Cheap Home Audio Gear and Tips (2021): How to Get Great Sound

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Bass loves to hide in corners, so try to set up your speakers far from them—ideally in the middle of a wall. If you’re wondering where to place them relative to your usual listening position, keep this in mind: The ideal stereo image (big, wide, live-sounding audio) comes when your head forms an equilateral triangle with the two speakers. Also, do your best to make sure that the tweeters (the smaller round drivers that put out the high notes on most speakers) are as close to ear-level as possible, because higher-end sounds are affected by direction the most.

Move Your Furniture to Deflect Sound

Your own room is one of the most important aspects of a speaker’s sound. Just like a terrible singer using a fantastic microphone, if you put an amazing pair of speakers in a terrible room, you’ll have terrible sound.

Most rooms have similar problems: They’re a bit too reflective and a bit too bass-heavy. Flat walls and corners are, by and large, the culprit. Sound is a wave, and if that wave ricochets straight back off a wall, it can interfere and cancel out other waves coming at it, making for weird frequency dead zones in your room.

Try putting a chair or other dense furniture in the corners. Also, consider placing a bookshelf or other irregular furniture on the far wall that faces your speakers—where the sound reflects back into the speakers—so that the different sizes and shapes of books on the shelf bounce sound waves in different directions.

If You Wanna Go Pro

Photograph: Acoustic Fields

This tip isn’t quite free, but it can be cheap. If you want to get fancy and make a dedicated listening room, look for proper sound treatment materials. Do not buy those weird foam squares you see on Amazon. They won’t work very well. Broad-spectrum sound waves are absorbed by dense, porous material, so while high frequencies are absorbed by the foam, the mid and low frequencies go nuts.

Instead, snag some rock wool insulation and some fabric so you can make your own panels. Be sure to place them in corners and at reflection points, and you’ll notice wildly improved sound. Seriously, if you’re going to do one thing to improve your sound, do this. Better gear doesn’t matter in a bad room!

A Few Easy Upgrades

I get asked about affordable ways to upgrade sound quality a lot. Here are my go-to tips.

Modernize That Old Stereo

Photograph: Brady Bargenquast/Audioengine