Let’s start out with a few basics. This article is for the average person with a standard stereo receiver, not a snazzy Surround Sound set-up. It concerns markedly improving your enjoyment of music on CDs/vinyl/radio, though it could also apply to the enhancement of movie audio, if you have your DVR plugged into said receiver. Oh, and “a skillion” might be a tiny exaggeration.
The presumption here is you have satisfactory speakers already hooked up to the Front Speaker inputs in the rear of the receiver. There’s also a fairly good chance that, when you performed that wiring, it was the last time you looked in the back of the unit and have since forgotten (or paid no attention to the fact) there’s also a pair of Rear Speaker inputs.
However, now that you’ve been re-enlightened, the fun is about to begin. Being no dummy, you figured I’m going to tell you “Go out and buy a pair of top-grade speakers to mount as rear speakers.” You’d be correct…and also wrong.
Yes, you will need to go grab a pair of speakers to locate on the back wall. BUT, I recommend getting small moderate-priced speakers rather than the equivalent of what you already have serving as front speakers.
First off, this is where the “chump change” comes in. Secondly, they weigh tens of pounds lighter, a major consideration when it comes to mounting them and feeling confident they won’t be ripping massive holes in the plaster and/or tumbling down to destroy whatever lies beneath.
You can also use door moulding as a sturdy prop.
For my personal set-up, I got a pair of small triangular shelves, put them in the corners, and supported each with a few medium nails; and the speakers have remained safe and in place for over a decade. Placing them on a corner shelf versus flush to the rear wall also allows for pivoting, a desirable option for “tuning” them to the room.
(Naturally, it’s better to have the sound waves aimed more towards the listener, particularly because the main speakers will be overpowering the secondary ones. It’s just physics. Or science. Or something.)
Now comes the primary reason you go for the little cheaper speakers. If you moaned, “But not getting matching speakers all around means the rear ones will sound different than the front,” I reply “PRECISELY.” (And quit whining. It’s annoying.)
Your economical new best friends will most certainly not have the bass oomphs of their big brothers nor will they be as loud. This is a very good thing. As they say in Berlin, “Viva le difference!”
Remember, these additional speakers are designed to supplement the front ones. That’s the key to the whole shebang.
What you now have is a pair of rear speakers that are more sensitive to the highs and midrange tones on the recording. Most of the time, you won’t hear anything specifically coming from a rear speaker, though it’s plenty cool when you do. Instead, you’ll notice, for example, a high-hat pattern that sounds like it’s on your left and three feet from the back wall, or maybe a synthesizer riff on your right and much more prominent (than with just front speakers), seemingly floating midway between front and rear.
Although the original albums weren’t recorded in quadraphonic sound, you are more or less replicating it to a fairly high degree. I use “more or less” because the effect varies from album to album and, due to the dynamic nature–that’s fancy talk for which instruments are used and how prominent they are–of the recording’s mix, the effect may even vary from track to track.
In other words, with the four-speaker set-up, you will hear an ear-pleasing difference in each tune, but not every song will suddenly blow you away. Just want to clarify that in order to avoid creating unreasonable expectations.
Nonetheless, you’ll occasionally come upon a track that will sound ASTOUNDINGLY better and quite quadraphonic-y, as if the best recording engineer in the world—that would be my pal Bob Clearmountain, by the way—got hold of the master tapes and created a fantastic new mix.
This should give you an idea of what I mean by small-size speakers.
Two other tips. Get yourself some quality speaker wire. For some bizarre reason, the thicker the gauge, the lower the number; and after doing some homework, I upgraded to 14-gauge for the rear speakers. Originally had generic thin wires, and there was a marked difference upon swapping them out.
Secondly, none of the above will mean a hill of Mister Beans if you don’t set your receiver to be pumping the sound to both sets of speakers. This is achieved by the highly technical process of pushing a button on the front of the damn thing.