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Choosing The Best Home Theater Speakers For Your Room - Speaker Types And Sizes

One of the things that you need to consider when choosing the best home theater speakers for you, is the type of speaker that will suit your room.

There are a few different speaker sizes that you can buy, and each will offer you slightly different things. The type you buy will depend on the way you are going to be using them, or the size of your room. You may need surround sound or stereo speakers - large floorstanding or smaller bookshelf speakers.

So what are the speaker types that are available to us?

Soundbar

A soundbar provides a compromise between the using speakers that come with your TV, and a separates system using an amplifier and speakers.

The idea behind a soundbar is that the sound that you get from your TV speakers can often be flat and uninspiring. It is a pity to get a fantastic high-definition image on your flat screen TV and then make do with the built-in TV speakers.

However, many people don't have the space in their room to install a true surround sound speaker system - or they don't want to mess around with running cables around the room and installing speakers everywhere.

Therefore, a soundbar is designed to sit along the front of your HDTV and provide a much better audio experience - without the worries of setting up a separate amplifier and speakers.

VIZIO SB3851-C0 38-Inch 5.1 Channel Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer and Satellite SpeakersVIZIO SB3851-C0 5.1 Channel Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer and Satellite Speakers

Many soundbars are active systems, which means they have built-in amplification to play the audio from your TV signal without the need for a separate amplifier. However, you can also buy a passive soundbar, but this will require a separate amplifier. You will need to know which type you want before you buy one of these speakers.

You will find some models with just stereo speakers which will just improve on the sound from your built-in TV speakers - some with extra speakers to imitate surround sound systems, and some come with a separate subwoofer to provide a better bass in the room like the  VIZIO SB3851-C0 5.1 channel soundbar pictured here.

The virtual surround sound they provide doesn't match the experience you can get with a properly configured system of an AV receiver and speakers installed around you, but they can provide an effective sense of surround sound with the added advantage of an easier installation.

Satellite speaker system

Satellite speakers are generally small speakers, and they are becoming very common to find as part of a 5.1 or 7.1 home theater surround sound package. However you may also buy them separately to add to your existing setup.

Satellite speakers would usually be the front left/right or surround left/right speakers in a 5.1 surround sound setup - or both.

5.1 Speaker Configuration in a Home Theater System 5.1 Speaker Configuration in a Home Theater System

The centre speaker may also fit into the category of a satellite speaker - although this speaker is often larger and wider because it is the main source of the dialogue in a movie - and so you may want a specialised speaker for the centre rather than use the same type as the front and surround left/right speakers.

The subwoofer is a specialised speaker so is not considered to be a satellite.

The advantage of satellite speakers is that their small size means that they can fit discretely into your room - without the need for you to start removing bits of furniture to fit them all in!

You need to remember a 5.1 surround sound system requires you to have six speakers in your room, which can be inconvenient if your room doesn't have too much room to spare.

Small satellites can be discretely mounted as the front left and right, and/or surround left and right speakers (on the wall or on floor stands) - so you can usually fit them into a room without too much trouble.

You only then have to be concerned about positioning the centre speaker and the subwoofer.

Energy 5.1 Take Classic Home Theater SystemEnergy 5.1 Take Classic Home Theater System

The main disadvantage of a small speaker is that while it can often sound fine for mid and high frequencies, it can struggle to reproduce the low frequencies effectively. It is very hard to design a small speaker to reproduce low frequencies - as the physical size of a speaker contributes greatly to the sound it can produce.

However, if the satellites are part of a well set up surround sound speaker system that includes a subwoofer, then the subwoofer can be used to handle the lower frequencies that the satellites can struggle with - and you may be amazed to hear the full sound you can get with a modern satellite/subwoofer combination as part of a home theater system.

A good example of a mid-sized 5.1 speaker system with a subwoofer is shown here with the Energy 5.1 Take Classic home theater system.

Satellite speakers are often absolutely fine for watching TV and movies, but if you also want to listen to a lot of music through the same system, then they might not sound quite as good as larger, more specialised speakers.

Also, don't forget that you can usually buy satellite speakers individually, as well as part of a package, so you may just want satellite speakers as your surround or rear pairs - and you can have larger bookshelf or floorstanding speakers for the more important front pair.

Bookshelf speaker

Bookshelf speakers are larger than satellite speakers - and you may be more familiar with this type of speaker with your hi-fi system.

Bookshelf speakers have this name as their size was designed to fit easily into a room on a bookshelf or cabinet.

They are meant to be big enough to give a good full sound on their own - but small enough to fit easily into the average room.

Klipsch R-14M Reference Series Bookshelf SpeakerKlipsch R-14M Reference Series Bookshelf Speaker

However, that may have be true a few years ago when we were only concerned with stereo speakers systems, but with surround sound systems that require six or eight speakers in the room - then even bookshelf speakers can seem on the large size.

The advantage of bookshelf speakers is that they are better suited to listening to music on their own (because they can handle a wide frequency range), and so they are more versatile as part of an entertainment system.

You can get a really good sound from the best bookshelf speakers.

You can setup your system to only use the front left/right pair of bookshelf speakers when listening to stereo music - but then use the full surround sound speaker system when watching TV or movies.

When just listening to music, many people prefer the sound of two good stereo speakers when listening to stereo sound, without having to utilize the subwoofer to add the bottom end - which is why bookshelf speakers can be a better choice. However, this is down to personal taste and many people will not notice any difference between the sound with and without a subwoofer if it is setup properly.

If you do have a system with bookshelf speakers and a subwoofer, you can also set your AV receiver to only send the lower frequencies to the subwoofer (below 80Hz for example), and the bookshelf speakers can handle much of the music that is part of a movie soundtrack - while the subwoofer will take over when there are very low bass frequencies to hear. Again, to many people, this can give a slightly better sound.

Pioneer SP-BS22-LR Andrew Jones Designed Bookshelf LoudspeakersPioneer SP-BS22-LR Andrew Jones Designed Bookshelf Loudspeakers

If you have the space (and the money), then you can have bookshelf-sized speakers as both the front left/right speakers, as well as the surround left/right.

However, there is nothing wrong with spending more of your budget on a good quality pair of bookshelf speakers to use as the front left/right pair (which is the more important), and then have a smaller pair of satellite speakers for the surround speakers (which do less work and aren't so critical in the soundtrack).

Also, if you have a limited budget, don't discount using speakers you already own.

If you already have a good quality pair of bookshelf speakers that you use with your hi-fi, you may want to keep these as your front left/right pair and just buy some extra speakers for your surrounds.

Depending on the actual size of the speakers, and the space in your room, you can buy floor stands to put the speakers on - or wall brackets to keep them out of the way a bit more.

Floor standing speakers

Floor standing speakers, sometimes called tower speakers or floor speakers, are generally seen as more specialised speakers.

If somebody wants the best sound possible for listening to music, then floor standing speakers are often the way to go.

KEF R500 Floorstanding LoudspeakerKEF R500 Floorstanding Loudspeaker

This type of speaker is designed to handle the full frequency range required to listen to music (usually regarded to be 20Hz to 20Khz). The physical size of these speakers will mean they can reproduce very low bass frequencies - as well as have the clarity of the mid and high frequencies.

They are designed to stand on the floor (hence the name!), which gives them a very solid base, and this helps them play back the low end bass. They will often be fairly tall too, as they may be made up of a number of small speakers - all of which are designed to play specific frequencies better.

In a home theater system, floor standing speakers will mostly be used for the front left and right speakers - and maybe for the surround left and right speakers if there is enough room (or enough money left in your budget!).

With this type of speaker used for the front and surround, you would then need to get a specialised centre speaker, as well as a separate subwoofer.

However, as floor speakers are designed to reproduce low frequencies so well, you may not need a subwoofer as part of your system - and you can just set up the room with a 5.0 system (i.e. no '.1' speaker).

Another alternative is to have a subwoofer, but only switch it on when you watch movies. The floor standers will be great for music, but sometimes the really low sound effects in movies can be best reproduced by a dedicated subwoofer.

In-ceiling speaker

There is one way of installing a great speaker system in your room, and not having to worry too much about the space you have available to you - in-ceiling speakers.

An in-ceiling speaker is perfect if you want to keep the technology from cluttering up your room.

You can get speakers that lie flat along the surface of the ceiling - or you can even get speakers which are motorized and move down out of the ceiling at the touch of a button.

You could use in-ceiling speakers for the front and surround left/right speakers in your system - and the centre speaker too if that was the easiest way to incorporate it into your space. The Polk Audio RC80i 2-Way in-ceiling speakers pictured here would work well for this purpose - they can also be paired with the Polk Audio in-wall speakers pictured in the next section..

Polk Audio RC80i 2-Way In-Ceiling SpeakersPolk Audio RC80i 2-Way In-Ceiling Speakers

You would only then have to worry about hiding the subwoofer out of the way somewhere and you would have a sound system that wouldn't intrude on anybody.

The downside is this type of system is more specialised and can be more difficult and expensive to install than ordinary bookshelf or floor speakers - and the sound quality may not be as good as high-end hi-fi speakers - especially for music.

Plus, there would obviously need to be some minor structural work on your room. Holes would need to be cut in the ceiling for the speakers - and the cabling would need to be run from the amplifier (this may also require some structural work if you wanted the cabling in the walls/ceiling to keep it out of view).

Unless you are pretty nifty with a tool box - it may be wise to pay a specialist installer to do this work for you - which would also be an added expense.

However, the results can be fantastic and you really would have a system that resembles a cinema or theater.

In-wall speakers

In-wall speakers are similar in in-ceiling speakers, but are fitted vertically into a hole cut into a wall rather than horizontally into a ceiling.

The choice of using either wall or ceiling speakers would mainly come down to the room you have - and your decision would depend on the shape of the room and the seating positions.

Polk Audio RC65i 2-Way In-Wall SpeakersPolk Audio RC65i 2-Way In-Wall Speakers

It may be your room would be best suited to wall speakers for the front left/right pair, and ceiling speakers for the surrounds.

Other than that, in-wall speakers have similar advantages and disadvantages to in-ceiling speakers.

They provide a good way to hide your speakers in a room so they don't get in the way - and they can look very elegant and professional - but they can be more difficult and expensive to install and the sound quality may not be quite up to the best bookshelf or floor standing speakers.

Choosing The Best Home Theater Speakers Summary

So as you can see, it can difficult to find the best home theater speakers for your system as there are a few different speaker types and sizes.

The choice you make will depend on the size and shape of your room, the sound quality that you require, and, as usual, your budget.

Don't dismiss a sound system based around satellite speakers, as these days you can get an amazing sound from these small speakers - and they can be relatively easy to fit into your room.

However, if space isn't a problem, or you know you want to have a system that can easily handle music as well as movies, the maybe bookshelf or floor standing speakers are the way to go.

In-ceiling and in-wall speakers are perfect for keeping the technology out of view and creating a professional looking room - but it can be harder to install this type of system yourself - so this can add to the cost.


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