An investment in a high-end stereo system typically comes with an expectation for excellent performance and superior sound quality. However, unless you have it installed and configured by a professional, chances are you're not getting the best possible audio output. Sound quality depends on several factors, including the size of your room, placement of the speakers and the quality of the cables. Consider your available options—and then make some tweaks—to ensure maximum performance.
While wireless speakers are convenient and can provide a satisfying audio experience, high-quality cables protect the audio signals from interference and are better capable of delivering a richer and more refined sound. Cheap cables are prone to information loss, so consider your budget and plan accordingly. "While an expensive brand is not necessarily needed, you want to use good quality cabling," says Ben Metz, technical advisor for Cables2Go, an international cabling distributor. "I recommend people devote 20 to 40 percent of the budget to cabling," he says, pointing specifically to oxygen-free copper wire with polypropylene insulation and tight-fitting connectors for maximum quality and minimal distortion.
Stereo speakers are often placed where they complement the interior decor, accommodate available shelf space or are simply out of sight. For optimal output, they should instead be placed at ear level at an equal distance—both between the speakers and from each speaker to you—and then angled so the emitted sound converges where you sit. A two-channel configuration works best when your seat and the two speakers create an equilateral triangle. Fine tune the placement by testing a variety of distances and angles because the smallest of adjustments can make an enormous difference.
Hard and Soft
While the sound waves travel from the speaker to you, others reflect off hard surfaces—like walls and tiled floors—to reach your ears at the same time, reducing the clarity. Add a rug or hang drapes to minimize the number of bare, hard surfaces. Your additions need not be solely soft furnishings. A bookshelf or potted plant diffuses reflected sound just as effectively as your easy chair absorbs it. The key is in directing the sound from the speakers straight to you, not bouncing it all over the room first.
Bass Without Boom
The appropriate subwoofer settings ensure that your bass speaker output is not distorted by a frequency that's too high, which in turn muddies or masks the tones from the other speakers. If it's supported, configure your system's crossover frequency to its lowest setting; on many speakers, this is the same as the "Small" crossover option. This tweak—which essentially sets the frequency at which certain sounds are redirected to the subwoofer instead of the other speakers—ensures that bass is only implemented when appropriate.
There are a number of mobile apps and interactive guides that help calibrate your system and maximize performance. A tuning CD or a mobile device wirelessly streaming the audio from a calibration app helps you adjust sound levels and determine the optimal volume for each speaker. An equipment-placement app, on the other hand, determines the best locations and angles for speakers based on the number of speakers and the size of your room. However implemented, calibration is essential to ensure optimal configuration and the best possible audio output.
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