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5 Tips For Getting The Best Home Theater Sound Possible

This short, but SWEET, article will give you some tips on how to make sure your home theater delivers the sonic goods, giving you the best home theater sound your equipment is capable of.

Tip 1: Use the right speakers

This one is absolutely critical. Many people are simply using the wrong speakers in their home theater. If you are an enthusiast, and like listening at high SPLs, then there are very few speaker topologies that will reliably deliver the goods.

Do not use speakers with a single soft or metal dome tweeter. Multi-tweeter arrays are cool. Compression drivers on horns are better. Line sources work but are pricey. Anything else will give you stilted dynamics and poor reliability.

Compression drivers on horns. Yes, this IS high performance home theater :)
Compression drivers on horns. Yes, this IS high performance home theater 🙂

 

Throw those horizontal format center speakers away and get a center speaker that is identical to your left and rights. Then put it behind an acoustically transparent screen. See here for more.

For surrounds you should be using monopoles or bipoles, not dipoles*. Dipoles are expressly designed not to have consistent off axis dispersion. Why would you want that, especially with spatial audio formats like Dolby Atmos where an object may transition from front to back in a room through the null of the dipole.

* see this article about dipoles, monopoles and bipoles 

 

Tip 2: Keep seats away from walls and speakers

Simply put any ears should be minimum 4ft away from any speaker. Do not put seats near walls, especially a back wall, or you’ll lose surround sound envelopment and get boomy bass as well. A seat too close to a surround speaker will result in excessive localization.

Do your seating layout before you choose your equipment. It should be the first thing you do! For more see our home theater seating layout article.

 

Tip 3: Make sure you have enough subwoofers

If you have one row of seats you need two subwoofers. If you have two rows of seats you need at least four subs and possibly more.

Having an horn loaded mega sub will not give you smooth bass.  It will certainly give you a lot of it but you’ll also get massive peaks and dips across your listening area from rampant room modes and speaker boundary interference cancellations.

The pro tip is to use more subs, and to put them in certain “mode-cancelling” arrangements to provide consistent, smooth bass across your seating area. For more, see this case study. To learn about multiple subwoofers, run this search on google.

 

Tip 4: Don’t forget the acoustic treatment

Your audio system is only one half of the sound you get. The other half is the room. Room acoustics are a minefield of conflicting opinion and armchair experts. Our advice is to make sure you do the basics.

high end home theater
The well treated side wall of The Savoy home theater that we designed.

Add enough bass trapping to get your room modes under control. Deep fiberglass traps are extremely effective and relatively cheap; the only downside is that they take up a lot of space. However most of you have a ton of space in your risers and behind your screen. Use it!

Once you’ve done that add just enough absorption to make your room sound nice. It should not sound “dead” or “echoey”. If you have a conversation with someone in your theater it should feel natural. Typically if you have wall-to-wall carpet and home theater seats you often don’t need much more absorption.

You can often do more harm that good treating first reflection points. Do some research and you’ll find that thin absorbers actually screw up your sound, stripping it of the high frequencies whilst leaving the mids and bass behind. Better in our opinion not to treat your room for first reflections than to put 1″ fiberglass everywhere.

Tip 5: Don’t rely on the “automagic” audio correction

So you’ve meticulously researched all your equipment and painstainkly built the home theater of your dreams. But what do you do at the end of it? Trust the results to some automated setup routine in your AVR or pre-pro? Please NO!

At a minimum do the basic setup yourself – speaker size, distances, levels, subwoofer integration. The automated routines get these wrong all the time. The THX baseline recommendation is to set all speakers to small and use an 80Hz crossover. That’s a great starting point, and nearly always better than what the AVR will suggest.

Typical "automatic" (purple) and properly set up (green) subwoofer / mains integration curves
Typical “automatic” (purple) and properly set up (green) subwoofer / mains integration curves

If you want to maximize the return on your investment get a professional to do a proper audio calibration. Home Acoustics Alliance certification is what you are looking for. These guys and gals have the knowledge and tools to ensure everything is squeeze every last ounce of performance out of your theater.

Got anymore “no brainer” tips for getting the best sound from your home theater? Please add a comment below.

5 thoughts on “5 Tips For Getting The Best Home Theater Sound Possible”

  1. You commented that “You can often do more harm that good treating first reflection points. ”

    This is interesting as most articles seem to suggest that addressing first reflection points is the first step after bass trapping. Can you provide any links or additional info on best practices for dealing with first reflection points?

    Thanks!
    Gregory

    1. The best resource is Floyd Toole’s book, which explains how you perceive reflections. Once you understand the psychoacoustic background then you’ll understand why blindly treating first reflection points is not an acoustics best practice.

      Essentially the human brain actually likes reflections, as long as they are spectrally similar to the direct sound. If you add the typical first reflection point treatment (an inch or two of fiberglass) then you are just stripping off the high frequencies, and making the reflection spectrally dissimilar to the direct sound. It’s a little more complex than that, as it also depends what direction the reflection arrives from. Generally speaking reflections arriving from the side walls are often best left untreated, whereas those from the ceiling and the wall behind you often benefit from treatment.

  2. I like your tip to keep your seats away from the walls and speakers. My friend has a home theater, but the couches are against the walls and the surround sound falls really flat. I’ll have to tell him about this so he can move his furniture around.

  3. I really like your tip “keep seats away from walls and speakers.” That is definitely something that we will have to keep in mind while we are installing our new home theater system next month. We really want to have nice sound so I think that these tips will really help us out. Thanks for sharing!

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