Tips for better home theater sound

By Team Digit | Published on 07 Feb 2007
Tips for better home theater sound

You've read the reviews and put together a great home-theatre system, but until you take some time to properly set up your components, they won't perform to the best of their abilities. We've assembled this checklist to help you quickly improve the sound of your home-theatre system.

1. Navigate the speaker-setup menus:
Every 5.1/6.1/7.1 A/V receiver has a setup menu, but if you've never explored the options, your sound is probably out of whack. The first step is easy enough: select Speaker Size--large, small, or none--for the left- and right-front speakers, the centre speaker, and the surround speakers. As a rule of thumb, speakers with 6-inch or bigger woofers are considered large.

Next, grab a tape measure and input the full set of speaker-to-listener distances. The receiver will then make sure that the sound from all your speakers reaches your ears at exactly the same time. Some receivers require you to input that information as milliseconds rather than feet/meters--just remember that 3 milliseconds are roughly the equivalent of one meter (or 1ms equals 1 foot for the non-metric).

Finally, you'll need to make sure that all of the speakers are equal in level. Your receiver can send a test tone to each speaker, which will help you adjust the relative volume of each channel. As the sound jumps from speaker to speaker, the loudness should stay the same. You can adjust the level of each speaker by ear or you can…

2. Buy a sound-level meter:
There are some excellent, but fairly inexpensive, sound level meters on that market that will ensure more accurate level matching.

3. Ensure that speaker cables are connected correctly:
With that tangle of cables looming behind your A/V receiver, it's all too easy to mix up which wire goes where. When you're running through the speaker-level adjustments, double-check that the test tones are coming out of the intended speakers. DVDs such as Sound & Vision: Home Theater Tune-Up offer a bevy of additional tests. The Avia Guide to Home Theatre, also from Ovation Software, is a more advanced version as it has more tests and goes into greater details than the other disc. Digital Video Essentials is another test DVD that is available for PAL TV systems that also provides advice on how to adjust your home theatre for optimal results.

4. Tweak subwoofer-level and crossover controls:
Test tones and meters aren't the final arbiters in the bass department. If your sub's bass is boomy, thick, or uneven, first try lowering its level (volume) control--most folks crank their sub louder than necessary. Next, if your satellites are very small, the crossover control should also be set to its midpoint or higher. Bigger speakers produce more bass on their own, so they sound best with the sub's crossover knob set at or near the bottom of its range. Finally, moving the sub out of the corner and closer to one of the front speakers may produce smoother, flatter bass.

5. Purchase speaker stands or brackets:
Pulling speakers out of bookcases or from the tops of cabinets and placing them on floor stands or wall brackets can radically improve their sound quality.

6. Optimise speaker placement:
Even if you don't go for stands or brackets, just remember that's it's important to place the front speakers with their tweeters at--or as close as possible--to ear level. The left/right speakers should be equidistant from the 'cash seat' or primary listening position. If a speaker is within 45cm of a room's corner, angle it away from the corner and toward the main listening position.

7. Tame uncooperative acoustics if possible:
Rooms with wood or tile floors and lots of windows or mirrors always sound overly bright and zippy; a thick rug and/or window drapes will sop up some of the harshness.

8. Upgrade speaker/interconnect cables:
Are you still you using skinny, freebie wires? Moving up to higher-end cables can make a noteworthy improvement to your sound.

9. Add a separate power amplifier:
If your room is large and/or you really like to pump up the volume, you may need more power. Take a peek in your receiver's owner's manual or back panel to see if it has a set of preamp-out jacks for the left, the right, the center, the left-surround, and the right-surround channels. If your receiver is so equipped, you can go ahead and hook up a gutsy separate 100-, 150-, or 200-watt-per-channel amp to your receiver. Let the good times roll!

10. Buy matched speakers:
If you're currently using a cobbled-together set of speakers, consider moving up to a matched package. Even a moderately priced ensemble will offer far more cohesive sound.

Team Digit

All of us are better than one of us.


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