Which home theater approach is better: components or all-in-one systems?

Home Theater Components

In college, did you have an audiophile roommate who spent every free moment trying to come up with the perfect combination of speakers, amplifier and preamplifier that would turn your tiny dorm room into the equivalent of Carnegie Hall? (That insatiable obsession with aural nuances seemed so puzzling, considering that he used it mostly to listen to Mötley Crüe.)

Since home theater is to today's electronics lovers what stereo was back in the day, it probably comes as no surprise that some consumers choose to mix and match individual home theater components in an effort to create the ultimate system -- or at least one that most closely suits their tastes.

Within the world of component, there are even more choices. You put together a basic component system, which includes speakers,a disc player and/or some other content source, and a device called an audio/video receiver, which amplifies and balances the digital sound from your content and sends it to the speakers [source: Dolby.com].

If you're really an electronics purist, though, you'll want to break down the functions of your system into even more parts, so you can further fine-tune the resulting aural experience. That means opting for further separates, as they're called, such as a preamplifier/processor and a power amplifier, instead of a receiver [source: Dolby.com]. You may also add another device, called an equalizer, which boosts some frequencies and suppresses others to tweak the recorded music and make it sound more like what the musicians played in the studio.

There are definite advantages to going the component route. If you're really into music as well as movies, for example, you'll want high-end components that you can tweak to get the most accurate sound reproduction. You can better tailor your system to fit the particular acoustics in your home. You also can upgrade easily, swapping in more powerful or precise next-generation components, or expanding your setup to add features such as a digital-based music hub. And finally, if you've got the bucks, you can get the absolute best in high-end equipment [source: Miller].

The downside is that shopping for and buying separate home theater components can be time-consuming and expensive. Count on spending at least $1,000 for a basic configuration of components, and $3,000-plus for the more intricate stuff [source: Dolby.com]. Additionally, unless you're a techie, figuring out how to connect all the pieces and getting them to work together can be a trying chore [source: Consumer Reports].