We generally think of the speakers in our stereo or home theater systems as the final link in the audio chain — and the one that makes the biggest difference to our ears. But there's much more to the sound we hear than just where you place your speakers in a stereo or home theater setup, and what comes out of them. You might not even realize it, but your room plays a rather large part in the sound that you hear from your system. And as with any other component, there are steps you can take to improve your room's performance.
Sound energy is in the form of invisible waves. Since our hearing can perceive sounds from 20-20,000 Hz, we're talking about wavelengths that range from 11/16" at 20,000 Hz, to over 56 feet at 20 Hz.
Why your room matters
The sound that you hear in any room is a combination of the direct sound that travels straight from your speakers to your ears, and the indirect reflected sound — the sound from your speakers that bounces off the walls, floor, ceiling, and furniture before it reaches your ears. Reflected sounds can be both good and bad. The good part is that they make music and movie dialogue sound much fuller and louder than they would otherwise. If you've ever played your speakers outdoors where there are no walls to add reflections, you've probably noticed that they don't sound as good — thin and dull, with very little bass. Reflected sound can add a pleasant spaciousness to your sound. In addition to the sound from your speakers, you hear reflected sound from your room's four walls (above left). Your room's ceiling and floor contribute reflected sound, as well (above right). The bad part is that these same reflections can also distort sound in a room by making certain notes sound louder while canceling out others. The result may be midrange and treble that's too bright and harsh or echoey, or bass notes that are boomy, with a muddy "one-note" quality that drowns out deep bass....