Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Easy Home Theater Setup

Home theater setup is somewhat foreign to many consumers. Many people know what it's like to pull into your driveway with a box full of speakers and wires and realize they have no idea what to do with all of this. Be not afraid. There are a few simple steps to setting up your home theater system so that you can get as much enjoyment out of it as possible. Proper setup can make the most meager of sound systems actually sound great. To do this you will need the following:

  • The owner's manual to your receiver
  • A tape measure
  • An SPL meter($20 at Radio Shack)
The first step is to pull the owner's manual out of the little plastic baggy it came in. Someone spent a lot of time putting that booklet together. It might actually have some useful information in it. I agree that it may not be as exciting as the latest murder mystery to hit bookstore shelves, but reading it will help you make your movies and music more enjoyable. Read through the manual and find the section that deals with speaker setup. Most receivers will have several different settings to choose from. The first is the speaker size setting.

Speaker size usually has to do with the crossover point at which the low sounds go from the main speakers to the subwoofer. Some receivers allow you to set the crossover, and some just have a setting for small and large. The most typical difference is that the small setting sets the crossover at 80Hz and the large setting just eliminates the crossover, meaning the main speakers will produce all of the sound. 80Hz is a typical crossover setting because it is the same crossover point that THX suggests for the best reproduction of soundtracks. Most home theater kits from electronics stores are designed for the 80Hz crossover. If your speakers are hanging from the wall or on a bookshelf, they're probably best suited for the small setting. If your speakers are the big floor-standing kind, they may be able to handle the large setting.

The next setting to worry about is speaker distance. Go ahead and decide where your favorite spot to sit is and then grab your measuring tape. Measure the distance between each speaker and your spot and write it down. Then put that distance into the distance setting for each individual speaker.

Now you can go ahead and have a seat in that favorite spot of yours and pull out your SPL meter. SPL meters are used to measure the Sound Pressure Level, or how loud the speakers are. Turn your SPL meter on and turn the dial to the 70dB mark. Then switch the weighting to C and the response to SLOW. Now go to the speaker levels calibration menu. Some receivers give you the option of external or internal signals. Choose internal. The speakers will then start to make a SHHHHHH sound, usually starting with the front left speaker. Hold the SPL meter up in front of you at ear height and tilted straight forward slightly. Adjust the level of each speaker up or down until each speaker reads 75dB on the SPL meter. Make sure to include the subwoofer in all of the fun.

Some receivers have a setting for ohms. Ohms have to do with the resistance or efficiency of the speakers. If your receiver has this setting, check each speaker and find out the "Nominal Impedance" is. It will be rated in ohms. Ideally you should be able to find a setting that matches your speakers. If not, try to at least find a setting that is a lower number of ohms than the speakers.

Now you should be done. You can always fuss with the equalizer settings and other things, but this is where every sound system needs to start. Now go get your home theater that you spent a small fortune on crankin'. And, as always, enjoy the show.

Robert Bastian
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