Calibrating Your Home Theater Speakers

October 14, 2010

Movie theaters are specifically designed and setup to ensure the best sound possible.  Specially trained technicians set up the audio systems in movie theaters and calibrate it so you can hear what the film’s creators intended.  There’s even a certification known as THX that ensures a theater is set up properly for picture and sound.

Now enter your home theater audio system.  At minimum, it has at least 5 speakers and one sub-woofer (referred to as 5.1 speaker setup).  Most of us don’t have the luxury to put our home theater in a room ideally shaped for speaker placement.  Chances are you are not going to hire a professional audio engineer to tune your system for the best audio possible.  Have no fear, most receivers come with their own built in engineer!

One of the most underused features on today’s surround receivers, is their built-in ability to calibrate your speakers to the room’s specific acoustics. Pioneer’s version of this system is called MCACC which stands for multi-channel acoutisic calibration system.  Actually, why isn’t it MCACS?  No matter, I suspect the C used to stand for “circuit.  Click here to learn more about MCAC and to see a demonstration.

Running the system involves setting up the provided microphone in the most common listening position in the room.  I set the microphone up on a camera tripod that sits on my couch as ear height.  After selecting MCACC set up on the receiver, it goes through a series of tests that calibrate a variety of settings.  Factors such as speaker volume, delay and tonal adjustments are made (Remember equalizers?).

It’s important that you notice how your system performs before running set up.  Pick a favorite scene from a movie that blows you away.  I like to use the opening scene from Batman, the Dark Night.  When we first see the Joker, there is a nice bass sound played.  Notice how the scene sounds before and after calibration.  So, what if you don’t like the end result?

In my own case, that deep bass sound was much lower after running MCACC.  I went into the “Manual Speaker Set up” and noticed that MCACC lowered the volume of my subwoofer down to -3db.  I changed it back to +5db.  Presto!  The deep bass was back.  However, MCACC was a good starting point.  It improved other acoustic issues in my system.  I could better hear effects coming from the back surround speakers.

The bottom line is that you should not simply accept the settings this system recommends.  Instead, feel free to tweak and change the settings to something you enjoy. There’s a great article at Sound and Vision magazine that makes this point and covers some other areas where you should think about overriding the “recommended settings”.  Remember, it’s your home theater!

Tags: calibration, Home Theater, MCACC, speakers

3 Responses to Calibrating Your Home Theater Speakers

  1. parti favors on January 24, 2011 at 7:25 am

    I've updated to reflect this.


    This blog attacted a lot of attention in the papers over the last few days…

  2. polk tsi400 on August 24, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Good blog, the built calibration works well but as mentioned never rely completely on it, tweek so it sounds just right to you

  3. Sky Angebot on February 2, 2014 at 1:27 am

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