A combination of traditional folk art and science


Home Theater Applications

Few people buy systems purely for listening to music. However, at the heart of every video systems should be a system capable of reproducing music as accurately as a possible (given a specific budget).

I have given a lot of thought to audio/video systems.   The reason is, next to my house, I have probably spent more money setting up an audio/video room than any other investment in my lifetime.  I purchased my latest video projector about two years ago.  The projector has a built-in timer that tells me how long the projector has been used. After two years, I have less than five hundred hours of use on the projector.  Looking at that number, I question if the total investment I have made in audio/video equipment makes sense.  I estimate that my current investment is nearly $40,000 USD. Some people might even call this a modest investment.  However, this investment doesn't include the real estate that the theater itself takes up.

The other thing that isn't factored into the cost of this equipment is the fortune that I spent prior  to getting the equipment I currently use.  My current (main) amplifier is the Plinius SA250.  This is a massive high quality amplifier that sells for $8,000 USD in the US.  Considering the quality of the amplifier, the Plinius is actually a bargain when compared to other high quality/massive amplifiers.

I bought the Plinius SA250 to drive a pair of massive loudspeakers that also cost about $8,000 per pair.  These loudspeakers required massive current.  One of the problems I had was that speakers were so large, that it was hard to stop them from creating a shadow on my projector screen.  I had to angle the loudspeakers to fit them outside the edges of the screen.

Obviously, to have enough money to enjoy this hobby takes a good income.  Good incomes require lots of work.  The irony is that this theater room rarely was used. My wife and daughter had no idea how to work all the equipment. I had not time to relax and watch a movie.  The other problem was that there always seemed to be some piece of equipment that needed repairing.  One week my VCR wouldn't work. Another week my projector had a problem. Sometimes I would blow a fuse because I did something stupid.  Worse yet, I always was tracing down grounding problems that would cause my equipment to hum.

When I started nOrh Loudspeakers, I began to question the sanity of the money I had spent on audio/video systems.  I have 1200 vinyl records. I have 2000 CDs. I own 1200 laser disks and I own perhaps 200 DVDs.  I have equipment to support dead technologies.

I get frequent e-mail that will ask me about the difference between two very high quality components. How does Brand X $15,000 amplifier compare to Brand Y $20,000 amplifier?  The answer would be that they are both outstanding and both are probably better amplifiers than most people would ever need.

The answer to question like this is that is there is no "best" pair of speakers. There is no "best" amplifier.  You can spend as much as you want and somebody somewhere will still believe that there is another product that is better than the one you have purchased.

Not so long ago, I bought an audioform amplifier from a German engineer living in Thailand. The unit is built to very exacting standards but offers only 70 wpc.  I mated this amplifier with the nOrh 6.0s and put it in my office.  The entire system (including CD and tuner) costs about $2,000 USD.  I found myself listening to more music than I have in years.

I spend nearly 12 hours a day in my office.  I spend virtually no time in my home theater.  Now I listen to music mostly on my modest (albeit high-end) system.  This little system has caused me to rethink many things.  I have decided that audiophile generally buy systems at the top of the food chain because so much of what is in the middle is not acceptable.  I believe that many audiophiles would really like to have a modest system in their bedroom or their office if it could reach a level of performance that met the basic standard.

The problem is that so much of what is available for the general public is really junk.  So many theater based systems use substandard parts.   I have seen center channels that look more like boom boxes than audio devices.   Most audio speakers are hard and unmusical.  This might be satisfactory for gunshots and explosions. However, what if the same system is used to watch a music video or concert?

I believe that video suffers form many problems.  The first problem is that few AV receivers offer sort of acceptable performance.  The second problem is that most video systems treat the front and back speakers the same. This should not be the case. The front speakers (including the center) are far more important than the rear.

I believe that the ideal centerpiece for an audio/video system is a high quality integrated amplifier.  The Plinius 8150 Integrated amplifier establishes a level of performance that I believe would satisfy virtually any audio/video requirement.  At $2,700 USD in the US, the 8150 is priced far below more expensive equipment.  I believe that there are few preamplifier/amplifier combinations that offer the combination of power, sound and flexibility of the 8150.

I prefer outboard processors or getting DVD players with processors built in them.  The reason is that the technology is changing very quickly.  I believe to buy a very expensive piece of equipment with an integrated AC3 or DTS processor is not wise. The reason is that there are many advances taking place and some of the standards are not quite yet set in stone.

I bought a fairly expensive preamplifier a few years ago.   At the time, it represented the state-of-the-art for video.  The unit had integrated Dolby(TM) Prologic.  The switching features were fantastic. The problem is that now that AC3 is the standard, there is virtually no way to integrate the old preamplifier and an AC3 processor together.  Had I bought a high quality preamplifier and added a Prologic decoder, I could very easily upgrade the Prologic processor to an AC3 decoder and it would be less trouble.

I used a ML16 preamplifier before the nOrh ACA.  I asked Plinius to add a special circuit that allowed the signal from an AC3 decoder to bypass the volume control. That way, the AC3 processor could be set up independent of the preamplifier. This arrangement works very well.  I bought a Proton AC3 decoder.  It is reasonably inexpensive and it has lots of switching facilities.  I have read that AC3 decoders are dropping down to about $300 USD.  Many new DVDs have built-in AC3 decoders.

AC3 and DTS


Most people don't understand just how versatile a AC3 decoder is.  Not only does it provide discrete digital sound from laser disks and DVDs, it also provides backwards compatibility with Dolby Surround and Dolby Pro-Logic.   Furthermore, because the AC-3 has an D/A converter built-in, it is a very inexpensive way to upgrade the sound of an older laser disk or CD player.

  1. Most AC3 decoders use the 24-bit Motorola decoder. This decoder is better than the decoder found in most CD players.

  2. Many AC3 decoders have a built-in parametric equalizer.

  3. AC3 decoder have a built in active crossover at 80 Hz that allows you to easily add a subwoofer.

  4. AC3 decoders often have circuitry that will recreate the sound of rear speakers even when only two speakers are used.

  5. An AC3 decoder can act as a preamplifier if you don't need to copy tapes.

AC3 and DTS are discrete separate channels of sound. Dolby Prologic offered only limited frequency response to the front and rear speakers. AC3 and DTS require higher quality loudspeakers and amplifiers for the rear and center channels.

AC3 and DTS decoders provide for a special effects channel. This is where all deep bass is routed. If you use the Prism 6.9 or nOrh 7.0 speakers for your left and right speakers, an additional subwoofer is probably not necessary. If you would like a bit of a kick in bass response during movies, you can adjust your decoder to push more bass. AC3 decoders have a built in parametric equalizer. It will not hurt the nOrh Loudspeakers to push the bass just a bit harder (just don't tell your audiophile buddies).

In an AC3 configuration, the center channel is far more important than in Prologic. The reason is that the center channel is actually recorded as a separate channel in AC3 and DTS Virtually all dialog comes from the center channel. The center channel must be powerful enough to play just as loud as the left and right channels.

One of the things that bothers me about center channel speakers is that while they are a single channel, most amplifiers are stereo. It is difficult to buy a single channel amplifier. Most AC3 and DTS decoders provide outputs for two channels for the center. We suggest that you buy two  nOrh 4.0 or two Prism 4.1 Loudspeakers. One of these speakers can do the job, two will do it better.

nOrh Loudspeakers in a Home Theater Setup

The most important speakers in a home theater setup are the left and right front loudspeakers.  My advice is approach the left and right system as if it were an audio only system. Use high quality amplifiers, components and cables for the left and right loudspeaker. You may wish to use the Multiamp, nOrh ACA, and our special silver cables.

An AC3 decoder  or a DVD player that has an built-in decoder is an excellent value.  My preferred way to use such a system is to use a standard audio preamplifier for music listening.  This would include Cassette, CD (or audio from DVD), and tuner.  Video only inputs such as Laser disk digital out, VCR, and DVD can be connected to the AC3.  The AC3 outputs to the amplifiers for the center and rear channels.  The output from the AC3 left and right front loudspeakers can then be fed into the AUX/Video, TAPE1 or TAPE2 inputs (record).  Some preamplifiers and integrated have a processor loop.  If so, use the input that goes directly to the amplifier as to bypass the preamplifier section.

The Prism 6.9 and nOrh 7.0 are the best left and right loudspeakers for home theater as they produce very good bass response and are very dynamic.  The nOrh 4.0 / Prism 4.1 is ideal for center and rear.  The Prism 5.2, 6.1 or the 6.6 can be used for rear channel for more impact.

Center Channel

I have been working on trying to find a center channel for years.  About ten years ago, I bought a pair of loudspeakers for $8,000 per pair. These are fantastic loudspeakers made by Shahinian Acoustics.  They are comprised of two massive subwoofers and two mid/treble modules that each contain about 16 loudspeakers.   The midrange is rich and clear.

Because these loudspeakers are massive and expensive, it would be impossible to use another one of these speakers for the center.  I tried a variety of loudspeakers but I found it very difficult to match the tonal quality of my left and right loudspeakers. Eventually, I designed and built a standard center channel speaker.  I used the traditional center speaker configuration but I selected   the very best components I could find. I used two 5  inch Vifa premium woofers and one of Vifa's most expensive tweeters.  The sound was honky and restrained.   The design I used was very similar to a well known loudspeaker company that sells their center channel for $1,200.

I analyzed the problem.  First of all, the standard center channel uses a cabinet that is too small. A 5  inch woofer should use a cabinet that is about 13 liters.  Most center speaker cabinets are much smaller.  The ports they use are too small.  Even using the best components can't fix the fact that most center speakers are improperly designed.

After building the nOrh 5.1, I started experimenting.   The nOrh 5.1 uses less expensive drivers than the center channel I originally built. It uses one woofer instead of two.  The cost to produce the nOrh 5.1 was about half the cost to produce the center channel I built. We now have the nOrh 4.0. The nOrh 4.0 is available in a shielded configuration. The nOrh 4.0 is probably the best value for center and rear channels. The nOrh 4.0 plays loud and clear.  It is highly musical and is easy to place.

We have now introduced a new line - the Prism series. Prism 4.1 is a center channel speaker that playes deeper and louder then the nOrh 4.0, so these may be used too.

It is now possible to purchase receivers that offer both DTS and AC3 for about $350.00.  Obviously, the nOrh 7.0 would be overkill for such a system.  The nOrh 4.0 would be an ideal loudspeaker for virtually any size A/V receiver. If you wan't deeper bass, go for the nOrh 5.1, or the Prism series.

The Prism series and nOrh 4.0 / 5.1s use Vifa drivers. It uses the same drivers that many much more expensive loudspeakers use. However, we feel that none of these well-known speakers can match the our products.


When CDs were first introduced, some people claimed it was perfect music all-the-time.  I remember the first time I heard CD audio, I was not impressed.  I found the sound very harsh. I waited for about three years after CDs were introduced before I took the plunge.  My first player was a highly regarded California Audio Labs player.

Over the years, I have bought many CD players.  Each new player would sound better than the last.  It is interesting to find that from the least expensive to the most expensive, most CD players use a lot of similar components. Some of the least expensive and most expensive players use the same Philips drive.  The same is true for D/A circuits.  The D/A converters in some of the most expensive and least expensive units are the same.  Why is it that some players sell for thousands of dollars and others sell for less than $100 USD.

The D/A circuits in CD players have not changed much in the past few years.  Most of the higher priced CD players feature better analog sections, better power supplies, better cosmetics and better internal wiring.  From a technical standpoint, today's CD players are probably exploiting the CD medium to the limits of that technology.  Improvements in audio technology will required a new audio format.

I don't think that it currently makes sense to invest a great deal of money in a player that only plays CD audio.  It makes more sense to buy a DVD player.  Today's DVD players have excellent digital sections.  They primarily use a 24 bit Motorola chip.  If you want to improve the audio section, it is possible to buy an external D/A converter.  However, I don't think this is necessary.

Not all DVD players offer equal sound.  The Sony DVD 7000 was reputed to be one of the best audio players.  The Panasonic 310A is also suppose to be an excellent audio player. Recently, Cheesky and other companies are releasing DVD formatted disks that play audio only. I can not claim that these are better than CDs but the ones I have heard definitely sound very good.

I have played with DVD players that offer integrated AC3.   If you already have Prologic, I think that buying a DVD player with integrated AC3 is the least expensive way to get AC3 decoding.

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