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Home Theater Speaker Placement - Guidelines For Your Surround Sound Setup

Finding the best home theater speaker placement can make or break your sound system.

Don't go to all the effort of choosing the right speakers for your room, spending your hard-earned money on quality equipment, and then just put them any old place when you get to installing them.

If you spend some time thinking about placing the speakers properly, then you will make the best of your surround sound setup.

Every room is different

The first thing to remember is that your room is almost certainly not going to be the perfect shape for a home theater sound system.

Most of us will be using a communal living area for our home theater equipment, and so it is very difficult to get the perfect setup.

However, that doesn't mean that we can't try to get the best sound possible from our amplifier and speakers.

The information here should be treated as good general guidelines to follow, and while you may not be able to get every point exactly right, you will still be making the best use of the space you have available.

Home Theater Speaker Placement - 5.1 Surround Sound System Home Theater Speaker Placement - 5.1 Surround Sound System

Most people will have to make some compromises in their location of their speakers - but that's fine, just aim to do the best job you can - it will make a big difference to the sound in your room.

Once you have the speakers in the best location you can, it is then possible to adjust the settings of your AV receiver to compensate slightly for the actual position of each speaker in the room.

In the following articles, we shall assume we are installing a 5.1 speaker system (pictured above), but alternative speaker configurations will be covered where appropriate.

General guidelines of speaker positioning

Before we get into the details for placing the individual speakers, there are a few general guidelines that are useful to bear in mind when positioning all types of speaker.

Remember, it's not the end of the world if you don't follow them to the letter, but the nearer you can get then the more chance you have of getting a great sound in your room.

1. Not too close to  walls, floors and ceilings

Try to avoid placing the speakers too close to walls, floors and ceilings. This can be difficult in smaller rooms, but the sound of the speakers can be altered by being too close to these surfaces.

The bass will be increased if too close to walls or floors and so this will artificially change the sound of the speakers. Also, the sound waves can reflect off these hard surfaces and delay the sound waves reaching your listening position, which will create poor clarity and stereo imaging.

However, just to confuse you slightly, some smaller speakers may actually benefit from (or be designed for) being mounted on/near walls - they may be designed to use the increase in bass to help their sound as they are too small to get a good bottom end on their own (check out the information that comes with the speaker).

As a general guideline, the bigger the speaker (and therefore the more bass it creates on its own), the more important it is to keep away from walls.

2. Avoid corners

Definitely avoid placing the speakers in corners. This is similar to point 1 - except the issues are even more of a problem to the sound in your room because it is where the floor, wall and ceiling meet.

The corner of a room can do strange things to the sound waves bouncing around your room, especially the bass end. The bass will often appear 'boomy' or 'muddy' if your speakers are too close to the corner.

Having said that, in some rooms you can try placing the subwoofer near to the corner to boost the bass in the room. As I said, speaker placement can be full of seemingly conflicting advice - but the truth is each room is different and something that works well in one room may not work in another. Experiment!

5.1 surround sound speaker system in empty room

3. Avoid obstructions

Always try to make sure there is nothing getting in the way of the sound reaching your ears. You won't get the best sound from your speakers if furniture, curtains, even your TV itself, are obstructing the sound from getting to you directly. Obstructions will cause the sound waves to bounce around the room before reaching you - but what you want is for the sound to go directly from the speaker to your ears.

4. Listening test

Play a constant sound (like a piece of music you know well), sit in your normal listening position and carefully listen to the sound.

Then move the speakers by a few inches, or change the angle they are pointing, and listen to how this affects the sound you hear (this is easier if there are two of you - one to listen and one to move the speakers). You may be surprised how moving the speakers just by a small amount can alter the sound.

Home Theater Speaker Placement Summary

Follow these guidelines and you will be well on your way.

The main thing to remember is that they are just that - guidelines. Don't feel that you have to follow each point exactly or you will ruin the sound in your room - just get as close as you can depending on the size and shape of your room and speakers.

However, now we have covered the basics of home theater speaker placement, we can think about more specific issues when installing each individual speaker in our surround sound setup.

The following guides cover the installation and placement of the center, front, surround and subwoofer speakers:

Surround sound speaker placement: center and front speakers

Surround sound speaker placement: surrounds, rears and the subwoofer

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