You’ve been there – we all have. You spend a few hundred dollars on the newest, hottest tech gear just in time for the first NFL game of the season or to surprise your family in a big way on Christmas morning.
You can feel the excitement in the air. You’re going to ratchet up your TV-viewing experience with crystal-clear, 4K TV images and booming surround-sound for movies, sports and to binge-watch your favorite TV shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Yet, you end up with a living room full of wires and cables, a TV set and speakers that aren’t working. Let’s face it, it can be complicated to install the latest new tech by yourself.
There are automated systems that can do most of the work for you. However, the results can be seriously disappointing, especially with surround sound.
The sound just never seems quite right and the dialog doesn’t always match the moving lips on your TV set. That can be frustrating when you have a subwoofer and several speakers to figure out.
Worse, if you call the store’s customer service line or the manufacturer’s rep, you’ll end up with your head spinning. They’ll tell you to place your central channel there, your subwoofer there and your left and right surround-speakers up overhead at a 110-degree angle in the corners of the room behind you.
Don’t sweat it. Keep reading and we’ll give you step-by-step tips to get great surround-sound in your media room, home theater or living room.
Tip in a tip: Listen to Kim tell you which tech you should not buy now.
Where to place your speakers
Your surround sound might show a number like 5.1. That means there are five main channels, or speakers plus a subwoofer, which usually handles low-frequency noise and bass.
You’ll want to place the subwoofer ideally in the front of the room about a third of the way into the room but no less than a foot away from the walls. Don’t place it inside furniture if you have enough space to avoid doing that.
Place your center speaker close to the TV set so that the dialog is matched with the images on the screen. You can put it above your TV or below it.
You’ll want to create a triangle of equal distance on all sides with your left and right speakers and your listening position. In other words, if you’ll be sitting 10 feet away from the TV, then your front and right speakers should be 10 feet away from each other.
Your two surround-sound speakers should be behind you, about four to six feet above your ears. Place all four of your right and left speakers at a slight angle toward you.
How far to place each speaker from you
You’ll need a notepad and pen to put each speaker in its optimal position. First, measure how far each one is from your central location – the chair or couch where you most often watch TV.
Put each measurement into your surround-sound receiver. That’s the box where all the cables and wires go – it’s sometimes called an AV receiver.
The receiver will adjust the sound based on each speaker’s distance. The idea is that each speaker will produce about the same sound level.
Set up the crossover
The crossover helps with bass. At a certain level, your surround sound will send bass to your subwoofer instead of the speakers.
You will do this using either a simple measure of the size of your speakers, large or small, or a specific setting to the lowest level of base. That might be 100Hz or 60Hz, for example – look for a range and set it to the lowest measure in the range, like 20Hz.
Calibrate the sound
You’ll want to make sure that you can hear each speaker equally well. You can do this by ear.
Listen to one speaker at a time. Make sure each one sounds the same and then go back and try it again, until it’s right.
Or you can use a decibel meter or a decibel meter app on your smartphone. Hold the meter’s microphone up to your ceiling and set it for either 70 dB, 75 dB or 80 dB, with the response set to slow and the weighting set to C.
Make sure each speaker matches the setting you input. That can be 70 dB, 75 dB or 80 dB.
So what about auto setup?
You can try to install your surround sound using your manufacturer’s auto setup. However, the sound quality isn’t necessarily going to work well in your home.
The few steps above will create a surround sound that’s clear, booming and adds to the excitement of whatever you’re watching. Which is the point of surround sound, right?
Bonus: Here’s a great way to carry a little bit of home theater around with you. This mini projector for your Android phone has built-in battery, wireless airplay and more. Find it at Amazon now.