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Home Theater Speaker Placement

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/23/2011

Getting the best placement for your home theater surround sound system can be a challenging - but very rewarding - process. Try these tips for optimum positioning on 5.1 and 7.1 systems.

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    Get the Most out of Your Surround Sound

    Whether you have a brand new home theatre setup with new speakers or you’re an old hand, it is important to give your sound setup the same importance as your TV setup.

    Getting the most out of your surround sound configuration can mean the difference between a good home cinema experience and a superb home cinema experience.

    It doesn’t matter how many sound channels you have (we’ll look at 5.1 and 7.1 configurations below) or what shape your room or viewing area is. It also doesn’t matter how much you have spent on your surround sound system – as long as the positioning is right, unless you’re specifically reviewing the sound quality throughout a movie, a system of around $200 (£120) should suffice.

    All you should need is plenty of good quality speaker cable and perhaps some extra stands for your tweeters.

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    Positioning the Center Channel

    A typical 7.1 surround sound configuration The center channel speaker is used to provide an audio reference to the TV – as such it should be positioned on top of or slightly below your TV, as central as possible.

    With speakers all around the room, it is easy to become disoriented. The center channel should therefore always placed in conjunction with the TV, and where possible at the same height as the front left and right channels. If this is not possible, some center tweeters come with a cradle or other form of adjustment to angle the sound to your seating area.

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    Front Left and Right Channels

    The left and right front speakers should be positioned relatively close to your TV, although this of course depends on scale. Bearing in mind that you cannot setup the optimum surround sound configuration if the TV and seating are not separated by a suitable distance, the front left and right speakers should each be positioned at a 22 -30 degree angle either side of the TV, facing the seating area.

    It is preferable for the front left and right speakers of any surround sound system to be positioned at your seated ear height. As such you will need to take advantage of suitable furniture or mount the speakers on approved stands.

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    Maximise Output from Your Surround Channels

    Whether your setup is a 5.1 or 7.1 (5 being the number of satellite speakers and 1 being the subwoofer unit) you need to pay as much attention to the positioning of these tweeters as you to the front units.

    The surround left and right speakers should be positioned at ear height at an optimum 90-110 degrees to the TV, either side of and facing your seating.

    For 7.1 systems, the rear left and right speakers should be positioned behind your seating, at 135-150 degrees to the TV and facing the back of your head. This is also an alternative position for 5.1 systems when there is no space for the left and right speakers at the side of the seating.

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    Placing Your Subwoofer

    A typical 5.1 surround sound system Of less importance is the positioning of your subwoofer. As a bass unit, the subwoofer can be positioned in several places around your room or viewing area, depending on the layout and furniture.

    Placing the subwoofer near a wall results in more bass, while placing it in a corner will result in even more – this isn’t necessarily a good thing, however, and you should strive to find the optimum position for the subwoofer. Uncontrolled bass isn’t a good thing, so consider playing some music through your surround sound while testing the subwoofer in different positions around your room to get the best result.

    Unfortunately it isn’t always possible to position your subwoofer for the best sound – some devices come with the control unit and remote receiver built in, meaning that at the very least the unit should be positioned within range of the remote control.

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    Working with Your Room Shape

    Contrary to belief, you do not have to have a perfectly square room or viewing area with your seating, TV and surround sound laid out squarely.

    However if you do have a non-standard layout, it is imperative that you make the most of the remaining space to offer the optimum available surround sound experience, whether you’re using a 5.1 or a 7.1 setup.

    For instance, if your TV is in a corner, facing the rest of the room at an angle, then your sofa should be similarly placed with enough space either side of both the TV and the sofa for the satellite speakers.

    Note that in no circumstances should furniture or architecture block the path of the sound from your speakers.