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A Quick Guide for Homeowners: How Do I Calibrate My Home Theater System for Better Home Entertainment Experience?

A well-calibrated home theater system can greatly improve your home entertainment experience.

There is much that goes into setting up a home theater space. There is no doubt purchasing a new TV or installing a projector system is exciting. You probably spent much time deciding which option was best for you and which screen tech would deliver the most immersive experience. Enjoying incredible picture quality is only part of an immersive home theater experience.

The second part is making sure you enjoy world-class sound quality. To achieve this, you have to ensure you calibrate your speakers correctly. So, the question that many homeowners ask us is, “How do I calibrate my home theater system?”

What Is Calibration?

Placing your speakers within a room and connecting them to a receiver are the first steps to get the most out of your audio system. Calibration aims to get the best listening experience from where you usually sit when watching movies.

 How do I calibrate my home theater system?

Calibration requires adjusting your speakers for the frequencies they carry, their distance from you, and their volume levels. Calibration overcomes less-than-ideal room configurations or speaker placement — for example, maybe you couldn’t put your center speaker at ear level, or your room has a post on the left side that reflects sound.

What Settings Need To Be Adjusted?

Three main settings in receivers comprise calibration: speaker size, distance, and speaker level.

Speaker Size

The receiver decides which frequencies to send to each speaker. In speaker parlance, size refers not to physical dimensions but to frequencies speakers can handle. “Large” speakers get both low and high frequencies. “Small” speakers get only higher frequencies. You need to select a large or small for each speaker when you calibrate. Most speakers in home theater surround sound systems are “small,” so the low frequencies are sent to a speaker called a subwoofer.

Speaker Distance

This helps determine the delay the receiver introduces so the sound from speakers placed at various distances from you reaches your ears simultaneously.

Speaker Level

This setting equalizes the volume of all speakers, which creates the illusion of seamless sound in front of you even though it’s coming from individual speakers.

How Do I Calibrate My Home Theater System?

Step 1: Ensure You Can See Your Receiver’s On-Screen Display (OSD) On Your TV

Setting up your receiver using its tiny LCD is a hassle you don’t need. Instead, ensure you can see your receiver’s display on your TV. Nearly all modern receivers will put out the on-screen display via HDMI, but some older receivers (over five years old) require an old-school video connection. If you don’t see a menu pop up on your TV when you press the “menu” or “setup” button on your receiver’s remote, make sure you have at least an RCA cable handy for connecting the receiver’s composite video (yellow RCA jack) output to your TV’s composite video input.

Step 2: Know Your Receiver’s Menu

Sure, you can look at the manual, but getting hands-on experience with your receiver’s menu by hunting and pecking through it with your remote provides significant benefits. After browsing for a while, you’ll find that you remember where a lot of the menu options are because you navigated there before. Don’t worry if you need help understanding some of the terms. We’ll explain some of them below.

Step 3: Place Your Speakers

Speakers need to be adjusted for better calibration.

Placement can vary based on the speakers you’re using. Some of us have entertainment centers with specific places for speakers, or we only have a handful of open spots in which to put a speaker. With that in mind, do your best to follow these basic speaker placement rules.

The center channel should be placed directly below or above your television. Since almost all dialogue comes from this speaker, it must be as close to the TV as possible to maintain the illusion that the voices are coming from the picture itself.

Try to place your left and right speakers as far away from each other as your central listening position is from your TV, creating an equilateral triangle between your head and the two speakers. For most, the central listening position is the seat located directly in front of the TV. If this doesn’t apply, choose the spot where most of the listening will be done. It also helps to place the speaker’s top at about 40 inches off the floor (average ear height).

Next, place your surround speakers above ear level (somewhere between 48 inches and 72 inches) and just behind your listening position. If you have surround back speakers (the sixth and seventh channels), mirror them in the same positions as the front speakers but on the wall behind you.

If the speakers are wall-mounted, they can be higher, but no more than half the height of your wall. If you’re mounting them in the ceiling (and installing them yourself, bravo), Dolby recommends the ideal height between 7.5 and 12 feet, with 14 feet as the maximum. If you’re only adding two ceiling-mounted speakers, they should be mounted directly above the central listening position at an angle of around 80 degrees from the top of your head.

If you add four ceiling-mounted height speakers, you’ll want them mounted equidistant from the front, back, and sidewalls and set above the central listening position. This diagram shows that the front speakers should be 45 degrees ahead and the rear 135 degrees behind the central listening position.

For the subwoofer, try not to place it flush with a corner of the room or within another cabinet, such as an entertainment center. Subwoofers usually sound best placed a third of the way into the room from the side and front (or back) wall. It’s OK to place a subwoofer in the back of the room, but make sure it is at least 3 feet away from your head. If you can’t find a good place in your room to adhere to these instructions, keep at least 1 foot between the sub and any given wall.

Speaker distance should also be considered when calibrating your home theater system.

Step 4: Speaker Distance

Speaker distance is the distance between each speaker and your central listening position, as defined above. This setting is important for making sure that sounds from each speaker reach each ear precisely at 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 to 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

The crossover is the most easily misunderstood and critical speaker-related setting in an A/V receiver. In this case, “crossover” refers to when your receiver stops sending bass to each speaker 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.

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

Step 6: Speaker-Level Calibration

Calibrating home theater systems can be overwhelming, but we are here to help.

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 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, or at most electronics stores, for a pretty reasonable price. Plus, when you aren’t using it to calibrate your speaker system, you can ensure you aren’t violating your city’s noise ordinance when rocking out to your favorite tunes.

Several decibel meter apps are also available for Android and iOS devices, of course. While generally less accurate than 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” to measure the speaker’s output. You can move the output level up or down through the speakers as needed.

We understand that calibrating your home theater system can be overwhelming, especially for beginners. We’re here to help! Here at Custom Integrators, we can install and calibrate your home theater system so you don’t need to worry about anything except relaxing and enjoying your elevated home entertainment experience. Please reach out to us today!