Basic Guide to Speaker Placement for Surround Sound

Speaker placement is critical to achieving optimal performance with your home theater system whether you are working with a sophisticated high-end system or a budget home theater. There are many factors that can influence the quality of sound you are able to achieve, and this guide should help you establish a baseline understanding of how and where to place your speakers for the best possible surround sound experience.

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Before diving into the theory behind surround sound speaker placement, let’s address some of the factors that can vary from room to room and may influence your sound quality . Every room is different, and you may need to make some minor adjustments in order to get the sound you’re striving for from your home theater system. For example, acoustics can be influenced by tile floors and the presence of windows. Rugs and curtains or fabric wall hangings can help to “warm up” your sound, or can be removed if the sound is too muffled. Also, any furniture that may be placed between your listening area and your speakers can interfere with the quality of sound you achieve. But with a little ingenuity and experimentation, you should be able to overcome any of these types of issues relatively easily.

Most surround sound systems fall into the categories of 5.1, 7.1 or 9.1, meaning they include five, seven or nine different speakers plus a subwoofer. Generally there are front speakers, rear speakers, a center bar, and the subwoofer in a surround sound system. When you first begin to explore the placement of your various speakers, your best resources will be your owner’s manual and your own ears. Often the manufacturer will offer placement information specific to the model you’ve purchased, and your ears will tell you if something is off in the locations you choose for your speakers as you go along.

The first speaker you will want to position is your center channel speaker. The center speaker’s main function is to anchor on-screen sounds and dialogue, which means that it needs to be positioned directly above or below your television. If your television sits in or on a cabinet or other piece of furniture, you will want to make sure the center channel speakers sits at the edge of the cabinet so the sound doesn’t bounce off surrounding surfaces and become distorted. Ideally, the center channel speaker should be positioned at about the same height as the tweeters in your front speakers, and about the same distance from your listening area as your front speakers.

Next are your front speakers. These speakers are especially important because they will be responsible for delivering all the sound when you listen to music as well as handling movie soundtracks. Make sure your front left and right speakers are an equal distance from your listening area with the speakers positioned at ear level when you’re seated. Your front speakers along with your center channel speaker should form an arc around your listening area and be anywhere from a 22-30 degree angle to your television.

Your remaining speakers are the surround speakers, and should be placed along the sides or behind your main listening area. These speakers should be placed higher than your front speakers; you may want to stand and position them so the tweeters are at about ear height while you’re standing. You may also want to experiment with the angle of your surround speakers by directing them slightly upward – depending on your room, a minor adjustment can make a big difference in your overall listening experience.

Lastly, you will want to place your subwoofer in a location that maximizes both the quantity and quality of the bass it produces. Placing it closer to a wall will increase the amount of bass, but placing it too close might decrease the overall quality of the bass. You can easily move your subwoofer around and experiment with different movie soundtracks and music until you find the best location for the sound quality you’re seeking.

Depending on your room, you may find that you need to move a speaker up or down, or angle it a certain way in order to compensate for furniture. Then you may need to adjust the sound being produced by the individual speaker in order to achieve the best possible performance. Some home theater systems make this easy by including an automatic speaker calibration feature.

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