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Audioholics Recommended $3,500 2.1 System with Upgrade Path to Atmos

by June 04, 2014
$3,500 Recommended 2CH System

$3,500 Recommended 2CH System

One of the most common questions I get about home theater is, "what sound system should I get?". This is so much more complicated than people realize. What is the size of the room? What is your budget? Can you run rear, side, or even ceiling speaker wires? The days of going into a local retailer and listening to different levels of sound systems are few and far between. Now, internet purchasing is king and there are innumerable combinations of equipment that you could choose from. It can be a very daunting task for anyone to sift through the options and put together a well rounded system. So we've done that hard work for you!

Although It is possible to put together a good budget stereo system, we decided to put together a phenomenal 2.1 system with a $3,500 price point.  We also wanted a system that will allow someone to take a leap into high-end audio with confidence with an upgrade path to immersive sound. The finished system should result in a kind of sonic bliss without breaking the bank. If you want a serious music listening system that looks good, sounds great, and is properly matched, then here is our recommended $3.500, 2.1 channel setup with the availability to expand into a full Dolby Atmos theater system the future.

Speakers:  Focal Theva No. 1

MSRP: 1,000/pair | Review

Focal Theva No.1

We have yet to find a Focal speaker that didn’t measure to our high standards and the Focal Theva No.1 fell into the $1,000/pair price point we were looking for. Their exceptional sound quality, remarkable imaging, and high sensitivity yet easy electrical impedance load is what convinced us to put them in our setup.

theva rearAudioholics contributing writer James Larson said of the Focal Theva No.1’s, 

“They have an accurate sound that doesn’t do much to color the recording, so listeners get a balanced presentation of the source content. This even sound character extends over a wide horizontal angle, so the speakers have a good level of coverage over a broad area.”

The Theva No.1 is a 2-way bookshelf speaker that has been given some Focal touches.  It uses an inverted 1” TNF dome for the tweeter and a 6 ½” cone that uses Focal’s Slatefiber material that was developed for their more expensive Chora loudspeakers. Slatefiber is a composite of non-woven carbon fibers with a thermoplastic polymer. It offers a good combination of rigidity and damping, and this should enable the cone to hold a uniform shape up to high frequencies.

Through all of our testing, the Theva No.1’s had natural detail without relying on elevated treble. The No. 1’s had a surprising amount of bass for their size, but with the idea that this system would be used for both two-channel listening of music and home theater movies, we decided to add a very well built, sealed subwoofer to our $6,000 system.

As for the music itself, the Thevas gave a surprisingly dynamic presentation; kick drums punched, hi-hats and cymbals sizzled, and the synths ripped. It was rowdy, busy music, but the speakers gave it a clarity that kept it from becoming an ill-defined cacophony, especially after a subwoofer was employed. 

James Larson – Contribting writer, Audioholics

Subwoofer:  SVS SB-2000

MSRP: $900  | Review

SVS SB2000

The SVS SB-2000 subwoofer features technology breakthroughs from the 16-Ultra Series, 4000 Series and 3000 Series, the most awarded subwoofers in existence.

The SVS 16-Ultra has great performance, great looks, and brains too, on account of the very sophisticated DSP programming that has gone into it. It is, as they say, ‘the whole package.’

--James Larson – Contributing writer, Audioholics

One of the highlights of the amplification is the use of 25 amp 600V MOSFETs in a fully discrete output stage which should make for superior power delivery than op-amps used in typical class D amplifiers. The RMS wattage of the amplifier has been increased from 500 watts in the 2000 series to 550 watts in the 2000 Pro series.

SVS rear

This subwoofer also features the more advanced DSPs seen in the upper-end SVS models, so the 2000 Pro series uses a 50 MHz DSP with 56-bit filtering. Along with the more powerful processing is SVS’s Subwoofer Control Bluetooth app that is compatible with Andriod and iOS devices, so the 2000 subs can be controlled with very high precision from the comfort of your sofa instead of having the user hunch over the back of the sub to fiddle with knobs.

The drivers in the SB-2000 are new and are particularly important given the higher power amplifier compared to the original 2000 Series. The new driver has a FEA optimized stamped basket and a revised suspension and surround to further improve the excursion and SPL capabilities.

The 2” voice coil uses a 2-layer copper wire voice coil with upgraded materials in the wire, bobbin, and all parts of the motor. At the end of the day, it’s a totally re-envisioned driver that fully maximizes the potential of the more powerful amplifier.

--Smith Freeman- SVS’s Director of Product Management

This technology combined with exclusive 2000 Pro Series innovations and the $900 price point made the SB-2000 an easy pick for our recommended setup. Some might argue that a ported sub would give more deep bass, but we decided to go with the sealed design for a more gradual low-end rolloff and a bit more infrasonic output at the expense of overall deep bass headroom.

Receiver: Marantz Cinema 70S 8K 7.2 Channel AVR

MSRP: $1,200 | Marantz New Cinema Series 8K AV Receivers, Dirac Live & 4 Subs!

Cinema 70s

We first saw the new Marantz Cinema 70S at the CEDIA show in Denver, Colorado and were impressed with its slim design for a 7.2 channel receiver. Although it comes with 50-watts per channel, this model does support 7.1CH preouts in case you later decide to add external amplification. Marantz also supports the 70% power guarantee meaning it will deliver a solid 35 watts/ch with 5CH driven but in our experience this usually holds for up to 7CH driven on most AVRs we've tested for them. The 70S is capable of 8K with HDMI 2.1 and can handle the latest in HDR. Dolby Vision is onboard as well. It also has eARC HDMI connections for those of you who use your TV apps, making it super easy to get the audio into your system. Another neat advantage this offers is your TV remote will turn on the unit and control its volume for the eARC connection.

Cinema 70srear

The new 70S can decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X which gives us our upgrade path to immersive 3D sound, but it also comes with Marantz’ virtual height speaker tech which works in both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. If you do not have height speakers, the software will simulate the sound you would get from height speakers. This is a nice way to have some simulation of height speakers if you can not add them initially. Audyssey MultEQ is on board and is an awesome room correction system, but there is no Dirac support for this model.

Like other Marantz products, the Cinema Series AVRs have HEOS built-in technology to support a multi-room set-up and you’ll have full voice control on all units from Apple, Google, or Amazon. But we really have to give Marantz a round of applause on their on-screen setup guide. When you first power on the unit, it asks you a series of questions that help you get everything set up perfectly. They even show you how and where to make every single speaker connection. Marantz has had this concept for a couple of years, but it is even better with the new units. Anyone should be able to get their unit set up and be confident they got things right, as it will even perform audio checks to confirm you have the speakers connected properly.

Focal Theva Stand - $250/pair

theva stand

Proper speaker placement is key in a Hi-Fi system so to have a set of speaker stands that are specifically designed for the Focal Thevas made this an easy decision. Its sturdy construction, adjustable height, integrated cable management, and optimized sound dispersion make it a valuable addition to any audio setup.

SVS Soundpath Ultra Speaker Cable

MSRP: $44/each


Audioholics President, Gene DellaSala started Audioholics to debunk snake oil claims of "improved" audio, most of which came from the exotic speaker cable industry. So if the SVS speaker cable is on the list of recommended gear for your Hi-Fi system, you can bet it's a good quality, no snake oil, product. These 12AWG cables are made of 99.99% pure stranded copper wire that feature two braided Dual Balanced conductors with a total of 82 strands. The custom hand-soldered terminations are available in 24K gold plated brass spades or copper banana plugs which offer a secure, corrosion-resistant connection.

Other Equipment

We always recommend using good quality HDMI cables to get the most out of your system and a quality surge protector to protect it.


 System Breakdown

Focal Theva No. 1 Speakers $1,000/pair
SVS SB-2000 Subwoofer $900
Marantz Cinema 70S AVR $1,200
Focal Theva Stand $250/pair   3350
SVS Soundpath Ultra Speaker Cable $44/each
Tripp Lite 8-outlet Surge Protector $53
SVS Soundpath HDMI 2.1a 1meter cable $30
Total $3,521


Although we went slightly over budget by the time tax is added, some money could be saved on the stands, speaker wires, and HDMI cables. We picked a system that could be set up in a few hours including calibration and each component was hand picked by Audioholics staff members for their history of quality workmanship, reliability, and sound quality.

What do you think of our $3,500 2.1 system?  What would you change? Please share in our discussion link below.

We would like to thank our affiliate Dreamedia AV for helping us put this system together and sponsoring this article. 


About the author:
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Tony is our resident expert for lifestyle and wireless products including soundbars. He does most of the reviews for wireless and streaming loudspeakers and often compares soundbars in round ups and helps us cover the trade shows.

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