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Five Ways to Get the Best Performance from Your Stereo System


High-end audio can be a snobby term. It suggests that you must spend more than your budget might allow to get good sound quality. However, even a moderately priced system can deliver excellent performance when properly set up in a good listening room. The following steps are a guide to getting the most performance from your stereo system.

1. Select a Room with Good Acoustics

Good room acoustics is an important audio component just like a receiver or speaker and is the foundation of all good sounding systems. A room with many hard surfaces, such as tile and glass or a room with high ceilings is a poor listening environment with lots of sound reflections, which create poor bass and brassy sounding midrange and highs. A room with softer, more damped furnishings such as carpet, drapes, cloth furniture and lower ceilings makes a better choice for a listening room. Even a good listening room can often benefit from room acoustic treatments.

2. Place Speakers Correctly

Correct speaker placement ensures the best bass response and the best sounding midrange and highs. All rooms have resonant modes, or standing waves that amplfiy or attenuate certain bass frequencies based on the length, width and height of the room. This often leads to muddy, heavy or boomy sounding bass. Correct speaker placement helps by positioning the speaker where it will not excite the various room resonances. Correct placement also helps create good imaging and soundstage by reducing reflections from walls and other surfaces. The best part is that it costs nothing, except a little time and some patience.

3. Find the Best Listening Position: The Sweet Spot

Your listening position should be the 'sweet spot', the location in the room where your system sounds the best. Determining the sweet spot is simple. Your listening position should be the third point of a triangle relative to the speakers. If the speakers are six feet apart, your listening position should be equidistant from each speaker and approximately 1.2 times as far as the distance between the speakers, or 7.2' (6' x 1.2 = 7.2').

4. Use Good Speaker Wire

You could spend thousands of dollars on speaker cables, although I don't believe that's necessary. I do believe that premium speaker cables make a difference in sound quality and one of the essential characteristics of a good speaker cable is its ability to deliver adequate electrical current to the loudspeakers. Consider premium speaker wires, but at a minimum, purchase speaker wire that is at least 12 gauge, nothing smaller. (The higher the number, the thinner the wire - 18 gauge is thinner than 12 gauge). The speaker included with some speakers is generally no thicker than dental floss and is not recommended.

5. Adjust the Sound Settings on Your Receiver or Amplifier

Stereo and A/V Receivers have set up menus that adjust many sound functions. Among the most important are speaker size, bass output and speaker level or volume. Speaker size (large/small) determines the frequency range that the receiver will deliver to the speaker and is determined by the speakers capabilities. Bass output determines whether the bass will be reproduced by the left and right speakers, the subwoofer, or in some cases, both. Speaker level is a critical setting for accurate multichannel music and movie sound track reproduction. The best way to set levels is with a sound level meter.

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