Characteristics of a "good" home theater sound

Over the years, I have listen to many home theater setup, some very conservative, some very lavish but the endgame is always the same - i.e. to get the best home theater sound. But what exactly constitutes a “good” home theater sound? I believe the following are the characteristics:

1) Speakers cannot be localized (timbre-match using same make of speakers)
2) Subwoofers cannot be localized (with proper phase and time alignment)
3) Sound “follows” what is presented on your screen (this is especially hard for object-based sound)

The last point is rather difficult to implement because most of the height speakers are usually of different make and models. For instance, for aesthetic reasons, we go for in-ceiling speakers but the specs (like the type of sensitivity, crossover and driver used) which are very different from the bed speakers (5.1/7.1). This is not ideal as the height speakers will sound very different from your bed speakers during a panning scene. This will probably take you out of the experience. As far as possible, try to use the same type of speakers for your height solutions - i.e. all bookshelf across the board. Having say that, I would say a good Room EQ does help to minimize this issue to a certain extent.

At the end of the day, a well-calibrated home theater sound should put you right in the middle of the action or story. Both image and sound should come across as realistic as possible without being overtly distracted by the sound. If you are able to achieve that, you will know you’ve nailed it…

So what are your thoughts or any characteristics that you think should be included?

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Well some prefers more “HT” hence the speakers used shall be more 'cinematic", aka brighter, louder, Horns etc

Some prefers hybrid, more in between “stereo” and “HT”, hence speaker used tends to sound a little warmer in order to fit in stereo listening.

Best to have separate system, this constitutes to having different room,which to some, or maybe majority, challenging to achieve since mostly staying HDB.

I’ve came across customers with mostly speakers positioning out of place (especially surround pairs putting high up) due to space constraints, they heard alright initially, until they heard what actual sound panning are, they’ll start to make changes.

Hence, “Good” tends to be very subjective to individuals but yes, the pointers above does makes sense.

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Very good and valid points…There are some audiophile-turned-home-theatre enthusiats who believed to start with 2 channels to get perfect stereo imaging then moving on to home theatre surround setup, which means LCR is crucial. People like Kaydee6 and Gene Dellasala approached it this way.

I agreed that it is HARD to achieve the best of both worlds, hence 2 setup, one for Home Theatre and the other for Hi-Fi music listening will be ideal but in Singapore where real estate is a “luxury” (unless you lived in a landed property), this is going to be challenging.

My belief is to get 2 things right! First is to get the bed layered speakers (5.1/7.1) right and whenever possible BUT we know if your setup is in a living room, the surrounds will always not be ideal. Hence I will rather advocate members to focus on the front mains and the dialogue which together formed about 80% of the cinematic experience and dare I say, 100% for stereo listening. So if I am going to plan on the layout and how I spend my money to maximize the sound quality, I will first:

  • Get a good LCR which can do reasonably well for music and movie. It need not be expensive but it should provide the same timbre matching and tonality all across. This is more critical than having more speakers like wides (rarely use by most of us since most of us simply DO NOT have the space for it).

  • Get at least 2 matching subwoofers of identical make and model (e.g. 2 ported or 2 sealed subs, but never mix) to get a smooth bass response throughout as this will ultimately benefit BOTH hifi music listening as well as movie watching.

  • Surrounds or even surround backs can be placed at best efforts. The key is to create a “surround-field” that encircles you within the surround bubble as much as possible whilst considering the space constraints one might face.

  • ONLY after the bed-layered speakers sounded great, will one considered to work towards the height speaker layout. The room size will dictate how many height speakers you can install. If your room size is not big and you have to force yourself to install all 2 pairs (4 height speakers) close to each other, you are doing it wrong. There is simply no separation between the front and the rear hemisphere. In this case, do not use in-ceiling speakers, instead ceiling mount the speakers on the front and the rear walls will be more appropriate.

I always believe in foundation must be right before we can build a skyscraper from the ground up. Get LCR and your subwoofers right is what I will do for those with living room or small-space setup. The rest can be best effort imho. This way, you will get at least 80% of the sound system right instead of 50-50.

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I am a HT guy and i believe 2 channel setup is the most important fundamental setup for both Stereo and HT. Distance between left right speakers and distance between MLP to front left right are important, speaker that toe in get better center image but will strink soundstage as compare to speaker without toe in that have a wider soundstage less focus on the center imaging. It take some time to adjust your MLP position through listening to some familiar sound track that you are familiar with. For some track you can hear sound coming from your left and right ear, sound above your head and behind you. After than adding the center speaker and surround will help to enhance your music and movie experiences. You will achieve better surround bubble feel when playing music or movie.

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Agreed too. To add on to the 3 areas, imho, i feel the following are key to me:

  1. strong layered but balanced bass tactile (low rumble & chest thump). This is a deal breaker for me.
  2. seamless LCR and surrounds sound panning (and cannot feel there is a big “hole” between speakers)
  3. dialogue is clear + cannot be localised to centre speaker location
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