Matching all the speakers for the best surround sound, noise-cancelling headphone deal (Week 36, 2020)

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 36, 2020

Q. I recently purchased the Emotiva Airmotiv T1+ speakers. I was able to take advantage of the Emobucks promotion and have a $240 Emotiva credit, which will soon expire. I was looking to use the credit for something that will improve my system, which has a Pioneer VSX-1024 receiver, Emotiva T1+ towers for the front left and right speakers, and Bose center and surround speakers. I read in your column that the Emotiva A-300 amplifier would further enhance the sound. I use my system for music and surround sound on my television and am interested in clarity, not loud sound. Should I buy this amplifier to use in my system, and if not, what should I buy?

-M. B., Elizabeth Township. PA

A. Your receiver is not compatible with an external amplifier, and even if it was, it would not be the best use of your $240 credit. The speakers are the most important part of your system, and the Emotiva Airmotiv speakers are dramatically better than anything Bose makes. Besides the difference in quality, even with top brands the best practice is to match the speakers so they all have the same tonal quality. Called “timbre matching,” having similar speakers for left, right, center and surround creates a more cohesive, balanced and pleasing soundfield. In some of the listening tests that have been conducted a matched system with modest speakers was preferred by listeners compared to a mixed system using expensive speakers. The subwoofer is exempt from this so if you want to use a different brand of sub in your system, that is OK. So, dear readers, no matter what manufacturer you choose for speakers, match them throughout your system.

Use your credit towards an Emotiva center channel and surround speakers to match your T1+ speakers. The Emotiva C1+ center channel is $249, and the $229 Emotiva B1+ bookshelf speakers will make fine surrounds. Together they come to $478. If you don’t want to spend the extra $238 above your $240 credit, upgrade the center channel first. Besides the importance of the center channel in general, that way you have three matching speakers in front of you.

Q. I am looking for affordable noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones (over-ear type, not earbuds.) I have seen some of the off-brands selling for $50-$60 on Amazon, but would prefer to get something from a known brand. I would like to stay under $100, as far under $100 as possible! I need three pairs of them.

-C.C., Miami, FL

A. That is a bit of a tall order. Usually the ZVOX and Audio-Technica noise-cancelling headphones have some kind of promotion going on, but both brands are up around their normal $99 and $149 retail prices right now. I am glad you asked though because in doing the research for your answer, I found something that should work out even better for you and a lot of other readers, too.

I have been very pleased with Soundcore’s latest products and remembered the Soundcore Life Q20 noise-cancelling headphones, which have a nice combination of effective noise cancellation and quality sound for $59.95. I checked and they are on sale for $49.99, reduced from $59.95. When I contacted their PR department for images to use in the column, they informed me that starting on September 1st until mid-September the Life Q20 will be on sale for $44.95. This will get you three pairs of headphones for under $150.