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Thursday, 25 February 2010 14:26

Sound Bites - Making Your Audio System Sound Better

Written by  Sirio Balmelli
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sound.jpgThis is not a column for audio engineers. This is a column for the other 99% of the population, those who play music and movies for enjoyment—and would like to make their audio systems sound better.

There is a lot of information out there on how to get “the ultimate” home theater experience. A lot of this so-called wisdom is filled with “geek-speak”: terminology so technical it glazes the eyes over. Sometimes these words are “dumbed-down” for the “average Joe” —and most of the time these so-called definitions are so vague that they serve only to make people wrong for not being engineers.

In this column I will try to give simple and accurate definitions, one per issue. These are working definitions; where feasible I will include useful analogies or practical tests so you can get an idea of what I am talking about.

For this first issue, it is probably best (if I want any of you to keep reading any further) to define the word “sound.”

If I stretch a slinky on the ground and give a push to one end of the slinky, that “push” will travel down the slinky. If my slinky is fairly long, I can actually see a group of tighter slinky rings “traveling” down the length of the slinky. If I put a toy soldier on the other end, when my shove makes it all the way there, he's gonna get hit and knocked over.

By this time, you're looking up and going, man, why didn't you just use the term  “sound wave” —we all know what those are. Maybe. Most people when they think of “wave” think of something like the beach, but in my book this isn't the easiest thing to picture when trying to think of sound.

Think of it this way: Bill wants to touch Joe, but Joe is five feet away. Bill has a broomstick, so he holds it up and pokes Joe with it. That's a closer example. The broomstick is composed of tiny little particles. Well, that's what air is, just a little softer, if you please. That's what the bass drum (the big one that gets played with the foot) on a drum kit is for—the drummer is hitting his audience, saying “Hey! Pay attention! This is the groove!”

There's a little more to the word “sound,” and I'm saving that for the next issue. There's lot of words out there relating to the concept of sound that “don't make any sense.” So first things first. Understanding this idea of a sound wave will make a lot of things clearer.

Practical tip: One simple way of improving your sound is to place speakers correctly in relation to the listener. One position which works very well is to have each speaker the same distance from each ear as it is from the other speaker. In other words, form a triangle with three sides of the same length, two speakers at two ends and the listener's head on the third. It is not always necessary to point the speakers toward the listener's head; in fact sometimes that doesn't work very well. More important is the distance between the speakers and the listener. One simple way of doing this is with string. Cut a length of string and then measure all three distances with that same string

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