With the Oscars on their way and this year’s BAFTAs already scooped, London-based Home Technology Consultancy Service, Inspired Dwellings, takes a looks at the importance of sound in a home cinema set-up, and what you’re really paying for at the cinema.
Language and our perception of the world around us, underpins everything we see and hear in the cinema. It’s no coincidence that all the films tipped to win this year’s ‘Best Picture’ – 12 years a slave, Gravity, American Hustle – have a score that could stand up on their own. Audio can allow a director to enter our subconscious, and inform a storyline without a single picture being shown – we recognise the cadence of a character’s speech, the rhythm of dialogue, the preemptory rumble of thunder… Imagining such classics as Psycho without those strings, or Apocalypse Now without its mixture of bombastic and ironic playlists, is nigh impossible.
But what happens when you take that film out of the setting it was designed for? The value of a home theatre is not just about that big screen effect, but recreating that total space of suspended reality.
For Inspired Dwellings, the goal of any home cinema set-up is to create realism. Just like in real life, our ears can only process a certain amount of frequencies at any one time. However, any one scene in a film could have several sounds competing at once – dialogue, background noise, music, special effects. A surround sound system processes all these noises, and layers them at the correct pitch, frequency and rhythm, allowing the viewer to take in a cohesive message. However, your 5 or 7.1 system must be positioned and tuned correctly.
To start, a central point must be chosen. This is the optimal listening point of the room and will be the measuring point of all speakers.
Ideally, the central speaker should be placed directly below the screen to get the best realism – this is where the dialogue will come from, and should be heard clearly above other noises in the film. After all, you want people’s voices to come from where their mouths are!
In a conventional surround sound set-up, left and right speakers will normally sit some distance from the screen and central speaker, which helps keep the film to scale – your ears are following the same story as your eyes (if using a projector these speakers can be placed behind the screen). We recommend 30-40 degrees from the optimum position, with the tweeters positioned at ‘ear’ height when sitting. These speakers will primarily be used for sound effects, although some dialogue may also come through.
Next, the surround speakers. A good balance starts with a good arrangement – the rear speakers should create a wide stereo effect behind the viewer, allowing the background noise and sound effects to wash behind you. To create this, place 100 – 120 degrees from the central point, pointing the tweeters towards the central point. Rear speakers are typically come to life in larger scenes, supporting other speakers and ramping up the atmosphere to create that big screen excitement.
Finally, a sub woofer should be added to the mix, to distribute the bass – the thunders and the explosions. Although subs are multi directional (with sound waves bouncing off in all directions), if possible they should be placed at the front of the set-up, near the central speaker, or behind a projector screen. Some of our favourite cinema installs use multiple sub woofers, to really keep you on the edge of your seat.
Crucially in a home cinema, as many soft furnishings as possible should be added to absorb any additional sound waves bouncing off the walls. Plush fabrics, rugs, large sofas – even special absorption pads designed as movie posters, or positioned over the ceiling, will soften the sound and reduce noise reduction (echoes, faint humming etc).
Of course, not everybody is happy to fit 5 speakers (or more) in their home – at least not where they can see it. With the exception of a few audiophiles and technology minded souls, the vast majority of home owners and developers are here to be heard – never seen. Luckily, there are a multitude of ways to get the most from your sound system, none of which involve the overt intrusion into the home’s design.
A front facing sound bar will mimic the stereo quality of a larger system, by making the sound appear to be larger than it actually is. Invisible speakers can be plastered, wall papered and painted over to create seamless look without losing any of the audio quality.
Whatever your room size, there are ways to make sure you get your blockbuster fix – exactly as the director intended.
For more information on home cinema and how AV can fit into your home, please call us on 020 7736 6007.