Now that you’ve decided to upgrade your TV audio with a Home Theater in a Box (HTiB) sound system, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re hearing the best possible results.
Hit upon a happy medium between reflective and absorbent surfaces. An overabundance of upholstered chairs, overstuffed sofas, fluffy pillows, lengthy drapes, plush carpets and rugs mounted to the wall will muffle the sound of every movie and dampen the enthusiasm of the audience. On the other hand, hard wood floors, ceramic tiles, metal chairs, bare walls and windows void of curtains will cause the sound to reverberate around the room as the audience flees for the exit. So, decorate the listening room as if you were setting the comfort dial midway between spongy and ricochet.
Assuming a 5.1 sound system, make sure the center speaker is below or above the midpoint of the screen and the front stereo speakers are to the left and right of the screen. The surround speakers should be positioned behind you (first choice) or to your side (second choice). The stereo and surround pairs should all be elevated to about the same height with an accommodation for the center speaker since it doesn’t have the luxury of moving to the side of the screen like the others. Ideally, the speakers will be approximately on the same plane as your ears when seated. Also, angle each of the speakers toward the sweet spot created by you—as lead spud—when enthroned couch central.
Unlike the other speakers, the subwoofer best serves in the absence of directionality. In a perfect setup, you should feel the rumble but not be able to pinpoint its origin. This doesn’t mean you should hide the subwoofer in a cabinet or under the couch. The best bet is to place it on the floor in a corner of the room. The walls create a sounding board, boosting the boom.
Furniture already supporting your TV may have room to accommodate the front and center speakers. Since HTiBs come with a receiver (some containing a DVD or Blu-ray Disc player), placing the receiver on a shelf near the TV is ideal. Some HTiBs include speaker stands, but you can also get them separately. The surround speakers are more likely to require stands than the front speakers. Another option is mounting speakers to the wall, though that will require putting holes in the wall.
Once the pieces are in place and connected, you’re ready to calibrate the system. (Most systems include the speaker wires and subwoofer cable but not the HDMI cable.) If your HTiB comes with auto calibration, run the routine. You’ll be able to adjust EQ settings and surround speaker delay in milliseconds. You may also want to get an SPL meter. Remember to mute the volume from the TV’s built-in speakers.