Room Acoustics

QotD: Do Big Speakers Make Big Sound

If you look around the next time you are in a movie theater, you’ll notice the size of the speakers. If the lights are on, and you are close to the screen, you might even catch a glimpse of the speakers behind the screen. They are massive! Big speakers with huge drivers and oftentimes huge horn-loaded tweeters…surely that does something to the sound? Your home theater never really sounds the same as a movie theater. So is it the speakers? Do big speakers make the movie sound bigger in some way?

Answer: No.

If you placed those massive speakers in your (relatively) tiny room, you would be no closer to that “cinema” sound. Those big speakers won’t inherently sound any bigger in your room because of their size. What you are hearing in the cinema that differs from your room is…the room. The size of the movie theater room is very, very large. That “large” sound you are hearing is a function of the natural reverb that is present in such a room. You can’t really recreate that at home…or can you?

Why Cinema’s Have Big Speakers

This should be fairly obvious. To fill a room with sound, you need to move air. The larger the room, the more air you have to move. At home, you can get away with bookshelf speakers most of the time because you are not sitting that far from the speakers. But at the movie theater, you might be 30 or more feet away from the speakers. If they want the movie to hit reference volume, they have to move a lot of air. That requires a lot of drivers, big drivers, and many times both.

The biggest problem is the bass. To fill that room with bass, you’ll need a lot of subwoofers. That is true. But you also need the speakers to be able to push the upper bass loud enough so that it can cross over into the subwoofers cleanly. That requires a tremendous amount of surface area, amplification, and internal cabinet space.

Recreating that Cinema Sound at Home

If you literally took the speakers from your local cineplex and somehow got them in your room, they would not sound at all like you’d expect. These speakers are meant for massive rooms and for people to generally be sitting very far away from them. At best, they’d sound similar to your regular speakers. Mostly, we’d expect them to sound worse.

But if you want to recreate that cinema sound at home, you do have some options. The best way is to use a DSP. This can add some reverb to your sound so that you are getting that “big speakers, big sound” experience again. It is done by digitally modifying the sound, but that’s just fine. You are trying to recreate the experience of the cinema at home. Apart from building a massive room, this is the only way to do it.

If you have a Denon or Marantz receiver, you could use the “Movie” upmixing mode rather than our preferred “Game” mode during setup. This will add the reverb you are looking for. On Yamaha receivers, scroll through their DSP menus. They have a bunch of options. Under the Movie subheading, consider the Standard or Spectacle options. These should get you close to that cinema experience you are looking for. Other receiver manufacturers are the same. Just note that only the Denon and Marantz offerings allow you to apply upmixing AND adjust the reverb at the same time. All the other receivers either apply upmixing or the DSP mode.

What about you? How do you make your home theater sound like a movie theater? Or is that even what you want? Let us know in the comments!

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