Video: Speaker Placement for Great Sound
Tara W. has worked for Crutchfield since 2004. She writes about whole-house music and video gear, and works on Crutchfield's video team.
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Learn about the basics of good speaker placement, so you can set up your speakers to deliver the best sound for your room. In this video, we'll offer tips for both home theater and stereo speaker systems.
Tara: Hi. I'm Tara.
Malcolm: And I'm Malcolm. In this video, we're going to explain the basics of good speaker placement.
Tara: Now, if you've been to a movie theater with a really good sound system, you know the difference that it can make. Good sound really pulls you into the movies so you can hear the clash of armor behind you during intense battle scenes, or environmental sounds like crashing waves or a storm rolling in.
Malcolm: Right. It makes the whole experience so much more realistic. And the nice thing is that you don't necessarily have to add anything to your system. You just need to set up your speakers correctly to get that theater experience at home.
Tara: True. Now there's a whole science to getting great sound, and that's what our speaker placement guidelines are based on. Of course, everyone's room is different, because of variations in size, shape, and the type of receiver and speakers in them. So instead of focusing on one speaker set up in a hypothetical room, we're going to show you the basics, so that you can use that info to make your speakers sound their best in your room.
Malcolm: We'll start with a home theater speaker set up and then we'll give you some info on stereo speaker placement afterwards.
Tara: Each speaker in a home theater system has a distinct role. The front left and right speakers handle the majority of the soundtrack and effects for movies and TV shows. Height-wise, these speakers should be positioned so the tweeters are level with your ears when you're sitting down.
Malcolm: Just about like this.
Tara: Yep. That's right.
Malcolm: The center channel speaker delivers almost all the dialogue, and this speaker should also be set up so the tweeters are at about ear height when you're sitting down.
Tara: And that can be a bit tricky because this speaker is also supposed to be placed above or below your TV.
Malcolm: But that ear level height is really important. Tweeters produce high frequency sounds, like the creaking of a door, the high notes of a violin, even some of the dialogue, and they're very directional. If they aren't aimed at your ears, you could miss parts of the soundtrack. So do your ears a favor and aim the tweeters right at them.
Tara: Now, your surround speakers handle what are called "ambient effects." These are sounds that deliver the impression of really being there. These range from the gentle patter of rain drops to the ricochet of a bullet. Now a lot of folks have just two surround speakers, but you can have as many as four.
Malcolm: These speakers should be higher than your front speakers. There are lots of options for mounting your surround speakers &mdash on shelves, or on your wall or ceiling. Keep in mind that you shouldn't aim these speakers right at your ears since they provide a wide range of background effects.
Tara: And now your subwoofer is responsible for producing low frequencies, like notes from a bass guitar or the rumble of an explosion.
Malcolm: Because each of these speakers plays a unique role, their placement can make or break your theater experience. So let's start with an example of a fairly typical setup where the audience would get less-than-stellar surround sound.
Tara: And we'll assume the height of each speaker is right and just look at the position within the room.
Malcolm: So here, the left and center speakers look okay, but the front right speaker is off by itself.
Tara: Right. There's a big hole on this side. The sound that should be filling out this space is being sent over here, and that's going to result in uneven sound.
Malcolm: Yeah, and even more confusing may be the way the surround speakers are positioned. This one is supposed to be sending specific audio to the right side of the room, but where's it going to hit?
Tara: To the left.
Malcolm: That's right. And so when someone throws a baseball across the screen and it hits the neighbor's window with a crash over on the far right, our viewer's going to hear that primarily with their left ear.
Tara: And that's pretty confusing when you're watching a movie.
Malcolm: Yeah, now look at what this set up should be.
Tara: The front left and right speakers are angled or "toed in" towards the primary listening position. See how the sound fields overlap on and around the main seat? That's a good sign that the listener is going to get really complete, 360-degree sound.
Malcolm: And the right and left surround speakers are loosely aimed to the corresponding sides of the listener so directional sounds will make sense.
Tara: But what if you have a room that doesn't make this possible, like if the right side of your home theater room is an open space leading to a hallway or a kitchen, and there's no wall there for you to use?
Malcolm: That's a common problem. So in this case you do your best to still steer your sound in the right direction and just get it as close as you can to what it's supposed to be. So here's a good example. If the ideal spot for your right surround speaker is taken by a hallway, you could try mounting the speaker a little further back, making sure that you aim it forward. You can mount some smaller speakers from the ceiling as well.
Tara: You generally have a bit more flexibility in placing your subwoofer because the low frequencies it produces aren't directional. They spread evenly throughout your room. There are just a few basic things to keep in mind. First, placing your sub in a corner will give you bigger, louder bass.
Malcolm: That's right, while placing it along the wall away from a corner will give you tighter, more precise bass. It's really all down to personal preference.
Tara: And here's a trick that some of us have used: place the sub in your favorite listening spot, and then walk around the room while it plays. When you find a spot where it sounds the best, that's where you should place your subwoofer.
Malcolm: When it comes to stereo sound, you're going to put the front left and right speakers in almost the same position as you would with a surround set up.
Tara: But the angle of the speakers and their distance from each other and from your main listening spot can make a big difference.
Tara: For example, here's a pretty common set up that would not deliver the most effective sound.
Malcolm: See how the sound stage is broken by this big hole? That's because the speaker's sound fields are too far apart from each other and can't create a cohesive sound stage for the listener.
Tara: And because of that you won't get good "imaging." That's what it's called when you're listening to music and you can hear where the bass player or trumpeter is standing on stage.
Malcolm: So think of your listening spot, your left speaker, and your right speaker as the three points of a triangle. You want each point to be loosely the same distance apart for the best imaging. You can adjust based on how wide your main listening area is by angling your speakers or sliding them closer together or both.
Tara: And that should give you the basic info you need to adjust your speaker placement for the best sound. Remember that you'll need to experiment with your speakers and your room to get it right for your home.
Malcolm: Also, if you'd like to get into the nitty-gritty of speaker placement and get some more detailed recommendations, check out crutchfield.com/surrondplacement and crutchfield.com/stereoplacement.
Tara: And you can always give us a call at 1-800-555-9408.