How to set up a stereo system?

Stereo music is still quite popular among music enthusiasts and audiophiles. 2 channel listening is so much fun. It is fun-filled only if it is set up nicely. In this post, let us see how to set up a stereo system well for music.

how to set up a stereo system ?
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What is stereo?

Stereo is a type of layout for listening to music. It basically has two speakers. Sound from the speakers completes the sound stage in the listener’s room. There is no separate center channel. The stereo is recorded in a single microphone or a pair depending upon the instruments. It is then mixed in stereo with two stereo studio monitors. It is taken out and mastered in a stereo setup. Then it is available for the customers in the form of cd, Lp records, or digital downloads. They are all stereo sources. It has to be played back with a stereo speakers setup.

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What do you need?

So, to playback a stereo source back to music, you need stereo components. I will walk you through all these. The first piece of equipment in the chain is a player capable of playing the source.

black turntable
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For example, let it be a turntable playing a vinyl disc. The vinyl output has to go through a phono preamp. It then goes to a preamp where the power is increased. This is where the volume control is done. After this stage, the output is given to a power amp. It does the final amplification of the signal and is played back to a pair of speakers. In this case, you need

  • Turntable
  • Phono preamp
  • Preamp
  • Power amp
  • speakers

What if you want a digital setup?

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You need a source, let’s say it as a cd player. The cd player reads the CD which is a digital source. If the cd player doesn’t have a digital to analog converter, you would need one. The signal is converted to analog and is passed through the preamplifier. Here the volume control happens and the signal is sent to the power amp for the last stage of amplification and the signal is sent to speakers for you to hear the music. In this case, you would need

  • CD transport
  • DAC
  • Preamp
  • Power amp 
  • Speakers.

If you’re yet to buy a pair of speakers, please read our article for some good speaker recommendations.

There is something called an integrated amplifier. It is nothing but a combination of preamp and power amp. Some integrated amplifier has phono preamp and some integrate even has a DAC or digital to analog converter built-in. Please check out our post on the best-integrated amplifier under $500.

Some important terms

Before going to set up let’s look at some related terms

Sweet spot:

It is the place in front of speakers where they sound brilliant. Simply put, it is the spot in the room where your speakers sound the best.

Soundstage:

It is an imaginary stage where the singers and musicians are placed from where we hear the sound. It usually forms between the two speakers. In some cases, the sound stage is even wider beyond the speakers.

Imaging:

Imaging is the spots inside the sound stage where you will hear instruments and vocals coming from. In a proper setup, it feels like the instruments are played in your room by the artists.

Phantom center:

This is the imaging on the center point of the sound stage. It sounds like there is a speaker functioning between the two stereo speakers. Usually, the vocals come from the phantom center.

How to set up a stereo system?

Choosing the room

You can set it up in your large living room. But, it is better to allocate a room for the music to get the most out of it. The room shouldn’t be a square. It is better to have a rectangular room. You must place the speakers such that the speaker lies along the width of the room. This way you calm down the room modes which affects the sound acoustically.

Seating position:

The seating position is where you would sit and enjoy the music. If possible avoid sitting next to the back wall. It is better to leave some space between the wall and where you would sit. Similarly, avoid sitting at the center of the room. All these measures will enhance the sound quality of the music.

Placing the speakers

The rule of thumb is that speakers shouldn’t be close to the wall. Hence place the speakers away from the wall, especially if the speakers are rear ported. It is better to have a distance of the wall from the speaker as 1 meter. But experts say, it should be at least 20 centimeters away from any walls. This will tame the boundary layer excitation of sound (bass and mid-bass) from the speakers.

Now connect the pieces of equipment and check if it sounds nice. Check if there is a center image (or phantom center). 

Place the tweeter of the speakers to your ear level. This will ensure that the high frequencies aren’t muffled.

Towing In:

Towing in is a practice of towing the speaker cabinets in so that the imaging will be clear. Imagine the speakers produce sound as a straight line from the speakers Tow the two speakers in such that the lines from the left speakers and line from the right speakers converge just behind your ears. This way the stereo imaging can be improved.

Acoustics:

Acoustics is an aspect many people ignore. Truly, acoustics plays a major role in how the speakers and room sound. Because acoustics absorb and reflect the frequencies based on requirements and therefore help to produce a nearly flat frequency response from the speaker. It also cuts down flutter and echoes and therefore the sound will be even better. Acoustics help in enhancing stereo imaging. Noise isolation can be done to cut down the noise from outdoors. Noise isolation improves and conveys the subtle details in the music. Hence, Acoustics is very important for stereo listening.

Conclusion:

You must have learned how to set up a stereo system at home.

Stereo is a pleasure to listen to on a perfectly set up and calibrated system. This makes codecs like Dolby pro logic 2 not really needed. End of the day, your music should sound well on your system and that is the goal to be reached. Along with acoustics, Stereo can give an impressive audio performance. Thanks for reading.