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The Audioholics High End 7.x Channel Recommended Home Theater System

by June 10, 2014

If you’ve been following our recent releases of recommended systems, you’ll notice a common theme: we’ve been building systems to a certain price point to accommodate specific budgets, cognizant of the fact that there will be compromises along the way. It’s a fair way to approach things given that most people don’t have unlimited funds to spend on a theater system. However, that leaves one question open: what if you don’t want to compromise either in terms of performance or aesthetics, but at the same time you’re not inclined to pour money down the drain? That’s what we aim to answer today.

Loudspeakers: RBH Sound Signature SX Reference Series

SX-661/R mains, SX-661C/R center, SX-44/R side surrounds, and SX-61/R rear surrounds

MSRP: $8,450 (7.0 System) | more info

Relative to some of the cost-no-object speakers out there, $8,450 for a 7.0 system is a pittance. Nonetheless, RBH’s SX /R lineup boasts top shelf performance thanks to the combination of RBH’s signature reference woofers and the fantastic Scan Speak 9500 tweeter. It’s no exaggeration to say this system can deliver ear bleeding levels in a home setting while remaining crystal clear.


So, about that price tag, why didn’t we go for costlier speakers in RBH’s lineup? There are two complimentary reasons. The first reason is a matter of choosing the right tool for the job. We’re not looking for deep extension from our speakers; we’ll be utilizing subwoofers to handle low bass duties. As such, costly towers with multiple towers ala the SX-8300/R aren’t necessary here. Next, there’s the matter of size/appearance. The SX-661/R isn’t an ultra-compact speaker, but it’s not so large that it will automatically become the focal point of a room either. The same can’t be said of the aforementioned SX-8300/R, or even the SX-T1 “bookshelf” speaker (and we use that term loosely).

On the other side of the price equation, if $8,500 is a bit more than you’d care to spend, you can also consider the non-/R speakers of the same models. The difference here is in the drivers, which fall back to RBH’s signature tweeter and woofer offerings, which are nothing to sneeze at in their own right. While this does come at a small sacrifice of sound quality, the price also drops to $5,100 for the 7 channel set.

RBH SX-661 mains ($1,800/pair), SX-661C center ($900/each), SX-44 side surrounds ($1,200/pair), and SX-61 rear surrounds ($1,200/pair); Total: $5,100

Subwoofer: RBH SX-12/R (times two if you have a large room or you really like your bass)

MSRP: $1,600 apiece / $3,200 per pair | RBH SX-12 Review

In our formal review of the RBH SX-12, it achieved our Bassaholic Certified Large rating, meaning it's capable of maintaining adequate headroom for a medium sized space (3000-5000 cubic feet), and/or for those who occasionally like to listen at spirited levels. Considering the relatively compact size of the SX-12 (19.625”H x 17.7”W x 21.125”D), those results are hardly shabby. Of course, we’re not recommending the SX-12; we’re recommending the SX-12/R, which offers an upgraded driver as well as a more powerful amplifier for improved performance.

Now I can already hear the groans from the forum…where’s the value at? It’s true, the SX-12/R isn’t the most powerful subwoofer for the price. However, as testing of its little brother reveals, the SX-12/R has no shortage of output. Additionally, unlike the usual forum favorites, it’s relatively small and has numerous custom finishing options to choose from. For inclusion with a top shelf system where aesthetics count, that’s a big plus versus the usual oversized black box.


Alternative: SVS SB13-Ultra: $1,599/each or $2,999/pair

Pre/Pro & Power Amplifier: Marantz AV7702 & Outlaw Model 7700

MSRP: $3,549

When most audiophiles dream about what could be, their fantasies almost always involve separates (i.e. a pre/pro and an external amplifier, versus a run of the mill receiver). The main reason for this is pretty simple: power. Boasting 200W/channel into 8 ohms (all channels driven, 20Hz-20kHz, <0.03% THD), and 300W/channel into 4 ohms, we feel it's fair to say the Outlaw Model 7700 will have no problems feeding our RBH speakers as much power as they can handle. Of course there’s more to the 7700 than sheer output. In part thanks to its balanced design, issues like noise and crosstalk are simply non-factors, ensuring finesse as well as brute strength.

The other half of our dynamic duo is Marantz’s latest and greatest pre/pro, the AV7702. Capable of delivering 11.2 channels of audio, the AV7702 is a modern processor compatible with 4K resolution (including up-converting content to 4K). Unlike so many “high end” pre/pros, the Marantz is chock full of features, including: integrated WiFi and Bluetooth antennas; network streaming functions including Apple Airplay, DLNA, SiriusXM, and Spotify; Dolby Atmos compatibility; as well as impressive multi-zone capability thanks to a total of three HDMI outputs and support for three additional zones of audio. Furthermore, to maximize sound quality the AV7702 boasts Audyssey’s MultXT32 auto-calibration system with SubEQ, which independently calibrates dual subwoofers. 

Marantz AV8801Outlaw 7700


Of course, if you’re willing to take a small step down, particularly if you only plan to run one subwoofer, you can realize significant savings. Dropping down to the Marantz AV7701 plus the Outlaw Model 7200 amplifier cuts the cost down to $2,599. What’s the compromise? The older AV7701 drops down to Audyssey’s MultEQ XT system (though it is upgradable to Pro), and doesn’t offer SubEQ to better manage dual subwoofers. Atmos and wireless networking are also off the table here. On the amplifier side, the Model 7200 isn’t a balanced design like the 7700, which does appear to have a marginal effect on distortion and noise. On the upside, rated power is the same at 200W/channel into 8 ohms, 300W/channel into 4 ohms.
Alternative: Marantz AV7701 & Outlaw Model 7200: $2,599

Blu-ray Player: OPPO BDP-103

MSRP: $499 | OPPO BDP-103 Review

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: OPPO’s BDP-103 delivers a heck of a lot for not much coin. The BDP-103 is of course a Blu-ray player with the ability to upscale content to 4K, but that just scratches the surface. It can also play SACDs and DVD-A discs, allowing your theater to become a multi-channel music system. In addition, the BDP-103 features has a solid set of network features, including Netflix, Vudu, and Pandora.


So why choose the BDP-103, and not the costlier BDP-105? While we hold OPPO’s flagship player in high regard, there’s just no need for it here. The primary differentiator between the models is the DAC, with the BDP-105 utilizing the vaunted ESS SABRE32. Given that we’re already using a top shelf pre/pro with its own high end DACs, there’s simply no need for the added cost of the BDP-105 here. As an extra bonus, you’ll need fewer cables this way as well.

Cables: Blue Jeans Cables: ~$375

Blue Jeans is our go to cable vendor for a simple reason: they offer high quality products at affordable prices, and unlike so many other cable companies, they hold the BS. They offer raw 12AWG speaker wire starting at $0.52/foot, though they also sell terminated cables for a bit extra. Blue Jeans also sells no-nonsense interconnects (including balanced XLR cables) and subwoofer cables. Prices will vary based on the lengths that you need; however, the total seen above is based on the following:

  •         150’ of Belden 5000UE speaker wire: $78.00
  •         1x3’ + 1x8’ Belden Series-FE HDMI cables: $41.25
  •         7x3’ Belden 1800F Balanced Audio Cables: $182.00
  •         2x15’ Belden LC-1 subwoofer cables: $60.50
Blue Jeans Cable

Ok but this is a high end system, where are the high end cables? If you’ve been following Audioholics long, you’ll know that we don’t believe in magic cables that will improve sound quality. On the other hand, if you’re willing to spend a few extra dollars to dress up your system with nice looking cables, we would point you to Kimber Kable. Unlike most high end cable manufacturers, Kimber isn’t in the business of promoting pseudoscience. Moreover, Kimber’s products actually measure well in our experience, which is in stark contrast to some “exotic” designs.
Alternative: Kimber Kable

Power Center: Panamax MR4300

MSRP: $299

If you are going to put thousands of dollars into an awesome theater system, it’s a good idea to spend a little more than bottom dollar to protect the equipment. The Panamax MR4300 is an updated model of the M4300-PM and will allow you to rest easy during a big storm. Unlike a basic surge protector, it constantly monitors the incoming voltage and will automatically disconnect and reconnect power to your equipment if the voltage is too high or too low. It addition to bullet-proof protection, it has two isolated filtering banks (one of which is high-current) to make sure any noise present in the electrical lines is removed. Finally, the MR4300 has a few convenience features, such as two front mounted LED lights that shine down on your equipment (45 degree rotation), and an extra outlet and USB charging port on front.

Panamax MR4300


       The Whole Nine Yards    
   8.5 Yards
Loudspeakers RBH SX / R Package
RBH SX Package
 Subwoofer  RBH SX-12/R x2
 $3,200  RBH SX-12/R
 Pre/Pro & Amp
 Marantz AV7702 &
Outlaw Model 7700
 $3,549  Marantz AV7701 &
Outlaw Model 7200
 Blu-ray Player
 $499  OPPO BDP-103
 Cables  Blue Jeans Cable
 $375  Blue Jeans Cable
   Surge Protection 
 Panamax MR4300
 $299       Panamax MR4300    
 Total     $16,372 


Unsurprisingly, throwing the idea of a budget into the wind can result in a pretty high price tag. However, tossing out the budget doesn’t mean we have to ignore value. While both of the above systems crack the five figure mark, there’s little doubt in our minds that the performance is commensurate with the cost. There are no voodoo cables here to needlessly empty your bank account, nor are we over-specifying equipment simply for the sake of doing so. At the end of the day, these are systems you can enjoy for years to come without worrying “what if I had spent a little more?” What’s that peace of mind worth to you?


About the author:
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Steve Munz is a “different” addition to Audioholics’ stable of contributors in that he is neither an engineer like Gene, nor has he worked in the industry like Cliff. In fact, Steve’s day job is network administration and accounting.

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