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Your Home Theater Experience!

You want more than just a home theater. You want a home theater experience, all controlled at the push of a button on your smartphone. Many people think the most important part of creating a home entertainment system is having the biggest screen possible. However, an amazing surround sound system will envelop you into the world of any movie or video game, creating the wrap-around effect and an app will let you control that world with a flick of your finger.

Know Your Formats

First, a little terminology. Surround sound systems come in different channels: 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 channel surround. 5.1 surround sound means you have five full-bandwidth speakers (frequencies 3-20,000 Hz) for center, left and right front, and left and right surrounds, plus one subwoofer (frequencies 3-120 Hz). 6.1 and 7.1 each add additional full-bandwidth speakers to the set-up.

Here are the most popular formats for digitally encoding audio in each channel set-up:

● Dolby Digital is a 5.1 channel format. It’s a very most popular format for surround sound today. Every channel is distinct, so audio mixers can place sounds precisely. A rival system, DTS, is said to be even more accurate, because it uses less compression than Dolby Digital, but DTS is compatible with fewer video games and DVDs.

● Dolby Digital EX and THX Surround EX are 6.1 channel formats, both created as part of a collaboration between THX and Dolby Labs. They add an additional back channel l for greater depth, and immersion providing a more complete surround sound experience.

● Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio are lossless, high-resolution 7.1 channel formats. They’re designed for use with Blu-ray, which allows for more audio data to be encoded per channel. They add two extra back channels to 5.1 channel Dolby Digital and DTS. These audio formats are on par with the movie theater experience.

Speaker Tech

Today’s loudspeakers are packed with all kinds of amazing innovations to make sound clearer and more absorbing. Here are a few technologies to look for when picking out a set of surround sound speakers to create the wrap-around effect:

● Time Lens improves soundstaging by aligning the drivers in the array. You’ll hear all the frequencies at the same time, increasing precision.

● Ribbed Elliptical Surround reduces distortion and increases efficiency by changing the shape of the speaker from a half roll to an ellipse.

● BassTrac circuitry stops distortion by monitoring the audio signal.

● Acoustic Lenses circulate sound waves to make the audio sound larger, making the soundstage noticeably wider.

● Tractrix horns directly project high frequencies to the listener using flared openings.

Soundbar or Surround Sound Speakers?

There are two types of hardware commonly used in home theater systems: soundbars and surround sound speakers. Soundbars are all-in-one stereo loudspeaker cabinets that are typically placed next to your screen to emulate wrap-around sound. Surround sound speakers are individual speakers you place all around the room to create an accurate 360-degree soundscape. They each have their advantages and disadvantages:

● Soundbars are easy to install and involve minimal wires, because they’re all-in-one units. They’re good at emulating surround sound in small- to medium-sized rooms. However, if you want a good bass effect, you may need to buy a separate subwoofer. Some soundbars come with a subwoofer, others do not. In large rooms, the virtual surround sound effect doesn’t work nearly as well.

● Surround sound speakers are the real deal, giving you the full and accurate surround sound experience. This hardware is an absolute must for audiophiles. However, if running wires and undertaking a more complex installation process puts you off, surround sound speakers might not be for you.


Hi-Tech Receivers

The central hub of your home theater is the AV receiver, which connects your speakers, cable boxes, Blu-ray player and game systems all together. You may want a cutting edge receiver with lots of features, like mobile app control, and compatibility with Bluetooth, wireless and Airplay pickup for Apple devices. Here are three top-rated receivers.
● Sony STR-DN840 – $448 – Includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplay and six HDMI inputs. Once it’s set up, you can automatically stream from your tablet or smartphone to your home theater in seconds. Use Sony’s TV SideView app to control the receiver, along with your entire home entertainment theater system – the app also lets you search for media from YouTube, Netflix, websites and a ton of other devices and services. The STR-DN840 doesn’t offer the highest sound quality, but it’s an excellent value for the price.

● Yamaha RX-V475 – $400 – Includes built-in Airplay and Ethernet connectivity, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi compatibility (adapters sold separately), and five HDMI inputs. The RX-V475 can be controlled by a smartphone app. The sound quality is excellent, although this receiver’s remote and overall design are not quite the same as the Sony STR-DN840, this receiver does offer good value.

● Pioneer VSX-822-K – $199 – Includes built-in Airplay and Ethernet connectivity, Bluetooth compatibility (adapter sold separately), six HDMI inputs and is controllable by an iPhone/iPad app. The VSX-822-K can also stream Internet radio and Pandora.



Where Do The Speakers Go?

So, you’ve decided on the type of hardware you want and whether you want 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1 channel surround sound. Here’s where you should place the hardware in your home theater room to achieve the most optimal sound:

● Soundbar – Install the soundbar directly above your screen, if possible. You can also install the bar in front of or directly below your screen. The soundbar will simulate rear speakers, so there’s no need to place speakers in the back of the room.


● 5.1 Channel Surround – 5 speakers and a subwoofer. They should be placed…
1. Front and center, ideally above the screen.
2. Front left corner of the room.
3. Front right corner of the room.
4. Rear left corner of the room.
5. Rear right corner of the room.
6. The subwoofer should be placed up against a wall and close to a corner for maximum effect.

● 6.1 Channel Surround – 6 speakers and a subwoofer. They should be placed…
1. Front and center, ideally above the screen.
2. Front left corner of the room.
3. Front right corner of the room.
4. Middle left side of the room.
5. Middle right side of the room.
6. Back of the room.
7. The subwoofer should be placed up against a wall.

● 7.1 Channel Surround – 7 speakers and a subwoofer. They should be placed…
1. Front and center, ideally above the screen.
2. Front left corner of the room.
3. Front right corner of the room.
4. Middle left side of the room.
5. Middle right side of the room.
6. Back right corner of the room.
7. Back left corner of the room.
8. The subwoofer should be placed up against a wall.


Whatever your set-up, it’s smart to test your speakers’ polarity (aka “phase”). This will ensure they’re all wired the same way, so they can accurately produce the sound from a movie or game as it is intended to be heard. Use a multimeter to test polarity or even an APP such as Speaker Pop. This is an easy-to-use module available for in-app purchase in the AudioTools iPhone app that’s designed to test polarity.

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On The Horizon

There are a lot of amazing speaker technology already available today, but the future is really going to open your eyes – or rather, your ears – to what a surround sound system can do.

● Sonos offers a line of portable hi-fidelity Wi-Fi speakers, and now more companies like Sony and Bose are quickly following suit. It won’t be long before surround sound systems cut the speaker cord and go wireless.

● Need a surround sound system on the go? SoundSYNK is an app that allows tablets and mobile devices to be linked together, so they can stream the same music simultaneously across devices.

● HyperSonic Sound (HSS) acutely focuses sound (like a laser focuses light), so the sound waves won’t disperse, even after traveling long distances. Even when HSS speakers are far away, it’s still like listening to sound with headphones!


When creating a surround sound system for an apartment or shared living space, be mindful of your neighbors and any extra noise that may come from the new system.

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