"Different recordings will place instruments and vocals in different relative positions by using left-right stereo assignment, varied amounts of echo, reverb as well as selective equalization; this acoustic space for each vocal and instrument should be apparent with good speakers."
"The best way to evaluate a speaker is to listen to it but there are those of us who insist on thoroughly examining the specs and if you're going to read the specifications, make sure you know what they mean."
"Surrounds and spiders are kind of like shoes, they're not very flexible at first but with use, they become much more flexible and as the surrounds and spiders in your speakers become more flexible, your speakers will sound better."
"Before you rush out to begin frantic listening tests with a dozen of speaker systems, you might want to spend time preparing a few questions you might discuss with the audio consultant. What kind of amplifier or receiver will power the speakers? What is the maximum budget, and what budget is comfortable for me? Where are the speakers to be located, and what if anything, limits their placement? What kind of furniture, walls, and overall size describe the room?"
Choosing speakers - Floor-standing, or tower speakers have been around for years and in many ways remain the standard against which all other speaker types are judged. In general, they are larger than other types of speakers, reproduce a wide range of frequencies, including deep bass, and are usually more efficient, giving you more volume per watt of amplifier power. Tower speakers tend to be more expensive than bookshelf speakers, but they're hard to beat for big, room-filling sound. If you're interested in towers but don't want to take up too much floor space, there are many slimline models. Also available are "powered tower" speakers, which come with built-in powered subwoofers.
If you're working with limited space or budget, bookshelf speakers are a good alternative to floor-standing models. With bookshelf speakers, you get smaller speakers that you can place on stands or on shelves, and excellent performance in a smaller box (usually with a smaller price tag). But remember, when you add the cost of a good speaker stand, the total package will actually equal the price of some floor-standers. Regardless of the price, what you really need to consider is the size of your room. Huge speakers in a small room may not perform to its true potential. Bookshelf speakers are almost always 2-way and when standmounted (on a good stand), they provide tight overall sound and accurate stereo imaging. However, because of their size, they cannot produce the low bass frequencies that floor-standing models can. As a result, many folks choose to add a powered subwoofer to reinforce the deep bass, especially for home theater application.
Some midbass-tweeter-midbass (MTM) center channel speakers are as good as main speakers (front left and right), especially if you have to consider the speakers for home theater use; you could have all three front speakers from the same maker. This will solve the problem of having the center channel to match the timbre of the left and right speakers. A good match is needed for a seamless soundstage, smooth pans, and convincing lateral placement. Remember, the center speaker is the most important speaker in a home theater set-up, since with movies the center channel delivers all of the dialogues as well as plenty of music and effects. Evaluate the speaker dispersion carefully and give a bit more weight to bass extension and dynamics for movies. The speaker should also be shielded if you plan to put it below or on top of your television; speakers that are not shielded will cause picture distortions.
Thanks to modern advances in speaker design, satellites (also called mini monitors) which often fit in the palm of your hand, can give you surprisingly big performance. Satellites can be mounted on the wall or ceiling, or can be placed on stands or shelves but because they're so small, they almost always handle only highs and mids. The combination of satellite speakers and a subwoofer takes up little floor space, is easily integrated into your decor, and delivers rich, full sound. The subwoofer unit is, of course, much bigger than the satellites but because of the omni-directional properties of low-frequency sound waves, you can place the subwoofer in an out-of-the-way location without sacrificing performance.
Set-up basics - Most speakers have been designed to function in a vertical position where the polar response is most uniform. However, some models will be able to function both in horizontal position (center speaker) and vertical position; this double use may or may not be specified in the design features of the concerned models. Powerful drivers generate magnetic fields that can extend beyond the boundaries of the speaker cabinet so it is recommended that you keep magnetically sensitive items (TV, computer screen etc..) at least 1.5 ft away from the speaker. However, most speakers built these days are magnetically shielded.
2.0 Stereo system - Ideally, the distance between the two speakers should be at least 5 ft and the two speakers must be at equal distance from the listening area which forms with them an equilateral triangle. The drivers must be directed towards the listening area with the speakers located so that their diffusion follows the longest dimension of the room. Generally, avoid putting the speakers in the corners of a room as this amplifies the low frequencies and tend to enhance the room's resonance. Also, place the speakers at least a foot away from the walls. In order to obtain a more accurate frequency response, it is recommended to raise a compact speaker from 12 to 16 inches above the floor by placing them on stands. The tweeters of the speakers must be roughly at the same height of the listener's ear when the listener is in sitting position. For critical listening, no solid object or piece of furniture should be placed between the speakers and the listener. An effect of mask, even partial, disturbs completely the sound reproduction as it attenuates the high frequencies and also, in most cases, the midrange frequencies. Avoid placing the speakers in niches, unless designed for this application, bookshelf placement will alter the frequency response of the speaker, especially in the low frequencies. If a bookshelf location cannot be avoid, the speaker should be set up to minimize various resonance, and the visible part of the grille must be outside the niche.
For a stereo listening with 2 speakers or 2 satellites and 1 subwoofer, so called 2.1 (.1 being the LFE or low-frequency effect), it is recommended that you place the subwoofer in the front listening area. The placement of the subwoofer against a wall reinforces the low frequencies and limit the reflections from 80 to 200 Hz. However, to obtain the best results, always carry out tests according to the acoustic of the room.
5.1 Surround system - Setting up a multi-channel audio-video system requires great care when positioning the specific speakers. For optimum surround sound set-up, all speakers should be voice-matched; that is, have the same tweeters and similar tonal characteristics. The center speaker should be placed as close as possible to the screen and where it sounds best from your listening spot while offering the optimal picture/dialogues cohesion. The screen should be located within a virtual triangle formed by the acoustical centers of the main speakers and the center speaker. Practically speaking, this means that the principal speaker should be placed above the screen if the main speakers are below it, and below the screen if the main speakers are above. The center speaker should also, if possible, be set slightly back from the others, so that it is located at the same distance from the listener as the main speakers.
The rear speakers or surrounds could be wall-mounted beside the listening position, or behind the listening position. Speakers wall-mounted beside the listening position should be at least 2 feet above the listener's ears and the speakers should distribute sound in diffuse pattern (dipole speakers). If they are aimed directly at your listening position or your ears, they can overpower your front speakers, throwing off the balance of your home theater speaker system. Side wall placement helps produce a seamless, enveloping home theater soundstage, without any noticeable sonic gaps from front to rear. If your surrounds are mounted on the side walls on adjustable brackets, experiment with aiming them. You may get good results from pointing them at the ceiling or toward the rear corners of the room. If no side or rear walls are available for mounting your speakers, try placing a pair of traditional direct-radiating bookshelf speakers on speaker stands, slightly behind and to the sides of your listening position; avoid aiming them directly at your listening position. Some surround sound speakers are equipped with a switch for selecting between different modes of operation, like dipole, bipole, or traditional direct-radiating. Speakers with switchable operation can give you optimal performance in a variety of placement scenarios.
Since low bass frequencies are omni-directional, you can usually place your subwoofer just about anywhere in your home theater room, with good results. Just like with other types of speakers, placing your subwoofer near a wall will generally result in more bass, and placement near a corner, where three room boundaries come together, will get you even more. Keep in mind that even though the bass increases as you place the sub near a wall or corner, the quality of bass may be slightly "boomier" and less controlled so aim for a spot where you get a compromise between quality and quantity of bass.
Consider these additional tips and suggestions for placing your subwoofer: One effective technique for placing for your subwoofer is to put your sub in your listening spot, play some music, move around the room, and listen. You'll probably notice that the bass sounds a little bit different as you move around from location to location within the room, where it sounds the best is where you put your subwoofer. Many powered subwoofers are equipped with a phase control, usually a 2-position switch. Choose the setting that produces the most bass while all your speakers are playing. It is also possible to use two separate powered subwoofers for large home theater room.
6.1 & beyond- Advanced home theater receivers have decoding and amplification for 6.1 channel surround sound formats like Dolby® Digital EX and DTS-ES ™, which heighten the sense of wrap-around realism with an extra surround channel. These receivers allow you to use an additional "back surround" speaker (6.1), or in some cases, a pair of additional back surrounds (7.1). You can even have 7.2! ( .2 being the two subwoofers), but there is not currently any discrete 7.1-channel surround sound format available. In a 6.1 channel system, your left and right surrounds should be placed to the sides, and the back surround(s) to the rear of your listening position.
Dipole vs direct radiating - Some of the best surround sound can be achieved by using dipole speakers directly to the side of your listening position. Dipole speakers have drivers on both the front and back of the speaker, and are usually mounted to the side walls. Sound is radiated both forward and backward producing a sound field that blends in with the front speakers while using the reflection of the rear walls to produce an ambient sound field behind you. None of the drivers face your listening position so you can't hear the speaker's location. This huge envelop of sound comes at the cost of precision, but offers a very spacious experience. If you desire precise effects from your surround sound system then direct radiating surrounds may be best for you; it all comes down to your personal preference.
Direct radiating surround speakers have drivers only on the front of the speaker. The surround sound produced by using these types of speakers is very precise and localized.The advantage is that the two speakers (when set up symmetrically) can produce a sound stage similar to that of your main speakers and this makes is possible to hear items come from directly behind you while no speaker is there at all. The disadvantage is that this setup draws a lot of attention to the speakers causing possible distraction from the movie. With direct surrounds you'll want the surround speakers facing your seating position, but you also want their sound to blend in with the mains too. The best setup with direct surrounds is to follow similar guidelines to setting up your main speakers, but angle or toe them in so they face the center seated position and you'll want them to be as symmetrical as possible with the tweeter at ear height.
The big difference in setting up direct surrounds versus the main speakers is that you'll want the surrounds to always face your center listening position. Direct surrounds will sound better when they're as far away as possible from your seating position as this allows the sound from the speakers to play with the room more, thus opening up the sound field. It's best to try every location you can think off; at the side walls facing straight forward, behind the couch, or next to an end table are other possible solutions. Each location will produce different qualities of bass and the best position will produce thunderous bass in all sitting locations. It can take a little time, but you should be able to find your room's balance. Surround speaker placement which is ideal for home theater is not necessarily perfect for multichannel music formats such as DVD-Audio or SACD, where a more precisely focused rear soundstage is best. If both types of listening are important to you, then you can position your surround speakers for a compromise between the two. Some high-end receivers even have connections for two pairs of surround speakers, allowing you to set up one pair for optimal home theater, and the other for optimal multichannel music.
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