Let’s say you already set up your home Hi-Fi sound system. Is it possible to find that your music doesn’t sound as good and satisfactory as you’d expected? If so, how do you improve your Hi-Fi sound without overhauling your entire system?
This article will talk about the different factors that affect Hi-Fi sound quality. It’ll explain in more detail how you can overcome these factors and the various tricks you can apply to get better sound from your Hi-Fi system. You’ll see that it is possible to get better high-fidelity audio from the components you already have at home without buying entirely new ones.
Why Isn’t Your Hi-Fi Sound Good Enough?
If you’ve set up your home Hi-Fi sound system as best as possible but find you’re not very happy with how everything sounds, there’s no need to fret. While getting the right components for your system is very important, it’s also not always about the price. So if things don’t sound good enough, you shouldn’t dismiss it as a mere consequence of not being able to afford more expensive equipment.
Most people would automatically think that they have to contend with sub-par or unsatisfactory audio quality because they didn’t buy the most high-end components on the market. However, you should know that there may be a different explanation for it.
Various factors could affect the quality of your Hi-Fi sound, other than the brand and price tag of your equipment, and knowing them means that you could do something about the problem.
Lousy Sound: Why Not Just Leave It Alone?
If your Hi-Fi system sounds terrible or at least doesn’t sound good enough, why not just leave it be? After all, you didn’t get the most expensive and most high-end audio equipment on the market. You don’t have the best speakers, amplifiers, receivers, and media players, so until you do, you really couldn’t expect to enjoy the best Hi-Fi sound.
That’s not the right attitude for any audiophile to have. Because even if you didn’t get the best audio system money can buy, it doesn’t mean you’ll have to suffer through it. You can use your current equipment to learn how to tweak your components and electronics and listen to the most subtle changes in sound.
Audiophiles, after all, have the thirst to study the nuances of sound. And many audiophiles do start small.
It’s essential to have fun and be open-minded about the current audio system you have. Experiment with placements and enjoy tinkering. Eventually, with patience and the willingness to learn, you’ll realize that sound does improve if you do something about it.
Moreover, it’s not good to leave a bad sound as it is. It’ll only fatigue your ears and leave you uninspired. As a result, you’ll listen less, your love of music will slowly wane, and you’ll forget all that got you here in the first place.
Know that, to get better sound, you really don’t have to spend a lot or make room for massive speakers.
Factors That Affect Hi-Fi Sound Quality
Almost anything can impact your Hi-Fi system’s sound. Here are just a few examples:
Where you place your sound system has a considerable influence on its performance. Every room possesses a distinct sonic signature, which is about how sound waves bounce around and generate resonances. This sonic signature is related to the size of the room, the construction materials used, the various pieces of furniture inside it, and how they’re arranged.
For example, small rooms with actual dimensions tend to have issues with low, uneven frequencies. Meanwhile, the furniture in the room, as well as its hard reflective surfaces, have higher frequency issues. Concrete floors and solid brick walls may hold onto bass energy, while wooden-framed partition walls tend to allow it to escape and create unwanted sound.
A room with sparse furnishing, tiled or wooden floors, and a big glass area tends to sound aggressive and bright. It may have strong reverb, which could make things sound forward, tiring, and cluttered. High frequencies could unbalance the presentation, and sounds may lack natural warmth and bass weight.
Meanwhile, a heavily furnished room tends to absorb many higher frequencies, which can make things sound dull and lack excitement. As such, it’s vital to have a good balance when it comes to furnishing. That means not too many and not too few pieces.
If you have space with plenty of hard surfaces, you may want to put some sound-absorbing materials like carpets, rugs, and pillows on the floor between the speakers or the shelves. In rooms with large glass areas, heavy curtains and stuffed sofas will help significantly. However, if your room gives you a dull listen, you can instead lessen the number of absorption materials.
You can try walking into different rooms in your house, then sing or talk aloud. You can also try to play loud music on your phone. This way, you’d know how differently sounds register in each room. As a result, it may be your current audio room’s sonic signature that’s the problem.
How you position and arrange your speakers can affect the way your Hi-Fi system sounds. Speakers are designed with consideration to an optimum placement, which means that they sound best when you position them right. And you’ll usually find this in the manual.
Generally, however, placing your speakers close to your wall emphasizes their bass output. And this effect gets even more pronounced when you put them in a corner. Sure, everyone loves a good bass, but proximity between your speakers and walls can give you the sort of low frequencies that could also ruin mid-range sounds.
So generally speaking, speakers sound best when they’re away from the wall.
Position of Electronics
Where you place and how you arrange your system’s electronics can influence the sound quality, too. Placing them close to your speakers, for instance, may compromise their performance, thanks to the vibrations your speakers may create.
Typically, people would put their electronics in between the speakers, probably for symmetrical presentation. However, this isn’t always the best setup. Having your electronics in between two speakers not only gives you issues with vibrations, but it harms the ability of your sound system to the stereo image.
Quality of Cables
You need cables to get your sound system to work. But then again, not all cables were created equal. There are low-quality cables, and there also are excellent ones. As such, you may want to invest in high-quality cables to get good sound. Some say that you should spend 10-15% of the total cost of your Hi-Fi system on wires alone.
Moreover, if power cables and signal cables are kept too close to each other that they physically touch could have a negative effect. It could add a certain coarseness and lack of subtlety to your system’s sound.
The electrical connections for all your equipment get metal-to-metal contact. And these contact points oxidize over time, which affects the quality of your connections. Therefore, if your audio deteriorates as time goes by, the connections should be among the first things you need to look into. You may want to clean your system cables from time to time.
I recommend DeoxIT D5 Contact Cleaner from Hosa Technology, which is a deoxidizing solution that cleans, protects, lubricates, and improves conductivity on all types of metal connectors. Also, it works like a charm!
Where you’re seated as a listener also affects how your system sounds to your ears. It matters where you are in relation to your walls and your speakers because these influence frequency and studio imaging response. Sitting too close to the back wall, for instance, could give you a boomy bass.
Meanwhile, sitting two-thirds away from your front wall can give you a thin and unnatural sound. So you may want to move your listening chair around the room and see which location gives you the best sound.
The best and most cost-efficient ways to improve your high-fidelity sound are the following:
1. Evaluate Your Current Equipment and Setup
If your Hi-Fi system doesn’t sound good, or if it has an intermittent problem, evaluating your equipment and your setup first is always SOP.
Here’s how to evaluate your current Hi-Fi system:
- Check your wires and cables and make sure everything is wired and connected correctly.
- Check for loose connections.
- Remove your speaker grilles.
- Check if there’s a problem with the foam, like foam rot.
If you’ve determined that everything is in its proper place and is working correctly, but your system still doesn’t sound great, you can start looking into ways to improve the sound.
2. Give Your Audio Room Some Acoustic Treatment
When you’re listening to music, you hear two sounds: the one coming from your speakers and the one reflected from the room’s surfaces. So you’d want to reduce the reflections and limit this other sound as much as possible for a better listening experience. Needless to say, your room’s acoustics and sonic signature play an essential role in this.
Regardless of how expensive and how good your Hi-Fi equipment and stereo components are, if your room gets plenty of echo and reverb, you won’t get the sound quality you’re hoping for.
The biggest culprits for these are hard surfaces like tiles or wood, as well as windows. These add an artificial kind of brightness to the reflected sound, and this causes it to sound unpleasant.
Many other factors can also affect acoustics and sonic signature, including the size of the room and the furnishing, like chairs, tables, couches, lamps, drapes, curtains, wall hangings, and carpeting. With that said, mind what you put into your audio room.
While an empty space isn’t great, an overly furnished room isn’t that beneficial either. So make sure you have just enough of these elements given the size of your room.
Limit Reflection off Hard Surfaces and Absorption From Soft Surfaces
If you think your acoustics are really problematic due to factors out of your control, such as the size and the construction of the room, you can give it an acoustic treatment. Add acoustic panels to absorb or diffuse sound, depending on what you need. It can also be a combination of both.
For example, if you have windows, you can cover them with drapes or curtains. And if you have tile or hardwood floors, you can place a rug between your listening chair and your speakers. That’ll reduce the reflections off of your wall or floor.
Having thickly upholstered furniture, thick carpeting, and other absorbent materials in your listening room can significantly reduce sound reflection. And this can result in a lack of spaciousness in the sound. So make the necessary adjustments. You can move upholstered pieces around so that they don’t soak up sound from your speakers.
3. Reposition Your Speakers
Your speakers’ position in your audio room relative to your electronics, your furniture, and your wall can influence your listening experience. Most speakers sound best when you place them away from the wall to avoid over-emphasized bass reflection. Pulling your speakers a few inches from the wall would give a cleaner and tighter bass.
You may also leave a space of at least two meters between your speakers so that they’d be able to render a wide soundstage. Moreover, you can turn your speakers inwards with you as the focal point until they reach that sweet spot where the sound naturally locks into place.
Try to aim them in such a way that they cross a little behind your head when you’re sitting on your listening chair. You’ll know you’ve hit this spot if both the musical image and soundstage sound fantastic.
Soundstage gives you a feel of the physical space where a musician or a band is playing, while musical image gives you a clear visualization of where each voice or instrument is coming from.
4. Go for the Optimum Speaker Height
Your tweeters must be close to the ear level from your listening position. So if you have bookshelf speakers, put them on sturdy speaker stands. You can also get stands with adjustable heights to make it easy for you to position your speakers at ear level.
Make Your Speakers Sturdy To Reduce Vibration
Another effective way to reduce vibration from your speakers is to place them on sturdy stands and make sure that their spikes are tight and level. Stands with loose and un-level spikes will cause your speakers to rock or wobble on the floor, which will worsen the sound.
Floor-standing speakers also include their own floor spikes or floor pads, so they stay still for excellent performance.
5. Adjust Your Position as the Listener
Adjust your listening position in such a way that you’re facing your speakers but not sitting right against the back wall or the boundary of your room. If you’re sitting against or too close to the back wall, you’d hear boomy or reinforced bass as the sound bounces off of this wall.
Adjusting where you sit would also mean that you need to slightly modify the angles of your speakers so that they line back up with your ears. However, be careful about sitting a certain distance from your front wall, too, as this can make your Hi-Fi system sound unnaturally thin.
The ideal way to achieve the ideal seat or position as a listener is to try out a few spots or locations for your chair and rearrange it a few times as you play and listen to your music. Take note of the site that you think gave you the best sound.
6. Mind Your Cables
Many people have this misconception that cables are just cables and that as long as you have good-quality electronics and components, it doesn’t matter what cables you use. You’d need to make sure your cables fit the inputs and outputs, and that’s about it.
However, that isn’t true at all. There are good cables as much as there are bad ones. And getting the good ones does matter significantly. True-blue audiophiles can tell the difference in the sounds that an audio system makes when using different cables.
Hi-Fi kits come with their own cables in the box, and they’re good if you’re still learning the ropes, especially in terms of hook-ups. Eventually, though, you’ll find out that getting better interconnects, precisely thicker shielded ones, will make everything sound better and crisper. So you’ll have to upgrade from the bell wire cables supplied in the system to more high-end ones. You’ll know that these cables are a good investment.
Place Your Cables Right
Make sure to keep your mains and signal cables far away from each other. If these cables touch or interact, there may be an added coarseness to the sound performance. Moreover, it’s recommended that you keep your cables off the floor. Cables can transmit vibrations into electronics, so keeping them away from vibration sources, such as the floor, only makes a lot of sense.
7. Position Your Electronics and Components Right
Consider where you’ll put your system’s electronics and components. For example, if the electronics are close to the speakers, their performance might be compromised by the speakers’ vibrations. That’s especially true when you’re referring to a record player. So, the best option is to get the system far away from your speakers.
Additionally, keep all your electrical components level. Steady positioning is essential to performance, so you should make sure your speakers are stable and don’t move along with the vibration.
8. Check Your Electrical Source
Ensure your Hi-Fi system uses its electrical source or electrical outlets and is independent of other major household appliances and equipment like computers, fridges, washing machines, and kettles.
This way, you’ll correct electrical interference. Good power conditioners will also help eliminate or reduce electrical mains interference.
9. Ensure a Well-Grounded Audio System
Having proper electrical grounding is critical to getting sound accuracy. Electric currents from all your electronics return to the ground, taking the path of least resistance. These electric currents affect audio reproduction in a very subtle way. But for those who have sharp ears, these subtle differences and nuances do matter.
To achieve a properly grounded audio system, you may want to plant a low-impedance rod into the ground or soil. This rod will draw all electrical noise towards it and will serve as the drain, where these electric currents will go down and disappear.
10. Clean Electrical Connections
Electrical contact points are subject to corrosion and oxidation over time. And this negatively affects the quality of your connections. As such, always keep your contacts clean and oxidation-free to achieve unobstructed power and audio signal transfer.
Clean and tighten all the connections periodically. There are safe, deoxidizing, and cleaning products that are designed to work well on these items. I recommend DeoxIT D5 Contact Cleaner from Hosa Technology, which is a deoxidizing solution that I use frequently. It cleans, protects, lubricates, and improves conductivity on all types of metal connectors.
You can undo all your system cables once a year and remake (or disconnect and reconnect) them about three or four times. Doing this cleans the metal surfaces, which makes the metal-on-metal connection seamless.
11. Keep Resonance at Bay
Control resonance or micro-vibrations in your audio system so that it can perform its best. These micro-vibrations will give you little feedback and distort the Hi-Fi audio signal, albeit subtly. As such, you’ll enjoy your sound a lot better if you control resonance.
You can do this by using a stronger and bigger track. You should also avoid materials that quickly transmit vibrations like glass and granite. Another way is to apply mass loading to load your speakers and components down and drain the energy away from them. You can also use vibration control devices and place them on top of your speakers and components.
Check out this video for more tips on how to control resonance in your audio system:
12. Give Your System a Warm-Up
Switch your sound system on about 15 to 20 minutes before you play music and sit down to enjoy it. Like most humans, Hi-Fi will also work better from a warm-up than it will from the cold when doing just about anything. A good warm-up could condition your equipment and sweeten the sound.
13. Try To Take Off Speaker Grilles
Try experimenting with your speaker grilles. Take the grilles off and see if things sound better than when these grilles were on. Many people actually think that removing the grilles allows their speakers to perform at their best.
However, this isn’t always the case, or grilles will altogether become a useless part of a speaker’s design. So it’s still important to be discerning as far as the sound of your speaker goes.
Tinkering With Your System? Here Are More Tips
Since you’re already tinkering and experimenting with your system and looking into various ways to make it sound better, here are more tips for you:
Learn How To Listen
The ability to listen to the subtle changes and differences in sounds is crucial when trying to improve your Hi-Fi system’s audio quality and go about it in different ways. At the very least, you should know what sounds terrible or good. Then you should be able to differentiate between what sounds good and what sounds better.
Having a sharp ear will help you fine-tune your system a lot more quickly. Because the truth is, there’s no point in moving speakers and changing their angles when you won’t be able to tell the minor changes in sound.
Learn the Lingo
Audiophiles who are just getting started may find themselves lost amidst all the technical terms and the jargon. This situation can be incredibly challenging when you’re looking into professional reviews and advice from audiophile communities and forums. So every time you encounter a new term, find out what it means and add it to your audiophile vocabulary.
Host a Listening Party With Friends
Invite a couple of music-loving friends over to your place and have a listening party, where you listen to music together. If you suspect that your system doesn’t sound the way you’re expecting it to, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion. Doing this ensures that you’re not just being nitpicky about your equipment or that you haven’t gotten too accustomed to how things sound in your audio room.
Create a Space Dedicated to Listening
A Hi-Fi stereo system shines when you’re sitting in front of the speakers in a room dedicated to listening to music. It’d be nice if you only have your audio equipment there and no other appliance and non-audio electronics.
This way, you can focus on just listening and enjoying your Hi-Fi sound without any distractions. You can attune your ears to the sound of your speakers and not have to strain them while filtering out noise from other sources.
Buying audio equipment and components and setting up your own Hi-Fi system at home doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the perfect sound right off the bat. Sometimes, it needs some adjustments and some tinkering to get your sound right.
There are some things you can try to do to improve your Hi-Fi sound without having to change your components and electronics right away. Because the truth is, you don’t always need the most expensive system to get high-quality sound.