Speaker placement for home theater

5.1, 7.1 and other surround sound setups


Julie Govan

Julie Govan is the Brand Manager at Crutchfield, and has been writing about consumer electronics since 1999. Her areas of expertise include home theater, surround sound, digital cameras, and HDTV. In her spare time, she also writes book reviews and fiction. She earned a B.A. in English from Davidson College, and went on to receive a master's degree in English literature from the University of Virginia.

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The guidelines below can help you get great surround sound, even in rooms with less-than-ideal layouts.

Try not to get too hung up on finding the exact right spot for each speaker. Keep in mind that most newer receivers come with automatic speaker calibration, which makes it easy to compensate for imperfect speaker placement. Watch our short video to see how this works.

Check out our video about speaker placement to get a sense of the basics.You can learn more about what each speaker does in a surround sound system in our introduction to home theater speakers.

Center channel speaker

Place your center speaker directly above or below your TV and line it up with the midpoint of your TV screen. If your center speaker is placed much lower or higher than the tweeters in your left and right speakers, tilt it up or down to point the sound toward your listening position.

Front left and right speakers

Ideally, your front speakers will form a slight arc with your center channel speaker and point toward the center of your main seating area. To form the perfect arc, use a measuring tape to make sure your front and center channel speakers are exactly the same distance from your listening position. If your interior decorator insists that the front speakers sit flush against the wall, don’t worry. You can compensate for the lack of a perfect arc when you calibrate the system.


Position your front speakers at equidistant points to the left and right of your primary listening spot. The front speakers’ tweeters should be at ear level when you’re seated.

Surround speakers

Your surround speakers are meant to envelop you in a cloud of atmospheric sound and special effects, so you feel like you're actually in the middle of the action unfolding on your TV.

In a 5.1-channel system, surround speakers are best placed to the left and right of your listening position — either in line with it, or just behind it. If side placement isn't practical in your room, place your surround speakers behind your listening position, facing front. Either way, place the speakers high enough so that the drivers don’t fire directly at your ears, around ear level while standing.

Wall mounting is often a great option for surround speakers. You'll need to mount the speakers to a stud, or use wall anchors.

5.1-channel setup

5.1-channel setup with the surround speakers wall-mounted to the sides of, or slightly behind, the listening position.

7.1-channel setup

7.1-channel setup with the surrounds wall-mounted to the sides of the listening position, and two back surrounds wall-mounted behind the listening position.

In a 7.1-channel system you can place surround speakers beside and behind your seating area. With some receivers, you can use the two additional channels up front instead, for "height" or “width” channels that give you a bigger front soundstage. If your receiver has even more channels available, you can expand to a 9.1- or an 11.1-channel surround system.

Get room-friendly tips for running cable to your surrounds in our article on connecting home theater speakers.

Dolby Atmos® speakers

Dolby Atmos was designed to create a layer of sound above the listener. This overhead sound extends the height of your system's soundstage while also allowing for some very cool effects, such as the sound of helicopter blades slicing through the air directly above your head, or the rustle of leaves high up in the jungle canopy. A Dolby Atmos home theater starts with a conventional 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound speaker setup. Then, you add two or more speakers to project sound from above the listening position. There are two ways to achieve this.

In-ceiling speakers

This approach is a great option when you’re designing a new home theater or want the best possible listening experience. Use four in-ceiling speakers, if you can, for maximum effect. Dolby recommends locating one pair in front of your listening position and a second pair behind it. They also suggest using in-ceiling speakers with a wide dispersion pattern, or speakers with aimable drivers that can be angled slightly toward your listening position.

If your system can only accommodate one pair of in-ceiling speakers, mount them slightly in front of where you’ll be listening.

 Don’t worry if your speaker placement isn’t perfect, your Atmos-enabled receiver’s auto calibration system will help dial in the sound to get it right. 

Dolby Atmos enabled speakers

Dolby Atmos enabled speakers provide an easy way to add Dolby Atmos to a home theater. These specially designed models use upward-firing drivers that reflect sound off of your ceiling to provide overhead sound effects.  You can also combine Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers with ceiling-mounted speakers. This can be useful if, for instance, you have two speakers already installed in your ceiling but want to add two more speakers that can produce overhead sound. 

Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, they can rest on stands, take the form of modules that sit on top of your front and rear speakers, or are integrated into a single cabinet with front-firing speakers. In any case, they are made to go in the same locations as your front and rear home theater speakers (ideally the back surround speakers, if you have them), or within three feet of those speakers.

Just like their in-ceiling counterparts, it is recommended to use two pair if possible. If the only option is one pair, they should be placed or integrated with your main left and right speakers in the front of the room nearest your TV screen. 

Dolby designed the technology for rooms with ceiling heights of 8 to 9 feet, but testing indicates that you can still enjoy Dolby Atmos sound in rooms with ceilings as high as 14 feet. Atmos-enabled speakers are also recommended instead of in-ceiling speakers for rooms with ceilings lower than 8 feet.

For more specifics on where to place in-ceiling or Dolby Atmos enabled speakers, check out Dolby's speaker setup guide.

Dipole and bipole speakers

Some manufacturers offer dipole/bipole surround speakers, which are equipped with a switch for selecting between different modes of operation. These surround speakers are great for movies, because they produce a diffuse sound that doesn’t call too much attention to itself. [Shop dipole/bipole speakers.]

speaker placement

Dipole mode creates a diffuse, ambient soundfield when the speakers are placed on the side walls.

speaker placement

Bipole mode fills your room with surround sound when the speakers are placed on the rear wall.


Since low bass frequencies are omnidirectional, you can usually place your subwoofer just about anywhere in your home theater room with good results.

Most people place their subwoofer in the front of the room, so that it’s easier to connect to their home theater receiver.  Placing your subwoofer near a wall will generally result in more bass, and placement near a corner — where three room boundaries come together — will get you even more. Keep in mind that even though the bass increases as you place the sub near a wall or corner, the quality of bass may be slightly "boomier" and less controlled. Aim for a spot where you get a compromise between quality and quantity of bass.

If you’re not quite getting the bass you’d hoped for, see if your subwoofer has a 2-position switch called a phase control. Choose the setting that produces the most bass while all your speakers are playing. After you've got your sub where you want it, check out our article on tuning your subwoofer for more tips on how to get great bass.

One cool technique for placing your subwoofer is to put your sub in your listening spot, play some music, move around the room, and listen. You'll probably notice that the bass sounds a little bit different as you move around from location to location within the room — where it sounds the best may be where you want to put your subwoofer.

Tips for odd-shaped rooms

Of course, not everyone's going to have a room that easily accommodates a surround sound system. Ideal speaker locations may be taken up by doors, windows, or furniture. And some floor plans are notoriously tricky.

L-shaped room

L-shaped rooms are tough because much of the sound is pulled into the empty space outside your listening area. It's not doing anyone any good there, so this placement is designed to direct the sound away from that vacant space as much as possible.

  • Start by putting your TV where the two axes of the "L" meet, instead of at one end of the "L."
  • Arrange the front and center speakers around your TV as described in "The basics." Try angling the left and right speakers slightly toward your listening position.
  • Place your surround speakers to the sides of where you're seated, or in the corners if there's not a good spot on both sides.
  • Place your subwoofer along the wall about halfway between your TV and your seating. For better sound, make sure it's not touching the wall, but sitting four to six inches away from it.


The challenge with L-shaped rooms is to keep sound from being pulled into empty space outside your listening area. Careful placement of your couch can really help.

TV in a corner

Sometimes, the combination of windows, doors, built-in bookshelves, and fireplace leaves you without any place for your TV except a corner. It might seem hard to get good home theater sound with this setup, but all is not lost.

  • Set up your front soundstage in the usual way.
  • Mount one surround on the rear wall and one on the side wall.
  • Place the subwoofer in the corner a few inches from the wall.
corner placement

Sometimes, it's hard to put your TV anywhere but in a corner. Fortunately, you can still get your speakers oriented so as to make the sound match up with the picture on screen in a way that sounds natural.

Open floor plans

As with a room where your TV is placed in a corner, the biggest challenge you'll face with an open floor plan is where to put your surround speakers.

  • Set up your front soundstage in the usual way.
  • Consider using ceiling mount speakers for your surrounds. Look at models with angled baffles or pivoting drivers. These will let you aim the sound in the direction that yields the best surround effects.
  • Again, the sub can be placed in the corner, but experiment to see what sounds best in your room.

More and more houses are designed with an open floor plan. This layout can give you great sound even when there aren't clear distinctions between the kitchen, dining, and living areas.

Tips for In-wall and In-ceiling Speakers

In-wall and in-ceiling speakers can be a great way to save space, but you won't be able to follow all the same placement guidelines. Check out the illustrations below to get an idea of where to install these speakers. For more details, check out our articles on in-wall and in-ceiling speaker placement and installing in-wall and in-ceiing speakers.


In-wall or in-ceiling speakers can give you the excitement of surround sound, without the bulk of conventional speakers.

Need more help?

Our advisors have helped thousands of people design surround speaker systems for all types of rooms. Please don’t hesitate to call for help. You may also want to check out a fun interactive tool from Dolby. It lets you specify your speaker configuration and select your viewing distance from your TV, then gives you recommendations for where and at what angles to place your speakers.

  • Jason from Calgary

    Posted on 4/26/2015 5:05:21 AM

    Unless I mount the surround speakers (5.1 setup) on the ceiling, I would have to have about one 3 more feet away from the prime seating area than the other. Is this a big deal? Or do I just tell the amp the distance and it can adjust OR let the auto calibration figure it out? Thx.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/27/2015 8:23:05 AM

    Having one of your surround sound speakers 3 feet further away from your primary listening position than the other shouldn't be a big problem. If you manually calibrate your receiver with the distance that will take care of the timing/sound delay. But you'll also need to use an SPL meter to compensate for volume. If your system has auto calibration, I'd just go ahead and run the setup and be done with it.

  • Michael from UK

    Posted on 5/1/2015 9:00:19 AM

    I will have a corner TV setup so your guide has been really helpful. One question, I will have 2 sofas at right angles to each other so, when I come to do calibration should I base it on a middle point between them to get a balanced setup?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/1/2015 11:59:00 AM

    Michael, if you're receiver allows for only one measurement location with its auto-calibration microphone, then I would place it at the midpoint between the two sofas. Or, if you're likely to be the only viewer much of the time, then I would place the mic in your favorite primary listening spot.

    If your receiver's auto-calibration system allows for multiple measurement locations, then I would take advantage of that feature by placing the mic in all possible listening positions for the best overall performance. Remember, auto calibration is not foolproof. Sometimes tweaking the settings by ear can still result in a more pleasing overall effect. Go with what sounds best to you.

  • Charlie Baltz from Hawaii

    Posted on 6/17/2015 8:21:21 PM

    Which is correct? Subwoofers elevated off the floor for optimum performance or on the floor???????

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/18/2015 11:11:21 AM

    Michael, I'm not sure I would recommend moving your surround sound speakers to the front of your room since doing that will compromise your system's ability to play surround effects. But if you must, I suppose you could still use your receiver's "Surround" speaker outputs. The Denon offers a number of listening mode options that you could experiment with to see what works best for you.

    Charlie, I'm not aware of any hard and fast rule that states a subwoofer must be elevated or planted on the floor for optimum performance. Of course, common sense would dictate that down-firing subs are generally designed to be placed directly on the floor, and elevated sufficiently by their footers or spikes for the driver to operate properly. But other than that, I believe optimum sub location is dictated more by the room, and varies according to circumstances. We do carry a couple of interesting products by Auralex, the SubDude-HT, and the the SubDude-II isolation platforms, that are designed to slightly elevate and isolate you sub. You may want to give one of those a try if you're curious to experiment with your sub's placement.

  • Jason from United States

    Posted on 7/14/2015 2:41:35 PM

    I want to put a 5.1 system in my open floor plan den...4 surround speakers, one center channel, one sub...the 4 surrounds will definitely go in-ceiling, but if at all possible, can I put the center channel in the ceiling too? I am unable (wife won't let me) to in-wall mount a center speaker under the TV, so my only 2 options are getting a boxed center channel speaker that will sit on the TV console below the wall mounted TV or put the center channel speaker in the ceiling and point the tweeter towards the listener. Would the center channel speaker in the ceiling work well?

  • January from Bremen IN

    Posted on 7/14/2015 4:28:06 PM

    I have a reclining chair and a corner couch against the back and side walls of my living room and I primarily sit in the reclining chair against a side wall but I have no idea where to position my speakers so that i get great sound without my guests that are sitting on the couch getting bad sound. Any tips?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/15/2015 11:29:00 AM

    Jason, We carry quite a few in-ceiling speakers with pivoting tweeters/midranges that would work just fine as a center channel. In terms of overall sonic performance, a conventional boxed center channel speaker placed under the TV will probably be more effective at anchoring dialogue and sound effects to the screen.

    January, I'm afraid this a case of having your cake and eating it, too. In other words, you can't really have it both ways. Most speakers provide a relatively small window of optimum sound, and the farther outside that window you are, the less ideal the sound becomes. One thing I have observed, however, is the farther away you are from your speakers, the larger that window becomes. Placing your speakers as far away as possible from your room's multiple listening positions may help some. Also, if you have a receiver with auto calibration that measures sound from multiple listening positions in your room, be sure to place the calibration microphone at different points on the couch, as well as on your recliner.

  • john youmans from HOWELL NJ

    Posted on 7/23/2015 10:46:34 PM

    I just purchased in-wall speakers from you guys for my home theater. What height should I set them at in the wall?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/24/2015 11:47:07 AM

    Thanks, John! We appreciate your business. I'm sure your speakers will come with some mounting instructions and recommendations. And as soon as you receive your invoice number, just give our Tech Department a call for some specific one-on-one advice.

  • Dean from Bel Air

    Posted on 8/7/2015 8:23:38 PM

    I have a 7.1 channel surround system and my surrounds (4) are all ceiling type. Two of these four ceiling speakers are slightly larger than the other two. My question is, where do the larger ones go? Should they be placed in the front/side position or more in the back? Up until recently, in a 7.1 system I was under the impression the "5" speakers were on the front/side and the "7" would be behind but I was recently told otherwise. Now I'm not sure where I should place the larger speakers; behind me or in front/side (all overhead of course). Thanks in advance.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/10/2015 10:23:39 AM

    Dean, If you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help setting up your system. If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.

  • Jason from Graham

    Posted on 8/22/2015 2:04:43 AM

    Hi, great guide! I recently upgraded my 7.1 speaker setup (thanks Crutchfield!) except the side surrounds. Those are next but if I don't get the same size as the rear surrounds, would I benefit more from having larger speakers for the rear or side surrounds? Would it make any difference? Do movies tend to output more to the rear or side surrounds? Thanks!

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/24/2015 10:27:04 AM

    Thanks, Jason. In general, most movie soundtracks tend to output more sound from the surround (or, side surround) channels than they do from the back surround (or, rear surround channels). For best results, I like using identical surround and back surround speakers whenever possible. But, if I found myself with a larger and smaller pair, I would probably put the larger pair in the side surround position since they could likely handle more output more easily.

  • paul from tahoe, CA

    Posted on 9/15/2015 2:04:21 PM

    I'd like to see more information/recommended use on dipole speakers. I currently use dipole for surrounds on sides and rear, 7' off the ground. 25' x 25' room. with listening area a little off center but not too bad. Am upgrading to 7.1.2 for dts:X and Atmos and wondering about the dipoles.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/16/2015 9:57:26 AM

    Paul, I can't recall seeing anything in the Dolby or DTS playbook about the use of dipole/bipole speakers in an Atmos or DTS:X system. But since the height-channel speakers for either of these two formats operate independently from the "base" 5.1- or 7.1-channel speakers (and your receiver's processor and room calibration system have already taken into account that you are using dipoles), I don't believe you should have any issues using them for Atmos or DTS:X.

  • John from Burlington

    Posted on 9/24/2015 10:52:30 AM

    Awesome article, with some great information, thank you! I currently have an L-Shaped room with an almost identical layout to what you have shown in the example above. To avoid intrusive drywall work (fully finished space) it would be easiest for me to place my Right speaker at the inside corner of the "L" (closer to the seating) with the Left directly across from it (above where you currently show the Sub). I would likely still keep the Center speaker below my projection screen, although it would be easier again if I could pull that closer to the seating. Reason being, there is a bulkhead running across the room from that "elbow" where the Right speaker would go, so it makes fishing cable easier. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the location of these R and L speakers. Thanks for maintaining such an informative site!

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/25/2015 9:44:21 AM

    John, Although placing the speakers where you describe may be less than ideal, as long as you or your receiver's auto room calibration system take into account their distances and angles from your listening position when setting up your system, I imagine it should sound pretty good. The closer you can get your center channel speaker to the screen, the better. But once again, if you must move it closer to the listening position, be sure the distance is correctly dialed into your surround processor to avoid sync issues and other sonic weirdness.

  • Michael

    Posted on 9/27/2015 12:19:12 AM

    Dave, What are your thoughts on subs under couches, or behind furniture? I originally put the sub (5.75" down-facing driver) between the couch and the love chair across the room from the TV, but it sounded boomy. I blame this on my room set up - one long, skinny urban loft with cement floors and ceilings. So, I placed the sub midway between the satellite speakers under the couch. Actually, it's a futon so it has a more open back and air behind it against the wall. I put some rugs against the wall and floor around it, and it's tightened up the sound. However, I'm not sure if this placement is one that results in muddier sound. Any suggestions? (Note: the sub must be placed on the listener's side of the room with the satellite speakers as those 3 all hook up together)

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/27/2015 12:18:27 PM

    Michael, Even though the long-wavelength, low frequencies coming from subwoofers tend to "bend" around obstacles such as furniture, I still prefer to place them out in the open to avoid any possible interference with their sound (especially smaller subs like yours, which tend to reproduce higher frequencies that are more adversely affected by such obstructions).

    My recommendation? Trust your ears, and just keep doing what you're doing. Experiment with placement until it sounds right to you. You may also want to try something like the Auralex subwoofer isolation platform to help tighten up the sound.

  • Indy Cheuk from Hong Kong

    Posted on 10/2/2015 3:47:32 AM

    I am planning to upgrade my system to Atmos 5.1.2. Front and in-ceiling speakers are total fine in placement, the problem comes from my surround speakers. According to Dolby's recommended placement, surround speakers should be placed just behind the listening position and range from 90 to 110 degree (from the center line). But I can only place them a bit further in the back and creating an angle of 135 degree. Will it be a big issue? And should I point the surround speakers directly pointing to the listening position OR else? Thanks!!! PS. I will place both Front Left / Right and Surround Left / Right at ear level to cope with Atmos setup.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/2/2015 10:31:38 AM

    Indy, Almost no one has a room that allows a "perfect" setup. Your receiver's calibration/room correction processing will compensate to a great extent for less than ideal surround speaker placement. I think you should be just fine. If your surrounds are a point source design, such as bookshelf or small satellite speakers, I recommend aiming them towards your main listening position.

  • Travis from Houston

    Posted on 10/26/2015 5:01:52 PM

    Hello Dave, I am putting together a home theater currently. The front and back speakers are pre-wired for surround sound but in the ceiling. I plan on utilizing towers and a center channel for the front setup and the back ceiling speakers for the LRS/RRS in a 7.2 setup I was thinking of putting the L/R surround sounds on stands. My theater seats will take up the width of the room nearly (and be close to the rear wall), so the only option would be to place them in front of the seating and angled towards the seated position. Would the difference in height between the side and rears be an issue and more importantly, would the side surround sounds lose the surround functionality if placed in front of the seated position?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/27/2015 12:17:39 PM

    Hi Travis, While placing your back surround and surround speakers at the same height is usually preferred, I don't think it would be a deal breaker to have one in-ceiling set and one stand-mounted set in a 7.2 system. Same goes for positioning the surrounds forward of the main listening area. You may want to play with the toe-in angle of your surrounds to balance out the sound between them and your front speakers. Otherwise, the DSP calibration and room correction on your receiver or preamp/processor should help compensate for the less-than-ideal placement.