May 27, 2016

When You Should Setup Your Own Sound System

Get a professional installer to set up your sound system, or do it yourself.  This is a decision people really struggle with when they decide to take the plunge and get serious about having a great sound system.  This is true when people are primarily focused on music, and it’s true when they are focused on home theater or home entertainment.  We hope we can make your decision a little bit easier because we believe 95% of people would be better served installing the sound system themselves.  Let’s look at what it takes to put a sound system in, what anyone can do themselves, and when people really need professionals to step in.

What Are Your Goals?

An important point to ask yourself before you set up any high quality sound system is “what are my goals?”.  Without knowing what you are trying to accomplish, you will have a hard time buying the right equipment, and you may fall into a trap where you either buy inferior equipment for your purpose, way to expensive equipment for your purpose, or way to sophisticated equipment for what you are really trying to accomplish.

With some types of sound systems, even though individual pieces of the equipment are very expensive, and put together correctly the individual pieces would create a very nice and very sophisticated sound system, put together incorrectly you will get worse sound quality than a low grade entry level sound system.  Not very groovy for listeners, or for the person who opened their wallet up to shell out big dough for the system.

Here is what you really need to define before you start:

  • Is the primary purpose of this sound system to listen to music, to create a home theater system, or a little bit of both?
  • How much money do I want to spend?
  • How many rooms do I want this system in?  Is it just a living room, or is it a kitchen too, do you want it outdoors, or in the bedrooms?
  • How likely is it that things will get unplugged or settings will get changed?  Do you have kids?  Will a lot of people be using your sound system who could mess with settings or the set up?
  • How willing are you to pay for someone to come fix your system every time something gets messed up?  This is important because some systems put in by a professional installer needs a professional installer to fix.

So lets tackle these issues in chunks.

Do I Want to Listen to Music or Home Theater, or Both From This System?

This is important to decide because at its heart, these are not necessarily compatible if one of these options is extremely important to you.

A system made for music, typically will sound much better playing music than it will playing television or movies.  By the same token, a true home theater setup will not sound optimal when it plays music, but it will sound amazing when you are playing movies.  Here are some basic differences:

A system made for music tends to container a fewer amount of very high quality speakers than one made for home entertainment.  Usually a system set up for home theater will have a surround sound feature, with multiple speakers set up at multiple angles to listeners.  Also, extreme bass is more important for a home entertainment audio system because people watching movies want to experience the deep rumbles that only a sub-woofer can provide.

A system set up for music is more likely to have fewer sets of speakers, but the speakers will be of higher quality.  Usually there will be tweeters and mid woofers, but the bass is less geared for extremely deep rumbles and more for tight precise beats.  Most concert quality music simply doesn’t require extreme bass to convey high quality sound.

Another key difference between a system set up for music only, and one for home theater is the receiver.  You need to consider, do I need an AM/FM tuner?  If you do you will need a stereo receiver.  If not you can usually get by with something called an integrated amplifier, which combines an amplifier with a receiver type device, minus the radio tuner.  These can be hooked up to the internet and streaming music or podcasts can be played from it.

If you are playing sound from a television, you need to make sure that your receiver can handle Dolby Digital surround sound, because different sounds will be coming from each speaker simultaneously.  This creates a true surround sound experience that lets a listener feel absorbed into the scenes they are watching, rather than having every speaker playing the exact same thing.

If you want your sound system to be a combo system that handles both music and television well, there are a number of nice systems on the market such as those made by Bose.  We recommend that you use Sonos equipment here for this purpose because it is built to handle music and television both well, and it is really easy to set up.

Usually you will need a receiver, and you will want to start with a soundbar if you are going to play sound from a TV source.  We recommend that you get a subwoofer, but don’t go overboard because you don’t want it to dominate music.  If you choose Sonos you won’t need a separate receiver because it is handled wirelessly.

No matter your answer to this question, you don’t need an installer to set up your system.  Just do your research so you know if your system is built to handle music or television and movies primarily, or a combination of both.

How Much Are you Willing to Spend?

Sound equipment varies significantly in cost.  Depending upon your application and the quality you want, you can spend between a couple of hundred dollars and tens of thousands of dollars on your system.  Here is a bottom line when thinking about choosing between having a profession install your system or doing it yourself.  If you are not willing to spend at least $2,500 on a sound system, you do not want to have someone else install it.

Man installs speakers
While good, installers of sound equipment can cost you thousands of dollars.

Labor is extremely expensive for professional audio visual installers.  On the low end, their time is worth about $75 an hour, on the high end it may cost $200 per worker per hour.  If they are running wires for your system (and almost all of them will to increase the quality of sound you hear and to increase the job cost) they will spend between half a day and a day in your home even if you are only setting up the system in one room.  If you have a lot of rooms, prepare to have installers spend multiple days in your house.

They will also mark up equipment.  Usually by about 50% to 200% for sound equipment.  So prepare to pay more money for the same exact stuff you can purchase yourself for way less money.

All this being said, a professional installer who knows what they are doing can really improve your listening experience.  They can tune and time the speakers properly, they can make sure that power conditioning is done for the wires so no distortions are heard, and they can buy the right equipment and set it up the correct way so that you get an optimized experience from it.  They can make sure if you need speakers outdoors, the speakers are rated to be outside and the proper cabling is run to them.

They also can run cabling through your home, which will hide unsightly wires and make your speakers integrate into the aesthetics of your home well.  This is important to many people who want a system to not only sound professional, but look professional as well.

The thing you can’t forget is that all of this comes at a significant cost.  We again can get around this with Sonos technology.  It can operate completely over a wireless network so no cabling is necessary.  Setup and tuning is a breeze and you don’t need to have years of experience to be able to build a system, even one with lots of components.  Instead of spending $10,000 and having an installer mark up equipment and time, buy the equipment yourself and only spend a fraction of this amount.

How Likely is it That Your System Will Get Unplugged, Have the Settings Changed, or Generally Get Messed With- And How Willing Are you to Pay to Fix it.

This is something most people don’t really consider when they have a professional install a sound system, and it is one of the biggest pitfalls that we see.  Many professionals will install the system and sell a universal remote control, that they programmed.  The equipment will be at a certain level of sophistication, which doesn’t necessarily mean that the sound is better but it will be really complicated to work on.

Installers make money from service too.  They count on wires getting unplugged, remotes breaking and getting deprogrammed, and settings getting changed.  When they do, a homeowner has no idea how to fix it.

When we install a system, we always try to educate the homeowner on the basic setup of it and troubleshooting methods they should use if they hit a snag.  Most installer prefer not to do this though.

When you have the nieces and nephews over for a weekend and they are playing hide and seek behind your sound cabinet, guess what, only your installer knows where those cords they just unplugged really go.  When you call him to fix it, he will charge you for his travel (at his full rate) and may charge you for a 1 hour minimum on site even if he is only there 5 minutes.  That unplugged cord just cost you $200.  And if it happens a couple times a year, guess what, you have no choice but to keep paying him.

Avoid this by installing the system yourself.  You will know how everything is set up, you will know how it works, and you can program it.  The systems we sell online are extremely easy for users to set up themselves, and that is why we stand behind them.

Conclusion

Choosing between a professional install or making it a DIY project is never easy.  At the end of the day, modern technology has made made new speakers extremely high quality.  Unless you are a sound aficionado, you probably don’t need a professional install.  Save yourself thousands of dollars in mark ups and service, and find a nice system you can install yourself.

We will leave you with one pro tip.  If you are going to have someone else install your speaker equipment, you can always offer to buy it yourself.  This way you avoid the mark ups over retail price that the installers will charge you, and you get the same equipment.  Most installers will be happy to oblige because they still get to charge you labor.  You will be happy because you will save hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the price they would charge you for the same speakers.