channel crap. If the speakers sound bad, having 5 speakers only makes it sound worse. I've listened to 'Twister' at a Sony fair at Sim Lim Square (no one wanted to sit in the sweet spot, actually, they're were just standing behind the seats, so I helped myself to the seat :)), at a full Sony 5 channel set-up featuring their superb SDP-9ES Dolby Digital processor coupled with their unfortunate speakers and sub. It was a painful experience. Something like scraping a blackboard with sharp fingernails. (Hmmm, maybe thats why no one was sitting down)

Listening to Twister (Helen Hunt is wonderful, especially since she doesn't 'hog' the movie the same way some other 'stars' like to do so) at home on my 2 channel+REL sub system, it sounded far better even though. Therefore my conclusion that:

Good 2 channel stereo is always preferable to mediocre/bad 5-channel surround

So if you want to start up Home Theatre, make sure you're getting good sound from your basic 2 speakers first.


No one can deny that Home Theatre is very popular. Also, theres nothing to prevent them from co-existing with an good Hi-Fi system. Of course, the basic rules that:

  • Your Processor is not used as the pre-amp for your hi-fi system and more generally, your Hi-Fi components have as straight a signal path as possible
  • Your main speakers are driven by a proper amp not some home theatre receiver (unless the brand name on the receiver is "Krell" or "Proceed"
  • If you have a TV between the speakers, you remove it while listening to Hi-Fi as the TV will obstructs the soundstage (strong argument for a projector) Of course, is your room is enormous and the speakers are far away from the walls and the TV, then the soundstage impairment would be minimal.


$$$$ Get your priorities Straight

One of the reasons I'm willing to spend money on hi-fi is that I listen to it a lot. If I hardly listened to my hi-fi, I wouldn't bother. I would rather spend my money on whatever it is I'm investing my time in. I listen to Hi-Fi at least 10 hours a week (not counting warm-up time), sometimes much more (4-5 hour listening sessions are no problem -- I don't even notice the time) But for LDs, I don't think I watch more than 1 a week, so thats about 2 hours a week.

On 1 set of assumptions that should mean I should spend 5 times more on my Hi-Fi than on home theatre. Though that conclusion is logically quite iffy, I hope you get the general idea. How much home theatre can a person watch anyway? I can listen to some CDs again and again, but I can't watch the same LD over and over and over again (at least not without a long enough period in between)

Oh yeah, late at night, when the power supply is stable and hi-fi sounds great, playing Jurassic Park or Twister on your home theatre system is anti-social behaviour in the extreme.

Back to the hi-fi index