What makes the best speaker/enclosure?
If you’re purposely designing something from the ground up for home theatre, then the first thing you would design is the sound pressure level and most of the product that’s in the marketplace just simply doesn’t play at the volume level that’s required by the industry, at the seating distances that people are sitting.
So first and foremost, the speaker needs to be able to play loud enough at the position where people are actually sitting. That means going to a particular type of design to achieve that and it’s important to pick a speaker that has been designed from the ground up for home theatres.
If somebody looked at the specifications of a typical speaker, those specifications would normally be the sensitivity of the speaker and its power handling. But then if you applied the correct formula for working out that sound pressure level you would quickly find that probably about 90% of the speakers on the market actually don’t play at the industry standards or at least the correct sound pressure level at the seating position.
What is the industry standard at the seating position?
The industry standard is currently 85 DB continuous playback and 105 DB peak. Most speakers and most amplifiers when paired together will play at those industry standards at about 2.5 to 3 metres from the speaker face.
That might be applicable in a living room where you’ve got a TV and some speakers, and you’re sitting relatively close to that to a small television like 42 inch to 60 inch television. But as soon as you go into a dedicated cinema room and you’ve got a large projection screen, it’s very easy to be sitting (and more appropriate to be sitting) in the rage of 4 to 7 metres from the screen.
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Are free standing speakers good for a home theatre room?
If you had correctly sized the screen in the room, most people would end up with a situation where the floor standing speakers would be in the corners of the room, which acoustically is actually not good for sound quality.
A good speaker for home cinemas is a speaker that doesn’t block the screen but is also in the correct position in the room. If you had a floor standing speaker, and positioned them correctly from an acoustics point of view, they would be sitting in front of this screen. Whereas dedicated home theatre speakers are designed to go behind the screen.
Having the speakers behind the screen is generally a more appropriate thing to do in terms of getting the speakers into the right positions. Most free standing speakers are not thin enough to be positioned behind the screen correctly
Are in wall speakers the best choice for cinema rooms?
Most in wall speakers that people are using behind screens are actually not designed as a freestanding speaker. This means they can’t be taken out of that wall. The problem with that is that the enclosure of the speaker will actually have a huge influence on the sound quality. So inputting a speaker in drywall without having a proper enclosure, you’re guessing as to what the end result of that sound quality is going to be.
The other thing that you’re doing by cutting a hole in the wall, is you’re compromising the sound isolation of the room. If you cut a hole in the sound isolation, like the plasterboard, then you’re also potentially letting a lot of sound out of the room. That’s also not a very good thing to do. Elementi speakers were designed to be a speaker that goes onto the wall inside the room.
Are wall mounted speakers the best choice for home theatres?
Wall mounted speakers are the best solution for home cinemas as they give the most consistent audio quality and performance for a dedicated home theatre room bar none.
If we put the speaker in the wall or we mounted the speaker on the wall and we directly coupled the speaker to the wall, then that wall would actually resonate with the sound. This means the wall then would start making sound in the room, compromising the sound quality.
By using a resilient mounting system for mounting the speaker under the wall, the speaker is disconnected from the wall and therefore the wall is not an issue.
What is the best amp setup for your speakers?
It’s important to have speakers that have a digital active audio system. There’s actually separate amplifiers for each section of the speaker. This means, the mid range section has its own amplifier, that tweeter has its own amplifier and if there is a base section to the speaker in a 3 way design then there’s a separate amplifier for them as well.
Everything in the speakers you choose should be digital. That would mean having digital amplifiers, with digital crossovers, with digital DSP (digital signal processing) and so on. The advantage for actually doing that is that you’re only driving the individual drivers with the sound that’s going to those exact drivers so there’s less distortion that’s taking place across the various components in the speaker.
If you need to drive a signal through a speaker cable that’s 20 metres long, then electrically, that’s a very different set of properties to a cable that’s three metres long. There’s massive electrical benefits to having shorter speaker cables and getting the signal from the amplifier to the speaker in a much cleaner, undistorted fashion.
Elementi have elected to put the amplifiers near the speaker rather than in the speaker, and that’s a very unusual thing to do in our industry. In fact, we’re not aware of anybody else doing it.
If you put the amplifier in the speakers then when you put the speakers behind screens and acoustically transparent fabrics and the various components that you’re going to have in the installation, you’ve gotta take all of that off to get at the speaker and then uninstall the speaker to get to the amplifier.
By having the amplifier separate, we can put the amplifiers into areas where they’re close to the speakers, but in serviceable locations. This means, to test something with the speaker, or to find out what’s going on with the speaker, all you need to do is get to the amplifier and that will allow you to do most of the things you need regarding testing etc.
So short speaker cable runs give good signal quality and having the amplifier in a serviceable location just makes the installation much easier.
What amplifier technology is important to a home theatre?
If you have been to a stadium for a concert or something like that then you’ve probably already heard Dante in action. It uses audio over IP so there’s no lag and you can hook up massive systems and control everything via computer interface.
Elementi speakers use Dante on board in our amplifiers as well.
Dante is a way of actually digitally sending the signal to the amplifiers with no loss of signal, no interference and. And because the signal is coming digitally out of our preamp there’s actually no analog conversions taking place anywhere in the audio chain. The audio is going into the audio processor digitally and it’s having its room correction applied digitally. It’s coming out of that processor and being sent to the amplifier digitally and only at the very last moment does it get turned into an analogue signal for the speaker to be able to play that signal.
Then because the amplifiers are very close to the speaker, it’s got the best opportunity to deliver that audio as intended. Making it the purest way that you can listen to any of your movie soundtracks.
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What features make the best speaker for a home cinema?
There’s only so many manufacturers of speaker drivers, at least in commercial quantities. So you’re going to see a lot of similarities for the physical side of the speaker. But there are definitely still differences.
For example; compression drivers have a very lightweight diaphragm, so they’re usually considered to be very detailed, open and airy. Because they have very little mass in the actual diaphragm, they can respond incredibly quickly. This means they have really good transients in terms of the way they deliver sound, but if I move across to air mass transducer, or a ribbon tweeter for lack of a better word, they’re also able to move extremely quickly and provide really excellent transients even though there’s complete differences between the two ways they operate.
If you think about the word compression, it’s actually compressing the air and firing at you, and so you tend to have a much more physical response to the sound that’s coming at you.
Whereas there are other types that are actually vibrating the air in front of you, and it’s a much bigger soundstage, which makes it much easier to listen to the sound they are producing. Depending on the speaker it might produce more ‘wow’ factor and others might be better at more relaxing sounds.
How can you get great bass from your home theatre?
For bass speakers the best choice is neodymium for the magnet system that’s used on the back of the driver. The reason why we use neodymium and not ferrite magnets is because ferrite magnets are substantially bigger because they’re much less efficient magnets. So, because they’re much less efficient magnets, they also generate a lot more heat. Then the problem is the magnet absorbs the heat and because iron isn’t a very good conductor, it has trouble gradually getting rid of that heat.
When you’ve got a neodymium magnet system that’s efficient, it’s transferring more of the energy that’s coming into the driver into actual sound and with much less heat as the byproduct. While at the same time, having both a smaller magnet and better conductor. So they can play MUCH louder for much longer.
On the other hand, what happens with ferrite drivers is you get what’s called power compression. As the magnet actually heats up the voice coral is heating up and as the voice coil heats up (which is what makes the speaker driver move within the magnets) the voice coils magnetic properties start to change and the driver actually doesn’t move as far. Even though you’re putting the same signal into the driver, it’s actually no longer able to play at the same volume anymore because it’s changed its mechanical properties.
How do vented/ported speakers help with sound?
With a vented speaker, every time the driver moves in and out, there’s actually air that moves in and out of the ports in the speaker. Which means you’re actually constantly cycling out the air inside the speaker box.
If we had a sealed box with a ferrite magnet, the ferrite magnet would actually be heating up the inside of the box and you wouldn’t be able to change that air over. So therefore the temperature inside the box would slowly heat up, which means your problem is actually get worse and worse with power compression.
By having a vented enclosure with a neodymium magnet, it allows the speaker to maintain its temperature at a very consistent level. You can play these types of speakers 24 hours a day continuously without heating issues.
Generally speaking, you’re going to get a few about +3 DB of gain by doing ported over doing a non ported design. There’s significant gains for going to a port design, but ported designs are a bit more difficult to get right.
How do you ‘run in’ a speaker and why does it matter?
It’s really important that speakers are run in so that when the room is tuned, the sound stays consistent for years to come. Elementi does run in all speakers for at least 48 hours before they are sold but not a lot of manufacturers do this. This also helps pick up any faults before the product is shipped and allows for consistent sound quality for installers. By the time you’ve run in a speaker for about 48 hours, that speaker is going to sound pretty close to where it should sound. It’s certainly sounding good enough that you can calibrate the room at that point.
Most people as soon as they plug their system in, they’re going to want to calibrate the sound to get it sounding as good as they want it. What they are NOT going to want to be doing is to have to run them in for 48 hours in their home. They may not even have anywhere that they can run the speakers in for 48 hours. If you play sound in your living room, it’s going to upset neighbours or upset people sleeping – it may take you a good week or two to get it up to that 48 hour mark.
Why do speakers distort?
Speakers distort when they are getting more current than they can handle and that’s usually because the amp doesn’t know when it’s distorting or what’s connected to it.
Elementi has several levels of amp protection because it’s a complete audio design, meaning the amp actively protects the speaker from overheating and has ‘look forward protection’ regarding the signal audio. So the amp will stop if it starts distorting the audio to actively protect the speaker. Or if the amplifier for some reason was getting too hot and was actually going to cause a problem, then we have thermal shutdown as well.
How does a good speaker help the installers?
Making the speaker easy to install, helps make for perfect home cinemas. For instance, Elementi speakers have little marks onto the speaker to allow them to line up lasers. If the installer puts up a laser to show where speaker drivers should be in the room, that laser would actually be able to mark up on a little score on the side of the speaker.
This might sound like a really small thing, but if you’re looking at the front of a speaker and you’ve got to line it up to a mark on the wall, which is another 200 mm back, that’s difficult to line up, particularly if your eye isn’t naturally level with it. It’s little things like this that mean we can line it up perfectly with almost no effort and put some screws in the wall and move on.
What are some common mistakes when choosing home theatre speakers?
- The most common mistake that people make is that they are selecting speakers that won’t play loud enough.
- The next most common mistake is that they’re not putting speakers and subwoofers into the right locations in the room.
Most people will scoff and say “I’ve got those speakers and those amplifiers in my room and I can never play the sound any louder like it’s already very loud” but what they are misinterpreting there is the fact that your room is actually helping to make the sound louder and it’s only doing that for the high frequencies.
So what they’re actually describing is that two things are occurring in the room;
- You can’t understand voices very well, so you’re constantly turning the sound on the TV up for some things and down for others. Your brain is very good at picking up some sounds over others and so it’s actually amplifying the sound in effect in your ears. That’s called Psycho Acoustics, which is basically the interpretation of sound.
- Then they have that situation when something really loud happens in the audio track, and you’re like, Oh my God, that’s so loud and it’s piercing – then you turn the volume back down again. It’s to do with sound bouncing around the room. So tuning the room itself is actually critical to getting the right experience.