How To Create Seating Platforms for Your Home Cinema

I will show you how to elevate your sofa to create proper cinema seating in your living area.

Advertisements

Introduction

When I moved into my new place, I had the opportunity to create a separate Home Cinema and seating area in my living room. I decided that I wanted to have every seat in the house a good seat. What this meant was that I didn’t want to have my recliner sofas in an L-shape like in the previous place, but have them one behind the other, proper cinema style. However, to do this, I needed to elevate the back sofa enough so people in the back could see the screen comfortably, but also in a way that fits the room, looks stylish and is sturdy enough.

You can see the result of this work below:

 

Preparation

What you will need to get the job done:

  1. Strong-enough MDF boards that can hold the weight of the seating. I simply went to our local hardware store (Bunnings), pulled MDF boards off the shelves and tested how they bent and asked the hardware guys what their weight holding capacity was. I decided that I was going to have two MDF boards – one next to the other – to hold one sofa up. (Approx. AU$40)
  2. Sturdy enough legs that can hold the weight and won’t buckle. Also, they need to elevate the platforms enough that people sitting in the back will be able to see 100% of the screen from the back so pick legs that are large enough I picked 23cm legs that could be extended by another 5cms. I decided to attach 5 legs per board initially, but settled on 6 legs in the end. (2x6x AU$10.50 = AU$126)
  3. A cheap carpet by the meter that will look good when stapled to the MDF. Again, you should be able to find this in your local hardware store. (I bought this for AU$16.90 a metre and bought 3 metres = )
  4. A pair of scissors.
    1. A stapler gun (AU$16.90 with 1800 staplers)

Altogether, the bill of materials was AU$233.60.

You will need to measure the space out so that the platforms can sit against a wall or corner preferably so they don’t move. However, as an option, you could put rubber or  carpet underneath the feet of the platforms to make sure they don’t slide. Get your local hardware store to cut the MDF to the correct size.

Putting it Together

First, fix the legs onto the MDF platforms: one on each corner, one in the centre. After the  initial testing, I decided to put 3 legs in front so the platforms should hold larger people as they step up on the platform.

Next I put the carpet onto the platforms and cut it to size so it hangs off the bottom of the platforms.

Lastly, I stapled the carpet to the platform from the bottom. When stapling, you need to pay attention to the corners so the sides fold properly onto each other. To achieve this, you will need to cut them diagonally, making sure you don’t cut into the corner hanging onto the top side of the MDF.

Please see below for a picture of the result from the bottom and the top side.

 

Putting Them into Place

The sofas had to come forward then then platforms put into place next to each other. The back sofa was then put onto the platforms and rests solidly on them. The platforms are sturdy enough to bear the weight of two people and the sofa comfortably without any instability.

I also saved materials for a third platform that goes in between these two, should I decide to elevate my bigger sofa instead of the smaller one.

If you do embark on this journey, good luck and enjoy!

Yamaha YPAO Configuration – The Right Way

Introduction

I have been around to a friend recently who just bought the latest and greatest Avantage Receiver from Yamaha and AU$5000 worth of speakers but didn’t bother to read the manual in how to set up the receiver correctly.

Good sound is dependent just as much on doing the setup correctly, than it is on buying great gear. I was shocked and horrified to learn that after spending almost AU$10K on his setup, he didn’t bother to go through the expert setup procedure, he simply placed the mic on the couch (a big no no), measured one microphone position and off he went. Then he complained to me that the system sounded like $h1t, pardon my French! Of course it did…

However, after fixing his setup, I realised many people do the same, so it’s time for showing you how to do Yamaha YPAO – and actually most other home cinema receiver – setup correctly. Some of the advice below can be applied generally to all receivers. I will highlight Yamaha YPAO only advice here.

General Setup

Before anything else, you should go into the Manual Setup section under Speaker Setup and set the amp assignment correctly, dependent on which speaker terminals you used for which speakers and whether you used external amplification. You will need to refer to your receiver’s user manual as it does differ dependent on the the make and model of your receiver, even if we only look at Yamaha Receivers.

Microphone Placement

Firstly, auto setup should be configured as follows:

  • Multi-position: this is true even if you are only using one chair in one position to listen to the system. Although manufacturers include a single placement setup procedure, it is nearly impossible to get great sound using only one sample. They will either over-correct or under-correct for variations in frequency response. ALWAYS select multi-position measurement.
  • Angle Measurement (YPAO only): this will ensure that CinemaDSP will be configured correctly and if you have an ATMOS or DTS X enabled receiver, the height information will be used to ensure sounds are steered correctly to the different speakers. I would recommend to always select this option as well.

Ok, now with regards to Microphone placement:

  • DO NOT place the microphone on a hard surface like a table or even your couch (either on the seat or head rest) by itself. This will allow it to absorb reflections from the couch or hard surface in a way that is not natural. Unless you plan on listening to your system by putting your ear where your @$$ is or by placing your head on the coffee table and resting your foot on the couch (sounds rather uncomfortable if you ask me!), do not do this.
  • DO place the microphone on a tripod. The microphone has a grove that goes into your standard camera tripod. If you don’t have one of those, elevate the microphone by taping it to an upside down glass (the kind you drink out of). I usually use a plastic cup that has a slim bottom so it doesn’t act as a hard surface for reflections. Make sure you only tape the bottom of the mic. When I do this, I elevate the glass or cup using soft pillows to ear height, and not some other hard surface like a box or – as my friend did – a metal hollow side table.
  • DO make sure that the microphone has a “line of sight” view of all the speakers in the room if possible – at all microphone positions. The only exception to this is the subwoofer which does not need to have a line of sight view from the mic. I sometimes make some exceptions to this when it is totally unavoidable. For example, I have the back surrounds on a bookshelf which the back seats don’t have a line of sight view of. When I switch to the calibration which includes all seating positions in my home cinema, there were some mic positions at the back that did not have a line of sight view. However, all the front seats did. Not a huge deal but I don’t listen with that calibration when we only sit in the front row as it’s not ideal.

Have a look at the diagram below which you can find variations of in Yamaha documentation. The below is the correct version with number 1 position being in the centre of the couch (or chair). Some versions of this diagram were incorrectly putting number 1 on the side of the couch.

i361_070815

However, this is where it ends for me. I usually do the following, which seems to work with YPAO and other receivers as well:

  • Position 1: in the centre of the couch with microphone at ear height, away from the  headrest of the couch. Basically, this is right in the centre of where your bum will be but at ear height. The reason this needs to be in the centre is that the delay / distance measurements are taken from the first position. If you were to place this first measurement off centre, some seats would get better distance measurements while others a lot worse. We want to even this out and have every seat experience the most ideal sound the room allows.
  • Position 2: Same position as number 1 but to the seat to the right of the centre seat. On a 3-seater couch, this will be the right-most seat.
  • Position 3: same as position 1 and 2 but to the left. In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t matter if you go left or right.
  • Positions 4-6: Now I repeat the same measurements I did in Positions 1 to 3 but with the microphone placed much closer to the headrest where your ears would be, but at just enough height that it clears the back of the couch by a cm but also that it is getting some of the reflections off the back of the couch. Why? Because this is the position your ears will be AND there will be reflections that will muffle the sound that originate from the headrest of the couch.
  • Positions 7 and 8: I normally do these positions just between positions 1-2 and 1-3 (just a little off-centre) but in the same elevation and distance from the back of the couch as positions 1 – 3. This is to ensure we give the receiver enough variation for the room acoustics and don’t overwhelm it with having to compensate for that particular couch.

If you were configuring one seating position, a chair or arm chair, do the above exactly but divide up the chair equally or do some positions to the left and right of the chair at ear height as well as just a bit in front and above ear height.

If you have multiple couches, I recommend, doing more positions on the couch that will be your primary listening position and doing the rest on the other couch(es) following the above principles.

Angle Measurement (YPAO only)

YPAO in higher end Yamaha receivers will allow you to do something called an angle measurement. You will have to do this in Position 1 above, but use the little boomerang that came with your receiver like the one below.

YPAO mic

The positions are marked. Position 1 on the boomerang must face towards your front speakers, while 2 and 3 towards the back. The boomerang can be fixed onto a tripod as well. I really recommend this. Otherwise the taping method works here as well.

Measure each position by following the on-screen guidance. Please note that the height position is only available on Atmos and DTS X receivers.

Manual Configuration

Cabling and Crossover

Once YPAO (or other Receiver config) has finished, check the following:

  1. Speaker cabling is normal in all positions.
  2. Check what the crossover frequency was set to on your speakers.

Even though your speakers may be able to do frequencies below 80hz, it is not recommended to go below this cross over for movies as those frequencies are hard to control even from the subwoofer alone. However, your milage may vary. If you don’t have a separate subwoofer EQ, but only using the Yamaha, you may want to leave crossovers below 80Hz or leave speakers as “large” so no crossover is applied to them. As a rule of thumb, if Yamaha configured your speakers with a high crossover, you should not lower it (e.g. from 100Hz to 80hz), you can however up the crossover frequency (e.g. from 60hz to 80hz).

The reason you should not lower crossover frequencies is because the setup routine determined that anything lower than the crossover frequency doesn’t reach the seating positions without major dips (-3dB which is 1/2 of the percieved volume) in frequency response. If you lower the crossover, you may still get an uneven response or may not hear certain frequencies at all as now the subwoofer is not playing them back either.

If the crossover set is much higher than you know the speakers can reproduce, you may want to repeat the setup routine paying attention to mic placement. If they still come up short, think about aiming the speakers with the woofers pointing at the main listening positions.

Equalisation Curve

The equaliser on Yamaha receivers can be set to the following:

  • FLAT: this is the default. You should set this if you listen to a lot of TV, not just movies or you listen below reference level (around -17 volume on Yamaha receivers, 0 volume on THX and Audyssey enabled receivers) and your room has lots of soft furnishings.
  • NATURAL: this is the old CinemaEQ curve. It tames the high end to make sure that movie soundtracks don’t sound too bright if you have a normal living room with lots of hard surfaces like floors and walls without carpet or other soft coverings. Also use this if you are listening to movies LOUD as otherwise even without hard surfaces, just being much closer to the speakers than in the cinema will elevate the high frequencies beyond what was intended. Please note that some DVDs and Blu Rays had EQ applied during mastering to lower the high frequencies for playback in the home. If a movie sounds too muffled with this, you have two options: up the treble 2dB which may work or switch to the flat curve.
  • FRONT: this leaves your front left and right speakers alone and will timbre match all the other speakers to them. Unless you like how your front speakers sound because they are some ultra-expensive supersonic beasts, do not set this. Leave this alone. This is there to please a special few who spent $50K+ on their front two speakers.
  • THROUGH: no EQ is applied. Why would you do this unless you sit inside an anaphoric chamber? Seriously! Don’t!

Other settings

  1. Adaptive DSP should be switched on. It variates the DSP strength based on volume.
  2. Adaptive DRC (Dynamic Range Control) should be switched on if you’re listening at lower volume levels (below -25). Anything above -25 I would recommend switching it off as it can introduce a harshness to certain sounds on any receiver without YPAO Volume.
  3. YPAO Volume should be switched on. I am going to do a review of it in June 2017, at which point I’ll make further recommendations and check if it needs to be switched off for reference listening (anything above -25 really).

Surround and Surround Back Speakers Volume Levels

The only major issue I see with Yamaha receivers – or most receivers that don’t have Audyssey – is that they don’t variate surround speaker volume levels dependent on volume. When listening to surround programs at lower volume levels, the surround and surround back speaker volumes might need to be increased in certain setups to maintain the same surround envelopment. I have heard different views on this but it seems to me like those that have their surround speakers at ear height seem to have less trouble with this than those who have them somewhat higher than ear height or further away than the front speakers.

I believe both Audyssey and Dolby researched this and found it to be true, however. I find the same when listening in my home cinema where the surround speakers are somewhat higher than my front speakers while my presence speakers are on a third plane altogether near the ceilings. I normally increase surround and surround back channels by 1-2 dB dependent on how loud someone is listening to the system in general. You could even design a reference setting and a low volume setting turning this and other features on and off. On Yamaha you can do this using something called “Scenes”.

Give me feedback in the comments below and let me know how you go! Happy Listening!

How to connect up your new Home Cinema Receiver?

3 easy steps

You will need to follow 3 easy steps after you have unboxed and placed the receiver in your AV rack or other well-ventillated area of your home cinema.

  1. Connect your speaker wires
  2. Connect your audio cables
  3. Connect your video cables including monitor out

Only then should you plug the receiver into the wall and switch it on. Let’s go through these steps in detail.

Connecting your speakers

Luckly, we have a guide for you that describes this in detail. Please head over there now.

Connecting Audio Cables

Audio cables come in the following forms:

  1. HDMI cables carry both audio and video signals. In this case, the HDMI cable is the only one you need to use. All Blu Ray players use this type of connection. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Older DVD players, audio players and even some more recent set-top boxes may use optical digital output (called toslink) to connect devices. Toslink can carry 2 channel PCM or compressed multi-channel audio such as Dolby Digital and DTS Surround Sound.toslink-stecker
  3. Even older DVD and Laserdisc players used digital coaxial audio cables to carry digital audio (2 channel PCM, Dolby Digital and DTS audio).10140546
  4. Two channel analogue RCA connections are used on some devices as a primary or secondary audio output. This is also true of high-end audio players which will include expensive digital to analogue converters.xbox-hdmi-audio7
  5. Some high-end Blu ray, SACD and DVD-Audio players use multichannel analogue RCA connections to connect to the multi-channel analogue input on your medium to high end receiver. Lower-end devices will not have such outputs.120724-Multichannel

Is it better to connect digital or analogue cables? Well, that depends on your equipment. In most cases digital audio will deliver the best quality because most receiver’s advanced DSP circuitry for correcting room response (see this article) only engages with a digital connection. On the other hand, some very high-end audio players will include a lot better digital to analogue converters which will deliver a smoother and more detailed sound. You may find, though, that you prefer a room-corrected response more. I would suggest trying both and seeing which sounds better.

Connecting video cables

Video cables also come in digital and analogue varieties. We will list them below from highest to lowest quality:

  1. HDMI: this is the gold standard. Connect this when available!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Component: this connection type requires 3 RCA cables and they are normally colour-coded red, green and blue. Component can carry high-definition video like HDMI.Component-cables
  3. S-Video: this type of connector was only popular in Europe and was mainly used for S-VHS tape recorders and some other video equipment. It is no longer popular.Svideo
  4. Composite: this can be found as a fall back on some TVs and video players as well as popular on camcorders for a quick playback. It appears as a single yellow RCA connection labelled “video”.SONY DSC

Others:

  1. VGA: can be found on computer monitors. This is compatible with component, you just need a converter.750px-Vga-cable
  2. (Mini) Display port: can be found on some computers including those from apple. This is compatible with HDMI, you just need an adapter.100167

Power Up

Now you are ready to plug the receiver into the power, switch it on and configure it on your monitor display according to the manual.

How to choose the right display?

There are so many brands, makes and types of displays on the market today that it is rather difficult to choose one for your living or home cinema room. In effect, there are 3 major things you need to look for when evaluating the quality of a display:

Black Level & Shadow Detail Performance

One of the most important aspect of perceived image quality is not resolution, as display manufacturers would like you to believe, but black level performance. A great proof of this is the switch from old CRT TVs with great black level to the then top of the range flat panel displays, which had rather poor black levels in comparison. Normal low-resolution TV broadcast looked better on the CRTs, while the new higher resolution flat panels needed specialised DVD players and trickery in signal processing to make images watchable.

sharp-mega-head
The difference between poor and great black level performance.

Black Level: how dark or deep the blacks look on the screen.

Because of how displays work, black level needs to be evaluated on dark as well as bright images and in moving from dark to bright images. The better the black level performance of the display, the more three-dimensional the images will look on the screen.

Shadow detail: how good a display is at resolving detail in darker areas (shadow) of the image.

If a display has dark inky blacks but it fails to resolve the subtle details in the darker areas of the image, the image will look flat especially on dark images or movie scenes. It is important that great black levels are married with great shadow detail performance to give a three-dimensional image regardless of the material.

Did you know that the brightness setting on your TV affects the black levels while the contrast setting affects the bright areas of the image? Just test the controls and notice what areas of the image change.

Brightness Performance

Even before resolution, how bright a display can go while maintaining its black levels contributes greatly to perceived image quality. The brighter the image can go, the more contrast your eyes will perceive – the contrast between the black and light areas of the image. The human eye will even perceive an image as higher-resolution simply because of the brightness of the image.

bright

In flat panel televisions, brightness is usually pretty average from display to display, but in projectors brightness plays an important part dependent on what kind of light control you have in a room.

In a normal living room with imperfect light control and light walls, projector brightness is more important than black level performance. While in a completely light-controlled room with black walls, black level performance becomes more important than brightness. Ideally you want a display that can do both.

For 3D performance, you will want high brightness again.

In flat panel displays, black level performance is more variable than brightness performance, therefore you should be paying more attention to that.

Resolution

There are three things under resolution you need to look our for.

Native Resolution

Native Resolution: the actual number of pixels available on the display.

Please refer to the diagram below regarding the type of resolutions currently available on displays.

resolutions-ultra-hd-4k-1080p-720p-dvdResolutions of modern displays

The amount of pixels you need to keep the image looking great depends on your viewing distance from the screen. As a guide, at the average viewing distance of 3 meters, you will notice the benefit of:

1080p / Full HD panel for any display above 30″ (display size is measured in inches diagonally).
4K for anything larger than 70″.

This means there is no actual benefit of buying a display with a resolution below those sizes at the distance of 3 meters for the average person.

Scaling Performance

Another area you need to look out for is how the display handles scaling.

Scaling: the transformation of an image from one resolution to another. For example, a DVD or TV image which has a maximum native resolution of 576p to 1080p.

Although most new material is now on Blu Ray and therefore 1080p natively, we still watch content on lower-resolution formats such as DVD and broadcast TV. The display needs to be tested regarding how well it handles this scaling. Some displays do this poorly but otherwise they perform well. In that case, you can still buy playback devices such as DVD players or set top boxes that do the scaling to the display’s native resolution to improve the image to bypass the internal scaling of the display.

Motion Handling / Motion Resolution

The last aspect of resolution is motion handling. It is also called “motion resolution”.

Motion Resolution: how well a display maintains image sharpness with moving images.

2707463101_cfb4a2ed34

Display manufacturers understand how important motion resolution is, so much so that they employ digital trickery  called frame interpolation – to reduce motion blur to keep image sharpness. You will want to turn any such trickery off and evaluate the display’s native ability to switch its pixels on and off using the same source device, such as Blu Ray player.

How to correctly evaluate a display?

This is the tricky part: as much as the above areas can highlight a display’s native performance, it is actually an interplay of the source device AND the display that will give you the end result. What does that mean? You need to evaluate the display’s ability using similar playback devices that you will be using at home, such as DVD players, Blu Ray players, TiVo, Gaming Consoles, etc.

Also, you need to set these devices up correctly to get the best performance out of the display: settings such as output resolution, output frame-rate, colour system, etc.

Which display technology?

So which display technology excels at all areas? It turns out some do better in some areas than others and it depends on your preference and situation as to what’s going to serve you best. The best thing to do is look out for the three areas above and trust your own eyes.

Flat panels:

Normal LCD Displays:

  1. Great native resolution, brightness and colour reproduction
  2. Below average black levels
  3. Below average motion resolution

LED and OLED Displays:

  1. Great black levels
  2. Great brightness
  3. Great all-around resolution
  4. Motion-resolution dependent on manufacturer and product

Plasma Displays:

Yes, they are still around, although in small numbers.

  1. Great black level performance
  2. Good brightness
  3. Below average motion resolution

Projectors

110679756_98fdd45346

DLP Projectors

  1. Class-leading brightness performance and motion resolution
  2. Great Colour reproduction – especially for 3-chip varieties
  3. Black level and shadow detail performance depends on manufacturer and product – goes from average to class-leading.

Recommended for brighter home cinema rooms as the high brightness will create a better perceived contrast. Also recommended for high-frame-rate material such as sports and 3D.

LCD Projectors

  1. Generally challenged black levels and shadow detail performance, although some manufacturers are better than others.
  2. Great brightness and colour reproduction
  3. Good but not great motion resolution.

Recommended when DLP projector is not suitable for viewers because of the DLP Rainbow effect.

XSDR – IDLA – LCOS

  1. Class-leading black level and shadow detail performance bettering even the best cinemas in the World.
  2. Historically low brightness over their lifetime more suited for dark home cinema rooms
  3. Motion-resolution has considerably improved but DLP still betters it.

Recommended for dedicated, light controlled home cinema rooms. The best cinemas use this technology for 2D viewing. DLP is still better for 3D.

How to wire up your speakers!

In my previous post, I explained how to position your speakers for surround sound. Next I would like to show you how to wire them up. This is something you do even before you plug your AV Receiver in.

It is really simple to do if you get the basic principles below.

Red and Black – Positive and Negative

All speakers will have two terminals: one for the positive and one for the negative side of the signal. They are usually coloured red for positive and black for negative.

  1. You will need to connect the red or positive terminal posts on your speakers to the red / positive terminal post on the AV receiver using your speaker cables.
  2. You will need to do the same with the black speaker terminals.

hSpeaker5-wayPost 11563
Speaker terminals on the back of two different speakers

To aid in the above, most speaker cables will have one side of the wire labelled with a + sign, while the other one with a – sign. Sometimes, only one or the other is labelled but in all instances it should make it easy to connect them up to the correct post.

Choosing the right speaker terminals

Your AV Receiver will have the red and black speaker terminal pairs labelled with the speaker positions: Front Left, Front Right, Centre, Surround Left, Surround Right, Surround Back Left and Surround Back Right. To understand what these positions mean, refer to my previous post.

You will simply need to connect the red and black terminals up to the matching speaker. What you absolutely need to ensure is that the wires don’t touch – at either your speakers or at the AV Receiver. Touching wires will cause a short circuit and could damage your AV Receiver and your speakers.

To attach the cables, unscrew the jumpers and insert the peeled wires from the side of the jumpers ensuring none of the unpeeled wire is hanging out on either side. Screw the jumper back on while holding the speaker cable in place. Ensure it is screwed back on tight so the cable cannot become loose.

images-1
Speaker terminal pairs on the back of an AV Receiver

Connecting your subwoofer

A subwoofer 99% of the time will have its own amplification, therefore it is not connected using a speaker cable and speaker terminals. It is connected to a pre-amplified signal output by your AV Receiver called a pre-out jack. You will find the subwoofer pre-out jack on the back of your amplifier under the area called Pre-Out.

HKH_AVR3700-Series-Full_PreAmp-Outputs_FBI_dv500x300
Pre-out jacks on the back of an AV Receiver

The cable you will need to connect your subwoofer with is called a single mono RCA to RCA cable or subwoofer cable. If your subwoofer has an LFE input, connect it to that input. If your subwoofer only has a line level input, connect it to that. These will usually be labelled accordingly on the back of your subwoofer. If there is only one RCA input, don’t try to figure out what it is, simply connect the cable.

To ensure the subwoofer is functioning correctly, set the crossover / high-pass filter to its maximum setting. This is usually a knob labelled ‘crossover frequency’ on the back of your subwoofer. This is needed because for home cinema, you need to let your AV Receiver handle bass management for this speaker. Lastly, don’t forget to plug the subwoofer in and power it on.

On higher-end AV Receivers, you may notice that all other speakers will have a corresponding pre-out jack. In an advanced post, I will show you how to use these for adding another amplifier as either an upgrade or for bi-wiring.

Bi-wiring

Some speakers have two sets of terminals connected by something called the jumper.

file_14_11
Double speaker terminals for bi-wiring

The double terminals can be used to bi-wire the speaker. Bi-wiring means connecting the same amplified signal to both the midrange and high-frequency drivers (or sets of drivers) to achieve double the power and get a cleaner sound.

Be-wiring requires an AV Receiver that has this feature or an additional external amplifier. Additionally, it requires advanced set-up of said equipment. I will show you in an advanced post how to do this. For now, just leave the jumpers on the speaker terminals and connect the speaker cable to the lower set of red and black terminals.

How to choose the best positions for your Home Cinema Speakers

Positioning speakers correctly is important if you want to get the best sound out of your Home Cinema speaker system but it doesn’t have to be hard!

What is 2.0, 5.1 and so on

In surround sound, we refer to two types of sound channels:

  1. Main or full-range channels which normally reproduce a frequency range between 80Hz and 20KHz
  2. Low Frequency Effects (LFE) channels – or subwoofers – which reproduce anything below 80Hz

in the X.X notation, the first number refers to how many full-range channels there are and the second number refers to how many low-frequency channels there are. For example, in 5.1 there are 5 full-range channels and 1 LFE channel.

Unknown

The symbol displayed on some DVDs and Blu Rays for 5.1 surround sound encoded on the disk

Channels versus Speakers

We refer to channels when we talk about how many sound channels are put onto a medium such as DVD, Blu Ray or TV broadcast.

We refer to speakers when we talk about how many speakers reproduce the sound that is being played. For example, did you know that you can play stereo (2.0) channels over a 5.1 speaker system and vice versa? An explanation of why and how to do that is going to be a topic of another post. For now, let’s position your speakers in your listening environment.

7.1-surround-sound

7.1 Surround Speaker Placement

Front Left and Right Speakers – 2.0

This is real easy! You simply place the speakers on the left and right of you TV screen. All you need to ensure are two things:

  1. They are ear height when you’re sitting down – unless you’re watching movies standing up for some reason!
  2. If they are more than two meters apart, ensure the speakers are slightly turned inwards towards the listening position so they end up facing you.

Centre Channel Speaker – 3.0

The centre channel should go in between your front left and right speakers. Usually the best place for it is under or on top of your TV. Unfortunately, doing either could compromise dialog intelligibility. To avoid this, experiment with the following:

  1. Try placing the speaker both under and over your TV screen and see which position you prefer in terms of sound
  2. In each position, angle your speaker up or down to ensure it is firing towards your ears as you sit down in your normal listening position. To achieve this, you may need to wedge something under the bottom front or bottom back of the speaker to get the right angle. One way to do this is to buy some rubber stick-on feet like below on ebay and use those.

mJ5-hQlRkNQXDa3h6NmyXpA

Surround Speakers 5.1, 6.1, 7.1

Now this is a bit more tricky but it becomes easy as long as you know how many surround speakers you want to install.

2 surround speakers for a 5.1 set-up – Surround Left and Surround Right

If you have two surround speakers, it is best to position them as follows:

  1. Height: about 1/2 to 1.5 meters high from your ears when you’re sitting down
  2. Best Placement: about 1/2 meter back from where you are sitting to the left and right of you. This can be on the wall or on speaker stands or even hang them from the ceiling. You don’t need to have them at equal distance from you, so you could put them on the side walls even if your room layout is not symmetric AS LONG AS you account for this when you set up your AV receiver. I will show you how to do this in my next post.
  3. Good placement: if you cannot position the speaker high or behind you, you can position them on speaker stands to the side.

3 surround speakers for a 6.1 set-up – Adding 1 Surround Back Channel

All modern AV receivers can process stereo and 5.1 channel (dolby digital and DTS sound-tracks) to extract 6.1 and even 7.1 channels. This provides a more stable surround sound stage and better movement (called steering) of sound effects at the back of the sound stage.

When you add a third surround speaker, you will need to:

  1. Put it behind you on the wall or on a speaker stand at the same height as your Surround Left and Surround Right speakers.
  2. Set your AV Receiver to mono Surround Back channel or 6.1 Speaker Configuration and ensure you connected the speaker to the correct speaker terminal. Most AV Receivers will ask you to connect a single Surround Back speaker to the Left Surround Back Speaker terminal.

4 surround speakers for a 7.1 set-up – Adding Surround Back Left and Surround Back Right Channels

You can also have stereo Surround Back channels, adding two speakers behind you instead of just one. To achieve this, you will:

  1. Put both speakers behind you at the same height as the surround Left and Right Speakers.
  2. Leave a minimum of 1/2 meter distance between them. The bigger your listening area, the bigger the space between them should be. For example, I use all my living room as my listening space so the surround back speakers are placed equal distance from each other and from the side walls.
  3. You can measure your listening environment and make the same calculation: equal distance from each other and from the side of your listening area such as your couch while still respecting the minimum distance between the two speakers (1/2 meter).

Subwoofer – the .1 in X.1

Subwoofers can go anywhere in the room because the sounds they produce are non-directional – that is you cannot tell where they are coming from. Subwoofer placement is an art in itself and short of hiring an audio engineer, you can do a lot to get the best sound in your room with the following rules:

  1. If you have only one place where your subwoofer can go, then easy: place the subwoofer there.
  2. If you can put it both front and back, try it in the front of the room first then try it at the back and see which position sounds best.
  3. If you can literally put it anywhere, and you just want to get THE BEST sound possible, you can do the follow – called the crawl test:
    1. Place your subwoofer in the position where you normally sit. This may require shifting the couch and putting the speaker on a chair.
    2. Put your favourite music track on with a lot of consistent base.
    3. Now crawl around the room and mark any places where you consistently like the sound of the base – these are the “sweet spots” in your listening room.
    4. Place the subwoofer in one of those “sweet spots”
    5. Enjoy!

In spite of the above rules, first and foremost you should always trust your ears. Play with speaker placement and see – or rather hear – what sounds best to you!

You need to ask two basic questions when building your Simple Home Cinema sound system!

So many choices, manufacturers and specifications, but there are some simple things we can use to make the right choices. You really only need to ask two basic questions:

How many and what type of speakers do you need?

First, a quick lesson on speakers: there are two types of speakers: one that produce the upper range of frequencies (called main speakers) and one that produce only the low frequencies (called subwoofers). In home cinema, the number of each type of speaker is denoted by the first or second number in the specifications. For example: 5.1 means 5 main speakers and 1 subwoofer.

For someone starting out with Home Cinema, I recommend one of two choices:

1. If your room can accommodate 5 speakers and a subwoofer, go for a 5.1 set-up arranged in the following way:

  1. Two stereo channels at the front (Front Left and Right Speakers)
  2. One centre channel for dialog (this is optional if you don’t have the room)
  3. Two stereo channels at the back (Surround Left and Right Speakers)
  4. One subwoofer channel (the subwoofer can be placed anywhere in the room as long as it sounds good to your ears)

surround-sound-setup-5-1-vs-7-1

2. If your room cannot accommodate 5-6 speakers, go for a sound bar.

A sound bar is a speaker that is placed under or over your TV and bounces sound around your room to create the surround sound field AS IF you had 6-8 speakers in your room.

I would recommend a sound bar that has a subwoofer in a separate box for the best sound quality and full impact of movie soundtracks.

Although many manufacturers now make sound bars, some manufacturers have more experience in creating virtual surround sound such as Yamaha. Other manufacturers have some great products also, but be sure to read the reviews and audition them to see if you like the sound effects they create.

yamaha-ysp3300-sound-bar-diagram3

What kind of amplification do you need?

If you’re going for a 5.1 set-up, you have the option of choosing an all in one package that includes an amplifier or buy separate speakers and amplification. The former is easier to get and set up, but will almost always produce inferior sound to a separates system.

For home cinema, the amplifier is also usually tasked with decoding the audio and passing the video signal to your screen. An amplifier with built-in decoding of audio and video is called an Audio Video Receiver (or AV Receiver for short).

avr2805_lg

A sound bar 99% of the time includes amplification and decoding of audio from TV, DVD and Blu Ray so you won’t need to buy a separate AV Receiver or Amplifier.