How To Improve Audio Acoustics in a Small Apartment

How To Improve Audio Acoustics in a Small Apartment

Anthony Nguyen
Feb 28, 2011

I'm currently have a debate/discussion with fellow Tech contributor, Chris Perez, about the pros and cons of watching movies at home versus the theater. Being a cinephile who happens to be editing his post, I cried "foul" upon reviewing his upcoming opinion piece. But we did agree audio at home can be a precarious balance between turning it up and turning your neighbors against you. Here's a re-post about optimizing your space for a home audio movie system with small improvements that all add up...

[Editor: the post below was originally by Anthony Nguyen, February 28, 2011]

Living in a small apartment myself, I've always found it to be an issue when it came to getting good home theater sound in the family room. From echoes to dead zones to feedback - it was an acoustic mess. I've tried many tricks and fixes over the years, but only a few solutions have actually worked.

I'll start with the things you can't change. For example, you can't change the way the apartment was built. If there's absolutely no sound dampening in the walls, you're going to have to live with it unless you want your landlord chasing you for destroying walls in the home after you move.

This goes in line with height of ceiling and materials used for the floor. Unless you have a nice landlord who's okay with you tearing up and installing new flooring, it's best to try other non-intrusive methods for better sound.

My suggestion? Try soundproofing paint. Yes, it does exist. I've painted a few of my apartment walls and it has worked wonders in keeping the noise from leaking into my neighbor's apartment and kept their barking dog from waking me up in the middle of the night.

I've also concluded that a 5.1 system is absolutely overkill in a small space. Not only do the speakers take up a huge amount of room, but it's much, much easier to adjust for optimal sound with just a 2.1 system.

Placement of the speakers is also vital, as noted in the video above. Because sound travels like waves, there are zones where the waves clash and cancel out, giving you a fuzzy, not-so-cool version of what the soundtrack should sound like. This is a subjective test that requires lots of trial-and-error. Although, I must say the quality of on-board calibration solutions included in modern day receivers do a pretty good job (despite not accounting for height of speakers during testing).

You should also be sure to note where the noise leaks are coming from. If it's outside, try the following:

  • Fill in Holes and Cracks
  • Seal Off Your Door
  • Hang a Fabric Wall
  • Move Your Big Furniture Around
  • Get a Big, Shaggy Rug

If you're just optimizing your home theater, try using speaker stands or adding soundproofing material onto the wall behind the main listening area and behind the main speakers. Doing so allows absorption in both directions, eliminating most of the acoustic feedback that tends to ruin sound quality.

Have a suggestion to improve sound in a small space? Share it in the comments!

(Image: AnthonyC/Minhembio)

Originally posted February 28, 2011

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