How to Make Cheap Speakers Sound Good
By David Lipscomb
Advances in modern technology have made even inexpensive speakers decent. However, some speakers just don't sound good without some assistance. Problems such as inadequate enclosures, poor power handling and low-end components on a crossover all team up to make your favorite music sound boomy and rough around the edges. By making a few changes to the speakers and your listening habits, you can make even the most dissonant speaker sound good, tiding you over until your audio budget allows improvements.
Remove the woofer and tweeter drivers from the cabinet. Pull the wires from the back of the drivers and lay the units aside.
Remove any loose batting or other stuffing inside the enclosure.
Cut five pieces of sound-dampening sheets or carpet padding to fit the sides, top, bottom and back panels of the speaker enclosure. Remove the release paper from the adhesive backing of the sound dampening sheets, or spray adhesive to one side of the carpet padding.
Press and stick the sound-dampening sheets the insides of the speaker walls. Press firmly to remove any trapped air bubbles.
Return any speaker batting removed from the cabinet. Reattach the speaker wires and screw the drivers back into the cabinet.
Select an inline capacitor -- commonly called a "bass blocker" -- in the 30 to 40 Hertz range. These are the more challenging frequencies for a cheap speaker to deal with, so you should target these for filtration.
Press down on the spring terminals on the back of the speaker. Pull out the speaker wires.
Slide a barrel crimp connector to the positive side of the speaker wire. This is usually represented by raised molding or printing on the jacket. Crimp the connector in place.
Slide the wire for the inline capacitor into the other end of the barrel connector. Crimp this end in place.
Slide the bare wire on the other end of the capacitor into the positive or red spring terminal on the speaker. Slide the other speaker wire conductor into the remaining negative or black terminal. Repeat the process for the other speaker.
Listening Habit Modifications
Position the speaker pair as far from one another as they are from the primary seating position. This arrangement is known in audio circles as the "golden triangle," helping with imaging and the overall solidity of the sound.
Move them in from the back wall roughly 18 inches, if the room allows it. This reduces the excessive bass common in speakers featuring shoddy cabinet construction.
Toe each speaker inward slightly. When you're in your primary listening position, you should only see the grille cloth and not the sides of the speaker cabinets. This aids with imaging, a term describing the sounds coming from each speaker presented cohesively in the middle.
Turn the volume down to a level where the speakers do not sound distressed. Effects like harsh treble, a clapping sound during tough bass passages and buzzing are all symptoms of distortion, present with excessive volume.
Improve Your Sources
Upgrade your bit rates. Low-bit rate MP3s at 128 kilobits often have problems with high and low frequencies. These extreme ends of the frequency range are targets for MP3 encoders, with much of their information disposed of to reduce the overall file size. Whenever possible, listen to the original CD or files encoded in a lossless manner, meaning that all data is preserved and is retrievable, similar to a computer ZIP file.
Add an equalizer. Cheaper speakers do not have uniform response, and may exhibit a boxy or harsh sound. EQs with 13 bands or more allow enough adjustment to target these problems by ear and dial them out. Alternatively, use a modern home-theater receiver featuring an automatic equalizer.
Use more caution when dialing in radio stations, or listen to stronger ones. Adding or tying into your rooftop TV antenna with a splitter allows weaker stations to come in strong, with stronger stations exhibiting better sound quality.
- Heating the back of a sound-deadening sheet with a hair dryer helps with adhesion.
- If you have inexpensive bookshelf speakers, use good quality speaker stands to isolate them acoustically from the floor. This helps with bass response and midrange clarity.
- Stick rubber feet to the bottom of any speaker, keeping the cabinet from vibrating against the shelf or stand.
David Lipscomb is a professional writer and public relations practitioner. Lipscomb brings more than a decade of experience in the consumer electronics and advertising industries. Lipscomb holds a degree in public relations from Webster University.