The Biggest Home Theater Audio Mistakes
A good home theater experience starts with clean and intelligible dialogue, and I see lots of mistakes there. Here are the most common:
1) All the speakers are in the ceiling, pointing down at the floor
Having sound firing down 15 feet in front of you puts you so far off axis from the speakers that the dialogue will sound mumbled, and the sense of surround-sound imaging is pretty much lost. You’d actually be better off with mono sound!
2) A traditional horizontal center speaker laid down on its side
It might look alright, but most of these woofer-tweeter-woofer speakers create holes of sound at the seats to the left and right of the center. That can sound OK if you’re in the middle seat, but dialogue will sound mushy elsewhere. Get a 3-way center speaker instead, or one with a 2-½-way crossover design.
3) A projection system without an acoustically transparent screen
This setup forces you to place the center speaker either below or above the screen—or worse, have speakers both above and below. The dialogue won’t be coming from the picture, and it will sound bad because the speaker will be too close to the floor or ceiling. There are some very good woven screens that won’t affect either the sound or the picture—get one, and put the speaker where it belongs.
4) No equalization
All speakers are affected by the room’s acoustical thumbprint. The dialogue can suffer from excessive bass and there can be missing midrange. You need to equalize out these spectral errors—tune it or lose it! Many auto-EQ schemes do a poor job of correcting these issues, so you might want to go with manual EQ and a decent analyzer (check out roomeqwizard.com) or have a pro do it for you.
And here’s my last piece of advice: Mind the center-speaker dialogue quality before you worry about choosing and placing the other speakers!
A former executive at Dolby and Lucasfilm THX, Anthony Grimani is an expert in home
theater acoustics & design. He developed the Home THX program and invented the
revolutionary Surround EX 6.1-channel audio format. He is co-founder of Grimani
Systems in Novato, CA.