Home Theater Speakers 101: Ultimate Buying Guide

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Want to build a fantastic home theater? The speakers you choose are crucial. But with so many options, it’s tough to know where to start.

I’ve learned a thing or two about speakers in over 20 years as a sound engineer and home theater enthusiast. I know it’s not easy for the beginner.

This guide will walk you through the key steps – from understanding the different types and essential specifications to positioning and the best brands to buy.

If you are confused about which speakers to get, this is the best place to start.

Key Points

  • There are several speaker types, like bookshelf, floorstanding, surround, center channel, and subwoofers. Pick the ones that fit your desired layout, room size and budget.
  • Speaker specifications like frequency response, sensitivity, and power handling determine sound quality and compatibility with your amplifier.
  • Buying a complete speaker package can be easier than choosing individual speakers. Packages ensure the speakers are matched.
  • Prioritize spending on the center channel and subwoofer speakers for clear dialogue and powerful bass in movies. Compromise on surrounds if needed.

What Is a Home Cinema Speaker System?

A home cinema speaker system takes the sound you usually hear from your TV and plays it through a larger set of speakers.

But it’s important to be clear that there are several ways of setting this up and plenty of different speaker layouts.

The standard type of audio for home theater is surround sound, where the audio is delivered all around your room, creating an immersive effect where you feel right in the center of the action.

Floorstanding home theater speakers in a room

However, you don’t have to install surround sound in your home theater. Some people don’t like the idea of multiple speakers and wires messing up their room.

In this case, you can install a smaller speaker layout that doesn’t use traditional surround sound – or install a wireless speaker system instead.

Whichever way you decide to do it, installing better sound will always improve your enjoyment of movies in your room.

What Types of Home Theater Systems Are There?

Whether you want a complete surround sound system or a smaller audio setup, you must be clear on the different ways of setting up home theater audio.

There are three main ways of getting home theater speakers in your room.

1. Speakers with an AV Receiver or Stereo Amplifier

This is the most flexible option but probably the most complex to set up.

An AV receiver is a multichannel amplifier that you need for surround sound. If you are happy with stereo sound, you just need a stereo amplifier.

For this option, you must buy your home theater speakers separately – in a complete package or individually – and wire them to the amplifier with speaker wire.

Speakers that must be connected to an amplifier with speaker wire are called passive speakers.

2. An All-in-one Home Theater System

Complete systems are best for people who want a more straightforward option. 

All-in-one systems offer a complete package that includes speakers and an amplifier. You will often get all the necessary accessories, too, like speaker wire.

Of course, you won’t need speaker wire if you buy a completely wireless system.

The big advantage is that you don’t need to check all the specifications and match the speakers to the amplifier for these systems.

3. A Single Soundbar or System

Soundbars are best for people who want to get better sound without installing several bulky speakers in their rooms.

A simple soundbar will connect directly to your TV and improve the sound instantly. Plus, you just need to place it below your television, which keeps the room uncluttered.

You don’t need an amplifier with most soundbars and simply need to connect it to your TV with an HDMI, optical or stereo RCA cable.

Speakers like these, which don’t need an amplifier, are called active speakers, which means they have amplification built-in.

You can also get larger soundbar systems similar to the all-in-one systems mentioned previously. 

These have more speakers, like subwoofers and surround sound, but are still easier to install than a complete AV receiver and speakers setup.

What Speakers Do You Need For Home Theater?

You can install home theater audio in several different layouts, so the speakers you need will depend on the configuration you want.

The most common layout is 5.1 surround sound, which has six speakers:

  1. Front left
  2. Front right
  3. Center
  4. Surround Left
  5. Surround Right
  6. Subwoofer

A 7.1 system will have two extra surround speakers at the back of the room.

7.1 Surround Sound System
7.1 surround sound system

If you want surround sound with 3D Dolby Atmos audio, you must install at least two more speakers for the Atmos height effects.

A 5.1.2 layout is a 5.1 Dolby Atmos speaker layout with two Atmos speakers, while the configuration with four height speakers is called 5.1.4.

Of course, you don’t need to install surround sound in your home theater. A simpler configuration is called 2.1, with two stereo speakers and a subwoofer. 

Or, you can add a center speaker to this to improve the dialogue, called a 3.1 speaker system.

What Are the Different Speaker Types?

Before buying your home theater speakers, you must decide which type of speaker you want.

You can use several different speakers for home theater, and picking the correct one is vital to the sound and look in your room. Here is a rundown of the different speaker types.

Center Speakers

The center speaker reproduces the center channel in a 5.1 soundtrack, which is primarily the dialogue. Therefore, it is probably the most important speaker in a surround sound system.

If your budget is limited, prioritize the center speaker over all the other surround speakers. Ideally, you should look for a center speaker with larger woofers – around 5 inches if possible.

Along with the tweeters, this will deliver a rich and balanced sound, making the dialogue cut through easily in a busy soundtrack.

Home theater center speaker
Home theater center speaker

Of course, a center speaker with large drivers may be too big for your space, so you might need to compromise depending on your situation.

You should place the center speaker under (or over) the middle of your TV screen – so the talking doesn’t appear disconnected from the action.

While it is crucial for the dialogue, the center speaker may also need to reproduce music and sound effects, so it should offer a wide frequency response, similar to the front left and right speakers.

Most people will use the same speaker brand for their front three LCR speakers, as it’s the best way to ensure a consistent sound.

However, you don’t have to match the front three speakers, and you can use equalization to balance the audio if you prefer.

Bookshelf Speakers

Bookshelf speakers are the most common in the home, so they are also popular for a home theater. They are called bookshelf speakers because you can place them easily in a room on a bookshelf, cabinet or small speaker stands.

The most common use for bookshelf speakers in home theater is the front left and right pair, although you can also use them for your surround speakers – and even the center if it fits.

Each speaker usually has two drivers – a woofer for the bass frequencies and a tweeter for the high frequencies – although some models will have more.

You can get excellent sound from the best bookshelf speakers – and they offer a great balance between sound quality and size.

They are big enough to give a full sound but small enough to fit into the average living room.

Bookshelf speaker
Bookshelf speaker

When used with a subwoofer for movies, you can quickly get a balanced sound that will sound outstanding with the music and sound effects.

The best models reproduce lower frequencies reasonably well, so you can smoothly transition between the bookshelf’s low-end and the low bass from the subwoofer.

Plus, they will also sound great if you also use your system to play music.

Depending on the actual size of the speakers and the space in your room, you can buy floor stands for the speakers – or use wall brackets to keep them out of the way a bit more. However, check the manual for your speakers to see the recommended way to place them. 

Some bookshelf speakers work best when placed near a wall and use proximity to increase the bass response, while others need more space to avoid sounding boomy.

Floorstanding Speakers

Floorstanding speakers are sometimes called tower or floor speakers, and they can really take your home theater sound up a level or two.

If you want the best sound possible for listening to music, then floorstanding speakers are often a good choice – but they can also be great in a home theater environment – especially in a large room that needs more volume.

A tower speaker has more drivers than a bookshelf speaker and uses a crossover to split the audio frequencies across the different speakers, which helps to deliver a more accurate sound.

The physical size of tower speakers will mean they can reproduce very low bass frequencies – plus still have the clarity of the mid and high ranges.

The frequency range that you can hear is 20Hz to 20kHz (if you are lucky), and this type of speaker will handle most of that – sometimes right down to around 30 or 40 Hz, which is beyond the limits of a humble bookshelf speaker.

two floorstanding speakers in a room
Floorstanding speakers

Floorstanding speakers are mainly used for the front left and right speakers in a home theater system, and maybe the surrounds if you have enough space – and money!

However, movie surround mixes don’t place much low-end at the rear. So, floorstanders may be underused as surround speakers. It will be great for surround sound music, though, if that’s your thing.

As these speakers are designed to reproduce low frequencies well, you may not even need a subwoofer as part of your system – and some people will set up the room with a 5.0 system, i.e., no ‘.1’ subwoofer speaker.

Another alternative is to have a subwoofer, but only switch it on when you watch movies for the very low rumbles and thumps of a movie soundtrack. 

A tower speaker can easily deliver the frequency range for most music without needing a sub, and you won’t have the potential problem of balancing the low end between the tower and the subwoofer.

Satellite/Surround Speakers

Satellite speakers are small speakers often used in surround sound. You may get satellite speakers as part of a speaker package, or you can buy them separately to add to your existing setup.

You may see them called surround sound or surround speakers, and due to their size, they are ideal for the rear speakers as they are more discreet.

But, while they are often used as the rear speakers in a 5.1 or 7.1 system, you can use them as the front speakers – left, center, and right – and many budget speaker packages will use these for every speaker.

Like most speaker types, satellite speakers come in various shapes, sizes and prices. You can get compact ones for hiding around the room or slightly larger ones with better frequency response.

small satellite surround sound speaker
Small wall-mounted satellite speaker

There are also cheap satellite speakers for those on a budget and high-end audiophile models – you just need to find the right balance for you, your room and your system.

The main disadvantage of a small speaker is its frequency response, and while it can sound great for mid and high frequencies, it will struggle to reproduce the lower end.

However, if your satellites are in a speaker system with a subwoofer, this won’t matter much, and you can direct the low frequencies to the sub.

You might be amazed to hear the full sound you can get with a modern satellite/subwoofer combination.

However, to get the best sound with satellites and a subwoofer, you should check the frequency response specifications to find compatible speakers.

Ideally, you want the low-end limit of the satellite speaker to meet (and exceed) the high-end frequency limit of the sub.  If not, you will have a ‘hole’ in the sound where neither speaker can reproduce the crossover frequencies effectively.

A rough example: if the satellite speaker can deliver down to 120 Hz, and your subwoofer can reproduce up to 160 Hz, you can set the AV receiver crossover to around 140 Hz to get a reasonably balanced sound.

Bipole and Dipole Speakers

Bipole and dipole speakers are commonly used as surround speakers. They both have a unique design with two speakers enclosed in one unit.

These dual speakers fire in different directions simultaneously to create a less directional sound. This is ideal for surround speakers because they are not meant to focus your attention – just fill out the sound field.

Bipole surround sound speaker
Bipole surround sound speaker

In a bipole speaker, the audio is in phase, meaning both speakers push and pull simultaneously. But in a dipole speaker, audio is out of phase by 180 degrees, meaning one speaker is pushing while the other is pulling. 

This creates a phase-cancellation effect, which results in a very diffuse sound.

Dolby Atmos-enabled and Height Speakers

A relatively new speaker type is for Dolby Atmos audio. With the advent of Dolby Atmos object-based audio, you will need to install overhead and/or upfiring speakers.

Dolby recommends using either:

  • In-ceiling speakers
  • Dolby Atmos-enabled upfiring speakers
  • Soundbars

However, you don’t have to use these for Atmos audio effects if you don’t want to.


Many users say they prefer the sound of standard direct-firing speakers mounted high in the room – rather than Atmos-enabled upfiring or height speakers.

So, you may be able to use some existing speakers that you already own and use these as your Atmos speakers.

Or, if you need to buy some new ones, remember you don’t have to buy dedicated Atmos modules. They are an option that may be the best choice for you – or not.

Dolby Atmos-enabled upfiring speakers are engineered to direct sound upwards so that the sound reflects off the ceiling, and they come in two types:

  • An upward-firing speaker integrated into a standard forward-firing speaker.
  • A module that contains just an upward-firing speaker, which you can place on top of your existing speakers.

The main advantage of this type of speaker is that it will often be easier to install in your room.

Dolby Atmos-enabled upfiring speaker
Dolby Atmos-enabled upfiring speaker

The downside is they may not work effectively in all rooms as they need a flat and reflective ceiling to work their magic – and the ceiling needs to be relatively close.

Some newer soundbars, bookshelf and tower speakers have built-in upward-firing elevation speakers.

In-ceiling Speakers

In-ceiling speakers can be ideal if you want to hide your speakers. Most in-ceiling speakers lie flush along the roof’s surface, or you can even get motorized speakers that move out of the ceiling at the touch of a button, which is pretty cool!

If you wish, you can use in-ceiling speakers for most of the speakers in a 5.1 system – fronts, surrounds, even the center – and you would only need to worry about hiding the subwoofer.

However, they work best as Dolby Atmos height speakers or maybe the surrounds.

As always, you can get budget and high-end in-ceiling speakers.

If you use them just for Dolby Atmos, you could save some money and purchase budget models. High-end ceiling speakers might be more than you need.

In-ceiling speaker
In-ceiling speaker

However, if used as main speakers or for playing music, you might want to consider paying more.

One feature to look out for is a moving tweeter, which can direct the high-frequency sound toward the listening position to improve the sound.

The big downside of ceiling speakers is they can be more difficult and expensive to install than ordinary speakers. For a start, you need to cut holes in the ceiling for the speakers, and you have to run the cabling to the amplifier.

Unless you are pretty nifty with a toolbox, 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 like ceiling speakers – but are fitted vertically into a wall instead. Using either wall or ceiling speakers mainly depends on your room’s shape and seating position.

If you can locate them in precisely the right locations for your viewing position, they can be a good option.

In-wall speakers are more suited to the speakers at a low level – like the front left, center and right – or the surround speakers.

Front,left, right and center in-wall speakers
In-wall speakers

A typical option would be to use standard speakers at the front, in-wall speakers for the surrounds and in-ceiling speakers for the Dolby Atmos height speakers.

In-wall speakers have similar advantages and disadvantages to those on your ceiling – they provide an excellent way to hide your speakers in a room, and they can look very elegant and professional.


The big daddy of the speaker world is the subwoofer. 

This is the next most crucial home theater speaker after the center speaker. Therefore, don’t cut corners when purchasing your sub, or you won’t get that solid bottom end that can make all the difference with movies.

Subwoofers reproduce very low frequencies and rumble effects and come in assorted shapes and sizes.

Most subwoofers are active, which means they have a built-in amplifier – so all you need is to connect one cable from the LFE or pre-out channel of your AV receiver.

For other models, you may need to connect speaker wire from your AV receiver and manually set the crossover on the subwoofer.

For more details on the wiring options, take a look at how to connect a subwoofer.

The other type is a passive subwoofer, which needs power from a separate amplifier. Unless you have experience in these matters, you should use a powered subwoofer to make your life easier.

Subwoofer Speaker
Subwoofer speaker

A sub’s driver cone can range from around 6 inches up to 15 inches – and sometimes more. The bigger the cone, the better the sub will produce low-end frequencies.

However, you shouldn’t automatically assume a smaller driver will have less bass because the subwoofer’s design and location in the room will make a big difference.

Smaller subs will be fine for filling out the bottom end, but you’ll need a larger model to shake the room with movie effects. For most rooms, a 10-12-inch sub will be plenty. 

If you have a small space, an 8-inch driver might work better – and for a big room, you might need a sub with a larger cone – or use more than one subwoofer.

Ported vs. Sealed Subwoofers

You may see a choice between a ported and sealed subwoofer.

  • Sealed Sub: AKA an acoustic suspension subwoofer. These tend to be more compact and provide a more dynamic and controlled lower end.
  • Ported Subwoofer: AKA a bass-reflex subwoofer. These have an open port to radiate the low frequencies.

Generally, ported subwoofers will be larger and have an increased bass response, plus they will provide more ‘oomph’ – for want of a more technical term.

Down-Firing vs. Front-Firing Subwoofers

Another design difference is a down-firing subwoofer vs. a front-firing (or side-firing) model. Although you will find varying opinions on this, the practical difference between the two is relatively small.

A down-firing subwoofer may sound different depending on the type of floor surface, and it may have a more controlled sound if you need to place it near walls or corners.

However, the position in the room will make more difference than the direction in which the driver is firing. There might be another factor to consider for those with small children or pets.

With its hidden cone, a down-firing subwoofer might have less chance of damage by inquisitive fingers and claws!


A soundbar provides the easiest way to improve the sound of your TV.

Your TV speakers can often be dull and uninspiring, so it’s a shame to see a fantastic high-definition image on your TV – and then make do with your TV’s built-in speakers. That won’t do at all!

Yet, many people don’t have space to install a proper surround speaker system in their living room – or they don’t want to mess around with cables and speakers everywhere.

Therefore, using a soundbar can be an excellent solution – it’s compact, easy to set up and blows the socks off your TV speakers.

A soundbar sits in front of your TV – like a surround sound center channel speaker. You usually place it underneath, but you can install it above the TV if that is easier.

Soundbar speaker
Soundbar speaker

Most soundbars are active systems, which means they have built-in amplification to play the audio directly from your TV – so there is no need for a separate amplifier.

However, you can buy a passive soundbar, which will need an amplifier and will often include the front left, center and front right speakers all in one unit. 

But, for most people, an active soundbar is the best option.

Modern soundbars can play the latest audio formats like Dolby Atmos, and some models will even have inputs for connecting other devices like Blu-ray players and game consoles.

If you want surround sound without installing speakers around your room, some soundbars have digital processing algorithms which create a virtual surround effect.

This can be pretty effective, although not as good as the real thing, with dedicated speakers around you.

However, you can also buy soundbar systems with small wireless subwoofers and surround speakers, which can be a great way to get proper surround sound without setting up complicated hardware.

Speaker Packages

When putting together your ideal speaker system, you can individually buy each speaker type mentioned above.

However, a good option, especially for beginners, is to buy a complete package with all the speakers you need for a surround sound system.

The advantage of this approach is you will get all the speakers you need in one go, and there are no worries about matching the sound of the center and front left/right speakers.

Plus, they will have similar specifications – so when setting any EQ and crossovers in your AV receiver, all the speakers will balance nicely.

home theater speakers
A large package of home theater speakers

Heck, they will even look great together as they will be part of the same family.

Why might you not want to do this? Well, you might enjoy the process of building a system yourself. You might want a subwoofer from one brand, front speakers from another and satellite speakers from a different company.

Some people enjoy building a system, while others prefer a more straightforward path.

Complete speaker packages for surround sound come in a range of prices. There are budget and mid-range packages with small satellite speakers and a more modest subwoofer, or there are top-end bundles where each speaker is a high-class component.

Your choice will be down to your budget and how critical you are with sound quality. For many people, especially if you are new to home theater audio, buying a package is the easiest option.

Then, once you understand how improving the sound enhances your movie experience, you might want to upgrade to something better. The most important thing is to choose the right package for your needs. 

If you use an AV receiver or amplifier, you only need to buy a set of passive speakers.

However, you could buy a complete all-in-one or a soundbar speaker system with its own amplifier. You don’t want to buy one of these if you use an AV receiver.

When shopping online for ‘home theater speakers,’ you will often see a long list of all these different types mixed up together, and it can be confusing to know which one you need.

If in doubt, pop down to your local AV store and get them to talk through your options.

Speaker Specifications

Unless you buy an all-in-one system or soundbar, purchasing home theater speakers will involve learning a little about speaker specifications.

Fortunately, you don’t need to get a qualification in electrical engineering, but it’s usually helpful to know the basics so you get something that is suitable.

Frequency Response

The frequency response of a speaker is the range of frequencies it can reproduce.

The range of human hearing is about 20 Hz-20 kHz – although your high-end hearing usually reduces with age, and the bottom end is more ‘felt’ than heard.

Therefore, speakers try to reproduce much of this frequency range, although that does vary depending on the speaker type.

For example, a subwoofer may only reproduce frequencies between 20 Hz and 200 Hz because it has a specific job of playing low frequencies.

But a bookshelf speaker, which should sound good on its own, will be more like 60 Hz to 20 kHz.

The frequency response chart for a speaker will indicate how it will sound in your room, although it’s only a guideline because the sound will change depending on the room’s acoustics.

Ideally, a speaker will have a flat frequency response, which means it can reproduce all frequencies equally given a fixed-level input signal – although it will never be perfectly flat in an actual room.

Speaker frequency response chart from Alesis.com
Speaker frequency response chart
Image Credit: Alesis.com

You should check the chart for a speaker to learn how well it reproduces the entire frequency range because its sound is determined by how well it reproduces the audible frequencies.

An expensive high-end speaker would be expected to reproduce these frequencies more accurately.

If you prefer watching videos, you may find this one interesting:

YouTube video


Speaker sensitivity is one of the most critical specifications because it tells you how well a speaker can convert power into sound.

Every speaker will have a sensitivity rating, although you may also see this called efficiency.

A less efficient speaker will turn more of the power it receives into heat, meaning it will need more current from your amplifier to reach the same volume as a more efficient speaker.

Speaker sensitivity specification
Speaker sensitivity specification

This can make a big difference in the volume you get, and if you like things very loud, you should consider buying more sensitive speakers – or a more powerful amp.

By the way, all speakers are inefficient and turn most of the power they receive to heat. It’s just that some models are more efficient than others.

A speaker’s sensitivity can range from around 80 dB to 100 dB. As a rule of thumb, a speaker sensitivity below 84 dB is relatively poor, and above 90 dB is pretty good.

To compare the sensitivity of two different speakers, you also need to know the impedance used in the test – because you can’t compare them if measured differently.

Nominal Impedance

Speaker impedance can be a confusing subject. However, it’s not so difficult when you get into the details a little.

Every speaker has an impedance value, usually 4 to 8 ohms for home theater or hi-fi speakers, which refers to the speaker’s resistance.

In simple terms, the resistance of a speaker tells you how hard it is to send an electrical signal through it. The listed impedance is usually a nominal or average value, but the actual impedance will vary with the audio signal’s frequency over time. 

Speaker impedance specification
Speaker impedance specification

Some brands will give you the nominal and minimum impedance ratings for their speaker to judge better how they will work with your amplifier.

The speaker’s impedance is critical because your amplifier is designed to work with a specific impedance range. So, you should check your amplifier specs and make sure it supports the impedance of your speakers.

Power Handling

The speaker power rating suggests the minimum and maximum amplifier power the speaker should receive. Therefore, you should check the rated output of your amplifier and make sure you are in the right ballpark.

You don’t need to be exact, and you have plenty of wiggle room, but you want to be sure that your speaker and amplifier are compatible.

Speaker recommended power
Speaker recommended power

Most speakers and amplifiers built for the home should be OK together, so you will probably be fine if you forget to check. But it’s good to be sure, especially if you have some exotic speakers that aren’t standard home hi-fi models.

It is common to see the average (RMS) and peak values for speaker power, which are different.

So, when you read the numbers given for the amplifier and speaker, make sure that you compare like-with-like values.

Speaker Size and Type

You will often see the size and type of speaker driver or cone listed, and it’s handy to have a general understanding of the different types.

Many speakers are designed with multiple drivers that reproduce specific parts of the frequency range. A crossover filters the incoming audio signal and passes specific frequencies to each driver in the speaker cabinet.

In general, a small speaker will be used for reproducing high frequencies and is called a tweeter, and they will usually have a dome-shaped diaphragm of around 1 inch in diameter.

Speaker cabinet with a tweeter, mid-range driver and a woofer
Speaker cabinet with a tweeter, mid-range driver and woofer

A bigger driver with a cone-shaped diaphragm will be better at reproducing low frequencies, and this type of speaker is called a woofer. Woofers come in a wide range of sizes from around 8 inches and up.

A midrange driver fits somewhere between a tweeter and a woofer – it is designed like a woofer but is smaller – say, 3 to 8 inches in diameter. The terms midrange driver and woofer are often used interchangeably.

While some speakers might have a single full-range driver, it is more common for a speaker cabinet to have at least one tweeter and one midrange driver or woofer.

However, some may have multiple drivers; it depends on the speaker’s design and the range of frequencies they are designed to reproduce.

Sound Quality

This is where it gets subjective, and a good-sounding speaker for one person might not sound great to another. You can use all the specifications above to get a rough idea of the quality of a speaker, but the only proper way is to hear them.

If you can’t manage to hear speakers for yourself, you will have to rely on the specifications and/or the opinions of others.

All the speakers made by the leading brands will sound good, and you can’t really go too far wrong with any of them. However, whether it matches your idea of ‘good’ only you can say.

Also, remember that a speaker’s sound will vary depending on the amplifier used and the room they are in.

You generally get what you pay for, so it should be no surprise if the more expensive speakers sound better. However, most people have a limited budget, and only you know how important great sound is to you.

Buy the best, and you will have speakers lasting for years.

Speaker Positioning

When you install your speakers, you want to ensure they sound the best they can. One of the easiest ways to get the best sound in your room is to position the speakers correctly.

Speaker positioning is crucial to getting a balanced sound that isn’t bass-heavy or thin and harsh. 

Get this right, and you will hear the dialogue clearly. The bass will rumble, and the effects will place you right in the middle of the action.

While you can fix many issues with equalization, if you place the speakers correctly, there will be fewer problems to correct, and it will be easier to get a good sound. Each speaker in the room should be considered individually.

Angle of Four Dolby Atmos Overhead Speakers to Listening Position
The ideal angle of four Dolby Atmos overhead speakers

The front stereo speakers should be an equal distance apart and adjusted for the listening position. The center speaker shouldn’t be too high or low, or the sound will be disconnected from the screen.

The subwoofer’s location will depend on the size and shape of your room.

And you should position the surround speakers around the listening position, but not too high – with the Atmos speakers located per the Dolby guidelines.

Which is the Best Brand to Buy?

Fortunately, several speaker brands make excellent speakers for home theater. The problem is it can be hard to decide which one to go for. 

The good news is that you can’t go far wrong with any of them. So you can go by price or looks if it makes it easier.

Some audiophiles swear that you have to pair a specific amplifier with particular speakers, or it won’t sound good – but that’s not a view shared around here.

If a precise sound is crucial to you, the only way to be sure is to go to an AV store and hear the speakers yourself – or see if the company offers a risk-free in-home trial period. 

Remember that speakers can sound different depending on the connected amplifier and the room they are in. Not good or bad, necessarily, just different.

Here is a list of recommended speaker manufacturers that I have used in a personal or professional capacity over the years (in alphabetical order):

  • Bowers & Wilkins
  • ELAC
  • Focal
  • Kef
  • Klipsch
  • MartinLogan
  • Monitor Audio
  • Polk Audio
  • PSB
  • REL Acoustics (Subwoofers only)
  • Sonos
  • SVS
  • XTZ

It’s not an exhaustive list of home theater speaker brands, but you might find it a helpful place to start looking. Most of these brands offer mid-range and high-end home theater speakers, but they are not the cheapest. 

However, you can expect a certain level of quality from their speakers. If these brands prove too expensive, several home theater speakers and packages are available from budget brands.

These won’t have the sound quality of the companies listed above – but they will be much better than listening through your TV speakers. So if that’s all you can afford – or are prepared to pay – by all means, go for it.

Or, you can save some money by buying second-hand speakers.

Many enthusiasts regularly upgrade when they can afford to, so their old speakers will be available at a reasonable price – and you can be sure they will have been looked after well.

To find pre-owned bargains, check out the speaker classifieds at AVForums and AVSForum.

Checklist: How to Choose Your Home Theater Speakers

How do you choose the right speakers for your home theater? It’s not easy because there are so many things to consider, and I’ve covered a lot of ground in this buying guide.

To summarize all you’ve learned, here is a checklist of things to think about to help you choose the right speakers for your room:

  1. What is your budget limit?
  2. Will you use an AV receiver/amplifier, or do you want an all-in-one system or soundbar?
  3. Are you looking for individual speakers or a package?
  4. Do you have a favorite brand?
  5. Will the new ones match your existing speakers?
  6. Do you want passive, active or powered speakers?
  7. Do you want floorstanding speakers, or will you want to use stands or wall mounts?
  8. Think about your room, and this will help to decide on the best type of speakers:
    1. How big is the room?
    2. How far from the walls will the speakers be?
    3. How loud do you usually listen?
    4. Where will you place them?
  9. Have you checked the specifications of the speakers?
    1. Power handling, impedance, sensitivity and frequency response
    2. What size are the drivers?
    3. Are the speakers ported or closed? Will this suit your room?
    4. Will the speakers work with your amplifier?
  10. Sound quality
    1. What do they sound like? 
    2. Are you looking for a specific sound?
    3. Can you test them in your local AV store?
    4. Can you get a risk-free trial in your home?

If you work through this checklist, you will have a better idea of what you should buy.


Here are some quick answers to common questions about home theater speakers.

Do You Need to Have Surround Sound in a Home Theater?

You don’t need to have surround sound in a home theater. A surround sound system will give the most immersive and exciting experience with movies, but a good quality stereo or 3.1 speaker system can also sound great.

What Are the Speakers Used in Home Theater?

The standard home theater speaker layout is 5.1, which uses six speakers: center, front left and right, surround left and right and a subwoofer. However, other layouts exist, such as 3.1, 7.1 and 5.1.2.

What’s the Difference Between a 5.1 and 7.1 Home Theater?

The difference between 5.1 and 7.1 is that a 7.1 surround sound layout uses two extra surround speakers at the rear. Other than that, they both use the same speakers: front left and right, center, surround left and right and a subwoofer.

What Should You Look For in Home Theater Speakers?

Home theater speakers should work together to create an immersive surround sound experience. The front and center speakers should have a balanced sound that makes the dialogue clear and full. The surround speakers should disperse the surround effects well, and the subwoofer should have a solid bottom end that dovetails nicely with the low-end frequencies supported by the other speakers.

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About The Author

Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has been a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment. You can find out more here.

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