5 Biggest Improvements to My Home Theater
I have been an audio enthusiast for as long as I can remember. It started when I was young and followed me through the majority of my life. This obsession has led me to a lifetime of buying and selling AV gear in an attempt to get the best experience I could afford. In 2017 I was fortunate enough to be in a position to start building my dedicated home theater. Once again, I found myself adding and removing pieces until I finally felt my room was “complete.” Along the way, I can safely say that some additions were far more impactful than others. While some pieces, like (spoiler alert) a good sub cost be a bit of cash, others were low cost or free. To help you with your voyage, I have compiled my top 5 (in no particular order) biggest improvements to my home theater.
1) Proper Speaker Placement
In my article about proper speaker placement, I explained how proper speaker placement can help mitigate Speaker Boundary Interference Response (SBIR). In short, SBIR impacts the performance of your speakers. The closer you put speakers to walls, the more it can negatively impact your speaker performance. In the case of a single subwoofer, it can be even worse, creating boomy, muddy, and bloated bass within your room. By pulling my speakers and subwoofer away from the walls and experimenting with different placement (and some measurements), I minimized reflections and got the best sound possible from my speakers. But, to get the most of your room, you need to add….
2) Room Treatments
Room treatments are usually one of the most overlooked items in a home theater build. Often, it’s because room treatments can be costly to buy at retail prices, and DIY is intimidating. But make no mistake, adding room treatments can make a significant difference to the performance of your speakers and the dynamics of your room, well worth the effort of DIY panels. After adding absorption to my room, I immediately noticed a reduction in slap echoes and zing in my space. The result was indeed night and day and made me wonder why I hadn’t done it before? When thinking about the 5 biggest improvements I made to my home theater, this is the one that jumped to mind first.
Luckily for those who want an easy-to-follow DIY guide, I have one here for you.
3) Moving My Surround Speakers
I know that I spoke about proper speaker placement as my first point, but I feel that correctly placing your surround speakers is different than where you place your speakers to mitigate SBIR. So many times, I see setups where people have surrounds at ear level and positioned directly at 90° to the main listening position (MLP). I realize that this is within the recommended Dolby placement guidelines, but this placement can be distracting and unpleasant for anyone unlucky enough to be seated at the edges of the couch. If your speakers are a few feet away, this is a great placement. If you are sitting close to them? Not so much.
So what do I suggest if your surround speakers are close to your couch? Move your speakers to 1-2 feet above ear level and slightly behind your MLP (say about 110°). This still falls within Dolby’s recommendations and makes for a much more pleasant listening experience for those at the ends of the couch.
4) Adding a Good Sub
Like some of you, I fell into the trap that many have when it comes to subwoofers – there is no replacement for displacement. So I went out and found the largest sub I could for my budget and installed it in the corner of my room (see proper speaker placement above) to increase its impact. Oh, and it had an impact! But not a good one. Bass was loud, muddy, boomy, and it chuffed badly. But I didn’t give up on that sub. I did everything I could to maximize its performance for free, but nothing worked.
Finally, I turned to the fellows at AV Rant podcast. They recommended an SVS PB-1000, and all I can say is wow. Although the SVS was significantly smaller than my old sub, it hit harder, cleaner, and lower. Explosions went from rattling my chest to rattling my entire house. I can not overemphasize how much different movies were with a capable subwoofer.
5) Stop Messing With your Setup
Ok, so I am a hypocrite here. I made messing with my home theater a bit of a second career. My wife has tolerated me changing speakers around, adding and removing components, and of course, the fan favourite – pausing movies to change TV and AVR settings! I became so obsessed with finding the “perfect” settings that sitting down and watching a movie was exhausting. While this doesn’t seem like it should be on a list of the 5 biggest improvements I made to my home theater, it certainly increased my enjoyment! My suggestion is that once you get your setup done, let it be for a bit and enjoy it. Plus, by going slow and fixing one thing at a time, you will see if that fix made any difference.
While my list is not exhaustive and is exclusively my opinion, additional upgrades are worthy of consideration.
- Adding a second sub can help with uneven bass and add additional sonic punch to your space.
- Almost all modern AVR’s come with some form of room correction. However, entry-level AVR’s only have the most rudimentary room correction. This means that if you have an odd-shaped room or less than ideal placement, upgraded room correction is a must. You can do this by upgrading to an AVR with a higher tier of room correction or using Room EQ Wizard and a mic. By knowing where your speakers are struggling, you can begin to treat the issues.
- Having very bright walls can be a nightmare for projectors. Painting your walls a darker colour, even just behind your screen, can have a considerable impact on your experience.
As I said, this is not an exhaustive list. It is only my opinion on what was most impactful for my space. Most of my changes were low cost and easily reversed if I didn’t like the changes. If I had to choose a single item as the most impactful, it would be, hands down, room treatments. What improvements made the most impact in your home theaters? Let me know in the comments and maybe I’ll try them out!