Welcome to the second part of my home theatre setup saga!
In my last post, I described how to approach buying a decent TV and honestly, I thought the most important part of the home theatre had been settled but the hard work was in fact just beginning!
Time for a sound check and a reality check!
The AV Receiver
The receiver is essentially the brains of your home theatre, taking the video signal from your source (Blu-ray player, Apple TV, Xbox or whatever) and simultaneously coordinating the audio, sending the sound to the correct speakers at the right time, in synch with your video, to deliver your home theatre experience.
Once your speakers are in place, most modern receivers come with a little calibration microphone.
Connect this to the receiver and place the mic in your sitting location and hit calibrate!
Sounds is pinged from all the speakers one by one, the mic picks up the sound being sent and allows the AV receiver to understand how long the sound has taken to travel to the listening position from each speaker as well as how loud each speaker appears and adjusts everything to ensure that everything is perceived perfectly from that prime sitting position.
Yeah, it’s not a case of just connecting your speakers and turning on, the speakers aren’t just all firing random sounds independently, the AV receiver must do a lot to ensure you get to enjoy a seamless, enveloping soundscape from all directions!
Having said that, I find myself usually increasing the volume of the rear surround channels and Dolby Atmos height channels as per my own listening preferences.
Choosing the right AV receiver can seem difficult, there are so many brands and options like how many speakers do you want to have, do you want to future proof your setup with an AV receiver that can handle 4K or even 8K, Dolby Vision, HDR or maybe one day you’ll want to add more speakers?
For me it was easy, it had to have enough HDMI inputs to accommodate all my devices and be able to process a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos setup while being able to fit in my budget and physically fit the dimensions of my AV cabinet / TV console.
I didn’t have time to go and physically listen to loads of different receivers and speakers, so I was depending heavily on reviews from multiple different sources and suggest you do the same.
Eventually, I went for the Onkyo TX-NR646, it was affordable, has HDMI’s all over the place and can process Dolby Atmos and DTS:X!
It can’t handle Dolby Vision and HDR but that’s fine by me, I have no intention of changing my TV anytime soon!
From day one I’ve been particular about the aesthetics of my place so having huge ugly speakers and cables all over the place was simply not an option!
Sure, I’d be compromising quality by sacrificing size but it was a sacrifice that I was more than happy to make if it ensured my place still looked cool!
I’m no audiophile snob but I knew a soundbar would not cut it!
I had the Yamaha YSP-1 Sound Projector before and while it was ‘okay’ it never delivered a truly immersive surround sound experience.
No matter what anyone says, soundbars are generally rubbish and just a way to add clutter under your TV without significantly improving the sound!
When it came to choosing speakers, Bose of course came up but as everyone knows, they offer the aesthetics but not the quality I was looking for.
My research eventually led me to Cambridge Audio, their Minx Min 12 compact speakers and their C46 in-ceiling speakers.
These little bad boys sound awesome!
They use fancy tech to offer a wide, near 180-degree sound field and as they all feature the same driver, they meld perfectly to deliver a great, immersive, home theatre experience that really surrounds you.
The basics of speakers is that the small speakers produce the higher frequencies while the subwoofer produces the lower frequencies (AKA the bass) having said that, you need to choose small speakers that can go as low as possible.
If your small speakers can’t produce any lower frequencies, then to produce a full spectrum of sound, the crossover to the subwoofer will have to be set quite high and generally subwoofers are not good at producing high frequencies.
When tasked with producing high frequencies, the subwoofer will become very noticeable and this will incorrectly affect where sounds appear to be coming from when watching movies.
Either way, small speakers can never have a frequency range as good as larger speakers so you will always need to pair with a good subwoofer.
Thankfully, I already had the MJ Acoustics Pro 50 which easily outperforms Cambridge Audio’s own Minx Subwoofer, offering simply award-winning bass performance!
It’s not a boomy annoying box and really ties the entire sound stage together and elevates it!
Once it’s all paired and calibrated, the audio experience is simply something greater than the sum of all these individual parts!
My contractors claimed there are no rules in Singapore regarding specifications for concealed in-wall cables used for the purposes of a home theatre but I didn’t want to take chances and hit the forums!
Blue Jeans Cables were super helpful and guided my in my cable choices, especially with regards to length and spec for in-wall installation.
I got my trusty tape measure out, making generous estimates for how much cabling I’d need and took the plunge with the following:
To keep the living room looking clean and slick, I went for a closed AV cabinet under the TV to house all my AV equipment.
No visible cables, no ugly wires, just clean and clear lines!
I used a USB driven AV Receiver Cooler from https://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/drmckenzie to keep the Onkyo well ventilated.
Universal Remote Control
I use the miracle that is Logitech’s Harmony 900 Universal Remote Control with radio frequency infrared blasters.
Place the infrared blasters inside the AV cabinet in front of your equipment and then whatever action you press on the remote control will be sent to these little gizmos inside your TV console via a radio frequency signal. Unlike infrared which can be blocked by objects, radio frequency signals can travel through stuff.
The blasters then transmit the original infra red signals to your devices.
This allows me to control all the equipment within my AV cabinet without having to open the cabinets and removing the need to have direct line of sight like you do for traditional remote controls. In fact, I find that I can control everything even if I'm in a completely different room! That's how effective the radio frequency setup is.
Without this bad boy, I’d have a million different remote controls and the missus would probably never be able to turn anything on!
Power Recliner Sofa
When watching movies in Singapore, you kind of get spoilt for choice. They have the traditional cinemas, the IMAX theatres and whatnot but local cinema chain, Golden Village offers something a little special called Gold Class.
For a small premium, you can enjoy watching movies on a full-size cinema screen with a much smaller crowd.
You’re sat in pairs in plush, electric reclining sofas, where the touch of a button calls your server so you can enjoy in-cinema dining and drinks.
It’s so cool that we wanted to recreate the experience at home and forked out a little extra for our own electric reclining grand sofa from https://www.xclusivehome.sg/ and we even purchased a pair of the Gold Class blankets from Golden Village cinemas.
Things were shaping up nicely!
Stocked & Ready to Roll!
Now all the components of the home theatre had been acquired but trust me, the hardest step was yet to come!
Where should the front, surround and ceiling speakers go, where should the sofa go, will the speakers be positioned correctly form the viewing position, where should the subwoofer be and how high do you wall mount the TV?? These were just some of the burning questions I had and the contractors had no answers!
It was up to me to find out!
A lot of these things were going to be permanently installed into our walls so there was no room for error!
The nightmare of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together was about to begin and I’m going to share the gruelling journey with you in the next and final post!
See you there!
Dr. Bobby Stryker