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In-wall and ceiling speaker placement

For home theater or music

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One of the most important things to consider when shopping for in-wall, on-wall, or in-ceiling speakers is where you're going to place them. How you place your speakers depends on how you're going to listen to them, as well as what your room's architecture allows. Whether you're installing them in your current home or pre-wiring a home that's under construction, the guidelines below can help you get a speaker setup that sounds good and works with the build and design of your room.

After you've determined what type of speakers you'll need and how many, check out our article on choosing in-wall and in-ceiling speakers.You'll find helpful tips as well as key factors to consider when deciding between speaker models.

Critical listening: Home theater

You should place your speakers for critical listening if you plan to use them as your home theater speakers. Try to place speakers at least 2 feet away from corners and other surfaces that might interfere with or reflect sound, such as tall or bulky furniture.

If you're installing 5, 6, or 7 in-wall or on-wall speakers for a home theater surround sound system:

  • Place the front left and right speakers so that they're at or slightly above ear level when you're seated, both equidistant from the main listening position. If the speakers are in a wall that's 10 feet from your chair, place them no more than 10 feet and no less than 5 feet apart from each other to maintain a good stereo effect.
  • Place the center channel speaker so that it's at ear level when you're seated. If your television is wall-mounted, place the center channel speaker slightly below. If your TV rests on a stand or table, place the center channel speaker just above it, and angle the tweeters down towards seated ear level if possible.
  • Place the surround speakers above seated ear level (as high as standing ear level). If the rear surround speakers are placed at seated ear level, they will overwhelm the sound coming from your front speakers, resulting in muddied and inaccurate surround sound.
5-speaker and seating position For a 5-speaker setup, the right and left surrounds should be to the right and left side of your main seating position.
6-speaker and seating position For a 6-speaker setup, the center back speaker should go directly behind the main listening position, in line with the front center channel speaker. It should be about as high as the left and right surrounds.
7-speaker and seating position For a 7-speaker setup, the two additional back surround speakers should be placed behind the main listing position, at equal distances from the main listening seat, and about half as far apart as the right and left surrounds. They should be about as high as the left and right surrounds.

If you're installing 5, 6, or 7 in-ceiling speakers for a home theater surround sound system:

  • Place the front left and right speakers at an equal distance from your main listening position, in front of your TV, about 2-3 feet away from the wall. If the speakers are 10 feet from your chair, place them no more than 10 feet and no less than 5 feet apart from each other to maintain a good stereo effect. Measure the distance from the speakers to your chair in a level, horizontal line — i.e. don't measure upwards from your seat to the speakers in the ceiling. If your speaker's tweeters can swivel, aim them towards your seating position. This can help create a realistic soundfield — you'll be able to hear objects on the screen as they move from left to right.
  • As you're choosing speaker locations, also keep in mind the effects of reflected sound. Even if you angle the tweeters toward you, you'll still hear the sound that's reflected off the wall behind the speakers. Ideally, that reflection should be at the same level as your TV screen. You can figure out how far away from the wall you should place your in-ceiling speakers by using a mirror. Mark the spot on the ceiling where you think the speaker should go, then sit in your favorite listening position. Ask a helper to hold a mirror up to the wall, moving it up or down until you can see the mark on the ceiling reflected in the mirror. That's where the sound will reflect off the wall. If the speakers are too close to the wall, the reflection will be too high; too far away from the wall, and the reflection will be too low. In some setups, you may find that you prefer to aim the tweeters directly at that spot wall to get more reflected sound. If your in-ceiling speakers have that feature, experiment with aiming your tweeter before you put the grille on.
  • Place the center channel speaker right in the middle of the front left and right speakers. Also aim its tweeter (if possible) directly towards your seating position.
  • See the images below for placement of surround speakers in 5-, 6-, and 7-speaker setups. If you have aimable tweeters in your surround speakers, you'll generally also want to aim those towards your seating position. You may also position these speakers closer to the adjoining wall than the front speakers. The sound will reflect off of a higher point on the wall, which is generally desirable for surround speakers.
5-speaker and seating position For a 5-speaker setup, the left and right surrounds should be to the left and right of your main seating position, as far apart as your front left and right speakers.
6-speaker and seating position For a 6-speaker setup, the center back speaker should go directly behind the main listening position, in line with the front center channel speaker. It should be about as high as the left and right surrounds.
7-speaker and seating position For a 7-speaker setup, the rear left and right surrounds should be placed behind the main listening position, at equal distances from that seat. They should be about half as far apart as the right and left surround speakers positioned on the sides.

Keep in mind that while in-wall, on-wall, and in-ceiling speakers can deliver excellent sound, they aren't as good as many other speaker designs when it comes to playing lower frequencies. For a home theater setup, you'll need a subwoofer with a high crossover if you want to get good full-range sound. See our article on subwoofers for placement tips.

Critical listening: Music

You should also place your speakers for critical listening if you plan to spend a lot of time in that room listening to music, rather than using music as pleasant background sound. Try to place the speakers at least 2 feet away from corners and other surfaces that might interfere with or reflect sound, such as tall or bulky furniture.

If you're installing 2 in-wall or on-wall speakers for stereo listening:

  • To obtain a good stereo effect, place the left and right speakers an equal distance from your prime listening seat, at ear level while seated. If the speakers are in a wall that's 10 feet from your chair, place them no more than 10 feet apart from each other and no less than 5 feet apart.

If you're installing 2 in-ceiling speakers for stereo listening:

  • For a good stereo effect, place the left and right speakers an equal distance from your prime listening position, and (if possible) aim the tweeters toward your seat. For example, if the speakers are 10 feet from your chair, place them no more than 10 feet apart from each other and no less than 5 feet apart. Measure the distance from the speakers to your chair in a level, horizontal line — i.e. don't measure upwards from your seat to the speakers in the ceiling.

In-wall, on-wall, and in-ceiling speakers can do a great job with the highs and mids, but aren't as good as many other speaker designs when it comes to playing lower frequencies. So to get well-balanced, full-range sound, you'll also need a subwoofer with a high crossover. See our article on subwoofers for placement tips.

Entertainment listening

In rooms you'll move around in or frequently entertain in, speaker placement designed for critical listening won't work. The music will be too loud in one area and too soft in another, a flaw that will be most obvious when the volume is low. By employing three or four speakers in a room, or by judiciously using a combination of direct and reflected sound, you can create a relatively even soundfield. You'll hear some degree of stereo effect regardless of where you are in the room.

We've written the guidelines below to help you achieve that desired effect. Some of them are situation-specific, while others are more general. As you read them, note which ones apply to your room, needs, and goals.

General guidelines:

  • Try to keep speakers about 2 feet away from corners and other surfaces that might interfere with or reflect sound, such as tall or bulky furniture.
  • For rectangular rooms of less than 300 square feet, two speakers should suffice. Place them near opposite corners.
  • For L-shaped rooms, or for rectangular rooms larger than 300 square feet, use 3 or more speakers. Stagger them across the space for good sound dispersion. If you do end up using an odd number of speakers, stereo input speakers can be a good choice.
  • For a narrow, long room, place the speakers at either end. (Wall speakers can go either at the ends themselves, or on an adjacent wall.) Stereo input speakers are a good solution for this relatively awkward space.
  • When your décor or budget won't allow more than two speakers in a large room, try to place left and right stereo speakers near (but at least 2 feet away from) the corners, or at far ends of the room, to better disperse the sound.
Speaker placement for background listening

(A) Diagonal placement gives good coverage in a typical rectangular room of 300 square feet or less. (B) Use three or more speakers in a large or L-shaped room. (C) In a narrow room, place the speakers in the middle at either end. In this example, stereo-input speakers would be a great choice.

Speaker placement in rooms you'll be entertaining in, such as a dining room:

  • In-wall: Place them low on the walls (at AC outlet height) and in opposite corners. This creates multiple reflections and a very pleasant and pervasive sound field at a low volume. Turned up loud, this placement will sound muddy and hard, but for dining room conversation enhancement, it's unbeatable.
  • On-wall: Since you probably can't place on-wall speakers very low on the wall, move them higher up the wall ™ 6-7 feet from the floor. Place them roughly in opposite corners, and aim the speakers towards the middle of the room. On-wall speakers may be a good option for some homes, but in-wall speakers will most likely yield better results.
  • In-ceiling: Avoid surfaces in the room that will reflect sound in a disruptive way. For example, if you place a ceiling-mounted speaker directly over your dining room table, the sound may reflect upward off the table and interfere with conversation. In-ceiling speakers are a good option for some dining and entertaining rooms, but in-wall speakers are often better suited for the task.

Speaker placement in rooms you probably won't be entertaining in, such as a kitchen or den:

  • In-wall/on-wall: Place the speakers about 6 feet off the floor. While wall speakers are a great option for many rooms, they tend to create more "hot spots" (areas where the sound is much louder) than ceiling speakers do.
  • In-ceiling: These will be relatively easy to place, and are less likely to create acoustical problems than wall speakers. Just follow the general guidelines above to fit your room's shape and size, and you should be in good shape.

Speaker placement in your master bath:

  • If you want to install speakers in your bathroom, stereo-input in-ceiling speakers are a great way to go. One stereo input speaker plays both channels of stereo music with one woofer and two angled tweeters; they're great for small rooms or larger awkwardly shaped areas. Depending on the size and layout of your bathroom, you may want to use more than one. For example, if your bathroom is relatively large, placing a stereo-input speaker above the sink and one above the bathtub will ensure you can follow that morning's news, even during noisier activities like brushing your teeth or showering.

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A single stereo-input speaker plays both the left and right channels of stereo music via one woofer and two angled tweeters.

For background listening

In hallways, entryways, laundry rooms and other less-trafficked areas, it may seem like overkill to install speakers. But if you play the speakers in the living room so that they're at the right volume in the entryway or laundry room, the volume in the living room will be uncomfortably loud. Installing speakers for background listening lets you enjoy music pretty much anywhere you roam in your house, without having to crank up your speakers to floor-shaking levels.

Stereo-input speakers are often the most effective way to bring background music to small rooms. In larger rooms, you'll probably want to use more speakers, staggering them throughout the space. Since the volume in these areas will generally stay low, you don't have to worry as much about the effects of reflected sound ™ your goal is simply to disperse the sound over as wide an area as possible.

Wrapping it up

With these goals and guidelines in mind, take a look around your home. You'll want to follow these tips when you can, but rooms vary, and there may be other factors you need to take into account. For example, if there are in-ceiling light fixtures in a room where you plan to install in-ceiling speakers, you might tweak the placement of your speakers to keep them in line with the light fixtures for a more pleasing look.

You can get a good idea of what's involved in installing in-wall or in-ceiling speakers with our step-by-step installation guides for in-wall wire and in-wall, in-ceiling, and on-wall speakers. If you're planning on installing your wire and speakers yourself, make sure you're comfortable with all the tasks described.

If you have any additional questions about how and where to place your speakers or are planning a multi-room music system, you can call one of the experts in our A/V Design Group at 1-800-555-9407. They can take the info you supply and craft a comprehensive system proposal.

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