There are two options for designing your home theater's audio system: hire someone or do it yourself. If you're reading this blog, you have probably opted for the latter option. Home theater systems can be extremely expensive, or ridiculously affordable, depending on what type of system you're interested in, your home theater needs, and your budget. Keep in mind that a good audio system can last for decades so taking the time to assess your needs - and maxing your audio system budget on quality equipment - can save a good deal of money in the long run.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you go out and commit to a home theater system:
- What do you spend most of your time listening to?
- Music: If you are primarily a passive listener, primarily enjoying music with an occasional TV or movie here and there, you only need a couple of good quality speakers. Even some smaller book shelf speakers might be just the ticket.
- Mostly TV: If you mostly watch TV and occasionally throw in some music to clean the house or eat dinner by, you may only need a soundbar or a soundbar/subwoofer combo to enhance the sound coming from your TV.
- TV/Movies: If sound is your thing and you want to get all of the effects from movies and TV shows, as well as mind blowing music from time to time, you're probably interested in investing in some high quality speakers (perhaps floor standing models?), a subwoofer to maximize the dramatic bass effects, and the words "surround sound system" should increase your heart rate.
- What's your space like?
After the speakers, the next most important aspect of sound quality is acoustics - and those depend on the type of room you are in. Is it large or small? Open or walled off? Do you have carpet and cushy furniture - which absorb sound - or hardwood floors with a minimalist furniture approach - where a little sound goes a long way? If the speakers are going to be placed in a cabinet, consider the vibration possibilities. If they are going to be visible, consider blending them with decor. A good home audio sales rep won't just try to sell you the biggest speakers but rather the ones that will do justice to the best sound for your space.
- What speaker placement makes the best sense?
You may want to draw a fairly-to-scale model of your room with the furniture and write in distances. This can help a sales person determine the best speakers for your set up. There are online resources for speaker systems in which you can type in the distance information and the guide will help you determine the best system size (2.1, 5.1, 7.1) for your entertainment room's dimensions. Or, this Audioholics link provides recommendations for speaker placement based on layout options and various systems.