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Lead image

10 tips for better sound from your home audio system

Upgrade your sound system and enjoy music, movies and TV even more!

Setting up a nice sound system is one of those things that can make a house feel more like a home. Having a dedicated system for watching movies and listening to music can really enrich your life. We’ve come up with ten tips to improve your existing system and elevate your home listening experience from ho-hum to electrifying.

In each of these ten tips, I'll give you some general advice about how to improve some aspect of your sound system. And I've included a few specific ideas contributed by Crutchfield Editor Charlie Pastorfield — he's a top-notch professional musician who's worked with audio gear for decades, and he's constantly upgrading and improving his own home sound system.

Charlie on guitar

Crutchfield editor Charlie Pastorfield has spent decades honing his chops, and upgrading his home sound system.

1. Evaluate the gear you already own

If you feel like your existing system isn’t performing as well as it used to — or worse, has begun to make noise or cut out altogether — do a general maintenance check. See if your audio cables are fraying or making a poor connection. Remove speaker grilles and examine the drivers for signs of rot or damage.

If you bought the gear from us, and can’t diagnose the problem yourself, remember our tech support is free for the lifetime of the equipment.

woman with her ear next to a speaker

Get a knowledgeable friend to lend an ear and offer a second opinion on your audio setup.

And if you have music-loving friends, consult them for their opinions. "Invite knowledgeable audiophiles to check out your system," says Charlie. "You'll be amazed at the little fixes they suggest that produce big results. They know what to look for."

2. Check your receiver settings

Your receiver comes out of the box with default settings in place. These may not be the settings you prefer, but you may not even be aware of what your choices are. Look at the manual and see what some of those menu options do.

Many audiophiles prefer to eliminate any type of EQ, even the basic bass and treble knobs that can be found on most stereo receivers. "Try defeating the tone controls," Charlie recommends. "If it sounds good, leave them out of the chain unless you need them for a particular recording."

Marantz SR5015 home theater receiver with "Pure Direct" button

Marantz' Pure Direct mode turns off the display and video processing functions to remove possible sources of noise when you're listening to music.

Many manufacturers offer modes with somewhat self-explanatory names like “pure analog” or “pure digital” that optimize circuit pathways for specific devices and shut off everything else. Some offer filters you can experiment with to help you dial in your preferred sound. And many offer EQ profiles designed to use with specific speakers, to make the most of their known acoustic properties.

There's no wrong answer — just experiment and find out what your ears prefer.

3. Make solid wired connections

"Getting better sound is a continuous process of eliminating weak links in your audio chain," says Charlie. One of the most common areas of weakness comes from cheap cables, which can introduce noise. It's well worth your time to upgrade them.

Most audiophile components offer excellent balanced XLR inputs and outputs for superior noise rejection, but well-made RCA cables make a huge difference, too. And you shouldn’t skimp on USB, digital optical, digital coaxial, HDMI cables or speaker wire either. If any of these is substandard, it can add distracting noise to your listening sessions.

Alexis connecting speakers to a receiver

Quality cables are worth the investment. Cheap ones fray easily, and can introduce noise to your system that wouldn't otherwise be there.

Even the best Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections come in second place to a wired connection in terms of sound quality. But if you want to or need to set up a wireless surround sound system, you can still hardwire your front left/right and center speakers to ensure great sound from the part of the home theater system that’s doing most of the heavy lifting.

4. Listen to the best recordings

You have options when choosing the quality of the analog media or digital file format you listen to. For instance, if you plan to stream digital files, it’s a good idea to invest in high-resolution audio.

Analog music lovers should look for remastered albums on 180-gram vinyl. These records use more raw material than most older recordings, so they’re resistant to warping.

Eric putting an LP record on his turntable

180-gram vinyl is no gimmick. The records are heavier and more sturdy, so they resist warping and slipping on your turntable.

Charlie suggests that you buy one favorite recording in multiple formats. "Find one well-recorded track that you can use as a reference," he says. "It's good to have multiple versions of this recording on disc, vinyl, and digital file so you can get an idea of how a new component performs with a familiar favorite."

And of course, keep your physical media clean. Use a brush to clean your records every time you play them, and give them a deep cleaning with a record cleaning machine from time to time. Look for a purpose-made soft cloth to help remove smudges from CDs and a maintenance disc to keep your CD player's internal lenses clean.

5. Get a great DAC

"Try inserting a high-quality DAC into the signal chain," Charlie says.

Streaming from an online service, or from digital files stored on your computer is a pretty common way to enjoy high-resolution music. Often those files are compressed, and may lose resolution — a top-notch DAC (digital-to-analog converter) can restore missing information that makes the recording sound more accurate, spacious, and immediate.

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M

This Cambridge Audio DAC can make your digital files sound light-years better than they would if you were just using the chip in your phone.

And not all DACs are made the same. A component DAC typically supports higher bit-depths and sampling frequencies than the “stock” DACs that are built into smart phones, computers, and even most receivers. They improve the detail, clarity, and overall soundstage of your music. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes for different needs, and we can help you find the best DAC for your situation.

6. Make sure your network is at full strength

As much as I’ve talked about making sure your hardware and digital files are up to snuff, if you’re streaming them from an online service, you’ll need to make sure your home network can handle the larger file sizes without buffering or lagging. Make sure you’re subscribed to an HD or better service tier if you’re using such a service, or you’ll be starting with reduced quality.

bad network icon a phone streaming music

If you're going to stream high-resolution files, your home network has to be able to handle the traffic without glitches or buffering.

"Go for high-res or lossless files as opposed to compressed codecs like MP3s," Charlie says. Services that stream uncompressed files will indicate what file types they use, including FLAC, ALAC, WAV, DSD, MQA and others. Since they're not compressed, they are much larger, hence the need for a robust home network.

If you still experience problems – especially when other devices in your home are accessing the network – you may need to upgrade your router for more speed or opt for a multi-node mesh network that covers more square footage.

Listening room

If you have a favorite room for entertaining, a great sound system can take the vibe up a notch or two.

7. Create a dedicated listening space

If you can set aside a room for serious music listening and/or movie viewing, so much the better, as it lets you work with the acoustics of the room. You can place your speakers properly to create an excellent-sounding sweet spot that focuses sound on your preferred seating position.

"Form a triangle with your speakers and your listening position," Charlie suggests. "Use a tape measure to get proper positioning — the front of each speaker should be the same distance to the left and right from your listening position at the center."

a diagram with speakers and listening position forming a triangle.

Proper speaker placement puts your ears right in the "sweet spot" for music listening.

The way you set up your AV system can make a huge difference, too. Many sound bars, receivers and subwoofers offer automatic room correction software that adjusts EQ to make your system perform better in your unique home layout.

8. Get some headphones and a headphone amp

We’ve talked a lot about listening to music out loud, but if you listen by yourself during work or after hours, a great pair of wired headphones can enrich music listening to a very high degree. And I’ve been amazed how much difference a headphone amp can make. It’s worlds away from the thin sound you get from the cheap earbuds that came with your phone.

Jeff in his home office listening to his headphones and DAC

Trust our headphone expert Jeff. A headphone amplifier with a built-in DAC can make your digital files sound incredible.

For this particular topic, I'm going to give Charlie a rest, and seek advice on headphone amplifiers from our headphone expert, Jeff Miller. "You might be thinking, 'I would never play my tunes loud enough to need a dedicated amplifier,'" he says. "But it's really not about volume as much as effortlessly handling the large sonic peaks and valleys in your favorite music. It’s like having an engine with plenty of horsepower. You might never drive 200 MPH, but it's nice to have some get-up-and-go when you need it."

9. Eliminate bad vibrations

One of the most common problems that can introduce unwanted noise into a system is vibration. Your choice of furniture can transmit rumble and hum both to and from the equipment that’s sitting on it. Look for speaker stands for bookshelf models and included carpet spikes and floor discs for tower speakers.

Turntables and other components can rest on specially designed isolation platforms. There are a number of acoustic treatments available to deaden reverberation, as well.

The carpet spikes on Monitor Audio Gold Series speakers

Charlie recommends that you take special care when attaching carpet spikes to your floor-standing speakers, in order to avoid bad vibrations.

As a fan of floor-standing speakers, Charlie has specific advice for securing carpet spikes to avoid rattle and hum. "If your speakers have spikes, make sure the top piece is screwed down tight against the outrigger," he says."This can make a huge difference."

10. Block out noise with power conditioning

Just plugging your components into a wall socket can introduce noise. And the basic Ethernet jacks on your router don’t have much in the way of noise rejection, either. Removing noise that can be introduced by other electronic devices makes a huge difference.

A Panamax MR4300 power line conditioner and surge protector

A power protection device with line conditioning eliminates an annoying buzzing or humming sound that your home's electrical system may introduce.

Plug into a power protection device with line conditioning to defeat hum that can be introduced by your home’s electrical wiring. Some power strips also include Ethernet jacks, but a good Ethernet switch can also help with noise rejection.

Even with good power protection, one component's power supply may interfere with another's signal path. Sometimes your prized equipment just needs a little more space.

"Turn up your system with nothing running," Charlie recommends. "Do you hear a hum? Try disconnecting components until the hum goes away. Plug the offending component back in and try moving it away from the others to see if hum is reduced."

As a final tip, Charlie offers a sure-fire way to determine if your tweaks have had the desired effect. "Listen to a recording you've heard hundreds of times and you may hear something you never heard before. Maybe the bass part is a little different than you originally thought, or maybe you hear that a keyboard is doubling a guitar part. Any change that gives you a new experience with familiar material is a good thing."

Let us help

Upgrading your listening experience doesn’t have to cost the proverbial arm and leg. You can even improve your system pretty dramatically on a budget. If you want a little advice, contact us and we'll help you sort through the options.

Last updated 5/25/2021
  • Rick M from Weston

    Posted on 7/7/2021

    I did read the article with some enthusiasm but I knew most likely wouldn't be applicable to my vintage stereo equipment: Sansui 1000 a, Pioneer HPM-100B & Pioneer PL-518. But it's always good to catch up on the latest tech. Thx!

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 7/8/2021

    Rick - I understand the desire to keep the vintage system going - we love that kind of gear around here, even though we technically sell the replacements! I hope you enjoy it for years to come.
  • Michael C from Spencer, IN

    Posted on 7/5/2021

    Where can I find the source for the vinyl storage drawers shown?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 7/6/2021

    Michael - That is a stock photograph, not one we took ourselves. So I'm afraid we just don't have that information handy. Sorry we couldn't solve that mystery!
  • Mark Bumgarner from Granite Falls NC

    Posted on 6/2/2021

    I've known Charlie Pastorfield for years and had no idea he was involved with you guys! We're both bass players

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 6/3/2021

    Mark - Oh yeah, Charlie's a big deal around here. Friend, editor, manager, musician and raconteur extraordinaire. We're lucky to have him!
  • Stephen from Nashville

    Posted on 6/1/2021

    What is the consensus on using banana clips for speaker connections .. Please and thanks !!

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 6/2/2021

    Stephen - Interesting that you use the word "consensus," because that's difficult to achieve in the audio world. Here at Crutchfield, we usually recommend bare wire, because there's no soldering point that can break later and cause trouble. But I've certainly heard from customers who vastly prefer banana plugs, and of course they're more convenient and work great. We sell them. Odds are, you'll get years of use out of them without any issues.
  • Jeffrey Felahi from Harwich

    Posted on 1/28/2021

    COVID 19 lockdown and you suggest going to a concert ?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 1/29/2021

    Jeffrey - Thanks for pointing that out. This article was originally written in 2008, so it made sense at the time. We'll remove that reference going forward.
  • Tom OSullivan from Saint Louis

    Posted on 1/2/2021

    Any powered speaker pairs for television that have a midrange control? My hearing loss has been searching for a pair.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 1/4/2021

    Tom - The ELAC Navis speakers have switches on the back panel that allow you to change high, mid, and low frequency response separately. Speakers by KEF and Bowers & Wilkins offer app-based EQ that should let you tweak the sound for better hearing as well. Thanks for the question!
  • Giles from Bucharest

    Posted on 11/25/2020

    nothing about amps or speakers ?

  • Foley Hund from Seattle

    Posted on 4/19/2019

    As a professional vocalist, pianist and organist I have had the pleasure of a substantial amount of live listening. So, consider the best live sound you have experienced and attempt to duplicate that in your home listening environment. It's not just our ears that sense sounds. The entire body absorbs sound energy that we feel. I don't believe any recordings come close to being truly "real" as one poster stated that recordings tend to be massaged into something less than perfect audio. Telarc had decent dynamics. There are too many imperfections in recording equipment, starting with microphones and their placement. Consider multiple amps over 200 watts rms, quality efficient speakers such as Klipsch, and an excellent pre-amp such as an old Sony E9000ES can be found on eBay without breaking the bank. An advantage to components is if one components craps out, the remaining can be configured to leave you totally silent. Go big on power to duplicate the most suttle of sounds from any instrument or vocalist. Chose amplification that leaves plenty of head room. As for bi-amping, I ran the sub bass directly to the folded bass horn on Klipschorns. And yes, the ribs in one's chest will rattle. Obviously be careful with bi-amping not to exceed the watts a particular speaker cone can handle if bypassing the crossover circuitry. Just my thoughts.

  • .ark

    Posted on 12/10/2018

    14. Hey I don't claim to be anybody, a couple that come to mind are Dark Side of the Moon, and Rush 2112. Peace...

  • Ted Kunz from Vinton

    Posted on 6/30/2018

    Regarding #15. This idea will work only if you can listen to the instruments themselves, without a PA system.

  • Jeff from Perrysburg,OH

    Posted on 4/22/2018

    Paul form NC, thank you. I was going to post the same comment.

  • T

    Posted on 3/16/2018

    Something not mentioned....Using a sound pressure meter (Yes there' an app for that) to make sure both speakers are playing at the same level. Even 1 db will dramatically alter the sound.

  • Larry from Kalamazoo Mi.

    Posted on 3/10/2018

    First do the people understand what they are asking? Do u know the difference between biz ping and bi-wiring. Byiamping needs a xover to divide the frequency range. After divided the signals (low end hi end areis sent to a amp which is dedicated to to that band or freq. so u 2 amps for bi an 3 amps for triamp. Biwiring is where u run 2 lengths of spkr wire. One goes to the tweeter spkr terminal an one to the woofer terminal. So u need 2 amps biamping. Biwiring you need to 2 cables per spkr but. Only 1 amp. Either way improves overall sound. Biamping should be obvious how it improves sound. Biwiring improves sound by effectively doubling the spkr wire diameter. By doing that it reduces the resistance of the cable by 4x. This will lower resistance in the cables which will transfer amp power more efficiently less power loss giving u a better overall sound. If u have a nice system u will hear a improvement in sound. This will also help dynamic range, imaging an distortion. As u can see a quick yes or no is not sufficient to anwser the question. It really doesn't increase power it makes the use of the power your amp produces. I hope this helps with your questions on biamping an biwiring. In case your wondering I have been an audio tech for 40. Years. I have done component level repair an commercial an home installation. I do not work for anyone I just trying to help fellow music lovers.

  • gitoy from torrance, ca

    Posted on 10/24/2017

    like the other poster, as soon as i saw the slides i did not bother... i will not be following this site anymore if this continues...

  • Commenter image

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/18/2017

    Thanks for your comment. You'll find lots of great tips on how to position your speakers and your furniture in our article about stereo speaker placement: https://www.crutchfield.com/learn/learningcenter/home/nonHTspeak.html. Hope this helps.

  • Alan from The Edge of the World from Dacula

    Posted on 7/29/2017

    You know, my ears over the years have lost a lot of the "audiophile" ability that they once had. It's from playing my music way too loud, and now I'm paying the price. What my friends say is spot-on sounds to me to be heavy on the base side. Now I use a set of over-the-ears headphones that cancel out any outside sounds and allows me to taylor the bass and treble to suit my needs. The closeness of the speakers greatly reduces my need to turn up my tunes to "eleven"... Having said that, I do have a few questions. How far is the ideal distance to sit from my speakers? How important is the angle of the speakers, as in should they angle up or should they be straight up and down? What about size of tweeters and woofers? Are midranges that important?

  • Tom from Clinton

    Posted on 7/6/2017

    The Onkyo and Yamaha receivers look very much alike. I am wondering if they are made by he same company or companies.

  • William of WBs sound from upper sandusky

    Posted on 4/4/2017

    I tri amp and good equalization is a very important factor when the room isn't very listener friendly. Great mids and high frequency drivers are essential for good sound always connect your speakers in phase +to + and of - to - or you will have loss of bass and weird sounding effect

  • roque valcarcel from new york

    Posted on 3/16/2017

    im interested in buying a new cd player im considering the nad 166be or the Yamaha 300 both are priced the same I play lots of cdr s which machine do you prefer since im going to buy it from you folks any way thanx

  • David from Arlington

    Posted on 3/15/2017

    I second that on seeking GOOD recordings. The majority of CDs and other digital formats made in the last 15 to 20 years have been mastered using hyper compression, brick wall limiting, and even intentional clipping in order to make them sound louder overall. This isn't just with newer stuff either, I have come across many reissues of older recordings that have gotten this treatment as well during remastering.

  • Robert Thompson from Saint Louis Missouri

    Posted on 2/24/2017

    I have kept my home stereo system simple. A pair of speakers with a subwoofer and a receiver and a cd player is perfect for me. Also since I love music cds I don't use music streaming services.

  • Andrea Johnson from Sedro-Woolley WA

    Posted on 1/19/2017

    I have a stereo that is about 25 years or so. It is a good condition system, just old and we can't even figure out how to set stations. But our question is how do get a less scratchy sound out of it.

  • Wayne lee from Philadelphia pa 1906

    Posted on 1/9/2017

    What is the best way to use my iPadpro to get good music from iPad Pro to my system thank you for your input

  • Aurell Cater from Oakland

    Posted on 1/7/2017

    Thank you, excellent starting information. I am looking to do a serious upgrade to ALL my components. I have a lot to learn. ????????????

  • Paul from Raleigh, NC

    Posted on 12/26/2016

    The comment from Mike P about biamping speakers in the manner mentioned here and in "Dave's post", having the benefit of separating bass and treble in the cable, is NOT true unless you are using an external crossover. You might get a bit more power overall but both cables are going to carry the full range signal up to the speaker's built in crossover. Simply put - aside from a little extra power, passive biamping does not provide much benefit.

  • Steve from Woodlands

    Posted on 12/24/2016

    If you want good sound you won't get it from a receiver designed to do home theatre. But something like a Classe processor or Primare the using separate amps will get you there.

  • Mike Pettit from Colorado Springs

    Posted on 12/1/2016

    7. Bi-amping your speakers does indeed increase their available power, but more importantly, it separates the bass and treble signals so they don't magnetically interact within the cable (this is one of the most common forms of distortion in a system).

  • Dana from Madison, WI

    Posted on 11/17/2016

    Some of the lowest quality sound I've ever heard has been at live music performances. Where the sound mixer is set way, way off. Poor acoustics, speakers which are much worse than I have in my living room, muddy bass, etc.

  • ROy from Monterey

    Posted on 9/20/2016

    Don't make me go through slides. The title got me here but I'm not even going to bother. It's annoying.

  • Melissa from Toledo

    Posted on 8/23/2015

    Your prices are amazing and the service you provide customers is unrivaled. I'm a Crutchfield customer for life.

  • Arnold Bradley from waterford

    Posted on 8/11/2015

    not only do you have affordable prices, I love the fact that your phones are always open to any questions or problems I have for equipment I've purchased from you.

  • chet sky from Oakland

    Posted on 7/20/2015

    Not much helpful information for the average Joe. How can you measure a speaker's range? and whether such colors the music? Does one need a loudness contour control? I Tune compression unclear as to avoidance,especially if burning to a CD. Any digital speakers? thanks for the info as for brian--the answer is "carefully"

  • Commenter image

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/14/2015

    Brian, Sorry, but this isn't the place to get help with your installation. If you purchased your gear from Crutchfield, please call for tech support.

  • brian from minnesota

    Posted on 6/19/2015

    I have 4 binding posts on each speaker. how do I hook up to my receiver?