DIY HiFi, How And Why?

DIY is one of the UK’s favourite pass-times. Last year the DIY industry was worth £36,000,000,0000 and caused 25,763 injuries requiring medical attention between 2014 and 2017.

I’m sure if you really looked into it you could find out how much of that £36bn was spent on repairing their own mistakes, and replacing stuff that they had broken. Look deeper still and you can probably find how much was spent getting a professional in after a disastrous weekend of failed home improvement.

DIY ranges from building a lean-to, putting together flat-pack furniture, decorating or installing home entertainment systems and the like. For the most part these kinds of jobs are easy enough, don’t require any specialist tools besides pliers, screwdrivers and a drill. I could write for ages about the guy who removed all the floors and load bearing walls out for reasons known only to himself, or the one who began burrowing under his home, then his neighbours’ eventually undermining several properties down his street over a period of years.

DIY Is Often More Expensive Than Hiring Professionals

Instead we’ll stick to covering the mistakes and mishaps that can happen when you’re installing your own home entertainment systems. These mistakes can prove costly, and incredibly inconvenient if you have to replace expensive TV or hi-fi equipment when you break it. Others, while not needing a pricey fix, can be really irritating if you get them wrong.

Cabling. Even speakers, routers, and other devices named ‘wireless’ still need power cables, so the cliché runs as true for them as it does for traditional cabled equipment, you can always cut it shorter, never longer. Always buy and fit more cable than you think you’re going to need because you’ll always want to move things around, change your mind about positioning, find the wire has to go around something, and no matter how good your wire is, it never ever stretches. Once your speaker is in position there’s nothing as irritating as pulling it out to adjust it and the cable comes out, and then slips back down behind the bookcase you’ve put it on!

On the subject of cabling; ID your ends! Once you start to get into a multichannel system with amps, DVD players, CD players, decoders, computers, HDTVs etc you’re going to find that you have A LOT of cable and they’re all going to start looking very similar. If you haven’t identified the ends of each cable you’re going to have to spend a lot of time and trouble tracing each line from one end to the other, scrabbling around behind furniture, untying and untwisting knotted wires… All you needed to do was stick a label made of masking tape to the end and all your woes would have been solved.

Making Your Surround Safe And Sound

If you’re installing wireless speakers you get a lot of latitude in the distance you can move the drivers from the amp, you don’t have to have wires running around corners or under the carpet, but you’re still limited not only by having to be near a power supply, but by the radio signal too. If you take the speaker too far away you’ll find that the sound quality starts to suffer, and you’ll also find you get interference, either from furniture, people moving between devices, interrupting the signal, or other wireless devices, such as phones, computers on your wifi network, and other wireless and Bluetooth devices.

Another problem people have with their speakers, of either type, is the size they choose. A small speaker, no matter how good the sound quality and maximum volume isn’t going to be able to adequately fill a large room with sound. Conversely, a large speaker in a small room is not only wasted, they don’t work very well at low volumes as they are designed to move large amounts of air. If you have to keep the volume down, you lose fidelity and range.

Don’t Spoil The Careful Design & Technology Which Has Gone Into Your Home Entertainment System

Speakers are very carefully designed, despite looking like a driver (the cone) in a simple wooden or plastic box. They’re been set to have a maximum and minimum range, and to work acoustically inside the cabinet (the box bit). Taking them apart or adapting them will usually ruin what the designer was trying to achieve, meaning that the expensive branded speaker you bought is now no better than a cheap headphone speaker in a shoebox. If you have floor or shelf speakers that you’re not happy with, think about trading them in for wall mounted or in-wall/in-ceiling speakers. They are specifically designed to work with the acoustic limitations that not having a cabinet presents.

If your speakers are delivering the sound for your surround sound TV it’s important to find the right place to put them, suited to your viewing position. The TV screen should be at eye level (see ‘why you shouldn’t hang your TV over the fireplace’) and the speakers should be approximately the same level, equally distant from the screen and from your head too. Make sure that all the speakers are positioned accurately regarding which channel they serve too. It’s strangely befuddling to watch a conversation where the voices seem to come from the wrong direction, or a car screams out of frame to the left, but the sound leaves by the right.

If All Else Fails, Read The Manual

In IT there are many acronyms and clever or sarcastic invented jargon to refer to common mistakes and problems. If you’re a fan of The IT Crowd you’ll know that Roy always answers the phone by immediately asking “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” Today this is known as “power cycling” because people were becoming offended by the patronising way they were being asked of they’d performed this fix. Another piece of jargon that any DIYer should be aware of is “RTFM” as in “Have you tried RTFM?” meaning “have you tried reading the f… manual?”

No matter how well versed you are in home entertainment, electronics and DIY, the fundamental difference between an amateur and an expert is those who have read the manual and those who haven’t. All the information you are going to need is in the book that comes with the equipment, and, if you still can’t find the answer you’re looking for, there’s probably something on YouTube, Instructables or any number of other expert advice pages.

Treat Your New System Carefully

The instructions will show you how to set up your surround for the full effect, instead of just plugging it in and choosing stereo, or worse, mono. They’ll show you how to connect all your peripherals to minimise and sanity check cabling, how to set up your TV to the find the right format for the show you’re watching. They’ll also show you how to install a wall mount safely, in fact all the tricks the professionals use can all be found in the instructions somewhere, so always do your research before you start.

And finally, be careful! Your new HiFi, WiFi, and AV equipment is expensive and once it’s your property you can’t just take it back if it’s your fault it gets accidentally damaged. Tripping over cables not only damages the wire, but a sharp tug can damage the connector, and the terminal/port itself. Once these become damaged the equipment will never work properly, if at all, and the repairs and replacements can be very costly. So always do all you can to minimise accidents. Always recess or securely protect wiring if it runs anywhere it could become a trip hazard. Always ensure that shelves can take the load of all the equipment that you’re going to put on them, and if you have kids, try and ensure that all your kit can go in a cabinet or space that’s well beyond the reach of little fingers.

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