Surround Sound Speaker Placement - Center and Front Speakers

When we are thinking about surround sound speaker placement, the most important speakers are probably the center and front left and right speakers.

These are the speakers that do most of the work when reproducing a movie soundtrack.

To get the best sound from these speakers we really need to think carefully about their positioning, so let's look at the important things to think about when we are installing them.

Center Speaker Placement

The center speaker plays a crucial part in a 5.1 surround sound system.

It mainly handles the dialogue in a movie and so it is crucial we place this correctly.

The center speaker needs to be placed just above or below the center of the TV screen - usually underneath - but this will depend on the height of your TV screen and if there is a suitable place to put it. Just try not to place it too far away from the screen or the sound may appear to be removed from the picture. This will sound unnatural and spoil the impact of the soundtrack.

Diagram Of Surround Sound Speaker Placement - Center Speaker
Surround Sound Speaker Placement - Center Speaker

Ideally, your main seating position will also be central to the center of the TV, and so the center speaker should be pointing directly at you.

The position above or below the screen isn't so important as the the position relative to your ears. Ideally the tweeters of the speaker should be level with your ears when you are sat in your viewing position - this is because higher frequencies are more directional.

However, if you can't get the speaker in a position that is level with your ears, then try to angle the speaker up or down slightly so it is pointing at your head when you are sitting down.

If possible, the tweeters of the center speaker should be the same height as the tweeters of the front left and right pair - although this is often difficult to achieve exactly. This allows a more consistent sound when the audio is panned across the front three speakers.

You will find that as long as they a reasonably level, say within 1-2 feet, then you won't notice too much of a problem when the sound moves across the speakers. If in doubt, play a movie and watch a scene with plenty of effects moving across the front speakers and listen to how it sounds.

Using your own ears and judgement is probably the most important aspect of speaker placement.

Surround Sound Speaker Placement - Center Speaker Height
Surround Sound Speaker Placement - Center Speaker Height

Also, try not to place the speaker behind the front edge of the TV (especially if it is on top) - as this means the sound will hit the TV first and this will affect the sound that reaches you.

Have Your Say!

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Then join in the discussion at the forum and FAQ for surround sound and home stereo speakers

Wall brackets, floor stands, or shelves can be used to place the speaker - just try to make sure it is stable and on a solid, flat surface. It many cases this can be the most difficult speaker to find a good position for, unless you buy a piece of furniture specifically designed for a TV and the center speaker.

A speaker designed specifically for the center will usually be a wide, horizontal shape - so that it fits easily along the edge of a TV screen and the sound is spread evenly across.

However, you can use any type of speaker as your center (such as a normal bookshelf speaker), but bear in mind the shape of this type of speaker will be slightly more difficult to install in an ideal position.

Front Left and Right Speaker Placement

The front left and right speakers are the equivalent of the stereo pair you are probably used to with your hi-fi system.

They handle much of the music and sound effects in a movie soundtrack, but sometimes will also be required to reproduce the dialogue.

Therefore, it is important to try and balance the sound image across the front of the screen, so that the front left, center and front right speakers complement each other.

Surround Sound Speaker Placement - Front Left and Right
Front Left and Right Speaker Placement

If you imagine an arc across the front of the room from your seating position, you would want to try and get the center speaker at the top of the arc and the front left and right speakers slightly further forward.

The front speakers should be an equal distance left and right of the TV - and both should be an equal distance from your seating position. You should imagine a triangle with the speakers and yourself on each corner.

The suggested range for the angle of the front left and right speakers from your seated position is 26 to 30 degrees (see below) - so use this as a guideline when positioning the front speakers. This angle may not be possible depending on the size and shape of your room, so don't get too distracted by the numbers.

Remember that in most AV receivers you can adjust the volume for each channel to compensate for slight differences in distance, so get as close as you can in your room, but don't start knocking walls down to get it exactly right!

These front speakers would ideally have their tweeters at ear height (when you are sat in your viewing position) - and this would hopefully be about the same height as your center speaker.

Front Left and Right Speaker Placement - Top View
Front Left and Right Speaker Placement - Top View

It is often better to have the front speakers angled slightly so they are pointing at the central seating position (this is called 'toeing-in' the speaker).

However, this can come down to personal taste and can also vary between speakers - so the best idea is to play with the angle of the speakers and decide which you prefer. You will get a wider sound stage if you don't toe-in the speakers - and a narrower, more-focused sound if you do.

As with the center speaker, if you can't get the front speakers at ear height, then it can be beneficial to angle them up or down slightly to point directly at the seating position - although whether you can do this can depend on the type of stands/brackets you are using. Many speakers are designed to be placed on the level, so it's up to you if you think angling them improves the sound.




Surround Sound Speaker Placement Summary

The center and front speakers are crucial to a surround sound system.

When thinking about your surround sound speaker placement, you should take some time and plan the best positioning in your room and then you will be well on the way to a great sounding system.

Don't waste the potential of your home theater sound system by not giving it a chance to sound its best.

Now we have considered the center and front speakers, we might want to give some thought to the surround, rear and subwoofer speakers. Follow the link below for more information.


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