As a kid, I used to watch my dad with fascination as he hopped from stool to cupboard to adjust a speaker’s position to get it just right. As his little helper, it was my job to sit in his chair and make sure I heard the music from the speakers loud and clear. But of course, not everyone has the option of having a little helper around.
Here are my top five tips to help you get self-started with your sound system at home.
1. Use the Primary Components of a Sound System
You should buy several speakers if you want a superior sound experience. A single pair of speakers works, but as the soundtrack feeds all its separate sounds (frequencies) into the same device, this results in some lost or blurry sounds. To listen to a crisp and clear soundtrack (where you can hear every instrument or voice in it), you need several speakers so that the different sound frequencies are routed to the appropriate speakers.
The primary components of a sound system are as follows:
Left and Right Front Speakers: A speaker is a device that converts analog audio signals into the equivalent air vibrations in order to make audible sound ( definition from pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term). The front speakers should not point directly to each other. Rear speakers follow the same principles as the front speakers.
The following image shows you how to place your front speakers.
Have you ever wondered why we need two speakers instead of one?
The science behind it is because we have two ears. Seriously. For example, if you hear a train chugging on your sound system, the sound may be first played on your left front speaker and then on your right front speaker. This gives you the illusion of a train moving from left to right.
Left and Right Surround Speakers: The surround speakers are placed besides or behind your main seat. They are pointed at ear level. The surround speakers face each other more directly than the front speakers.
The following image shows you how to place your surround speakers.
Central Speaker: The central speaker should be in front of you and should point directly to you at ear level. In my opinion, this is the most important speaker, though it likely to burn a pretty hole in your pocket.
Subwoofer: A subwoofer is a sound system component that focuses on the very low bass frequencies of the soundtrack. It is usually placed in front you (its placement is flexible).
If you hear imperceptible sounds in a soundtrack faintly in the background (the lower frequencies), you need to check the bass. Generally, the bass is set as “low” on your front speakers, which is perfectly fine. A subwoofer is used to bring out the clarity of these background noises and make them actually sound like something. It adds the “punch” to the soundtrack, if I may say so.
You may have two, five, or more speakers plus a subwoofer for your home sound system. Dolby has instructions on the how-to in it’s Home Theater Speaker Guide. I have used some of their wonderful and simple diagrams in this post.
2. Beware of Speaker Sizes
You can have small, medium, or large speakers depending on your budget and your room size. Remember that large speakers are too overwhelming in a small room.
To simplify this, let me categorize speakers based on the following two sizes:
- larger floor-standing speakers
- smaller book-shelf speakers
Advantage: Easy to maneuver
It is a matter of personal opinion, but I believe that small speakers cannot function with the same intensity as large speakers do, irrespective of the technology used to squeeze out every last bit of sound from the small speakers. You are free to mix and match different speaker sizes to create your perfect home sound system.
3. Check the Distance of the Speaker from the Seating Area
A simple method to obtain the correct co-ordinates to place your sound system, is to measure the room and locate its center. Use this central point as the primary reference to measure the distance (at appropriate angles) for the various speakers. Ensure that a set of similar speakers is equidistant from the center. The front of the speakers should ideally face you directly; this may result in some speakers being angled (they are not positioned in straight and parallel lines from each other).
The famous 38 percent Rule says that the best seating position is theoretically 38 percent into the length of the room (from either the front or rear wall of the room). A useful tip if you go to book movie theater seats too.
You will most likely place the speakers near the wall; but take care to never touch the speakers to the wall.
4. Check the Height of the Speaker from the Floor
The front speakers should be placed at your ear level. This is suggested because of the direction sound waves travel. The left- and right-front speakers should be aligned at an angle of 60 degrees from each other.
The rear/surround speakers should be placed two feet above your ear level.
The central speaker should be placed at your ear level.
The subwoofer may be placed on the floor.
5. Angle the Speakers Appropriately (from each other)
Have you ever wondered why we need two speakers facing each other at an angle? It is because our ears face in opposite directions. Over simplistic isn’t it? The following figure explains the angular separation of the speakers from each other.