Tuesday, October 6, 2009

5 things you should know about a Home Surround System

1. Front Left and Right Speakers: In home theater, the front left and right speakers offer a wide soundstage that blends with the video to create a more realistic and exciting movie experience. Usually, intended to work in conjunction with additional surround speakers and a powered subwoofer to deliver a whole theater experience. Here the musical score and special effects will travel left and right in sync with the action on screen and sometimes will produce out of sight peripheral sound. The most popular front speakers today are in-wall speakers that are unobtrusive, unlike their predecessors, the floor or tower speakers and deliver full range of sound. In-wall speakers use the wall cavity as the enclosure and prevent unruly and unsightly wires. If you don’t feel comfortable with installing in-wall speakers, consider a mountable satellite (also referred to as indoor/outdoor) speaker. They don’t reproduce as much bass, so make sure you team it with a subwoofer. Finally, for smaller spaces consider bookshelf speakers, they can be placed on shelves or tables; make sure the speakers are “shielded.” Many televisions are adversely impacted when speakers near due to the magnetism of the speakers.
2. Center-Channel Speaker: The center-channel is a crucial piece of a proper home theater system, and is commonly completely over-looked. Center channel speakers are specifically designed to reproduce the vocals, and are responsible for more than 50% of the soundtrack, including almost all of the dialogue. It can be difficult to properly place the center channel because flat screens are so much larger. Again, ideally a center channel will go in the wall above or below the screen, however if this is not possible, use an external center channel on a shelf. It is important that it is in the center of the two front speakers and not off to the side, as this will disrupt your surround sound experience. Do not try to use the television as the center, it makes a very poor substitute.
3. Surround Sound Speakers: produce atmospheric, ambient sounds such as knocking on the door, thunder storms, and the rustling of leaves. They also work with your front speakers to deliver fantastic directional effects, like a helicopter flying by, or a bullet whizzing by. Ideally, your surround speakers should have the same performance capability as your front speakers, however homes being built with open floor plans, it’s not always that easy. If you are unable to put in rear in-wall speakers or mountable speakers, consider the newly released in-ceiling angled speakers. They allow the sound to be pointed directionally at the listening area, while still being unobtrusive. In modern homes, the thought is that speakers should be heard not seen. This mantra is different from the 70’s and 80’s where the larger the speakers and the system the cooler you were. Well, speaker technology has come a long ways, and you no longer need giant speakers to boast an impressive sound system. Because surround speakers produce, “directional sound” the proper placement of your surround speakers will heavily impact your over-all theater experience.
4. The Subwoofer: The subwoofer is available in both powered and passive – the advantage of a passive subwoofer, is the clean modern design, installed out of sight in the wall. It looks great, and for general music this is an acceptable option. You will need to use one of your additional channel outs or share one of your front speaker connections to power the subwoofer.

A powered subwoofer includes the amplifier in the enclosure, and connects easily to the “sub out” connection in the rear of your receiver. A subwoofer produces non-directional sound, so you may place it anywhere in the room, I recommend checking several locations to find the best sounding location before running your wire, and bare in mind these units require an electrical outlet. If I sound a bit partial, it’s because I am. Once you have experienced a home surround system with a powered subwoofer, you will never want to watch television or listen to music with out one. If you have an older model of receiver that does not have a subwoofer out, many subwoofers offer speaker-level signals connections from the amp and extract the bass sounds.

5. Frequency Response, Db, & Cross-overs: Here are three words that are generally foreign to the average consumer, but three important considerations when making a surround sound purchase. When purchasing a speaker consider the seller and their warranty, beyond that; compare these three characteristics of a speaker. First look for these ratings under specifications, you want a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 Khz, a sensitivity rating of 90 db or better, and the speaker should have at least a 2nd order crossover.

My family and I rarely go out to the movies, because it simply doesn’t compare to the convenience of home. I hope this article will help you to feel more prepared when embarking on purchasing your first surround sound system.

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