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Surround Speaker Placement - Surrounds, Rears And The Subwoofer

Do you put much thought into your surround speaker placement?

Or do you just put them out of the way somewhere?

To get the best out of your speakers, it is important to get the best possible placement of all your surround sound speakers - and the surround, rear and subwoofer speakers play an important role.

They perform specific tasks and so it is important to place them correctly to get the best sound in your room.

Surround speaker positioning

The surround speakers are there to create the sense of space in your room.

Ideally, the surround speakers in a 5.1 surround sound configuration should be placed at the sides, and just behind, the seating position.

An angle of 100 to 110 degrees from your listening position is the recommended angle (see diagram below).

Angle of Surround Speaker Placement in a 5.1 Speaker System Angle of Surround Speaker Placement in a 5.1 Speaker System

In many rooms you may struggle to get these positioned exactly, but always try to get as close as your space will allow.

Depending on your room, you may have to make compromises due to the position of walls, doors, windows and furniture - but there are usually ways to get as close as you can with a bit of thought.

Placement of the Surrounds in 5.1 Speaker System Placement of the Surrounds in 5.1 Speaker System

The surrounds should be slightly higher than the front speakers in the room - in the region of about 1 to 3 feet above head height when sitting down.

This is because the surround channels are there to create an ambient sound in your room, and so they should benefit from being slightly further away from your ears. The idea isn't to get the direct up-front sound that we want from our front speakers.

These speakers will often be directed at the central seating position, much like the front speakers, although this can depend on the design of the speaker. They can also be angled down to point at the seating position if the stands/brackets allow - although the need for this can depend on the type of surround speakers you have.

For standard direct-firing speakers (monopole), you can experiment with angling the speakers to point directly at your listening position, although some people may find the sound a bit too direct when you do this. Therefore direct-firing speakers may also benefit from being placed quite high above your seating position in order to increase the sound dipersion before it reaches your ears. Experiment and let your ears decide which sounds the best.

If you have bipole or dipole speakers, then you shouldn't need to worry about angling them so much as the design of these speakers should provide the ambient sound you need due to their design.

To get the best from these more specialized speakers, bipoles should be placed at the side or behind the seating position directed towards the listener, while dipole speakers should be placed at the side with the speakers facing to the front and back (i.e. not at the listening position). Bipole speakers are generally easier to place than dipoles and as they allow greater flexibilty in positioning.

For a 7.1 sound system, the surround speaker placement is much the same.

Angle of Surround Speakers in a 7.1 Speaker System Angle of Surround Speakers in a 7.1 Speaker System

However, the left and right surrounds are generally recommended to be slightly more to the side of the listening position (between 90 and 100 degrees), and the two extra rear speakers should be behind the listening position (135 to 150 degrees).

Apart from that, the height and angle of the speakers should be the same as with a 5.1 speaker system.

Subwoofer placement

The subwoofer is the maverick of surround sound speakers!

It's the cool guy who goes where he wants and doesn't follow the same rules as everybody else.

The main reason for this is the subwoofer has a very specific job - to reproduce the really low bass in a soundtrack.

Low bass frequencies are not as directional as higher frequencies due to their long wavelength - meaning that it is harder to tell where the sound is coming from in the room.

Therefore, subwoofer placement in a room is much less critical than with other speakers - which can be a blessing given the size of the darn thing! Wherever you have a spare bit of space in your room then you can pretty much stick it anywhere.

Subwoofer Speaker Placement in a room Subwoofer Speaker Placement

However, the guideline of avoiding corners can be important to remember for the subwoofer, as it is the bass frequencies which can become 'boomy' by being in the corner of rooms.

Having said that, you can sometimes use a position near the corners of a room to your advantage and really boost bass sound from your subwoofer - although your neighbours might not like it! The potential disadvantage is the bass becomes too overpowering in the room.

Have a play around with the position and see what you think. It is something that you will have to try for each individual room as no two rooms will sound the same.

One thing to listen out for is areas of the room where the bass is especially quiet - or loud. It is common to get standing waves in a room with the long wavelength of bass sound waves - and this can cause the volume of the bass to vary throughout a room.

The shape of your room can also affect the creation of standing waves. A square-shaped room can be a particular problem as the walls will be the same distance apart from each other. Try to avoid placing the subwoofer an equal distance between two opposite walls, as the reflecting waveforms can easily cancel each other out. Therefore, don't have the speaker exactly in the middle of the room and try to place the subwoofer nearer one end or another.

The main thing to check is that a drop in bass isn't happening around the listening area, which is not what we want. If you find this is happening then you can move the subwoofer a bit (a few inches may do it), to try and improve the bass levels in the important listening area.

Another solution, especially if you have a large room with a few quiet areas, is to have a 5.2 or 7.2 setup with an extra subwoofer.

Subwoofer Placement in a 7.2 Speaker System Subwoofer Placement in a 7.2 Speaker System

A second subwoofer can be very useful in leveling out the bass throughout a room - especially in the important areas where people will be sat.

For the best results, you would have to move the subwoofer positions around your room and listen for a change in the bass levels. You are ideally looking for a consistent level of bass at all listening positions in the room.

There isn't going to be a perfect position for the second sub which will suit all rooms.

It may be easier to have one person sat in the listening position and another to move the subwoofers around - and you may be surprised as to how much difference a few inches can make.

As you might guess, the downside of a 7.2 setup is that it can be harder to set up a room with two subwoofers.

The low frequency bass sound waves from two different places could start to cancel each other out in other parts of the room unless you place them carefully - so you could end up making the bass sound in the room worse!

Once you get into this kind of territory, then you might want to take some advice and get an expert in with sound meters to test the room and position the subs properly.

Surround Speaker Placement Summary

It is easy to forget about the surround, rear and subwoofer speakers - the front and center seem so much more important.

However, if you want to get the best out of your surround sound system, then the correct surround speaker placement is crucial.

When they are all in the best position, then they will all work together to give you a great surround sound.

Surround sound speaker placement - center and front speakers

Home theater speaker placement: general guidelines

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