Surround Sound Speaker Setups for Your Home
A massive 4K TV is always an excellent addition to a home theater setup.
However, the picture is only part of the equation. As TVs get thinner in size, so do their built-in speakers. If you want to cement your home’s status as the best place to watch a movie – even taking the nearest movie theater into account – you need more than your TV’s built-in speakers. It takes a high-definition surround sound system to take your movie-watching to the next level.
Take some time to learn what surround sound is, how it works, what equipment you need, and the different configurations available.
What is Surround Sound?
Surround sound systems utilize multiple speakers and channels to create an immersive, 360° audio experience, providing more depth, fidelity, and realism.
When you’re listening to a movie’s soundtrack via TV speakers, all the sound comes at you from a single source. Rockets firing into the stratosphere, buildings collapsing all around, and heroes leaping toward the screen all sound like they’re happening in a box...because they are. Life doesn’t come at you from only one direction, so a single source for sound creates a very limited experience. Doesn’t sound very realistic, does it?
True surround sound is the only way to recreate the movie theater experience at home, allowing you to hear what the director intended. This immersion can boost your enjoyment of the movie by plunging you into the story.
So, What Equipment Do You Need?
Home theater systems with high-quality surround sound equipment can elevate a typical movie night into the main event.
Here are the main components you need to transcend your film-watching experience:
- Left and right speakers (bookshelf or floorstanding)
- Center channel speaker
- Surround speakers
- Elevation or in-ceiling speakers (for Dolby® Atmos)
- Onkyo or Pioneer A/V receiver
As you can see, you have loads of options for surround sound home theater.
How Does Surround Sound Work?
Now that you know what you need, in terms of audio gear, for a killer surround sound home theater system, it’s important to know how they work together.
When creating surround sound content, audio engineers will split all the noises in a given scene into separate channels. For example, the sound that corresponds to the action happening to the left goes left, and effects accompanying visuals on the right go right.
A surround sound receiver acts as a traffic cop, directing all the sound to ensure it gets to where it needs to go. A setup with five speakers will transmit the sound accordingly, even if there are more channels encoded into the Blu-ray or digital download.
The center channel does the heavy lifting in terms of handling dialogue and whatever’s happening right in front of your face. Most of the music and sound effects in a movie are sent to the left and right speakers. The surround speakers provide ambient noises and sweeping/zooming effects, which adds a third dimension to your movie-watching experience. All the low-frequency effects (LFEs), such as explosions and musical bass, are assigned to the subwoofer.
When connected and arranged correctly, the speakers in a surround sound setup work together to properly fill the room based on its size and direct the sound towards the viewing and listening area.
Understanding Surround Sound Speaker Placement Configurations
Whenever you’re shopping for surround sound systems, you may notice they’re referred to as numbers like 5.1, 7.1, and 9.1. These numbers represent how many speakers and subwoofers make up the system. Here are some most popular configurations you can utilize for your home theater:
5.1 Surround Sound
A 5.1 configuration is the standard format for DVD, Blu-ray, and many streaming services. It features five speakers – left, right, center, left rear surround, right rear surround – and one subwoofer. For beginners, this setup makes an excellent entry point since it provides a satisfying surround sound experience without overcomplicating things.
7.1 Surround Sound
A 7.1 surround sound system has the same basic setup as the 5.1, but also includes right and left back speakers positioned behind the viewer. This configuration means you’re getting a total of four surround zones, further enhancing the spatial dimension and audio definition for movie soundtracks. Some Blu-ray and premium streaming sources are encoded in 7.1, but 5.1 sources can also be upmixed to 7.1.
9.1 Surround Sound
The 9.1 setup adds another pair of speakers to the 7.1 mix. Speakers in a smaller setup allow sound effects to travel left and right, forward and backward freely. In a 9.1 setup, two more speakers are mounted a few feet above a corresponding left or right front speaker, giving the sound some opportunity for altitude. Height provides music and audio effects another axis, creating a more immersive experience.
Check out our video for a quick tutorial on how and where to place your speakers:
What about 5.2, 7.2, or 9.2 setups?
Any of these systems can also incorporate multiple subwoofers, upping the number on the right side of the decimal point. One of the first recommendations you’ll hear from home theater buffs is to add another subwoofer if you’re rocking a 5.1, 7.1, or 9.1 setup.
Got a pair of subwoofers? Put them on opposite walls, so you receive bass from two directions. What good do all of these subwoofers do? They even out the bass response and make your movies and music thump a little harder and crisper. It makes a massive difference.
What About Dolby Atmos?
Like a doctoral student collecting new skills, prestige, and credentials, your sound system can continue to advance into the future. Dolby Atmos® is that leap forward in audio technology, breaking from the traditional channel-based system to free the various audio objects in a soundtrack and allow them to move about and come at you in three dimensions – including above your head. No longer tethered to a pre-assigned output, these sounds go in the direction that best serves your movie-going experience.
To experience Dolby Atmos, you must add either two or four in-ceiling speakers or elevation speakers to your existing surround sound setup. This change adds another decimal at the end of your speaker configuration – e.g., 5.1.2 or 7.2.4.
Read our blog for a more in-depth look at Dolby Atmos.
How To Hide Speaker Wires For Surround Sound
Whether you’re opting for a 5.1 system, 9.2 setup, or somewhere in between, wires are more than likely going to be involved.
However, there are a few ways you can hide those ugly and obtrusive wires:
- Choose a 5.1 Cinema Sound Bar System
- Hide wires with cable raceways
- Cover with rugs or runners
- Snake through walls/ceiling