As the nights are drawing in, people start to ponder spending their evenings listening to their favourite records or kicking back and enjoying their best loved movies in the comfort of their own home. Often, the first port of call will be one of the large tech-retailers, luxury department stores or even supermarkets, who will stock televisions, AV amplifiers and surround sound speaker packages. Prospective customers will turn up, possibly armed with the latest review from What Hifi, and after a fifteen minute conversation with shop assistant, who will bamboozle them with specs and jargon, they'll hand over their credit card and shortly after, they'll load their car up with the kit and take it home. Job done (if you know how to set up and calibrate a 5.1 cinema system with HDMI switching...).
This is a perfectly natural and entirely logical place to begin, and you are absolutely guaranteed to get a system that is reasonably priced, and is fairly likely to offer at least adequate performance. But when you buy from big retailers like this, you miss out on the chance to benefit from the advice of people with decades of experience, who really care about making sure your system is truly brilliant.
At Expressive Audio, our aim is to set people up with the right system that specifically suits their needs. We nurture our relationships with our customers, often over a period of many years. By contrast, a high street retailer is probably most interested in selling whatever gives them the most profit, or what they happen to have in stock at the time. This is why they can offer such good prices: they buy and sell in bulk (often securing stock of end of line and second best items).
Obviously we would love you to come and visit us, and for us to guide you in person, however we know that is not always possible, especially if you are not local to our Lincolnshire showroom, so with that in mind, here are our 5 tips on buying the right system for your personal needs without the bamboozling sales patter.
1. The impact of cables CANNOT be understated.
This is the number one tip for a reason. It is widely accepted that 10% of your whole system budget should be spent on cables. Perhaps you already know this, but the best thing about buying from a specialised retailer is the fact that we will give you options based on your budget and your home. We won't sell you Asda Smartprice cable, but we also won't sell you cables that cost an arm and a leg when your AV System won't benefit from them. Your cables only have as much potential as the rest of your system, but they do make a huge impression. You might be using a £2000 amp but may not be getting all the information out of it because your cabling costs a fiver, so keep this in mind when purchasing your cinema equipment.
Also an important thing to consider is your HDMI cable. If it cost £20 from Amazon, or is longer than 7 metres, delivering that full 4K HDR resolution to your display gets a bit tricky because the bandwidth needed for that is enormous and a cheap HDMI likely won't handle it. When you come to us, all of this leg work is done for you, we have the expertise... you tell us what you want and we'll make it happen.
2. Do you really want a TV?
So, it's Black Friday and you've seen a great deal on a TV at Tesco. Smashing stuff! But do you really want a TV at all? Are you paying through the nose for a massive TV when you could spend a similar price on something more immersive. Perhaps a projector? The great thing about a projector is that it creates atmosphere and scale which is sometimes the thing that's missing from some home cinema set ups, purely because they have a TV instead. There's something exciting about turning off the lights and starting up a projector that gives that "je ne sais quoi".
There are a few other things to consider when choosing how you want to present your movies. TVs are notorious dirt collectors, they cost significantly more per inch, and a TV isn't something you can easily hide or put away. Although TVs have lots of pros about them and are very versatile, if you want a screen that's larger that 70 inches and that will still give you a great image then your options are somewhat limited if you choose a TV.
3. Projectors don't have to cost the earth.
This is one that you can take to the bank. Projectors weren't really a common thing in most homes before the 2000s but they made a big impact once people started to realise what potential they really held. Therefore, as they became more popular, and economies of scale came into play, they reduced in price. A quality projector might set you back £2000 plus a good quality screen but when you think of the fact that the screen you have bought could be anywhere up to 5 metres across... how much do you think a TV that size would cost you? And I'm telling you now, it's not something you could get at a Black Friday deal in Tesco.
4. Replace the default subwoofer.
Every multi-channel soundtrack contains a dedicated channel for a subwoofer, which means it is every bit as important as the rest of the speakers in the package. A subwoofer energises a room. It also underpins your main speakers so they can do what they do best: work on the midrange and top. This allows them to breathe and not have to work so hard on bringing that energy to your set up.
A subwoofer should be seen and not heard... that is until you turn it off. You should only notice the LACK of extension to your range, it should not be your focus. A 5.1 package from a mainstream speaker manufacturer (e.g Fyne Audio or Dali) will contain a subwoofer, but subwoofers are not their main area of expertise. It is well worth swapping out the package subwoofer from one from a dedicated subwoofer manufacturer such as REL or SVS. A good quality subwoofer might eat into your budget a little but it's well worth it for the improved sound stage, particularly in home cinema setups. The extra depth and range can really bring those atmospheric or action packed movie scenes to life.
5. Equipment positioning is key.
Trustworthy retailers will deliver a bespoke system plan, keeping your room design in mind. Speaker position is of utmost importance of course - you need to make sure your speakers are level (use a spirit level) evenly spaced, and the same distance from the wall on both sides. However, don't be afraid to play around with the positioning by a few centimetres here or there as this can often make a massive difference and you will soon find your preference. You can of course do all this yourself if you would prefer, but we are with you every step of the way to make sure you have no problems. We can take the whole thing completely off your hands if you so choose, and that's what sets us apart from the others. Choice.
It's important to get the best out of your set up by using your room's natural features. Take for instance that subwoofer we were talking about. In order to get the best out of it, we need to find the sub's sweet spot. This is called a node. There may be several nodes in the room you want to use but in general the best node will likely be a double external wall where the subwoofer can use the walls to break out its full potential and means it doesn't need to work as hard. At Expressive Audio, we can do this for you. We will crawl about on our hands and knees until we find that sweet spot. John's expert ears, trained over 20 years in the industry like a sort of truffle pig searching for audio nirvana, can tell when he has located it, taking you one step closer to that immersive cinema experience.
Projector position is also very important. Every projector has a throw ratio which tells us how far away from the screen it needs to be to give you the highest quality picture. This is fairly easy to work out using a throw ratio calculator but again, this is something we can do for you.
So there you have it, our 5 tips that "The Giants" won't tell you because if you're in the driver's seat they might not get their 30 pieces of silver.
Do get in touch if you would like to learn more or discuss options for your own Home Cinema, or leave a comment below with any tips and tricks you've learned over the years that you'd like to share!