Think back to when you were a child, swaddled in a cocoon of blankets. Now replace those blankets with sound to create what most audiophiles strive for: surround sound.
Your goal is to replicate the concert or cinematic experience and envelop yourself in sound. You want to close your eyes and feel the engine’s deep rumble as it’s revved up, the protagonist’s whisper as he passes by his lover.
Unfortunately, a lot of people neglect their ears and settle for bunching all speakers in front of them, essentially settling for stereo sound. Fortunately, that’s not you! Why else would you be here, reading this article?
Well, get ready to unlock the inner Dolby engineer in you, because here are three tips that’ll help you get the perfect surround sound in your very own living room.
1: Don't Neglect Your Bass!
Have you ever wondered where the extra “.1” comes from when you hear 5.1 surround sound (or 7.1, 9.1 and so on)? As you might’ve guessed based on the heading, it comes from the subwoofer, which produces low frequencies and tones, otherwise known as bass.
Anyway, if perfect surround sound is what you’re looking for, a subwoofer is a must. It’s what’s actually going to let you feel the music and effects. Would you rather see a train pass by or feel it rumble along its way? Do you want to hear the drumbeat or feel it deep inside you? If you’re like me, you chose the latter.
Now that you know you need a subwoofer, let’s quickly discuss placement. One of the biggest and most common subwoofer mistakes is to treat it like an eyesore and hide it under the furniture. Please don’t do this, even if you have placement leeway by connecting them to wireless surround speakers.
By nature, subwoofers are omnidirectional. This is good, as it makes them easier to place than other speakers, but placing them in a corner or enclosed space (such as under furniture) gives them direction, effectively worsening your experience by making it sound boomy in some places and softer in others. Treat your subwoofer properly and don’t neglect the bass!
2: Variation is Key
Our discussion here begins with stereo sound, the basic sound most are used to. This type of sound has two channels of audio, left and right, and produces the illusion of sound directionality. Add a subwoofer to this setup for 2.1 sound, and a subwoofer and a center channel for 3.1 sound.
Many people think that surround sound can only be achieved with separate speakers. Not true. You can actually get similar, and sometimes even better results with a soundbar. By itself, a soundbar has 3 channels, center, left and right. With a subwoofer and two separate speakers, you get 5.1 surround sound.
Take the HEOS wireless surround speakers, for instance. They have a soundbar that can be connected to a wireless subwoofer and two separate wireless surround speakers for full 5.1 surround sound. So instead of dealing with six separate devices — including the subwoofer as the sixth — and the pains of maneuvering through all those wires, you have a soundbar that takes the place of three, two separate wireless speakers and a wireless subwoofer.
3: It's All About the Setup and Layout
Technology is important, of course; you can’t get superb results from subpar equipment. The fallacy comes when you neglect all other factors and focus solely on the tech.
A BIG contributing factor to surround sound is your room’s layout. Some materials absorb sound, others reflect it, and some scatter it. You have to take all of this into consideration when setting up your system. A quick note before delving into the actual setup, make sure that there’s nothing obstructing the sound. In other words, keep the space clear so that sound can travel out of the speakers and into your ears.
Okay, now for the actual setup. As we briefly covered earlier, to get 5.1 surround sound, start with the 3.1 setup we discussed earlier, add a left and right surround speaker, and there you go, surround sound.
Going into detail, the center channel is mainly used for dialogue, so make sure to keep it as close to ear height as possible (this is where a wall mounted soundbar comes in handy). The surround (rear) speakers, on the other hand, are used to convey environment or ambient sound. So if you’re watching a live concert, the noises from the crowd, such as cheering, would come from rear speakers, giving you the impression of being in the front row.
To keep you in the know, you can also add two more speakers for 7.1 surround sound, 4 for 9.1, etc. The basics are the same as for the 5.1 setup, but placement does vary a bit as you add more speakers. Feel free to do a quick Google search to learn more.
Surround Yourself with Sound
So, did you take notes along the way? If so, good! If not, no worries, here they are again (or you can just read it over again, it’s a quick read):
- Don’t neglect your bass!
- Variation is key
- It’s all about the setup and layout
Get all of that? Nice, enjoy!