The Workbench Life: Baby Blogs
By Ron Marr for The Workbench Life
The reason movie theaters aren’t tastefully appointed with metal folding chairs, concrete floors and wood-paneled walls involves more than the desire to avoid a mass exodus of customers with stabbing lumbar pain — it’s all about the sound.
The greatest audio/video system in the world will still sound like a boom box in a dumpster if installed in an acoustically barren environment. The A/V requirements of your man cave require keeping up with the latest tech, but, furnishings and design play a huge role in enhancing your listening experience.
Designs of the Times
The goal of your home sound system’s acoustics is to balance between sound reflection and absorption. The design should prevent outside noise from entering and inside noise from bouncing around like a pinball on a gin jag. This need not be an expensive proposition. For instance:
- Install extra insulation between wall studs and add a double layer of drywall. Double-paned windows and solid (not hollow-core) doors are crucial. And heavy curtains or acoustic wall paneling will also improve sound quality dramatically.
- Install carpeting between your front row of speakers and the rest of the room. This lessens the bounce of sound waves off tile or hardwood. Furniture that is soft and plush also helps absorb ambient, unwanted sound.
A surround-sound system isn’t the only option for optimum A/V quality — but it’s the best one. Audio salesmen speak in arcane lingo about 5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 sound systems. These numbers simply refer to the number of speakers in the room. The 5.1 version is the standard, and runs between a few hundred and many thousands of dollars.
Speaker placement on a 5.1 system begins with a center-channel speaker facing the room, above or below your flat-screen. It broadcasts the primary dialogue and vocal tracks. Front channel speakers providing left and right audio are situated at the sides of the screen. They distribute background accents such as gunshots, squealing tires and cheers of the crowd. Left and right rear-channel speakers, also for background effects, are installed in the rear of your man cave.
That “.1” speaker is a sub-woofer that enhances bass response. It’s located at the rear of the room in a far corner.
Belly Up to the Sound Bar
A less expensive alternative to surround-sound systems are sound bars, in essence long speakers that widen the sound field. They can be wall mounted or placed on shelves. The best versions are self-powered, self-amplified and plug into the existing audio outputs of your flat-screen or peripherals. Sound bars are a vast improvement over the stock speakers installed in your TV. Strategically placed sound bars provide a reasonable facsimile of a surround-sound system.
Wired for Sound . . . or Not
The downside of all A/V sound systems is a Minoan maze of wires and cables. Consumers are dying for a wireless system that provides the same sound quality as its wired counterparts. Those will come as technology improves, but expert audiophiles say they’re not here yet.
Further, the definition of “wireless surround-sound” is a little deceiving. The honest description is “fewer wires.” In the typical six-speaker system, only the rear-channel speakers are truly wire free.