“But They Sounded Great in the Store!” Your New Speakers Sound Like Crap…What Happened?
You don’t have to go to a “high-end” store to experience a home theater speaker demo. Best Buy has rooms and spaces where you can hear speakers for yourself. You might have even seen some of those displays where the small, cube speakers are set up on sticks just above your head so that you can hear them. Some of those demos can be quite impressive. So why, when you buy those same speakers and set them up, do they sound like crap in your home? What happened? Let’s discuss.
Let’s Not Resort to Conspiracy Theories
People these days far too quickly resort to conspiracy theories when they don’t understand something. Got a flat tire “too soon” after buying new tires? They must have done something to cause that to happen so you’ll have to come back for another tire (or a repair). One of your sprinklers breaks soon after your lawn maintenance company cuts your grass? They must have done it on purpose. Do the new speakers sound like crap in your home when they sounded so good in the store? They must have tricked you in some way.
The fact is that tires go flat and sprinklers break. It takes far more effort to sabotage those things to be worth it. The fact that you don’t understand that correlation does not equal causation is immaterial. No one is doing all that extra work to “trick” you just so you can complain and leave a bad review online.
Consider The Setting
You heard the speakers in a showroom (or on the sales floor) and they sounded pretty impressive. But what else was going on around you? Was there a lot of background noise? Any amount of ambient noise could mask a number of different problems.
Consider how the speakers were set up compared to how they are set up in your room. Are they at the same distance from your seat? Were they extremely close in the demo room but are now much farther away? What about the angles? Are the speakers in your room at similar angles? These can and do make a big difference in how speakers sound.
Rooms Are Important
If you demoed the speakers in a dedicated room, you need to consider the differences between your room and the demo room. If the speakers sounded great in the demo room but like crap in yours, what were the differences? Did the demo room have acoustic treatments? Is your room full of hard, reflective surfaces? The acoustics of a room can make a big difference in how a speaker sounds.
Often when we go to a store to demo speakers, we forget to bring our own content. Or, worse yet, the employees make up some reason why they can’t play your content. There is a reason for this. They want their speakers to be shown at their best. This is a common sales tactic not only in AV but in all areas. If you demoed the speakers with content that isn’t typical of what you play, then you aren’t really testing them as they’ll be used. Sure, your off-road vehicle might feel great off-road, but you better test it on the highway as well if you’ll mostly be driving in cities. If you don’t, don’t be surprised if you aren’t happy with the on-road performance.
You need to consider other paired equipment. No, we are not talking about AV receivers, cables, or external amplifiers. Mostly, we are talking about subwoofers. If you are in a demo room you’ll want to make sure you know if a subwoofer is playing along with the speakers. A subwoofer will provide all that low-end bass that you are hearing. Of course, when you get home, those speakers will sound like crap in comparison! All that bass will be missing. And no, you shouldn’t just also buy the sub they were using. That subwoofer (theoretically) was chosen for the room in which it was playing. You’ll want the right subwoofer for your space.
Set Up and Calibration
If you’ve quickly set up your speakers and aren’t immediately impressed, take a moment. Remember that the demo room was set up by experienced people with probably very specific recommendations from the manufacturer. They’ve taken a lot of time to make sure those speakers sounded as good as possible. Did you take all that time? Did you do any research at all to make sure your AV receiver is in the right mode or that you ran your room correction correctly? Before you discount the speakers, make sure you’ve set up and calibrated them correctly. It could make a world of difference.
There are a lot of reasons why speakers might have sounded great in a store but sound like crap when you get them home. Far more than we have mentioned here. The final decision is whether you should take them back or not. We can’t answer that for you. If it were us, we’d try to address as many of the setup and configuration issues as possible before the return window closes. Often, we find that a couple of changes can make a big difference in how speakers sound. The fact that they did sound good during the demo means that they CAN sound good. You have to decide if you are willing to do what it takes to make them sound good in your room. If it means extensive changes to the room, the answer could very well be, “No.”