I’m usually so excited about all the latest gadgets out there, that I rarely discuss the basics of a high performance A/V system. Today, I’d like to discuss with you the most important, and often overlooked foundations of a great sounding and looking system.
Positive and negative speaker terminals are not there just for looks. There is a reason that one is red and the other is black – they matter! If I had a dollar for every time that I’ve seen these hooked up backwards, I’d be rich. If 2 speakers in a system are not hooked up right, they are what’s called “out of phase.” This will cause the system to sound hollow, “tinny,” and it will lack bass response. While you may have hooked up the system and it works, it is suffering tremendously if it is like this. So go back to your speakers, and make sure that the positive wire coming from the amp is in fact hooked up to the positive terminal on the speaker.
Another common oversight is the use of analog RCA cables instead of digital ones. In rank of best to worst, you should first try to use HDMI to get the signal from your TV box or DVD player to your surround sound receiver. If your receiver doesn’t have HDMI, hopefully it has Coax Digital or Optical Digital (also called Toslink). Both of these sound identical, although coax digital is usually cheaper (you can just use a standard audio cable). Only if you don’t have any of these options should you resort to using the red and white audio cables. Even then, make sure you use a quality set, not the cheapies that come in the box. On the nicer systems, we hand make all of our RCA cables so that we can ensure proper length and performance.
Lastly, lets talk about video. If you have an HDTV, you should NEVER use the yellow video cable coming from your cable box, DVD, or blu ray player. The yellow output is Standard Definition, not High Definition. Again, HDMI is the best method, but Component Video cables aren’t far behind. With Cable TV, you can’t really see the difference between HDMI and CV, so don’t worry if you don’t have an extra HDMI cable lying around. Blu ray players look far better with HDMI, so spend the money on that part of it.
Following these basics can ensure that you get your money’s worth from the equipment that you have. I’ve seen people’s jaw drop to the floor when I correct these mistakes and they realize that they don’t need new speakers, after all. A strong rule in our world, though, is that a system will only perform as good as the weakest link, so make sure that you use quality wire, and place your speakers correctly. You can have the best system in the world, and it can perform horribly if not installed properly and with the right cabling.