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Why Sound Matters: The Best Home Theatre Setups

7/10/2011 11:50:30 AM

Sound matters differently to different people. Some honestly can’t tell the difference between a home theatre system in a box costing $300 and a custom system costing ten times that amount.


Sound matters differently to different people. Some honestly can’t tell the difference between a home theatre system in a box costing $300 and a custom system costing ten times that amount. Others, while they can detect the difference, wonder what the big deal is between them. And still others will tour Australia in search of the perfect home theatre. But even those for whom sound isn’t the be all and end all will acknowledge the thrill they get from an explosion as it thunders out of a quality subwoofer and rattles their brain in its socket. 


The State of Sound

Sound is just one component of a home theatre experience. Combined with the video, it’s job is to draw the listener into the movie or game. The plot and characterizations in a movie do a lot to break down the barrier between the film and the audience, as we find ourselves rooting for the good guys or thoroughly enthralled in a desperate struggle for survival. But plot and characterization can only do so much. 

Along with the visuals, sound helps complete the job of immersing the audience in the film. Just as it’s hard to be pulled in by a movie showing on a 13 inch television, it’s hard to be drawn in by a movie in which the sound emanates from two tiny speakers that sound more like a telephone than a television. This is why sound matters, and why a burly home theatre system can truly transform the entertainment experience.


Getting That Big Sound

Now that we’ve established that good sound is truly a core component of the home theatre experience, the next step is learning exactly what constitutes quality home theatre sound. 

When you’re listening to a movie, most of the action is going to take place in the front speakers. That’s simply how most movie soundtracks are designed. In addition, the dialog is almost always going to emanate from the centre speaker. That’s why the best home theatre setups go all out on the front speakers. 

You want the front left and right speakers to be excellent all-around performers. Not only do they need to handle dynamic action sequences with the panache they deserve, but they’ll also need to bring out the subtle sounds of music in all their glory. To handle this task, most people prefer a top tier set of floor-standing speakers over smaller satellite models. These offer the best frequency response and pair well with a powered subwoofer on the low end.

The centre speaker also needs solid bass characteristics offset by clear tweeters that don’t overdo the high frequencies, as this can result in a harsh sound. You want dialog to come out sounding rich and full, clearly differentiable from whatever may be going on in the front and surround speakers. 

The subwoofer is what gives a home theatre its punch. If you’re having friends over who don’t know much about audio, they may not immediately appreciate a good centre speaker, but they’ll most definitely notice a quality powered subwoofer. You’ll want at least a 250 CM model with an RMS power output of at least 150 watts, with the ability to pump out more at peaks. This will give you the rumble you crave, and the good units will balance their ability to go low with a clean, crisp sound on musical tracks or other action in which bass is limited. 

Lastly comes the surround speakers, which sadly get less love than the rest in most reviews, but this attitude is as out dated as Dolby Pro Logic. Nowadays, you need your surround speakers to be almost as good as your fronts, but with a smaller footprint. Here’s where a good pair or two of satellite speakers can come in handy. If they can do a decent job of standing in for your front speakers, they’re good enough to be the side and rear surrounds in a quality 7.1 channel home theatre set-up.



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