How to Arrange Your Speakers for the Best Sound
Speaker placement can be just as important as speaker quality for great sound
Jared Norman | Apr 5, 2013
Most people think that the quality of the speaker is the last and most important element of getting good sound in their home theater room. While what speakers you get is important, another factor that has a huge impact on your listening experience is speaker placement. If you don’t place your speakers correctly, you could have mediocre sound even with the best of speakers. This article will help you with the basics of speaker placement even if your room layout is less than ideal. Before we get into where to put your speakers, let’s go over the different speakers that make up an average home theater:
Center Speaker: Over 50% of the soundtrack, including most of the dialog comes from the center speaker. If you are buying speakers, don’t skimp on the center speaker.
Front Left and Right Speakers: The majority of the soundtrack and sound effects come from these speakers. You can use in wall speakers, satellite speakers, or bookshelf speakers for this role, but floor-standing speakers have better low frequency response.
These speakers provide the majority of the atmospheric ambient effect sounds. There can be two, four, or more of these speakers depending on your speaker setup. These speakers work with your other speakers to create a realistic 3-dimensional sound field. However, if your placement and calibration is off, this experience can be lessened.
Tweeters: Tweeters are usually part of your other speakers (besides the subwoofer), and are normally found in the top portion of your speaker box. They supply the high frequency sounds.
Subwoofer: Subwoofers provide the low frequency sounds, like explosions.
Now that we know what all of the different speakers are for, let’s get them set up so that you can have the best possible sound experience. As we get things set up, don’t be worried if your speaker placement isn’t perfect. Most new recievers have automatic speaker calibration, which will compensate for less than perfect speaker setups. But, you still want to get things as close as you can. Also remember that it is important to get the correct gauge speaker cable to connect your speakers to your receiver. Learn more about speaker cable gauge.
Center Speaker: The center speaker is the, well, center of your entire speaker setup, so that’s what we are going to place first. Place the center speaker directly above or below your TV and line it up with the middle of the screen so that it’s centered. If the speaker is much lower or higher than your head when you are seated, tilt it up or down to point the sound towards the listener.
Front Left and Right Speakers: The next speakers to place are the front speakers. The height placement of these speakers is very important. You want the tweeters to line up with your ear when you are sitting in your favorite listening position. The speakers will be placed to either side of your TV and pointing toward that same place. Ideally you want the front left and right speakers to be equidistant from the center speaker. Also, if you imagine the lines of a triangle connecting the front speakers and the listener, you want each of those lines to be the same length. See the diagram below:
Surround Speakers: Surround speakers work best on the left and right of your listening position, either directly in line with that spot or a little behind it. You can also place them behind that spot facing to the front if it isn’t possible to place them at the side. You want them to be about ear level when you are standing up so that they can be above your ears when sitting down.
You may add as many surround sound speakers as your receiver can handle. The two most common setups are 5.1 surround (this setup has 5 speakers and a subwoofer) and 7.1 surround (7 speakers and a subwoofer). The examples shown are the ideal layouts for each of these setups. Luckily the placement of these speakers aren’t as important as the front speakers, if the ideal placement isn’t possible, just get as close as you can.
Subwoofer: You have a lot more freedom when placing the subwoofer because low frequency sounds are omnidirectional. The most common place to put the subwoofer is in the front of the room, because that makes it easier to run the cables. You can put the subwoofer next to a wall for tight, controlled bass, or in a corner for louder, more powerful base.
A great trick for finding just the right place to put your subwoofer is to put the subwoofer where you normally will sit while watching TV. Play some music or a movie and walk around the room. The bass will sound different depending on where you stand. When you are standing in the spot where the bass sounds good, that’s where you need to put your subwoofer.
And that’s it! Remember, this setup is done in an ideal room. Unfortunately, not everyone has the ideal room to work with. So just get everything as close as you can. Remember, your receiver will most likely have an automatic calibration feature, which will help to give you the best sound possible with your speaker setup. If your room is very small another option you have is to use a sound bar. These are like miniaturized multi-speaker systems that imitate surround sound. While they can’t achieve the same sound quality as a true surround sound system, they are a great option for small spaces and limited budgets. Find out more about sound bars.