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Home Theater Tips: When to Upgrade?

by June 12, 2017
Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam

We are constantly getting bombarded with emails from our readers asking about what and when to upgrade components of their home theater systems. This is especially true when one of their favorite manufacturers comes out with a replacement model to a component they own claiming to be "new" and "improved". 

It is really possible for the next generation product to be that much better, especially when product life cycles for electronics are so short lived these days? The truth of the matter is USUALLY NOT.  People are often too quick to jump on the promise of something being new has to be "better" without first thinking about what they could do with their existing room or set up to get more out of their home theater system.  This quick guide and YouTube Video hopes to provide a little clarity to help you make more informed purchasing decisions and how to maximize your budget to get the most out of your home theater system.

 Home Theater AV Tips: When to Upgrade YouTube Video

To recap what was discussed in our YouTube video, I put together a bullet list for each category.

AV Receivers:

  • AV Receiver product life cycles are typically less than 1 year long!
  • They usually only offer incremental changes - ie. new streaming App, more DSP modes, etc.
    • IE. the New Yamaha RX-A70 series are virtually identical to RX-A60 series only with Dolby Vision  pass through.  Better deals can be had on older A-60 model closeouts so you can jump to a higher end unit from last year like an RX-A1060 for about the same price as a newer RX-A870.
  • Be careful assuming newer models are better than ones they've replaced. Since the advent of Atmos, more budget is being placed on cramming more channels into the same sized chassis, more licensing fees and features while sticking to the same price points. Receiver from only a decade ago where built to a higher standard than many of the Atmos ones coming out today.  See: Trading Amplifier Quality for Features in AV Receivers
  • Upgrade only when a gotta have it tech comes out (ie. Dolby TrueHD, Atmos/DTS:X).  If you're running a lossy audio codec like Dolby Digital, it's definitely time for an upgrade. This is especially true since your entire system will benefit from a modernized HDMI connection path to manage and connect all of your HD audio and video sources.  See: Understanding HDMI Versions
  • If you need more power - choose model with preamp outputs for future expandability. The extra $2-300 you spend now on getting a model with external multi-channel preamp outputs will pay dividends when you're itching to upgrade the power of your system. 
Technics Prologic Receiver

If you're still running a mediocre 80s Prologic AV receiver like this, it's time to upgrade.  


  • Consider your listening habits.  How loud do you listen? Is your current amplifier distorting? Are you using bass management to divert power robbing watts for low frequencies to a powered subwoofer(s) or are you running your speakers fullrange? Take our Amplifier Upgrade Quiz
  • Remember doubling your power only yields a net increase in +3dB in loudness. However, if your running 4 ohm speakers, be sure to choose a model that can handle them. Many llow to midpriced receivers these days go into heavy current limiting protection when trying to drive 4 ohm speakers.  You're 100+ watt/ch Atmos receiver may only be delivering 30-40 watts/ch when driving a 4 ohm speaker.  See: Yamaha RX-A860 Receiver Review
  • Check out a Monoprice Monolith or Outlaw Model 5000 amplifier for cost effective options that mate well with most AV receivers. Or, if you're ok with buying second hand, you can likely find great deals on nice amplifiers from Rotel, Parasound, and Aragon to name a few.

 Blu-ray player:

  • If your current player is buggy, slow and unreliable, it's time to get a new one.
  • If you have an older player causing audio dropouts with Atmos Blu-rays on non Atmos AV receivers, then you need to either get a new player or play or switch to a lossy audio stream for that movie.
  • You want to get into HD Blu-ray to take advantage of 4K and Dolby Vision. Check out Oppo UDP-203 HD Blu-ray as a great option.


  • Speaker tech evolves the slowest out of all AV equipment and thus should be upgraded the least often. Check out Internet Direct Speaker Company Comparison
  • Just because a manufacturer comes out with a replacement model touting some new exotic material used, doesn't automatically make it better. This is often done for marketing reasons to create a resurgence in a model line up (ie. Ver 2 to Ver 3, etc). In fact, some companies are charging more than double of their original pricing for their speakers these days just because its a new revision touting "adamantium" cone materials to allegedly improve performance. Logan would not be impressed.
  • Before upgrading, ask yourself if you're really not happy with the sound. If your current system sounds great, why fix something that isn't broken?
  • Have you optimized speaker placements, calibration and room acoustics?
  • Take our subwoofer upgrade quiz.
Criterion Speakers

If you're still running "Vintage" 70s speakers that randomly place drivers on the front baffle, it's time for an upgrade.


  • Before upgrading to a new sub, for more "output", consider adding a second identical subwoofer for more output and smoother bass response across all of your listening seats.
  • Did you optimize placement, setup and EQ? See: Multi-Subwoofer Setup Guide
  • Does your subwoofer have equal or more output capability as your speaker system? Get the right size subwoofer for your room.  See: Bassaholics Room Size Rating


  • Only upgrade cables if your current cables are causing system noise/hum or if you need different lengths.
  • Choose low resistance speaker cables.
  • shielded double braided COAX for digital audio
  • HDMI - cable either works or doesn't. Choose from reputable manufacturer like Bluejeans or Monoprice. Almost anything works for short runs but longer runs require better cables. See: HDMI bench tests.
  • Avoid Cable Snake Oil.
Battery biased cables

Cables requiring a battery bias are a snake oil gimmick.
Unless you just want audio jewelry that doesn't make a lick of provable difference in sound quality, spend your money elsewhere.

Room Acoustics and Set Up:

  • Get your speaker placement, calibration and setup right.
  • Check your seating placement - avoid back/side wall placements if possible.  Seating is a positional equalizer. Place your seats for best sound.
  • Fix your room acoustics if needed. Does your home theater room have lots of hard surfaces (ie. hardwood floors, glass doors, vaulted ceilings, etc)? Then it's time to reduce the excessive echo and reflections to create a more cohesive sound field.
Bad System Placement

Notice the tile floor, hard surfaces, bad speaker placement (and don't get me started on the super tweeters).
The equipment (sans the super tweeters) isn't that bad. But, the room and placement is.


Getting your speaker placement and room acoustics sorted out will usually have a bigger impact on sound quality than changing AV gear, speakers, and especially cables.  If you've already got a good modern 5.1 home theater system that decodes lossless audio, and handles all of your HD audio and video sources, make sure you optimize the setup before changing out components or adding more. If you can't get a basic 5.1 system working optimally, it's just going to get even messier when you try to upgrade to immersive surround sound by adding more speakers in the room. 

Taking these steps first will help you avoid buyers remorse later while also saving you from taking a loss on good equipment that you paid for with your hard earned money.  You will usually be better served tweaking your speaker placement, room acoustics and set up before plunging more money into the next "miraculous" generation product.  We hope you found these tips useful and please share what you've done to improve your home theater system in the related forum thread below.


About the author:
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Gene manages this organization, establishes relations with manufacturers and keeps Audioholics a well oiled machine. His goal is to educate about home theater and develop more standards in the industry to eliminate consumer confusion clouded by industry snake oil.

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