When building your dream home theater, there’s one aspect you can’t leave off your list of must-haves; an amazing surround sound system.
The problem is, setting up a sound system can be difficult. But it doesn’t have to be!
Read on to get a complete guide of how to create the best surround sound system for the home theater experience of a lifetime.
The Basics of Surround Sound Systems
The first step in setting up a sound system is decoding the product numbers. When shopping for systems, you’ll come across numbers like 2.0, 5.1, 6.1, etc. While it may seem like you’re shopping in a math class, it’s quite easy to decode.
The first number refers to the number of channels or speakers. For example, 2.0 gives you two speakers. The second number speaks to the low-frequency effects channel, better known as a subwoofer.
The most common set-up is 5.1. The traditional set up includes three front channels, two surround channels, and a subwoofer. It’s used most because 5.1 system fits a wide variety of home theaters.
Channels and Speakers
Each of the five speakers in a 5.1 set-up has a particular purpose that maximizes your theater experience.
- Front Center Channel- Responsible most for reproducing dialogue. It’s position best represents the voices coming at you, as it would in real life. Most commonly this speaker is wider than the other, providing a broader sound.
- Front Left/Right Channels-These two speakers produce the majority of sound effects and music.
- Rear (or Back) Left/Right Channels- The rear channels are also mainly for music and sound effects but less so than the front ones.
- Subwoofer- Responsible for the low-frequency bass.
The last component of a great surround sound system is a quality receiver. The receiver is essentially the “brain” any system. Receivers come in a large range and pair with a variety of channel setups.
Moreover, receivers are paired with evolving technology, so there’s a different format for basic theaters and ones equipped for 3-D. When deciding on a system, take your needs and target technologies in mind.
One of the most important aspects of planning your surround sound system is the location of the speakers. The placement changes slightly as you add channels, but the concept is generally the same.
- The front center channel should always be placed directly across from the listening point (couch, chairs, etc.) You can choose to place this channel either above or below your screen. Most center channels are both flatter and wider than other speakers and aesthetically fit into most theater designs.
- Front left, and right channels are some of the most important of all the channels. They should be placed on either side of the viewing screen, at equidistant lengths. Additionally, they should be angled in towards the listening point at approximately 30-degree angle.
- Rear channels are where you find the biggest range of systems. On a traditional 5.1 set-up, the speakers should be placed on both sides of the listening point and slightly behind. These channels are traditionally smaller and can be placed at seating height, wall mounted, or even set from the ceiling.
- Systems with more channels (example, 7.1) will have another set of rear channels that go behind the listening point. These systems are less common as many theaters have the seating area or couches against a wall, making placement behind near impossible.
- The subwoofer is the most flexible of all the components. Since it’s most responsible for the “booming” bass sounds and not other types of directed sounds, your subwoofer can be placed anywhere in the front of the set-up
The Theater Space
There’s much to take into consideration when creating your dream home theaters’ sound system. Let’s break down the main concerns now.
Indoor or Outdoor
The equipment needs of an outdoor home theater and an indoor one vary, especially when it comes to sound systems. The set-ups listed above are best used in indoor home theaters.
Where 5.1 is the traditional system for many indoor home theaters, outdoor theaters may do best with a simple 2.1 set-up. Placement of these speakers should, as above, be angled in towards the listeners.
Other installment concerns, such as the height of the speakers, will be dictated by the type of speaker you use. Outdoor sound systems do well to have speaker set either at each top corner of the screen or half-way down.
Size should be a determining factor when deciding on a surround sound system.
Larger rooms (anything over 3,000 square feet) can better accommodate moving furniture around, leaving you open to utilize systems such as 7.1 and up.
Home theaters in smaller rooms can quickly overwhelm listeners by using larger than life sound set-up, so be sure to look into smaller speaker options.
Classic bookshelf speakers fare well in smaller settings (1,500-3,000 square feet.) It’s recommended to stay away from small, cube speakers as they have to struggle a bit more to fill even a small space, leading to distortion.
Flooring can effect the sound in even the best home theater sound system. Carpeting is best, where at all possible. If your space has hardwood or linoleum, putting down a rug should help the acoustics.
The idea is the carpeting or rugs will help muffle bouncing sounds. (Think of a school band playing in the gymnasium.)
Tile floors are known to distort the sound even further as it bounces around, making it the least desired flooring for a home theater.
Along with the topics above, there are other considerations to take into account when building your surround sound system at home.
First and foremost, your budget should be a deciding factor. If you don’t do research, you can easily spend thousands of dollars on a home theater, including the sound system. Go with what best fits your bottom line and remember, quality is way more important than quantity.
The type of speakers you purchase will depend on the size of the room as well as safety concerns. For example, if you have young children or pets in the home, a free-standing tower may not be your best option.
Be sure to take aesthetics into your decision-making process as well. If you have a minimalist theme, wall mounted channels may be the way to go.
There! A complete guide to the best sound system for your home theater. Putting together your system doesn’t have to be hard, as long as you think it through and consider your needs.
A well-planned surround sound system puts the finishing touches on any home theater. Get your home theater started today!