Home theater calibration guide: Manual speaker setup

Learn how to calibrate your home theater speakers for sheer audio bliss

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Step 4

Speaker distance

Speaker distance refers to the distance between each speaker and your central listening position, as defined above. This setting is important for making sure that sounds from each of your speakers reach each ear at precisely the same time. Grab a pen, notepad and tape measure. Measure the distance from the front of each speaker directly to where your head resides when seated in the central listening spot, then jot each measurement down on your notepad. Once all the measurements are made, add them into the receiver. The receiver will prompt you, speaker by speaker, to input a distance measurement in increments of feet, half-feet or sometimes down to 1/12 of a foot. Round up or down as necessary.

Step 5

Speaker crossover

Perhaps the most easily misunderstood and critical speaker-related setting in an A/V receiver is the crossover setting. In this case, “crossover” refers to the point at which your receiver stops sending bass to each of your speakers and starts sending it to your subwoofer. The correct crossover setting will depend on your speakers’ ability to produce bass. Most speaker manufacturers provide specs that indicate where your speakers stop producing bass. For example, you may see something like “Frequency Response: 60Hz-20kHz.” In this example, the manufacturer indicates the speakers can play to 60Hz, but often the bass is much weaker as its lowest-rated point than it is in the rest of its performance range. So, you may want to move the number up by 20Hz or so to be on the safe side.

It is common in speaker setups to have larger front left and right speakers than surround speakers. In this case, expect to have to make different crossover settings for each speaker. For those with systems that use the exact same speaker for all channels, set the same crossover frequency for each speaker.

speaker-crossover

Older or cheaper receivers may not allow a specific crossover frequency to be set for each speaker. Instead, they often allow a simple choice of “large” or “small” with a single crossover point for all the “small” speakers. For the purposes of this guide, a large speaker would be a full range (often floor-standing) speaker capable of producing plenty of low bass. A small speaker would be anything else. Set the speakers as large or small, then choose the lowest bass frequency of your smallest speaker as the crossover point for all of your “small” speakers. For instance, if you have front speakers that go down to 80Hz but your surrounds are smaller and only play down to 100Hz, you would want to set the crossover point at 100Hz. This will ensure the most uniform performance among the speakers.

You will also find a separate subwoofer setting within the speaker size or crossover portion of your menu. Receiver manufacturers all call this setting something different, but the function it represents is the same. If your speakers are set to large, your receiver will open up the option (it’s usually grayed out if your front speakers are set to small) for you to decide how the subwoofer is used. You can choose to have the subwoofer used only for low-frequency movie effects (the .1 in 5.1 or 7.1) or you can have it reproduce the bass that is being sent to the front left and right speakers in addition to any LFE signal. By choosing “Double Bass: On” or “LFE +Main” you are instructing the receiver to send bass signals to both the sub and your main speakers thus increasing the bass response of your system. Those with high-performance speakers may prefer to hear their speakers on their own when listening to music, so they may prefer to leave this option off or set at “LFE only.” For more information, see our complete guide to subwoofer placement and setup.

Step 6

Speaker-level calibration

With the distance, size, and crossover settings made, it is time to balance the volume level of each speaker relative to your seating position. This ensures that you hear each speaker at the proper level regardless of how far or close each speaker may be. While this setting can be made by ear, using a decibel meter will get you more precise results. You can find decibel meters online or at most electronics stores for a pretty reasonable price. Plus, when you aren’t using it to calibrate your speaker system, you can use it to make sure you aren’t violating your city’s noise ordinance when rocking out to your favorite tunes.

There are also several decibel meter apps available for both Android and iOS devices, of course. While generally not as accurate as a dedicated decibel meter, they’ll get the job done.

The speaker-level setting will allow you to turn on a test tone or “white noise” in order to measure the speaker’s output. As you move through the speakers, you will be able to move the output level up or down as needed.

If performing this process by ear, do your best to make sure that each speaker sounds as loud as the one before it. You can bounce back and forth often to make a comparison. When you’re done with your first pass, go back through to make sure each speaker is the same level as the one before and after it.

If using a decibel meter, sit down in your central listening position, turn the meter on, set the dial to 70 dB, the weighting to “C” and the response to “slow.” Hold the meter in front of your face with the microphone end pointed straight up at the ceiling. Do not point the meter at each speaker. You may choose any level you wish to calibrate the speakers to: 70, 75 and 80 dB are popular levels to use. Whatever you choose, adjust each speaker’s test tone so that it pushes the meter’s needle to the same decibel level.

Decibel Meter

When you reach the subwoofer, you will find that your decibel meter does not read the subwoofer’s super-low frequency output as well. There are conversion charts online that will guide you in using a decibel meter with a subwoofer, but you can achieve good results by setting the sub by ear. First, make sure your subwoofer’s volume dial is set to the manufacturer’s recommendations or at about the half-way point. Then, proceed with the test tone and adjust the subwoofer level output such that the sub just begins to shake the room. Real bass signals will be much louder, so don’t over-do it.

To test your subwoofer settings, we recommend using a piece of music or a movie that you are familiar with. If while listening to the music or movie of your choice you find you desire less or more bass, go back into the speaker level portion of your menu and adjust accordingly.

Step 7

Enjoy

Grab some popcorn and kick back with a great movie. You’ll enjoy the smooth, balanced, and natural sounding performance of your speaker system and receiver with the satisfaction of knowing that you did it yourself.

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