Create an Unforgettable Experience

with Audio and Video

Intro to Home Theater and Surround Sound

Every room is different. Everything is custom. We’ve provided guidance.

Selecting audio components can be one of the more daunting tasks if you do it on your own. On the surface, it would seem that if you just go out and buy the best components you can afford, they’ll sound great with both movies and music.  That could be true but a designed system will more accurately reproduce the audio and video you feed it, regardless of whether that signal is from a movie or music. But it’s often not that simple. While assembling a home theater system that’s equally amazing with movies and music may be a big goal, unless you have unlimited funds, you’ll probably have compromises to make. At that point, you might want to steer the system’s performance strengths one way or the other with the right mix of speakers and electronics. But how do you go about matching these up? The first step is to figure out where you fall on the music/home theater scale. The best time to think about all of this is before you buy a system. Ask yourself a few questions: Do you and your family listen to a lot more music than watch movies, or is it the other way around? When you do listen to music, is it on for background as you go about your business, or do you love to sit down in front of the speakers and immerse yourself? Then there are aesthetic considerations?—the gear’s appearance and how it fits in with your décor. How will those factors influence your buying decisions? If you’re an audiophile who no longer has time to listen but your family will be using the system daily for TV and movie viewing, you’ll want to plan your budget accordingly.

The Main Ingredients

A surround sound system consists of a few essential parts:

Component

What it Does

Placement

Center Speaker

  • Produces dialogue and is considered the most important speaker in the system. It delivers more than 50% of a movies sound including almost of the dialogue. It also provides important sound effects.
  • Best when placed under the TV.
  • Can sit on furniture, mount to TV, be in-wall or in-ceiling speaker.

Audio Video Receiver (AVR)

  • Powers your speakers.
  • Upscales both audio and video
  • Switches between sources to TV
  • In an Cabinet under the TV
  • Out of the room, for example, in a hallway closet

Surround Sound Speakers

The surround sound channels work in conjunction with your others speakers to deliver directional effects. For example, when the helicopter leaves the screen, banks right, and you hear it hover over and behind you.

  • Best when placed behind the seating area.
  • Can sit on furniture, mount to TV, be in-wall or in-ceiling speaker.

Front Left and Right Speakers

These speakers reproduce the movie’s sound stage. They handle the special effects. When listening to music, they sound best in stereo mode.

  • Best when placed to the left and right of the TV
  • The wider they are, the bigger sound stage.
  • Can sit on furniture, mount to TV, be in-wall or in-ceiling speaker.

Subwoofer

Supplies low-frequency effects. For music, the sub delivers accurate, tight control that’s perfectly integrated with your speakers.

  • Best when placed in corners or in walls.
  • Esthetics and room design play a big part in placement.

Room Size Matters

Before you can select speakers or electronics to drive your system, take a look at your room.

If it’s a big room, say 2,500 cubic feet (length x width x height) or larger and you crave a visceral, feel-the-sound-in-your-bones experience with movies and music, you might seriously consider buying full-size, full-range speakers, and audio separates with a powerful dedicated amplifier instead of an A/V receiver. Big floor-standers backed by serious power reserves will typically play louder and with lower distortion than small bookshelf speakers or even in-wall or in-ceiling speakers. Even if you only want to crank your system just once or twice a year to impress your pals, it’s nice to have the capability.

If the room is small, say 12 by 18 feet, and you never need to feel it shake, a small subwoofer and a decent mid-priced Audio Video Receiver could be adequate for both home theater and music.

The bottom line is that room size and volume capability go hand in hand and should be linked to your system’s performance. Big rooms with high-volume-potential systems will by necessity have a bigger ticket attached than systems for small rooms.

Use

Let’s talk about the goal of the room, systems involved and how it will be used. This is where our industry knowledge and years of experience are used to your advantage.

Are you a music lover? A movie lover? Do you watch Netflix and just want the sound to process correctly? If you’re serious about movies, the amount of speakers and room layout is pivotal to the performance of the system. Surround modes like Dolby Pro Logic IIz or Audyssey DSX fully utilize the number of speakers in the room. Dolby Atmos provides the most “3D” audio effect.

Summing Up

We’ve given a lot to think about, and hope this will help you make more informed choices when planning your purchase. Our up-to-date industry knowledge is based on our own experiences and informational reviews of Top Picks and recommended products from many publications, manufactures, and training.

Of course, if your budget is big, you will have a superb-sounding home theater and music experience. You might even be able to enjoy the ultimate best of both worlds and have two completely separate systems; one optimized for home theater, the other for critical listening.