Configuring Your Speakers Page 2
Many receivers use the designations “large” and “small” for each speaker in their setup menus. Selecting large allows the speaker to operate full range. Small redirects the speaker’s bass below the crossover frequency. If you have a subwoofer, the bass for the speakers designated as small is redirected to the subwoofer. If not, it’s redirected to the speakers that you’ve designated as large—most often these are the left and right front speakers. Some receivers complicate this by offering the option to redirect bass to both the subwoofer and the large speakers. We don’t recommend this option, since it often leads to muddled, overblown bass.
Most (but not all) A/V receivers offer a range of crossover frequencies. When in doubt, 80 hertz—the frequency that THX often uses—is always a good place to start. It works well with most speakers. In fact, just because some of your speakers are full range, with very good bass response, doesn’t necessarily mean that you must designate them as large, or even that this will be the best choice if you have a subwoofer. You can select small for those bass-capable speakers as well and let the subwoofer handle all the deep bass—a setup that many of us prefer. Even speakers that offer more than sufficient bass for music can be overloaded with the bass from action sound- tracks played back at high levels.
Distance, Levels, and Equalization
The distance adjustments simply tell the receiver how far away the main seating position is from each speaker. This ensures that the sound from each speaker arrives at the listening position at the same time. Measure the distance from your favorite seat to each speaker and enter these values into the menu.
All AVRs provide a test signal that circulates from channel to channel, along with controls to match the levels of each channel. You can either level-match by ear or with a sound pressure level (SPL) meter. Setup by ear is a quick and dirty option that can work reasonably well, but an SPL meter is far more accurate. There are a number of sources for these devices. RadioShack offers both analog and digital SPL meters for under $50. We generally recommend the analog version—it’s only slightly cheaper but easier to use. Hint: Set the meter’s response to slow operation and C-weighting.
Most A/V receivers now offer some form of automated, onboard setup and equalization, together with a microphone. The effectiveness of this feature varies from receiver to receiver, particularly in the low frequencies where room compensation is most needed. Some receivers use their own proprietary algorithms, while others use third-party technologies. Of the latter, the best known and most widely used is Audyssey MultEQ.
There’s no guarantee that you’ll like the results of auto equalization, but if your receiver has this feature, you’ll at least want to try it out. The actual setup will vary from receiver to receiver, but the procedure is (usually) clearly described in the owner’s manual and easily defeatable if you don’t care for the result.
Many receivers also offer manual equalization controls. But unless you know what you’re doing and have the right test tools, setting equalization by ear, particularly in a multichannel system, is a recipe for sonic garbage. The auto system will almost always do a better job.
Automatic Audio Calibration
Some form of automatic audio calibration is now almost universal in A/V receivers. All you need to do is set up the included microphone at the main listening seat, engage the auto setup feature, and go make yourself a sandwich. The receiver generates a set of test tones that determine all of the important speaker calibration settings: size, delays, levels, and, sometimes equalization as well. In receivers that combine auto equalization with auto calibration, you can generally defeat the equalization after setup, if you prefer, while leaving the other calibration settings intact. The only thing left for you to do is make the popcorn.
Well, almost the only thing. These automatic systems often make odd choices for the size of the individual speakers in the system. An auto system might classify your L/R speakers, capable of flat response only down to perhaps 60 Hz, as large. But it has no way to know that these speakers will overload easily with a high-level, 30-Hz signal. It might do the same with the center channel or the surrounds. While the auto setup function can be a blessing, it’s no miracle. A little intelligent oversight is needed. If you want to drive all of your main speakers as small, just go into the menus after the auto calibration is finished and change the settings as you see fit. The same applies if you want the surround levels a little higher or if you want the subwoofer level a little lower. All of the receivers we know of let you adjust the individual channel levels even after an automated calibration.
There’s a wide range of additional features on many receivers. Just a few of these are the ability to choose different crossover frequencies for each channel, various forms of dynamic volume and dynamic equalization, cross-converting all video sources to a single HDMI or component output, built-in video processing, different setups for multichannel and two-channel operation, different ways of treating the LFE channel (the .1 channel in a 5.1- or 7.1-channel system), and multiple zones of operation.
These features vary significantly from one design to another, but they are rarely crucial to the basic setup. They sometimes clutter up the setup menus, but you can usually ignore them until you become familiar with your A/V receiver’s basic operation. When you’re ready, feel free to experiment with one or more of these advanced features, knowing that you can always defeat them later and go back to your first, trusted setup.