(Writing this because I’m hoping for advice!)
When I was younger I was an audiophile on a budget. I had friends with very expensive audio systems (one had a system that cost over US$100k) and I’ve heard every kind of music live, so I know what things should sound like.
But now I’m over 60, a lot of my high frequency hearing is gone and I have tinnitus, so my requirements are much more basic. These days most of my music listening is either in the car, through headphones (and I have some nice ones) or my computer speakers (Harmon Kardon Soundsticks). But it would be nice to watch movies with decent sound, and I haven’t really had that in awhile.
The set-up in my living room includes an Onkyo A/V receiver that is at least 5 years old (HDMI but no HDMI 1.4, no network features). I have two B&W P6’s and a B&W center speaker that I bought almost exactly 20 years ago. Given that the speakers were bought in Hong Kong, brought to the U.S., brought back to Hong Kong and then to Manila, one of them is kind of beat up but they still sound like the well-reviewed B&W’s that they are. I have a pair of MB Quarts for rear speakers but haven’t wired them up in ages because I don’t have an easy way to run wires for them. I have no subwoofer at all because my last one gave up the ghost a couple of years ago and I never got around to replacing it.
The current generation of home A/V equipment features all sorts of bells and whistles, some of which I would actually find useful. I just haven’t wanted to spend the money.
One thing that you have to have in your home – by law, apparently – is some sort of karaoke/videoke set-up, and we have the Magic Sing. My wife loves it. Even my 95 year old mother thinks it’s nice. (Me, I hate it.) The other day my wife was showing it off to my mother and there was a terrible amount of distortion coming out of the left speaker and my wife said she saw smoke coming out of the speaker. The Onkyo receiver kept shutting itself off too. (No jokes, my wife actually has a pretty good singing voice.) Plus the blu-ray player has been screwing up lately, adding distortion to disc playback (and I try the same discs on the bedroom player and they play fine).
So, win!!!! I can finally upgrade my system. The first problem is what to buy. The second problem, which turns out to be an even bigger one, is where to find it in Manila.
This is, after all, a poor country. A lot of things that one might commonly find in Hong Kong either don’t make it here at all or are extremely rare. As one admittedly minor example, I have yet to find a place that sells Criterion Blu-Ray or DVD discs. These are pretty much the only discs I still buy. I have to email a shop in Hong Kong and ask him to hold things there for me for my bi-monthly visits.
So finding hifi or even mid-fi here turns out to be something of a challenge. People use their TV speakers. Others are going for soundbars over any sort of hifi system now that they’ve dropped in price.
My first thought was the old reliable “home theater in a box” approach. I looked around and saw that Sony has this BDV-9100W that has pretty much everything I could possibly want for around US$800 and I figured the sound would be good enough. Among the features:
- 6 speakers – rear speakers are wireless
- Bluetooth music streaming
- Upscale video to 4K (not that I have a 4K TV or am likely to buy one)
- WiFi (for streaming Spotify and other internet music sources)
- 3D Blu-Ray
- SA-CD and DIY DVD’s with multiple computer formats
- Dolby True HD & DTS
- Smartphone app
So it’s a holiday today and we’re out running errands. We’re near Rockwell so I go over to the Power Plant mall, which is a pretty upscale mall. There’s an SM appliance store in the basement and the only home theater systems they’re selling are crappy little ones with DVD players and speakers the size of a pack of cigarettes. Elsewhere in that mall is a super high end audio store and a Bose store.
So, okay, have some lunch, walk around, back in the car, head to Megamall. This is, I think, the third largest mall in Manila. It’s on the border between two relatively wealthy areas (Mandaluyong and Pasig). Despite it being a holiday, or perhaps because of it, traffic on EDSA is horrible, of course. But finally we reach the mall and park without killing anyone (I think road rage may be one reason foreigners can’t legally buy guns here).
I head up to the 4th floor, to the Cyberzone, which is a sad version of the computer shopping malls in Hong Kong. I recall there is a huge store there that just says SONY on the sign. I go there. They have one soundbar. No home theater. I tell the guy the model number I am looking for. He tells me they don’t stock obsolete models. I ask him how it can be obsolete if it’s on Sony PH’s website. No answer. I ask him if it’s obsolete, tell me what the new model is. No answer. I ask him where I can find it. No answer.
I go down to the third floor, to a store called Listening Room that has some stuff and a reasonably knowledgeable staffer. There is a Pioneer, the MCS-838, which also has everything I would want except the rear speakers aren’t wireless (a biggie for my wife). They don’t have it in stock anyway (but they can order it).
Then I look at A/V receivers while I’m there. They’re big on Onkyo. There’s a mid-range model, the TX-NR545 that has everything I could want inside the box. I’m thinking to myself, well, if my front speakers are still okay, I could get this and get a sub-woofer and live without the rear speakers. They don’t really have any other brands of A/V receivers in stock. What about Yamaha, I ask? Onkyo is our bestseller is the answer I get back.
Also, when I get home, I find some news that makes me less than happy. This shop tells me the 545 is P35,000 or cash price P30,000. That’s just over US$600. On Amazon it sells for US$345, but no shipping to Asia. In Hong Kong the price is HK$3,588 which is around US$465. I think to myself, well, I am going to be in Hong Kong in 10 days, I could buy it there and schlep it back with me, probably get stuck with customs charges in Manila but possibly still come off cheaper in the end.
So at the end of the day, back home, empty-handed (well, one more stop, at Tiendesitas to get dog food). And still the same questions.
What should I buy? Do I go home theater in a box, everything at once, or go for separate components (perhaps purchased over the span of a few months)?
And where do I buy it? Where are stores that stock this stuff? Where I might be able to actually hear it or at least look at it and ask some questions?