Speaker placement and levels for 5.1 DVD-A/SACD

Discussion in 'Speakers' started by Lee Farber, Jul 20, 2003.

  1. Lee Farber

    Lee Farber Auditioning

    Jul 19, 2003
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    Forgive my ignorance, but I'm still fooling around with my new Denon DVD-2900. One thing that's now becoming a more significant factor is speaker placement and levels, specifically where the rear speakers are concerned. I never cared that much with feature films, but with 5.1 mixed music, I want to make sure I get it just right.

    First of all, here is my speaker set-up (sorry, I know it's low-end!):

    Mains: Yamaha NS-10M
    Center: Yamaha NS-AC140
    Rears: Yamaha NS-A325
    Sub: Sony SA-WM20

    My receiver is a Yamaha HTR-5440

    Here are my questions:

    1. How do I know what the proper levels are for the rear channels?

    I've set the speaker size to small on the 2900, and accurately set the distance on each speaker (in my case, it's three feet from rear right and six feet from rear left... I have an odd-shaped living room that creates a problem for optimal speaker placement). I've tried using the test tones on both the 2900 and the receiver, and have done my best to even the levels of pink noise coming from each of the speakers. I'm sonically inept, so I'm afraid to pick up one of those meters from Radio Shack.

    I'm noticing quite a bit of volume coming out of the rear channels when I play a 5.1 mix (Steely Dan's "Everything Must Go" and Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon") and I'm worried that either I've got the levels too high on those channels or I'm sitting too close to the rears and too far from the mains. The way my couch is set up against the back wall of my living room, I have no choice but to sit opposite the mains and even with the rears. Or maybe the rear channels are supposed to be extremely prevelant in these 5.1 mixes. I'm confused!

    2. How do I know the proper bass level to use?

    I've got two knobs on the subwoofer: level and cut-off frequency. But neither knob has any markings on it. And I've got bass and treble knobs on the receiver. So it seems I'm forced to arbitrarily set a level for each and hope I'm doing it right. But now some discs sound too bass heavy, and some sound too bright. And when I play a CD from another source (say, using my laserdisc player as a CD player), I get a very different bass level. Is there a way to do it so I know I'm setting just the right levels that will convey the intention of the mixer/engineer/producer/artist?

    I'm so sorry to sound like such a novice (but I am!). I'm really afraid of anything too technical. In film school, sound class was the only one I couldn't quite get a grasp of. I'd like to make the most out of my (meager) system, but I don't know anyone who can actually come to my house and teach me these things, so, as the next best thing, I'm forced to rely on the kindness of the EXRTEMELY knowledgable folks at this forum to lend a hand.

    If anyone out there has yet to do their good deed for the day, please take pity and help out an audio dummy. Whatever layman's explanation you can offer me would be greatly appreciated.

    All the best,

  2. TommyL

    TommyL Supporting Actor

    May 27, 2002
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    First off, get a rat shack meter...easy to use and is going to help you with speaker spl's...
  3. Brian L

    Brian L Cinematographer

    Jul 8, 1998
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    Yup, the meter is the only way to get this right. Doing it by ear means you are guessing and will likely not be all that close.

    Also, the amount of info in the rears varies with the disc. Everything Must Go is fairly aggressive. You need to do this with the meter, and then if a given piece of music has too much rear channel info for your tastes, tweak as needed.

    On the SD disc, I found that the only track that really distracted me in terms of rear speaker activity was Godwacker. There is a guitar figure played repeatedly in the left rear channel that just seemed to call too much attention to itself.

    As for bass, if you receiver has a line level sub output, it would already be low pass filtered, so just set the frequency on the Sub to its highest level (or it it has a bypass switch, turn that on).

    As for level, again, that is a matter of adjustment with the meter. Failing that, you can usually set the sub by ear, as long as you accept that you may prefer to raise it or lower as needed, depending on the music.

    Lastly, I had an asymmetrical arrangement like you describe. Even with setting the levels properly, it still seemed that I did not get a blend between the rears and the mains. I also noted that with rears mounted high up on the wall (optimum for movies), the results were poor for 5.1 music.

    I moved to a new home, and now I have the rears on stands adjacent to my couch (back wall, like you). Night and day difference for music.

    Personally, I would recommend that anyone that is doing a movies/music system set the rear speakers at or near ear level.

    I find it easier to accept a less than optimum set-up for movies in exchange for a better soundstage for music.


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