A central component of your home theater is sound. You can have a big screen, perfect lighting, and a comfortable seating configuration, but it won’t mean much unless you can recreate the big, booming sound that you love to experience at the cinema. Investing in quality surround sound speakers is important, but just as crucial is theater room speaker placement.
Where you position the speakers throughout your home theater space will impact the depth, quality, balance, and clarity of the sound. Proper speaker placement can elevate average-quality speakers and make them sound fantastic—and poor installation can cause premium-quality speakers to deliver a muddy, indistinct sonic profile.
To help you determine the perfect position for each speaker in your arsenal, Starpower has compiled this simple speaker placement guide.
Before we explore the art of surround speaker placement, let’s discuss how many speakers your system should include. The number of speakers that you have—or “channels” in the world of sound design—will influence your placement strategy. It used to be that a 5.1, five-channel system was the standard for surround sound. Today, 7.1 systems, 9.1 systems, and 11.1 systems are all relatively common setups for surround sound.
Which system is best for you will depend on how large your home theater room is: for a smaller room, a 5.1 system might pack more than enough punch, but for a larger, cinema-like space, an 11.1 system might be necessary. Your budget will also likely play a role. If you aren’t sure which level of surround sound system you need, ask the specialists at Starpower. Based on the dimensions of your home theater space, we can offer a custom recommendation.
Surround sound speaker placement always starts the same way: with the center channel speaker. You should always place a center channel speaker directly below the screen in your home theater room, pointed straight ahead at the central seating area. This speaker is essential because it makes it feel to viewers as if the sound is issuing directly from your screen. As viewers, we are accustomed to this feeling because with most TV setups, the sound is coming from near the screen. You don’t want to lose that familiar feel in your home theater, even as the rest of your surround system expands the sonic power of your entertainment.
The next two speakers are also the same in any surround sound system: the front left and front right speakers. Situate these speakers at the front of the room, though both should be off-center. Generally, each speaker will sit two or three feet from the edges of the screen. Unlike with your center surround sound speaker placement height channel speaker, you will not position these speakers parallel to the screen. Aiming them straight toward the back of the room will direct the full force of their sound toward the rear wall rather than your seating area. Angle each speaker so that it is pointing toward the center of the primary seating area.
A simple way to visualize these speakers is that their placements should form two of the three points of an equilateral triangle; the other point will be formed by someone sitting in the center of the front row of your seating setup. If the center channel speaker forms the axis or the zero-degree mark for your speaker system, each front-channel speaker should be 25-30 degrees off the axis.
Additional surround sound speakers will help to complete the full 360-degree experience. In a 5.1 surround sound system, you only have one true pair of surround sound speakers, which means that placement is especially important. For best results, place these speakers on the sides of the room, slightly behind your primary seating area and angled toward the same center point as the speakers that you have already placed.
Most experts assert that these speakers should form a 90-110-degree angle with the center axis. Skew toward 110 degrees if you only have a 5.1 system. In a 7.1 system, you can skew toward the 90-degree angle, since you will have one more set of surround sound speakers that can deliver sound from behind your seating area. These speakers should be about 140 degrees off the center axis, usually a few feet behind your back row of seating.
If you have a larger room with more seating rows (five or six, or more), you’ll want to move toward a 9.1 or 11.1 surround sound system. That way, your surround speaker placement can have several 90-degree angled speakers along the side of the room spaced at different intervals to deliver sound to all rows of seating. In any of these configurations, you will maintain your last set of speakers behind all the seating rows, matching the 140-degree angle from the center axis.
Following these guidelines will give you a basic map that you can use to create a satisfying surround speaker placement. To get even more out of your system, consider these factors:
- Subwoofer placement. Unlike most of your speakers, you don’t need to angle the subwoofer in a specific direction or even place it highly strategically. Bass signals are omnidirectional and powerful, which means that they will typically come through no matter where you place the subwoofer. Most people choose to place the subwoofer at or near the front of the room to minimize how far they have to thread a cable to connect to the receiver. For maximum bass, try playing your sub against the wall or even in a corner; the walls will serve as natural amplifiers for the bass signals.
- Speaker height. You’re limited in how high you can place the center channel speaker as it will typically need to go below the screen. Optimal surround sound speaker placement height is about at the level where your head would be when you are sitting down.
- Overhead. Some speaker systems incorporate another aspect of surround sound: overhead speakers. You will typically mount these speakers on the ceiling or high up on the walls to make it feel as though sound is raining down on you.
The right surround speaker placement will deliver everything that you could want while you are watching a movie: bone-rattling sound effects, full-bodied musical scores, and rich, ambient sound. At Starpower, we can help you to achieve these sound results by equipping you with the right speakers and helping you to position them all perfectly. If you have questions or need help executing the tactics discussed in this theater room speaker placement guide, contact us today.