How to choose the best positions for your Home Cinema Speakers

Positioning speakers correctly is important if you want to get the best sound out of your Home Cinema speaker system but it doesn’t have to be hard!

What is 2.0, 5.1 and so on

In surround sound, we refer to two types of sound channels:

  1. Main or full-range channels which normally reproduce a frequency range between 80Hz and 20KHz
  2. Low Frequency Effects (LFE) channels – or subwoofers – which reproduce anything below 80Hz

in the X.X notation, the first number refers to how many full-range channels there are and the second number refers to how many low-frequency channels there are. For example, in 5.1 there are 5 full-range channels and 1 LFE channel.

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The symbol displayed on some DVDs and Blu Rays for 5.1 surround sound encoded on the disk

Channels versus Speakers

We refer to channels when we talk about how many sound channels are put onto a medium such as DVD, Blu Ray or TV broadcast.

We refer to speakers when we talk about how many speakers reproduce the sound that is being played. For example, did you know that you can play stereo (2.0) channels over a 5.1 speaker system and vice versa? An explanation of why and how to do that is going to be a topic of another post. For now, let’s position your speakers in your listening environment.

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7.1 Surround Speaker Placement

Front Left and Right Speakers – 2.0

This is real easy! You simply place the speakers on the left and right of you TV screen. All you need to ensure are two things:

  1. They are ear height when you’re sitting down – unless you’re watching movies standing up for some reason!
  2. If they are more than two meters apart, ensure the speakers are slightly turned inwards towards the listening position so they end up facing you.

Centre Channel Speaker – 3.0

The centre channel should go in between your front left and right speakers. Usually the best place for it is under or on top of your TV. Unfortunately, doing either could compromise dialog intelligibility. To avoid this, experiment with the following:

  1. Try placing the speaker both under and over your TV screen and see which position you prefer in terms of sound
  2. In each position, angle your speaker up or down to ensure it is firing towards your ears as you sit down in your normal listening position. To achieve this, you may need to wedge something under the bottom front or bottom back of the speaker to get the right angle. One way to do this is to buy some rubber stick-on feet like below on ebay and use those.

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Surround Speakers 5.1, 6.1, 7.1

Now this is a bit more tricky but it becomes easy as long as you know how many surround speakers you want to install.

2 surround speakers for a 5.1 set-up – Surround Left and Surround Right

If you have two surround speakers, it is best to position them as follows:

  1. Height: about 1/2 to 1.5 meters high from your ears when you’re sitting down
  2. Best Placement: about 1/2 meter back from where you are sitting to the left and right of you. This can be on the wall or on speaker stands or even hang them from the ceiling. You don’t need to have them at equal distance from you, so you could put them on the side walls even if your room layout is not symmetric AS LONG AS you account for this when you set up your AV receiver. I will show you how to do this in my next post.
  3. Good placement: if you cannot position the speaker high or behind you, you can position them on speaker stands to the side.

3 surround speakers for a 6.1 set-up – Adding 1 Surround Back Channel

All modern AV receivers can process stereo and 5.1 channel (dolby digital and DTS sound-tracks) to extract 6.1 and even 7.1 channels. This provides a more stable surround sound stage and better movement (called steering) of sound effects at the back of the sound stage.

When you add a third surround speaker, you will need to:

  1. Put it behind you on the wall or on a speaker stand at the same height as your Surround Left and Surround Right speakers.
  2. Set your AV Receiver to mono Surround Back channel or 6.1 Speaker Configuration and ensure you connected the speaker to the correct speaker terminal. Most AV Receivers will ask you to connect a single Surround Back speaker to the Left Surround Back Speaker terminal.

4 surround speakers for a 7.1 set-up – Adding Surround Back Left and Surround Back Right Channels

You can also have stereo Surround Back channels, adding two speakers behind you instead of just one. To achieve this, you will:

  1. Put both speakers behind you at the same height as the surround Left and Right Speakers.
  2. Leave a minimum of 1/2 meter distance between them. The bigger your listening area, the bigger the space between them should be. For example, I use all my living room as my listening space so the surround back speakers are placed equal distance from each other and from the side walls.
  3. You can measure your listening environment and make the same calculation: equal distance from each other and from the side of your listening area such as your couch while still respecting the minimum distance between the two speakers (1/2 meter).

Subwoofer – the .1 in X.1

Subwoofers can go anywhere in the room because the sounds they produce are non-directional – that is you cannot tell where they are coming from. Subwoofer placement is an art in itself and short of hiring an audio engineer, you can do a lot to get the best sound in your room with the following rules:

  1. If you have only one place where your subwoofer can go, then easy: place the subwoofer there.
  2. If you can put it both front and back, try it in the front of the room first then try it at the back and see which position sounds best.
  3. If you can literally put it anywhere, and you just want to get THE BEST sound possible, you can do the follow – called the crawl test:
    1. Place your subwoofer in the position where you normally sit. This may require shifting the couch and putting the speaker on a chair.
    2. Put your favourite music track on with a lot of consistent base.
    3. Now crawl around the room and mark any places where you consistently like the sound of the base – these are the “sweet spots” in your listening room.
    4. Place the subwoofer in one of those “sweet spots”
    5. Enjoy!

In spite of the above rules, first and foremost you should always trust your ears. Play with speaker placement and see – or rather hear – what sounds best to you!

You need to ask two basic questions when building your Simple Home Cinema sound system!

So many choices, manufacturers and specifications, but there are some simple things we can use to make the right choices. You really only need to ask two basic questions:

How many and what type of speakers do you need?

First, a quick lesson on speakers: there are two types of speakers: one that produce the upper range of frequencies (called main speakers) and one that produce only the low frequencies (called subwoofers). In home cinema, the number of each type of speaker is denoted by the first or second number in the specifications. For example: 5.1 means 5 main speakers and 1 subwoofer.

For someone starting out with Home Cinema, I recommend one of two choices:

1. If your room can accommodate 5 speakers and a subwoofer, go for a 5.1 set-up arranged in the following way:

  1. Two stereo channels at the front (Front Left and Right Speakers)
  2. One centre channel for dialog (this is optional if you don’t have the room)
  3. Two stereo channels at the back (Surround Left and Right Speakers)
  4. One subwoofer channel (the subwoofer can be placed anywhere in the room as long as it sounds good to your ears)

surround-sound-setup-5-1-vs-7-1

2. If your room cannot accommodate 5-6 speakers, go for a sound bar.

A sound bar is a speaker that is placed under or over your TV and bounces sound around your room to create the surround sound field AS IF you had 6-8 speakers in your room.

I would recommend a sound bar that has a subwoofer in a separate box for the best sound quality and full impact of movie soundtracks.

Although many manufacturers now make sound bars, some manufacturers have more experience in creating virtual surround sound such as Yamaha. Other manufacturers have some great products also, but be sure to read the reviews and audition them to see if you like the sound effects they create.

yamaha-ysp3300-sound-bar-diagram3

What kind of amplification do you need?

If you’re going for a 5.1 set-up, you have the option of choosing an all in one package that includes an amplifier or buy separate speakers and amplification. The former is easier to get and set up, but will almost always produce inferior sound to a separates system.

For home cinema, the amplifier is also usually tasked with decoding the audio and passing the video signal to your screen. An amplifier with built-in decoding of audio and video is called an Audio Video Receiver (or AV Receiver for short).

avr2805_lg

A sound bar 99% of the time includes amplification and decoding of audio from TV, DVD and Blu Ray so you won’t need to buy a separate AV Receiver or Amplifier.