How to troubleshoot and fix home theater speaker problems

For the best home theater experience, it is essential to have great and immersive sound. For many people, this will mean investing in surround sound speakers and a means to power them either through a receiver or a separate power amp.

However, things do not always go as smoothly as one can expect which can break the immersive experience.

You can experience some problems that are common in most home theater systems both new and older systems.

Some of the common home theater speaker problems include;

  • Not getting any sound from your speakers after installation.
  • The sound may not be as rich as intended.
  • Muffled surround sound.
  • Surround speakers not working.
  • Height speakers for 3D sound formats such as Dolby Atmos not working.
  • Muddy bass from your subwoofer.
  • The sound may be out of sync with the video feed.
  • Static noises.
  • Hum and buzz.
  • One of your speakers or subwoofer may be blown.

Some of these problems can be fixed with a simple solution such as properly plugging in your cables to more complex solutions such as reconning which should be done by a professional.

-So, let us look at some of the steps you can take if you face any of these problems.

1.      Turn your system off and back on again

As complex as a home theater surround sound system may be, sometimes simple fixes are all you may need to get rid of the problem.

One such fix is turning your system off, letting every component cool down for about 30 minutes before turning everything on.

After turning on your system, you may find that some problems such as not getting sound from your speakers, sync errors, noises, and harmonics simply disappear.

However, doing this rarely fixes most speaker problems but it is worth the try.

2.      Check your source material and players

If your height/ceiling or surround speakers do not sound right or are do not reproduce any sound completely, you may need to check swap your sources.

Swapping your A/V sources can help you diagnose an issue with your speakers if the root of the problem is the source you are currently using whether it is a Blu-ray player, a TV box, or even a streaming device.

Try playing something different and see if the problem persists.

Sometimes the audio in your source material may not be encoded in the format that matches your speaker configuration. You may be trying to play a 2-channel audio signal on your surround and this will not work unless you up-mix the stereo signal to a surround signal using decoding modes such as Pro Logic X and the likes.

In other instances, the audio from the source may have artifacts that may cause you to hear noises such as hum, crackling, or distortion.

3.      Check your source cables and speaker wire connections

On the back of your receiver or power amplifier, you should check that you have properly connected the speaker wires correctly and that no naked wires are lying around.

If possible, use banana plugs for the speaker wire connections and well-shielded wires although they are costlier. Banana plugs are easier to use and will ensure that the ends of the speaker wires are not naked which can be the source of audio issues.

However, if you are using naked wire connections or spade connectors, they should be held down tight by the binding post. There should be as little as possible wire exposure.

Your speaker wires should also be connected to match polarity. Positive connections should go to the positive ports and the same thing applies to the negative wire connections.

The next thing you need to check is the cables running from your source to your receiver. Secure all the cables in place.

It is also important that you use HDMI connections if the ports are available as this will ensure that your receiver is getting a full-bandwidth signal which is essential for surround sound processing.

If you suspect that a certain cable is causing you problems, swap it with a different cable, preferably an HDMI cable, to see if the problem goes away.

The next thing you should check is how the AV cables and power cords are running. AV cables should have a different run to the power cables and in instances where they have to cross each other, they should cross at 90° angles.

Power and AV cables running next to each other can cause interference which can be the source of static and hum noises.

4.      Tweak with the settings on your receiver or preamp

Checking and tweaking the setting on your receiver or preamp can be a solution if you are not getting a full sound from the surround or height speakers.

The first thing to check is the decoding mode you are using. There are several surround sound processing modes available ranging from Dolby Digital to DTS modes.

If you want to get and full surround sound including your heights use these modes;

  • Dolby Atmos if the source is Dolby Atmos
  • DTS-X if the source is encoded in DTS-X
  • Dolby Surround or Dolby Atmos virtualization if the source is not Dolby Atmos.
  • DTS Neural-X or DTS Virtual:X of the source is not encoded in DTS-X.

To up-mix a stereo source for surround sound use;

  • Dolby Pro Logic II codecs.
  • Dolby Surround.
  • DTS Neo:6
  • DTS Neural-X

Always ensure that you use the correct processing mode depending on how the soundtrack is encoded and your speaker system.

You can also do decoding from your source by setting it to Bitstream. The source will process the audio file and send the processed audio to your receiver or preamp via HDMI.

Checking the speaker settings you are currently using is also important when trying to resolve some of the audio problems you are facing. These settings are Small or Large.

If you have a subwoofer or two, let the receiver know but selecting yes on the subwoofer setting before you proceed to choose Small or Large.

Using the Small setting is recommended as this will ensure that the subwoofer handles the Low frequencies depending on your crossover frequency. Once the speakers reach the crossover frequency they roll off and let the subwoofer take over.

The large setting can be used on full range front LR speakers but is also not recommended. This will ensure that both the speakers and the subwoofer are reproducing the low frequencies which can strain the speakers at the lowest frequencies no matter how powerful they are.

The large setting is also known as DoubleBass, LFE + Main, or Plus on some receivers and preamps.

If you have very capable full-range speakers, set them to small and have a lower crossover (usually 70 Hz or below).

5.      Do proper speaker and subwoofer placement and recalibrate your system

If you are experiencing muddy bass from your subwoofer or if the sound from your speakers is muffled, you need to ensure that they are placed correctly.

For the subwoofer, ensure that you keep it away from corners. It is recommended to place your subwoofer at the front soundstage with the cone facing you.

You can also use the crawl method to make sure that you get the sweet spot.

All you need to do is place the subwoofer in your sitting position and crawl around the soundstage until you find the spot where the bass sounds rich. Place your subwoofer in that position.

Getting a second subwoofer can also greatly improve the bass response in your home theater.

For the front, surround and height speakers, you need to ensure that they are not obstructed as obstructions can muffling of the sound, especially the mid-range frequencies.

You should also follow the placement guidelines by Dolby and THX to ensure that you correctly position all your speakers.

After you have properly placed all speakers and your subwoofer, use a white tone and a calibration mic to recalibrate speaker distance, speaker level, and crossover.

Also, check the subwoofer’s phase setting if you have a mismatch between the sound on your speakers and your subwoofer.

Most preamps and receivers will have auto-calibration software such as Audyssey EQ to make things much easier for you.

6.      Eliminate ground loops and RF interference

Home theater rooms are notorious for ground loops and interference which cause noises such as hum, crackle, and static.

However, locating the source of a ground loop or interference is more difficult as it can come from a variety of sources ranging from a turntable to other electronic equipment such as refrigerators.

The most common source of ground loop is using different power outlets that share a common grounding in your home theater. It is recommended that you use a single high-quality surge protector to power all your AV equipment.

You should also use properly shielded cables and run power cables separately to reduce the risk of electromagnetic and radio frequency interference.

All your equipment should be properly grounded, especially if you are using one component rack for most of them. Properly grounding the chassis of your equipment should help eliminate static and other ground loop noises.

But you may not always be able to get rid of hum or static by yourself as they can sometimes be caused by dirty AC due to interference by other appliances in your home.

You will need a professional electrician to locate the source of interference and come up with a viable solution such as running a separate power for your home theater room.

Contrary to popular belief, a power conditioner does not always work to eliminate ground loops and dirty AC. You are better off using a high-quality surge protector for your equipment.

So, before you end up hundreds of dollars on a power conditioner, first speak to an electrician that will the source of the problem and tell you if a power conditioner will be a viable option.

7.      Dealing with sync errors

If your video is lagging behind your audio you can add delay to the by a few milliseconds at source or on your receiver.

However, if your audio is lagging, you have a more serious problem on your hands. This is mainly due to slow audio processing problems on your receiver or preamp.

Try jumping between PCM and Bitstream to see if the problem goes away.

8.      Physically check and listen to your receiver/power amp

If you closely listen to your AV receiver or power amp, you may hear buzzing noises coming from the device. If it is the case, you just found the source of your problem.

This is known as mechanical hum/buzz and it can easily be picked up by your speaker.

What happens is that the lamination on the step-up transformers draw too much current and vibrate/rattle. This distorts the signals before they are sent to your speakers and reproduced as annoying noises.

The transformer can be replaced by a professional and certified repairer or your device’s manufacturer.

You should also inspect the receiver/preamp and power amp for any signs of damage such as a burning-like smell.

9.      Inspect your speaker drivers

If one of your speakers still does not work to a certain level as is used to or if is producing scratching and buzzing noises, you will need to inspect it.

Take the grill off the speaker enclosure and inspect the cone and surround tear or any other signs of physical damage.

If the surround has come loose, the driver may need re-foaming. A tear can be fixed using silicon adhesive but should preferably be done by a professional.

The other step you should take is gently pressing the cone. On release, the cone should move back to its original resting position. If not or if produces a scratching sound as you do this, you have a blown speaker in your hands.

You can also unscrew the driver from the enclosure and gently take it off the enclosure. Then check the speaker coil to check if it has come loose or if it is charred. This is another sign of a blown speaker.

A multimeter can also be used to test the driver’s resistance. Simply connect the negative and positive probes on the negative and positive leads on the driver respectively. The multimeter should give you a reading of between 1 and 16 ohms. If the Ohm-reading is 0 or infinity, the speaker is blown.

If your speaker driver is blown, it will need to be reconned by a professional but you are better off buying a replacement speaker as reconning can sometimes cost as much as the whole speaker itself.

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