Speaker Placement for Home Theater
Julie Govan Feb 22, 2008
Whether you're planning a budget home theater system, or working with high-end A/V gear, paying attention to the location and positioning of your speakers usually pays off with a big improvement in sonic performance. If you're in the process of choosing home theater speakers, knowing the basics of speaker placement can help you make the smartest choice for your specific room.
Keep in mind that there are too many variables involved for there to be a single "magic spot" that's always best. Every speaker has different sonic characteristics, every room has different acoustic properties, and everyone's ears hear sound a little differently. So use the tips presented in this article as guidelines, but when it comes time to actually set up your speakers, let your own ears be the final judge. And remember to read the owner's manual that came with your speakers manufacturers sometimes offer model-specific recommendations for ideal placement.
Your center channel speaker
Your center channel speaker should be the first speaker you place in your home theater room. Because your center channel speaker's job is to anchor dialogue and other on-screen sounds to the screen, its position depends upon where you put your TV.
Place your center channel directly above or below your TV centered, if possible.
If it's atop your TV, make sure the speaker's front edge is precisely aligned with the front edge of your TV screen. This reduces distortion caused by sound reflecting and diffracting off the TV's cabinet.
If possible, the height of the center channel speaker's tweeter should be close to the height of your front speakers' tweeters ideally, within about 24".
Your center channel speaker should be precisely the same distance from your listening position as your front left and right speakers. (See below for details on front left and right speaker placement.)
Your front left and right speakers
Your front speakers pull double duty: along with handling movie soundtracks, they're responsible for reproducing all of the sound when you listen to stereo music.
Try to place your left front, center channel, and right front speakers equidistant from where you sit.
Position your front left and right speakers in front, and at equidistant points to the left and right, of your primary listening spot. Together with your center channel speaker, they should form a slight arc, so that all three speakers are exactly the same distance from where you sit, with the tweeters from all three front speakers aimed at your ears. We recommend measuring the distances precisely just an inch or two can actually make a noticeable difference in the way your system sounds.
Place your front left and right speakers so the tweeters are at your ear level when you're seated.
If you'd like a more precise guideline to follow, your front speakers should be at a 22°-30° angle with respect to your television. In other words, imagine you were to draw two lines one from your listening position to your television, and one from your listening position to your right speaker. The two lines should create an angle somewhere between 22 and 30 degrees. The same holds true for the left speaker. (See illustration above.)
For the best possible sound, the tweeters should be at ear level when you're seated. Most floor-standing speakers are designed with this in mind; smaller speakers can be positioned on stands or mounted on the wall to achieve the proper height.
Make sure there are no solid objects (like furniture) blocking the pathway of the sound traveling to your listening location.
Your surround speakers
Your home theater's surround speakers are there to envelop you in a cloud of atmospheric sound and special effects, so you feel like you're actually in the middle of the action. We've offered some recommendations to help you achieve this effect, but it's important to note that surround speaker placement is one area where positioning may vary widely. An approach that works well for a friend or neighbor may not even be possible for you, given the shape and layout of your home theater room. Feel free to experiment what matters most is how it sounds to you. And get room-friendly tips for running cable to your surrounds in our article on connecting home theater speakers.
Ideally, your primary pair of surround speakers should be placed to the left and right of your listening position either in line with it, or just behind it. They should form a 90°-110° angle with respect to your television. (If you were to draw two lines one from your listening position to your TV, and one from your listening position to one of your surround speakers the lines should cut out an angle somewhere between 90 and 110 degrees.)If you have a 6.1-channel or 7.1-channel system with more than two surround speakers, or if side placement isn't available for your surrounds in a standard 5.1-channel setup, consider placement behind your listening position, facing the front of the room.
Surround speakers should be placed high enough so that the drivers do not fire directly at your ears when you're sitting down one rule of thumb is to place them at ear level while standing. (If your surround speakers fire directly at your ears, they can overpower your front speakers.)
If your surrounds are mounted on the side walls on adjustable brackets, experiment with aiming them. You may get good results from pointing them at the ceiling or toward the rear corners of the room.If no side or rear walls are available for mounting your speakers, try placing a pair of traditional bookshelf speakers on speaker stands, slightly behind and to the sides of your listening position.
Avoid aiming them directly at your listening position. You can also try in-ceiling speakers.
Surround speaker placement which is ideal for home theater is not necessarily perfect for multichannel music listening, where a precisely focused rear soundstage is best. If both types of listening are important to you, then you can position your surround speakers for a compromise between the two.
If you mount the rear speakers on the wall, try to mount them to wall studs to prevent them from falling and damaging your speakers, drywall, and possibly furniture. Stud finders are available at most hardware stores. If mounting to studs isn't possible, wall anchors should be used to make a solid connection to your drywall. Most speaker brackets include wall anchors.
5.1-channel setup with the surround speakers wall-mounted to the sides of the listening position.
6.1-channel setup with the surrounds wall-mounted to the sides of the listening position, and one back surround wall-mounted behind the listening position.
7.1-channel setup with the surrounds wall-mounted to the sides of the listening position, and two back surrounds wall-mounted behind the listening position.
This dipole/bipole speaker from Polk is specially designed with home theater surround sound in mind.
Some manufacturers offer dipole/bipole surround speakers (sometimes referred to as "Solid/Diffuse" speakers) which are equipped with a switch for selecting between different modes of operation. Such speakers are often recommended as ideal for movie surround use, because of their ability to produce a diffuse soundfield, and their flexibility in a variety of placements. However, they are not as effective for multichannel music. Because they are most often seen in high-end, movie-focused home theater setups, our recommendations here focus on more commonly seen front-firing speakers and their use as surrounds.
A powered subwoofer delivers crucial impact in a home theater system, but is one of the least demanding speakers to position. Since low bass frequencies are omnidirectional, you can usually place your subwoofer just about anywhere in your home theater room, with good results.
Placing your subwoofer near a wall will generally result in more bass, and placement near a corner where three room boundaries come together will get you even more. Keep in mind that even though the bass increases as you place the sub near a wall or corner, the quality of bass may be slightly "boomier" and less controlled. Aim for a spot where you get a compromise between quality and quantity of bass.
One cool technique for placing for your subwoofer is to put your sub in your listening spot, play some music, move around the room, and listen. You'll probably notice that the bass sounds a little bit different as you move around from location to location within the room where it sounds the best may be where you want to put your subwoofer.
Many powered subwoofers are equipped with a phase control usually a 2-position switch. Choose the setting that produces the most bass while all your speakers are playing.
One thing to remember when setting up your speakers is that your room plays a key role in how your system will sound. Your room's shape, layout, and where the speakers are placed in the room are all factors that will affect a home theater system's performance.
Placing your front speakers next to a wall will slightly increase their bass output. This can improve the sound of smaller, bass-shy satellite speakers, but can muddy the sound of floor-standing speakers. Conversely, bringing speakers out from the wall may lessen their bass response but improve clarity.
A room with too many reflective surfaces, such as windows and tile, can add harshness to the sound or make it seem too bright. Adding carpets or drapes can help your system sound much more natural.
For more information on how your room can affect your system's sound and ways to find and fix trouble spots, check out our article on room acoustics.
This article may just let some of us be more enlightened. The site has some very good illustrations, too.