Acoustic Room Treatment: Make your Home Theater Sound Better Than Ever


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The Ultimate Guide to Home Theater Setup -

Room Treatment
You probably already know where your home theater system will be installed. Some home owners may have a choice of rooms, but the majority of homes have only one room that’s a strong candidate for this use. Ideally, this room is dedicated to its task, with picture and sound quality as top priorities, but in practice, the home theater room will also serve other functions. These restrictions mean that a room often requires additional treatment to obtain the best possible experience.

The room should not be perfectly square. If the walls are all the same distance apart, it will create powerful bass resonances at certain frequencies, which will make the bass extremely uneven in the room. A rectangular room will spread these resonances more evenly across the audio band, thus weakening them and reducing their negative effects. For home theater, it’s generally best to have some absorptive material behind the speakers, and on the side walls between the listener and the speakers.

Many companies make foam or fiberglass sound absorbing panels specifically for this purpose. The thicker the panel, the lower the frequencies of sound it will absorb. Foam or fiberglass panels that are 4 inches thick are a good choice. If it’s not aesthetically desirable to use these panels, thick drapes are a good substitute, and plush furniture also helps. For stereo systems, less absorption may be desirable because the absorption tends to reduce the spaciousness of the sound.

Parallel walls in a listening room create “flutter echo,” or sounds bouncing back and forth between the walls. For this reason, it’s a good idea to add paintings, shelves, etc., to large, empty flat wall spaces. These objects will help diffuse the sound and create a greater sense of spaciousness.

Drapes will also help prevent sunlight from washing out the display screen or creating glare.

Speaker Size
Speakers must be suitable for the room. Home theater owners are usually more concerned with ensuring their speakers are big enough for the room, but most large tower speakers are designed to be used at a distance of 12 feet or more from the listener. Their drivers are often spaced far apart, and their sound waves won’t combine properly at closer distances. They may also produce far more bass than a small room needs.

On the other hand, speakers that are too small may not be able to adequately fill a large room. To fill a large room, they may have to play louder than their designers intended, which will not only increase distortion and reduce the clarity of the sound, but it’ll also shorten the lifetime of your speakers since they will often be driven past their limits.

Speaker Location
Speaker location is one of the most effective ways of getting the best sound from your room. In particular, you generally need to avoid the temptation to place the speakers directly against the wall. While this location may keep them out of the way, it will also reinforce the bass, often to the point where the sound becomes muddled.

Full-range speakers typically should be two to three feet from the nearest wall. It’s especially important to avoid placing speakers in a corner unless they are small and need a great deal of bass reinforcement. You should also pull the couch away from the wall because the bass will likely be excessively loud and boomy when you’re close to the wall.

While tempting for the sake of working with your existing furniture, you shouldn’t place speakers inside any type of enclosure such as cabinets.

Room Shape
Rooms are generally rectangular, but newer homes often have rooms with more irregular shapes, such as “L” shapes, vaulted ceilings, etc. These rooms don’t necessarily sound bad; indeed, their irregular shape can reduce bass resonances. However, they sometimes make it more difficult to find a place to mount the surround speakers—there might be an open space right in the place that would be ideal for a surround speaker. In this case, you have to get the speaker as close as possible to the ideal location, then balance out its sound using the receiver’s channel level controls and/or automatic equalization function.

The most common location for the display screen in a home theater system is against a wall, usually in the center. A particularly small room may require you to make more efficient use of your available space by placing the screen in the corner. You can still set up a home theater this way, but you’ll be compromising the sound somewhat, as speakers are generally designed for use in rectangular rooms.

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