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Home Theater Audio: Tips, Advice and FAQs (page 1 of 2)

Experts from DIY Network's hit show Hollywood Hi-Tech provide insight on how to set up the audio system in a home theater or media room.

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Home Theater Audio Basics

Movies are recorded so that the audience hears noises all around, which makes you feel like you are a part of the movie. That is why you have multiple speakers in a surround-sound system: Each speaker in a surround-sound system is assigned different sounds.

Whenever possible, use a complete sound system from a single manufacturer. The sound quality of speakers can vary a lot, even between speakers from different lines from the same manufacturer. Always try to get speakers that were designed to be used together.

Get the biggest and best quality speakers your budget can afford. Inexpensive "home theater in a box" systems with small cube or desktop speakers are fine for home offices, dorm rooms, etc., but they can't produce the volume or sound quality needed for a home theater environment.

In-wall and ceiling models are fine for surround speakers since most of the music and almost all of the dialogue in a movie comes from the front speakers, with the surround speakers used mainly for sound effects.

Most home theater speaker systems are either 5.1 or 7.1 channels. The five main speakers in a 5.1 system are the front left, center and right (LCR) and the two back surround speakers. The ".1" is the subwoofer, which produces the deep bass.  A 7.1 system adds two rear surround speakers.

What exactly are woofers and tweeters? A tweeter is for high-frequency sounds and woofers are for low-frequency sounds. A tweeter ranges from 200 to 20,000 hertz, which is the upper limit of human hearing. The name comes from the high-pitched noise that birds make. Good quality in-dome tweeters should be lightweight, high stiffness and damping materials. A woofer is usually the largest cone inside the speaker. Subwoofers range from 10 to 120 hertz. They should also be made of lightweight yet stiff material. The name comes from the sound of a dog's "woof."

Setting Up Audio Components

When setting up your home theater, avoid using a room where the walls are all the same length. Place your screen and front speakers on one of the narrow walls so that the speakers fire along the long walls of the room.

The back-surround speakers should be mounted on the side walls just behind the main listening position, at about five to six feet off the floor. The rear-surround speakers should be mounted about two feet apart on the back wall of the room and placed at the same height as the back surrounds.

In general, freestanding speakers sound best.  Wall-mounted speakers are a close second, while built-in wall speakers rank third. Only use ceiling speakers for the front channels if you have no other choice.


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