Room Acoustics

Why Does My System Sound Better the Longer I Listen?

It doesn’t matter if you have a two-channel stereo system or a full surround sound system. You’ve spent a lot of time and money on your system. You’ve been particular about your purchases and how you’ve set everything up. You feel confident you’ve followed all the correct recommendations and have bought quality equipment. The problem is that your system doesn’t sound all that great…at first. When you fire everything up, things don’t sound very good. The longer you listen to your system, the better it sounds. After a short(ish) time, it sounds pretty good. Why? Shouldn’t it sound good from the start? Let’s discuss!

Your Instincts are Correct

You feel as though your system should sound good from the moment you start to listen. You are correct. It should. The fact that it doesn’t indicates that something is wrong. That something is almost always your room acoustics. If you truly bought quality speakers (and those aren’t that hard to find these days) and you’ve done at least a modicum of research on proper placement, then your system should sound good from the jump. If it doesn’t, then something is affecting the sound. That something is your room.

Why Does Your System Sound Different the Longer You Listen?

I tell this story a lot on the AV Rant Podcast, but I’ll repeat it here. Outside of the town in which I grew up was a sugar beat processing plant. It stank like crazy. You could smell it miles off. If the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, you could smell it all through the town. When I asked, the people who worked there said they couldn’t smell it most of the time. Sure, when they first got on site, they might notice it, but after a short period, they couldn’t smell it anymore.

Work faster brain! This sounds terrible!

Your room is the same. It is affecting the sound negatively and you are noticing it at first. As you sit and listen, your brain is “getting used” to the bad sound. Slap echo, reverb, and other audio problems can be “filtered out” by your brain just like a bad smell. Your brain recognizes that the audio you are experiencing is “confusing” and starts to change how you experience the sound so that it makes more sense.

It shouldn’t have to do that.


The good news is that you get to spend more money on your system! The bad news is that it doesn’t have to be all that much more money. You need to address your room’s acoustics which means adding acoustic panels and bass traps.

We must mention that we said that room acoustics is almost always the problem. That means sometimes it can be something else. It is possible that one of your speakers is broken or wired out of phase. The advice on placement you found could have led you astray. You could have improper toe-in or speaker angles. But, if you are looking around your room and you see a lot of hard, reflective surfaces, your problem is most likely how the sound is bouncing off those surfaces. Address those and you’ll find that your system suddenly sounds good the minute you fire it up.

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