Why Did I Upgrade My Speakers If They Weren’t Going to Sound Better?!?!?
The home theater hobby can be a lot like quicksand. You take one step in and think you are on solid ground. The next minute, you’ve spent all night on the Internet and are up to your neck in upgrade ideas. Of all the things that home theater enthusiasts like to shop for, speakers are near the top. Better speakers should and often do equate to better sound. But not always. When this happens, we wonder why our upgraded speakers don’t sound better than our old ones? Let’s discuss.
Before we really talk about technical reasons why your upgraded speakers don’t sound much better, let’s recalibrate our expectations. As in many hobbies, there are points of diminishing returns. We’ve written about it before including where the breakpoints are based on the type of speaker. We won’t rehash that here. But let’s just remember that going from your TV’s speakers to just about anything else nets a HUGE gain. Once you’ve done that, you can sometimes see another huge sound gain as you upgrade your speakers (especially if your first upgrade was done on the cheap). After that, gains can be had but they are much more modest.
You can take great speakers, put them in a bad room (for acoustics), and they won’t sound great. Audiophiles don’t believe this, but it is true. There are a lot of reasons why your upgraded speakers sound bad in your room…and the room is usually most of the problem. Too many people focus on the speakers as the preferred upgrade path simply because they think that will make the most difference. But if you haven’t optimized your room for sound, upgrading your speakers might feel like a waste of money.
Right Problem, Wrong Solution
You’ve probably heard the axiom, “To a hammer, every problem is a nail.” This is often the case in home theater. Can’t hear the dialogue? You need a new (or bigger) center channel. Bass seems lacking? Buy new, bigger, or more subwoofers. Or maybe tower speakers? No matter your problem, there is a speaker upgrade recommendation that will sound reasonable.
But they are wrong.
Sure, we’ve already addressed how the room may have been contributing to why you think you need new speakers. But there are so many other reasons. Most commonly, we see people complaining about their sound after upgrading their speakers just to discover that they’ve had their receiver in Pure Direct the whole time. Of course you have no bass or surround effects! You’ve turned them off! Not properly running their room correction, not properly angling their speakers, and generally following bad online advice is common. That’s why it is so important to ask your questions properly.
New Speakers, New Problems
If you are upgrading from very low-quality speakers to much better ones, don’t be surprised if they sound worse. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. When you had bad speakers, they were probably only capable of playing part of the audible frequency range. The manufacturer probably optimized the speakers to be as inoffensive as possible. That means very little high treble and just a hint of bass.
Your new speakers? They are playing every frequency you can hear. Not only that, but they are playing louder, more evenly, and much, much lower. Those bass frequencies specifically, while very necessary for action movies, can act very unintuitively. We have oodles of articles addressing different bass issues (link, link, link, link, link, link, and link to name a few). Suddenly, you are noticing odd sounds from your upgraded speakers. Of course your old speakers didn’t have these problems, they couldn’t play any of those frequencies! Now that you have speakers that can, they’ve revealed problems you didn’t know you had!
It sometimes feels like building a home theater is like owning a boat. You keep throwing money at it hoping that the day will come when you can stop and just enjoy it. I don’t own a boat (who can afford both in this economy?), but I can say that home theater has an end. If you want to stay on the cutting edge of sound and video, you may find yourself buying often. But you can put together a great room with great speakers and cutting-edge equipment that will sound and look great for years.
When it comes to speakers (and subwoofers for that matter), once you upgrade to a certain level, the sound returns you get for upgrading again often don’t make financial sense. You can live with great speakers for years if not decades. It’s those pesky HDMI updates that may have you reaching for your wallet.