Home Theater Guide: 5 Key Surround Sound Tips
By now, most of us have been to or have our own home theater systems complete with surround sound. As an owner of one, however, do you know if your surround sound system is optimized to bring out the most in your home theater?
The cinema experience is a visceral one — alive with not only a ginormous screen that pulls us into the fantasy world of film, but also surrounds us with sensory overload in the form of sound. Movies literally surround us with audio that comes at us from all angles, placing us firmly in the center of the action. This is what makes going to the movies such an immersive experience. Every car that drives by, gun that’s shot, or audible groan from our favorite characters is literally coming at us from the walls!
But, you don’t have to limit that experience to just the theater. You can also bring this experience home — in the form of your entertainment center and surround sound system to create your very own home theater for any room with any amount of space.
Dolby Laboratories developed and refined the concept of surround sound. The idea here is to utilize multiple speakers to simulate a three-dimensional sound setting. You don’t necessarily need as many speakers as the movie theater in order to create a great surround sound environment. In fact, all you need is the right set up for your room.
A few basics before we begin: when you’re seeking out a new surround sound system for your home, you’ll notice that there are numerical configurations associated with each: 5.1, 7.1, 9.1, and 11.1. The first number corresponds with the number of speakers and the second refers to the number of subwoofers, or the bass component responsible for the output of explosions and “low end” of any musical composition.
A 5.1 surround sound system (the most common) will usually be comprised of a channel speaker (think dialogue), right and left speakers (think music), rear speakers (place these on the outer perimeter of your room or behind you) and the subwoofer. Combined, these components create the ideal surround sound experience. But that’s not the only option. Suppose you want to expand your home entertaining experience to supersize and maximize the experience. Here are some additional tips for setting up your new system!
5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Home Theater
1. Don’t Sideline the Subwoofer
Bass is a crucial part of the sound spectrum, and it’s important to always keep that in mind. Electronic House recommends “not treating your subwoofer like a misbehaving 4-year old and put in the corner.” Many times we are tempted to keep the subwoofer in a hidden spot to cancel out some of the deep bass, or because that’s the way you’ve always seen it done. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s no need to hide the epicenter of your home’s sound system.
The goal here is to recreate the cinematic experience, so bring your subwoofer out of its hiding spot and experiment with some locations, preferably slightly off-center of where you’ll most likely be sitting so that the sound reaches out to you and your guests to create an engaging and immersive home theater experience. Also ensure that it isn’t touching anything but the floor to avoid any sort of rattling that can disrupt the sound quality of your system.
If your system is currently without a subwoofer…we have a completely different problem on our hands.
Get one. Now.
2. Position the Center Speaker Higher
Center speakers go in the center — simple! Website Realtor.com recommends placing your center channel speaker above your television set, centered horizontally, and we agree! It’s important that you get a sense that the dialogue is coming directly from the screen verses some ambient source somewhere else in the room, and this would be best accomplished by placing it above the screen if possible. A great way to achieve this is either via a wall mount, rubber feet for angling, or a stand. If there is absolutely no way to do so, keep the center channel as close below the television as possible.
Regardless. Center channel speaker = center.
Important. And easy.
3. Remember…Size Does Matter
Listen, no matter what anyone says, size matters. According to DIY Network, for most people with a “medium-size living room or den, 12” to 15” tall book shelf speakers make a lot of sense.” This is probably the size of speaker you’ll want to get.
Unless…you’ve designed a home theater room or are currently building out your entertainment room in a much larger room or multipurpose space. Then you may want to consider 38” or more. The idea here is to create an immersive experience, so be careful to not to go too big and end up drowning…in sound.
4. Bigger Room Equals Bigger System
While the 5.1 system is great, it may not necessarily work the best for the room in which you are currently enjoying your home entertainment center. Sometimes we really just need an upgrade on either the technology or the amount of speakers you’re currently using. A 7.1 or 9.1 system may be your best bet if your room is a more expansive space or if you’re remodeling your current home theater.
Surround sound pioneer Dolby does a great job of recommending speaker placements for your home entertainment center surround sound systems whether you’re working with a 5.1, 7.1, or 9.1 set up.
5. Calibration is Key
A final word on obtaining optimum sound output from your home theater surround sound system is that you’ll want to calibrate the speaker system’s output levels correctly. This one single step can drastically help the sound quality of your entire home entertaining experience by bringing out subtle sequences and nuances within larger more explosive segments of your favorite action or horror movies. Many of today’s systems have built-in automatic calibration features that will do the trick for the less tech-savvy!