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Home Theater Blog
Pulling back the curtain on all things audio… including home theater, wireless

5 Common Home Theater Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make.

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Oct 14, 2013 | 9 Comments

There’s nothing more exciting that setting up your home theater speakers.  You’ve spent months doing your research to find the perfect components that you need to bring a multiplex home cinema experience to your living room, so don’t take any shortcuts that will compromise their performance.  We’ll cover a few of the most common home theater system mistakes that can be easily avoided or fixed so your system will have you smiling from ear to ear.

 

1. Auditioning the speakers in the store only.

   When you begin auditioning home theater speakers you’re going to find that you can either listen to speakers in a beautifully designed and acoustically treated showroom or, on the floor of a big box store.  In both instances, the listening environment is going to be nothing like your home.  Without a doubt, home speakers that you hear at a store will sound drastically different once you get them in your own home due to the size of your room, placement, furniture, electronics, floor material and ceiling height, just to name a few.  In fact your room is more likely to affect the sound of the speakers than any of your other components.  Even at our Aperion Audio showroom we’ve spent a large amount of time positioning and calibrating our speakers and electronics, as well as adding room treatments to quiet the space in order make sure our speakers sound as good as possible.  In-home auditions will answer the most important purchasing criteria which should be, if the speakers sound good to you, in your home, with your music an d is probably the most common home theater mistake that should be avoided.

2. Placing speakers  where it’s simply convenient

As I mentioned in common mistake #1, listening to your speakers in your own room is critical.   To take that one step further, the placement of home theater speakers and  your TV is extremely important.  For your TV, distance and height are the important factors.  You should know how far back you plan on sitting from the TV before you purchase it.  A quick rule of thumb is to take the diagonal size of your TV screen and multiply it by 1.5 (THX recommends between 1.2 and 1.8x your screen diagonal) .  That number will give you the “optimum” viewing distance but keep in mind that you’ll also want that TV at eye  level as well (eyes in the middle of the screen).   A common theme we often see with new construction is wiring for your flat panel above your fireplace which may look cool, but your neck is going to hurt from looking up that high for the length of a movie.  5.1-channel setup

Speaker placement is equally important and will have a great impact on how your speakers will sound.  If you can, try and pull your home speakers out into the room a few feet both from the side walls and rear walls as well.  What this will do is allow you to hear more of the speakers and less of the room reflections.   In order to achieve great soundstage and imaging your speakers need to have a clear sound path to your ears.  For example, if you were to push speakers right up against the back wall on either side of your entertainment system the path of sound those speakers product will be inhibited by the side walls of the equipment cabinet.  What you’ll miss is stereo imaging and the 3D spaciousness that a properly setup stereo system can provide.  Ideally, as the diagram shows above, having your speakers pulled forward of obstructions and slightly angled inward will greatly improve the entire systems performance.  Don’t make the mistake of taking speaker placement casually.  It’s all about location, location, location!

3. Skipping the calibration of your receiver and TV

We all want to get to the fun part, but it only takes a little patience to get optimal results.  Don’t skip calibrating your receiver as well as your TV.  Calibration settings in your receiver are quite common these days.  Even some entry level receivers will come with a setup microphone and some level of Audessy auto calibration.  I recommend Audessy and find that it will calibrate a receiver to satisfactory settings and dial your speaker system into your room.  One tip is to use a microphone to isolate the Audessy mic for best performance.  Placing the mic on the back of the couch isn’t the best option as any obstructions can affect the quality of the test tones it needs for setup.  I always recommend customers to use a tripod if possible and place the tip of the microphone exactly where their head is going to be when sitting down.  One last item to keep in mind when using Audessy would be to turn the level of your subwoofer down to maybe 1/3 or 1/2 volume and always double check your channel level when the calibration is done.  If you see large variances in volume level, especially from the surrounds or subwoofer, chances are you didn’t get a clean reading and should try again.

Calibrating your TV is something I recommend to everyone who purchases a new TV.  Out of the box TV’s are usually set to some type of super bright setting that would stand out in a big box retail store.  Please, take the time and calibrate your main HDMI input in the advance settings.   What I would recommend doing is looking on AVS forum or Cnet for TV reviews on your make and model and often times you’ll find someone who will publish and ISF calibration guide with all of the numbers you need.  Set aside about 30 minutes and go through the 100 or so settings and you’ll be amazed at the difference in picture quality.  I was skeptical when I bought my first 1080p display, but after I went through ISF settings the picture was more balanced, detailed and lifelike.

4. Using the wrong audio cables

This is a touchy subject because while I think there is a genuine advantage to be had from using well built audio cables and heavier gauge speaker wire, I’m a bit skeptical in regards to digital cables.  Most notably in my opinion are “High End” HDMI cables.   A common home theater mistake is to spend above and beyond on HDMI cables when the same quality signal can be had from a generic cable for a fraction of the price.  There are different levels of features within HDMI, but just always for the highest feature level of HDMI cable you can get.   Look for cables that support “high speed” Ethernet, 3D, and ARC.

5. Using poor source material

This happens more that I would like to admit, but often times I’ll help a customer put together perfect system for their needs and they’ll call me back feeling a bit underwhelmed by the sound.   When I ask what they are playing, it’s usually a low quality mp3…sigh.   Another common issue is using your awesome 1080p HDTV to watch standard definition TV; it looks horrible.   Remember:  Quality in, quality out.  You’ve spent the time and money on your gear so please make sure to use high quality source material!  You deserve it!   HDTV and Blu Ray for your TV and CD’s, SACD or loss-less audio downloads for music.  Your eyes and ears will thank you, and your system will eat it up!

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. avatar
    john kutasz
    November 4, 2013

    Excellent summary of very sensible advice. I have a few questions about the picture of the lovely room at the top of the article. Do you think the leather chairs are going to block sound from the main speakers? Any thoughts on the height of the center speaker? Might it be better closer to ear level? Would turning off the lights above the tv and maybe having a shade available for the window in the door help with picture quality?

    • avatar
      Mike Hopkins
      November 4, 2013

      Thanks for your feedback John.
      When I look at the room layout of that picture I’m guessing that most of the time the owner would be sitting on the couch that may have a good line of sight to the front speakers, although it is a bit hard to determine from the picture. With 2 channel listening you may find better performance by removing the chairs, but I would think it would be less noticeable when watching a movie. Regarding the center speaker, yes, this is where you get into placement trade-offs. Above or below the screen is best, and ear level of course, but as you can see, the larger Verus Grand center wouldn’t fit below the screen or in the cabinet. In this instance, I think the owner made the right choice and has the center angled down.
      For viewing, it’s always better to have a darker room, but I will admit that even though this room is not ideal for reflections on the screen, it looks quite nice!

    • avatar
      Vincent
      November 4, 2013

      Great questions. A while ago I did read some people say it is better to place the center speaker on top of the TV instead of under the TV….

      I do have one question. Is the center speaker the Verus Grand center? If so what kind of bracket does the owner use to place the Verus Grand on top of the TV.

  2. avatar
    Ben Baca
    December 1, 2013

    For surrounds do you recommend direct radiating speakers, or bipoles? I know that for music that direct radiating speakers seem to be more recommended, but for movies the bipoles seem to do well. Problem is the ones offered by aperion only have 4in drivers which means having to use a high crossover point.

    • avatar
      Ben Baca
      January 21, 2014

      Hi Ben,

      I guess you will have to answer your own question since it seems no one actually reads these entries, or very few anyway. But that is ok. At least you check back in here every now and then. Besides, you have already answered your own question you posed in your previous comment because you already purchased the 4BPs for your Aperion system and they do well and performed even better than you thought they would. So congratulations on your purchase!

      P:S: Just having a little fun above, so I hope no one gets too upset at me for talking to myself. :) ))

      • avatar
        Mike Hopkins
        January 21, 2014

        Hey Ben,

        Well, thanks for responding, I think you really helped out Ben with your help ;) Seriously though, you’re correct direct radiating speakers are usually a better choice for surrounds when listening to multichannel music or concert DVD’s because of the way in which those recordings are mastered. For dipole/bipole surrounds you’re definitely going to get a wider surround dispersion due to the angle of the drivers on the front baffle, plus the idea is to also use the rear wall to reflect some of the surround information back to the seating area. True, our surrounds use a smaller driver and don’t have quite as much bass, but in our testing we find that they blend together perfectly in a well calibrated system. That being said, like all speakers, the sound is subjective so some people definitely want to use a full range speaker for surrounds. It’s not uncommon to see some of our customers using a 4T tower speaker as a surround or even add a subwoofer to the back of the room for added bass. How are the 4BP surrounds working for you? Do you find that you’re missing a bit of bass or are your front speakers and sub able to evenly fill the room on the low end?

        • avatar
          Ben Baca
          January 21, 2014

          Lol, thanks, glad I could help good old Ben. :)

          The 4bps are doing just fine, and work very well. The fact that the 4inch driver is not at an angle like the tweeters make it perform more or less like a direct radiating speaker, yet they still have that diffuse type sound. No bass problems either, I have them crossed over at 110hz. The LFE channel is crossed over at a default 120hz on my receiver anyway so the SUB picks up anything from there on down. The mains and center are crossed over at 80hz. As for using full range as surrounds, this is what I was doing for years until I got my Aperions. The problem was they were all full tower speakers that I had accumulated over the years. Both front and backs were bought back in the 80s, and they were different brands so the timbre was not what it should be, and the impedance were different too. With those all running I didn’t really need a sub albeit they didn’t get down below 28hz. but still provided good bass. Now that I have dual subs I can now appreciate what I was missing way down low.

  3. avatar
    Mike Hopkins
    January 21, 2014

    Agreed, I’m a huge advocate of dual subwoofers!

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