We all love going to the movies and feeling like we’re in the middle of the action – whether that’s sitting on the beach with the waves lapping, in a field with birds chirping or on a busy city street. Surround sound is what brings these experiences to life and immerses you in the movie.
As at-home entertainment becomes more central to our lives, more of us are trying to accomplish the same surround-sound experience inside our homes.
But what if you don’t own a home and are unable to cut into the walls to wire up speakers? What if the space you have for your entertainment is really small? Or, even, really big? How can you get that same movie-theater experience?
First, let’s do a little “sound 101.” Sound is very much like light, as it travels from a set location or source to where you can see (or hear) it. Along this path, it can reflect off of objects it runs into, creating an echo. When the sound waves bounce off an object, they come back to you so you hear them. As the sound waves travel farther, they lose energy, which is why you can only hear sounds within certain distances. Lastly, sound waves travel much like ripples in a lake. When you drop a rock into the center of a lake, a ripple will spread out across the entire lake. If the lake happens to have a jetty, the ripple will travel around it. So, if someone is playing a guitar in a room down the hall, the sound can leave the room, travel down the hall and spread into the room that you are in, covering the space until it loses enough energy to drop away.
So, now that we are familiar with how sound travels, let’s chat a little more about how to get your entertainment set up for the ultimate immersive experience.
The most basic setup includes left, right and center front speakers and two side speakers typically placed to the right and left of the main “listening area” – usually on either side of the couch. When a movie or video game is created, the sound is encoded into various channels, so that it can be split between the different speakers. This encoding explains how the bullet can travel from the center speaker, through the front left speaker and to the left side speaker so it feels like it is really flying past your face.
This speaker setup is known as “5.1 Surround Sound” – composed of five speakers plus a subwoofer (the “.1”). A subwoofer is necessary to handle the low frequency effects, such as when you actually feel the ground rumbling from an onscreen explosion or earthquake.
Now that we have covered the basics, what type of speakers should you purchase to get surround sound–quality audio in your entertainment space?
Option 1: Home Theater in a Box
Often you will be able to find an entire package with all of the speakers, a subwoofer and a receiver together in one box. This is a great option if you don’t want to spend a lot of time figuring out which kinds of speakers you want for various locations in your room.
Option 2: Individual Speakers
Buying individual speakers is a good choice if you have a non-standard space. For example, if you have a room without four walls, piecing out your speakers is a better option. If you don’t have a wall behind your sitting area, you may need a high-quality center-channel speaker. This type of speaker is needed because all of the dialogue usually happens through the center channel, and you don’t want the sound effects to drown out the actors. Without a back wall to bounce that center-channel sound off of, the sound can lose its impact and may not be quite as loud.
The same setup applies if your space is missing side walls on which to mount the speakers. In this case, you may need bookshelf speakers for your rear/sides. Putting a bookshelf speaker on an end table is the perfect way to get those surround channels.
Option 3: Floor Speakers
If you have a very large TV, floor speakers make perfect companions! Instead of small bookshelf speakers, floor speakers can be large and noticeable, and can look great next to a large TV. These right- and left-channel speakers will deliver the majority of the sound.
Option 4: Wireless Speakers
These speakers are very convenient, especially for someone who is renting a home and unable to wire speakers through a wall. Depending on the speaker, the sound quality can be good to very good, but it will probably not achieve the same effect as a full, wired 5.1 setup.
Option 5: A Sound Bar
If your entertainment space is completely enclosed, a sound bar is a great option. It will use the surrounding walls to create a complete surround-sound audio experience without having to deal with choosing or wiring several different speakers. Although this option might be the easiest, it isn’t ideal for more open environments because there wouldn’t be any walls to bounce the sound back to your ears.
Now that you have all the tools necessary to plan out your perfect surround-sound audio design, get it set up and enjoy your immersive entertainment experience!
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