Converting your living room into an Odeon sounds like a good idea until you start moving the furniture and taking up the carpet to accommodate the several hundred pounds worth of equipment you’ve just bought. The brochure didn’t mention that’s what would be involved.
The exercise has the single objective of improving the sound from your television. The other atmospherics of public auditoria – people rattling popcorn in paper boxes and beeping their mobile phones – are best left there.
It is perfectly possible to replicate more or less exactly the audio characteristics of a cinema: deep, booming bass from the floor, screams from behind you and noises to both sides. But it’s really only the bass that you notice. Unless you watch a lot of horror movies, other surround sound effects tend to be used only sparingly, and not at all on content made for viewing on TV.
So compromising your decor by running wires to loudspeakers along the four walls of your sitting room is something to be done only if you’re certain the effect will justify the effort.
Surround sound systems typically involve matched sets of 5.1 or 7.1 speakers – the “point one” in each case being the subwoofer that produces the deepest bass beloved of directors and sound engineers, sometimes to manufacturer drama when the script has failed to do so. The other speakers are arranged around and behind your sofa, which should, for the best effect, be square on to your screen.
The speakers are fed from an audio/video receiver, which processes sound and pictures from your smart TV, Blu-ray and other devices and transcodes Dolby Digital and similar effects where it finds them. The principle is that sound and vision from all the devices are routed through the receiver, which then becomes the sole source for your TV.
Such a setup can also accommodate your music system. But as music is recorded in two-channel stereo and not 7.1 surround sound, it’s not necessarily the best option. A really good pair of traditional left-and-right speakers – the ones you already have – may be a better bet, even taking into account that sub-bass.
An ideal setup is an individual as your own choice in music, but it’s certainly not necessary to replace everything at once. A new AV receiver will work with your old stereo speakers and give you an onward upgrade path, should you need it.
Models start from a little less than £200 and all current units come with an array of HDMI sockets as well as analogue inputs. Make sure you select one with ARC (audio return channel) so that sound generated from the TV’s own smart apps can be processed by the receiver and fed back to the screen.
What you won’t find on many units – and it’s an omission that still surprises me – is a graphic equalizer. In the 1980s every audiophile had one, but they’re now considered artificial and unnecessary, though the preset cinema patterns which replace them are no less heavily processed. Neither are equalizers available as separate units, except second-hand on Ebay, so if you are used to having one, you’ll want to make sure that some sort of software EQ is available on the device from which your music is sourced – your phone, for instance.
Mixing and matching old and new gear is something you also won’t see in the brochures, but you might find it can it can deliver multiplex results at fleapit prices.