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Multi-Channel-Music 101 -- Speakers .... Needs & Desires

by His Majesty

    Howdy fellow rock'n'roll enthusiassts. It is I, your Majesty, back with another tardy installment of Multi-Channel Music 101. My e-mail account is functioning once again for all of those out there with burning questions. I'm here in Tim's humble abode, listening to his less than adequate speakers and dictating to him the essentials of what he (and you) will need to bring a home theater receiver to life .... BALLSY SPEAKERS.

    A multi-channel audio system needs at least five speakers; two mains, one center channel, and two surrounds. And also while not absolutely necessary, a subwoofer (at least one is HIGHLY recommended). Assuming for a moment that our system consists of a t.v., a DVD, and the multi-channel receiver, your main speakers would be located on either side of and even with your television (placed reasonably equidistant from the idiot box). The center channel normally would sit on top off the idiot box. While the surrounds would be placed even with or behind the rear most listening position.

    The main speakers are, for a point of reference, your 'old stereo pair'. These speakers are typically the dominant set in the home theater system. They should be chosen based on your taste in music, size of the room, where they are to be placed, listening behavior, amplifier quality, .... oh .... o.k., and your entertainment budget.

    Let us assume for a moment, you are like Tim - you like your R&R loud and have a relatively large room to fill and no interior design constraints that limit either placement or aesthetic compatibility. Also assume that like Tim, your 'surround sound receiver' is a secondhand mid-fi piece provided by a friend in the business. Well then, what does Joey need? We need floor standing speakers with 'high efficiency', that is to say, they take fairly little power to produce hellatiously loud 'and clear' music. As an example, I will use the Klipsch RF3's .... Klipsch speakers are used in Hard Rock Cafes and Regal Cinemas.

    The center channel placed atop Tim's ancient television set needs to perfectly match the main speakers we have chosen. Therefore, we will select the RC3 center channel (this stands for Reference Center Model 3, as the main's are Reference Floorstanding Model 3's). The matching of all these speakers insure that we can place musicians precisely within the soundstage.

    Likewise, the surround speakers (often called 'rears') need also match our front three speakers so Tim can hear George Harrison singing in front of Chuck Levell. These surround speakers are often wide-dispersion wall-mounted speakers rather than floor standing, but may be 'bookshelf speakers' placed on stands, hung from brackets or placed on shelves. I chose to pick wide-dispersion wall-mounted speakers to place them above the colloquial decor that permeates Tim's room. These speakers in this set up would be the RS3's (Reference Surround Model 3's).

    If Tim's receiver or yours would allow, you may be able to add an additional surround speaker or two (this is what is referred to as a 6.1 or 7.1 system). A rear center speaker would most likely be the same as the front center speaker (another RC3). An additional pair of rear surrounds (7.1) would most likely be the Klipsch RB3's (Reference Bookshelf Model 3's). Do you see a pattern here, Joey? All of these speakers that we have mentioned previously sound virtually identical above 80hz. Below 80hz is BASS .... and bass is mono. So Joey, we can put that bass anywhere in the room we want and put a big `ole WAMPIN' amplifier on it. And we call this the ....

    SUBWOOFER. The subwoofer does not to have to match the tonal characteristics of the other five, six, or seven speakers, but rather, is picked on it's own merit and your own needs and desires. Tim and I believe that Rock'N'Roll is desirous of impact (the Klipsch speakers, among others, will provide this in spades) and deep, earth shattering bass. The wide range of subwoofer quality (and hence price) is mind-blowing. While some may be happy with a small box with a small amplifier, others will spend ever increasing amounts for more powerful, deep, chest-pounding bass.

    The Klipsch speaker package I used as an example for Tim, retails for about $1,600 for the basic five speaker set up. Within the Klipsch brand, one could spend between $300 to $1,800 dollars on a subwoofer; and there are countless other brands. As Chevy manufactures both the Chevette and the Corvette, and they are both cars, the similarity pretty much ends there. Now that I draw to a conclusion, you have a basic idea of how to match speakers. Look for the same series of speakers within a brand all the way around the room so we can properly create a soundfield.

    And in our next installment, I promise to include a discussion on how these speakers are to be placed and how they will create a three dimensional listening experience. I will also delve more into subwoofer characteristics and Tim's dire need for booty-shaking bass.

    I remain, Your Majesty, King of my own home concert venue.

Home Hardware Consulting Column #2

His Majesty - the Cyber Home Entertainment Advisor

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