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  • Writer's pictureAndy Ross

Being Driven to Madness by Speakers



There’s been a strange sort of going on happening with my home theater for the past two years. Last year, I had to replace a speaker in the setup, the 20-year-old “surround sound in a kit” speakers that I’ve had since I was in High School are starting to show their age. The center speaker went out last year, it began to get a weird “buzzing” sound around the dialogue. I replaced the speaker and went on with my life.


I now fear what the summer will bring when it comes to my home theater. I had been away for a week and when I returned home and had unpacked I decided to settle in and play the new Zelda game. As I began the play the game, which is in surround sound if you have the right equipment, I couldn’t help but notice something didn’t sound quite right. I picked up the remote to my A/V receiver, which everything is routed through, and ran the sound test mode.


The sound test sends a series of white noise, that sounds like a soft static, to each of the six speakers in the system. It sends them in order, and on the receiver’s display panel it shows you which speakers it’s sending the sound to. I could hear the sound coming from the Center, Right, Right Surround, and Left Surround speakers. Then the song moved to my front Left speaker and it was far quieter than it should be.


I figured I must have knocked loose a wire when I was behind my home theater the other week trying to adjust some things. I picked up the speaker and the positive part of the write came sliding right out, then the entire spring clip for the positive terminal fell right out. I don’t know why, but I guess maybe 20 years of pressure caused the plastic to snap. Resigned to the fact it was time to replace speakers again, off I went to the store.


After a quick look at what was in the shop, along with a lazy Google search to see what the reviews were, I picked out a nice part of lower-higher-end-grade speakers. They appeared to be very well-regarded, the lowest review I could find was a four-star review. I bought them, took them home, and set them up. They were much larger than the older speakers, so it took some time to get them placed just right.


I very excited grabbed my audiophile grade, high-resolution, copy of Marshall Crenshaw’s first album—a favorite of mine—and put it on. I hit play ready to be blown away, and…I wasn’t impressed. The music sounded kinda flat and muddy. I was super confused. I looked back at all the reviews I read and all of them talked about how sharp and clear the sound was.


I felt like I was going crazy, was I being gaslit? All the reviews raved, but everything I played just sounded flat and muddy. I spent the entire Monday evening just running over this in my mind. I am both an over-thinker and a perfectionist, so as you can well imagine this made for a really fun (sarcasm) and sleepless night for me that Monday. I was more dreading that I was going to have to go return the speakers, then try to find something else, all with the fear that the next speakers I’d get I’d have the same issues with.


In my restlessness that night, it hit me “You know, those are significantly different speakers than the old ones. Maybe I should run the calibration mode on my receiver and see if it makes a difference?” Most, if not all, modern surround sound A/V receivers come with a little microphone you place at your listening position. You plug it in and turn on the calibration mode and the receiver will run a series of tones, sounds, and signals out of each speaker to calibrate itself for the room space.


That made all the difference in the world. Suddenly my new speakers sounded amazing, just like all those glowing reviews said. What changed? Turns out the old speakers, which were smaller, didn’t have a lot of bass or low-end, so to make up for that, my receiver was taking all the low-end out and routing it to the subwoofer. The new ones have plenty of bass, so the low-end doesn’t need to go to the sub anymore. That was why it sounded flat and muddy, it was missing the low end.


I’m now super happy with how things sound, it’s added a lot more dimension and dynamics to the ole Andyplex (which is the cute name I call my home theater). I must admit, however, that I do fear that since there have been two summers in a row where I’ve had to replace speakers, next summer I will be doing this all over again with the surround speakers—which are still the 20-year-old ones I’ve had since I was in high school. We shall keep our fingers crossed but also start doing some research into what may be a good replacement for them. I’ll just know to recalibrate everything when that time comes. See you next week.



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