November 12, 2010
| by Alan Lofft
Duplicating the cinematic or concert sound experience at home is the pursuit of all buyers of home theater equipment. With advances in technology from Blu-ray to Dolby and DTS, consumers are increasingly able to reproduce a cinema-level experience without paying $12 movie ticket prices.
As with many of high-tech components, sound systems aren’t necessarily about how much you spend. Proper equipment setup and tuning can go a long way in enhancing audio quality. And that’s the key. Take away desires to have the biggest brands and the perfect matching equipment set, close your eyes and actually listen to the sound.
Let’s look at four ways to enhance your sound experience:
Let the Subwoofer Out of the Corner – It’s Not in “Time Out”
Don’t treat your subwoofer like a misbehaving 4-year-old and put it in the corner. Bass notes are created by waves that peak in some areas of too much bass, and there are also nulls where sound cancels out and you can’t feel that thundering bass. Room dimensions dictate these sounds. Unless you are looking to remodel, it’s easier to simply try different locations for the subwoofer. Don’t have a preconceived notion of where the sub should go in a room for aesthetics or “that’s where everyone puts it” reasons. Generating the perfect sound takes a little effort now for big payoffs in enjoyment.
It’s important to not skimp on subwoofer quality. Modern DSP-powered subwoofers can produce deeper and deeper tones, which means a more engaging cinema sound experience. If you don’t have a subwoofer, you need to get one. Subwoofers are the foundation of any serious surround system.
Surround Speakers Are Movable for a Reason
Take a peek behind you. Are the surround speakers in your 5.1-channel system clustered back there? Consider moving speakers to the side walls, ideally above ear level by about two feet. Doing so will increase the depth of the sound, and make the ears and mind feel they are truly “surrounded.”
For bigger rooms with a 7.1-channel setup, you can always get another pair of speakers for the rear wall. Check your receiver settings too. Switching to quadpolar surround can be an effective way to get that crisp ambient sound to all areas of the room.
Take Advantage of Available Technology
You say you love music and want that “in the concert hall” feeling. However, your setup is literally stereo, with two close together speakers. Many listeners only associate true surround sound with the latest blockbuster. However, music recordings deserve to be heard as they were intended, in rich sound that can uncover the many layers.
So how do you get that sound? A simple action can be to look at your AV receiver and choose one of the decoding algorithms, such as Dolby ProLogic IIx, dts Neo:6, or Logic7. Logic7 is for owners of Harman/Kardon receivers or Lexicon preamps.
Algorithms such as Dolby ProLogic IIx can take stereo, Dolby Surround, and other source materials and improve it to 7.1 channel surround sound. Dolby and other processing technologies can pull out hidden ambient sounds from recordings are able to recreate a live session experience by sending them to your side or rear speakers. While it won’t work with every recording, using available processing technology is an easy way to get the most out of your music.
Upgrade Your Centerpiece
Some home theater systems are pieced together Frankenstein-style, with older technologies mixing with modern components. Just like any consumer technology product, speakers improve drastically every few years in terms of reproduction of a cinematic experience. The modern center-channel speaker is a key component to a real surround experience.
Neglecting the center-channel speaker can have a real effect on dialogue and lyric quality. You want to match the tone between the center channel and the surround speakers by matching the size and output of the drivers between the left, center, and right speakers. The easiest way to do this is to use the same products across the front. If they don’t work in sync, the whole system will be out of balance. And for anyone that has played with the “Right-Left” toggle on their car stereo, you know the ears don’t appreciate unbalanced sound.
You invested some time and money into your home theater setup. Isn’t worth taking a little time to set it up right?
Alan Lofft, former editor-in-chief of Sound & Vision Magazine and senior editor at Audio Magazine, writes for and works with Axiom Audio