The Custom Installer: How's It Sound? Page 2

Connect the system One day the dream of the "single-cable hookup" might be realized, but until then optimum performance means being connected with the proper cable. The longer the run of speaker wire, the lower the gauge should be to avoid frequency-response errors or loss due to resistance. Make sure all the speakers are connected in phase - positive to positive and negative to negative - at your amp and speakers. For Blu-ray and HD DVD players, an HDMI cable can carry an array of multichannel audio signals. If your receiver can't handle HDMI, you can still enjoy uncompressed LPCM or next-generation Dolby and DTS soundtracks by connecting six analog cables. Devices such as DVD players, digital satellite-TV receivers, cable-TV set-top boxes, and gaming systems that deliver multichannel digital audio need to be connected with a digital audio cable to deliver the goods. (For more on cable selection, see Basic Cable.)

Configure the system Once all the components have been connected, set up the A/V receiver. While this takes only a few minutes (and is becoming automated in receivers at many different prices), it's crucial to making your system sound its best. With a few button presses, you let the system know if you have 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 speakers; which speakers can handle bass and to what frequency; how far each speaker is from your primary listening position; and the relative level of each channel. Assigning video and digital-audio inputs tells the system where you connected that new HD movie player or PS3. Finally, make sure you've selected the correct surround mode. The best setup and installation in the world can be undone by placing the system in Super Stadium mode or some other digital signal processing (DSP) setting.

Consider room treatments Your room is the single biggest influence on how your system sounds. If it's too reflective, or "live," details are lost and dialogue is hard to understand. If it's too absorptive, or "dead," the sound will be flat and lifeless (though this is rarely a problem in home systems). Fortunately, there are some things you can do to treat poor acoustics. Thick carpeting or an area rug along with drapes can cut down on reflections. Shelves filled with books are great for diffusing sounds. Bass response that can't be corrected by relocating the subwoofer - or adding additional subs - can be improved by adding bass traps in the corners.

Set the playback volume To truly enjoy your home theater system, you need to give it some gas! Movies are mixed and recorded at a "reference" level, and many of the soundtrack's subtle details and effects are simply lost when you listen at low volumes. Don't be afraid to turn that volume knob up a bit - at least until the neighbors start to complain.

For more on system setup, see How to Position Your Home Theater Speakers, Subwoofer Setup Secrets, and How to Set Up an A/V Receiver.

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