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Intro to home theater speakers

How to build a well-matched surround sound system

I started my Crutchfield career as a product advisor. I fielded thousands of customer questions about A/V equipment, designing systems for homes, cars, and the occasional party bus. Do that for eight years, and you begin to understand what people really want from their gear. You also get a lot of hands-on experience with the latest products. That's one of the coolest things about working here. As a writer, I enjoy translating technical jargon into easy-to-understand language. My goal is to make shopping for speakers and amplifiers simple. After all, this stuff is supposed to be fun! Outside of work, I enjoy playing and teaching music. I'm always on the lookout for interesting left-handed guitars.

More from Kramer Crane

Home theater speaker setup

A well-matched surround sound system brings what you're watching to life all around you.

In a Nutshell

Building a new home theater system? Here are the speakers that you need:

Want to keep things simple? Consider a pre-matched surround sound speaker system. Each comes with a center channel, front left and right speakers, and one or two pairs of surround speakers. 

Our friendly Advisors can help you build your new home theater. Give us a call today for free, personalized advice. 

Full Story

What makes the movie theater experience so exciting? Two things: a floor-to-ceiling screen that pulls you into another world. And wraparound sound that makes what you’re seeing feel real.

Well, it's three things if you count fresh popcorn.

Want your sound system to match the vivid picture of your high-def TV? Read on to learn more about choosing the right speakers for your home theater. 

Matching speakers to your room

Compact speakers offer easy placement options

For multi-purpose rooms where the TV and sound system won’t always be the center of attention, think small. Compact speakers easily blend into your décor and leave plenty of room for other activities. Bookshelf, in-wall, and ceiling speakers are all good small-footprint options.

MartinLogan Motion LX16 bookshelf speakers

Bookshelf speakers offer clear, dynamic sound without taking up much space.

Get lifelike sound with tower speakers

Want big sound that feels like an actual theater? Anchor your surround sound system with floor-standing speakers. Their large acoustic chambers deliver powerful surround effects for movies and video games. Tower speakers are also ideal for jamming out to music.

Tower Speaker

Floor-standing speakers use multiple drivers to create room-filling sound for music and movies.

Map out where your speakers will go

Consider the layout and shape of your room. Where will the speakers look and sound good? Check our article on speaker placement for some tips.

Know your speakers

Understanding what each speaker does will help you choose the right speakers for your system.

Center channel speaker

The center channel delivers more than 50% of a movie’s soundtrack, including almost all of the dialogue. It keeps sound anchored to the on-screen action.

Consider the size of the other speakers. Compact bookshelves match well with a small center channel. Using tower speakers? Then go for a large center channel to match their robust output.

Polk Signature S35 center channel speaker

The center channel lives just above or below your television. It provides dialogue and important center stage sound effects.

Front left and right speakers

Your “front stage” speakers reproduce the movie’s musical score. They also handle the bulk of the special effects. Sound moves between the front speakers in sync with the action unfolding on the screen.

Floor-standing speakers, bookshelf speakers, and on-wall speakers all work well as front speakers. 

Klipsch wireless home theater speakers

Match the size of your left and right speakers with your center channel for a balanced front sound stage.

Surround speakers

Surround speakers go beside and/or behind your seats. They immerse you in the movie by producing ambient sounds like rain drops, or rustling leaves. Surrounds also work with your other speakers to deliver spectacular directional effects. Think of a locomotive rushing by, or a bullet zinging past.

Monitor Audio bipolar surround speakers

Bipolar speakers use opposite-firing drivers to create wraparound sound effects.

Powered subwoofer

Movie soundtracks provide a dedicated channel of deep bass that plays through a powered subwoofer. The sub is what gives planes flying overhead and bombs exploding their window-rattling punch.

Choose a subwoofer that matches well with your room and your speakers. As a rule, the larger the driver, the deeper the bass. Have a large room? Go for a sub with a 12" or larger woofer. Smaller room? A compact sub will sound great.

Most pre-matched systems include a powered subwoofer. The few that don’t give you the freedom to choose a separate sub that best fits your décor or your taste for bass. For more detailed recommendations, check out our article on choosing home theater subwoofers.

SVS subwoofer

A powered subwoofer delivers thrilling bass for movies, music, and video games.

Voice match if you can, but it’s not required

Each speaker brand or series has its own tonal qualities or “voice.” It’s best to use voice-matched speakers in a surround system, but it’s not a must.

Say you want to build a system around some speakers that you already own. Perhaps the matching center channel is too tall for your entertainment cabinet. Or maybe the matching surrounds aren’t available. No worries at all — it’s okay to mix speaker brands. Your system is still going to rock.

Everything you need to get started

Connect your system together with speaker wire and a subwoofer cable. We also recommend good power protection for your receiver, TV, A/V components, and powered sub. 

We can help you choose

Have questions about choosing the right equipment for your surround system? Call, email, or chat with us today.

Our expert Advisors know the gear inside and out. Your Advisor can send specific Crutchfield pages to your screen, saving you a lot of browsing time. You'll get a shopping cart loaded up with everything you need for your new home theater. 

Free lifetime tech support is included with your Crutchfield purchase.

I love helping others bring their passion of audio into their home!

Jane, Crutchfield Advisor

  • Stan from South Plainfield

    Posted on 2/15/2016

    Wish you would list if the speakers are WISA certifiedl Thank you

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/18/2016

    Good point, Stan. The only two brands that I'm aware of at the moment that have WiSA (Wireless Speaker & Audio) certified speakers are Klipsch (their new Reference Premiere wireless models) and B&O, who's home speakers we don't presently carry. I just came from a Klipsch demo here in our training room, and those new wireless Reference Premieres sounded pretty sweet!

  • Nick from West Haven, CT

    Posted on 5/12/2016

    So What Do I Do About My Planned Bose Setup : 2 Sets Of Bose® Virtually Invisible® 191 speakers For Front And Rear L And R And Yamaha RX-V479 5.1. I Still Need A Center And Sub But The Center I Was Recommended To Buy (Polk Audio 255C-RT). Was Also Un-Recommended, Both By You Guys :[ I Don't Want Unmatched Voice But I Don't Want To Buy An Extra Speaker( Bose® Virtually Invisible® 191) Set Just For The One. I Guess I'm Just At A Loss Because Bose Doesn't Make A Center For That Family? Or Do They? Or Do I Just Go With It And See How Wonky It Is?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/16/2016

    Nick, You're correct. Bose does not sell a single in-wall/in-ceiling center channel speaker for that setup. (That's a little surprising given the wide selection they have.) Which leads me to either suggest going with a different brand of speaker for the center (such as that Polk), which despite being "technically" incorrect would still work well in my opinion. If mixing brands causes you concern, then perhaps going with a different brand altogether might be the best course of action. Polk, along with plenty of others, makes matching in-wall designs that play together very nicely. You may want to give our advisors a call for some suggestions.

  • san

    Posted on 9/4/2016

    I'm ready to buy a home theater system and need advice on choosing the right speakers. I'm looking to have 7.1 surround sound but really worried if the speaker connectors (male ends) would not fit into receiver's connector! i.e., if I bought Yamaha receiver and speakers are from other companies then how likely that they would fit into receiver. Also, the room where this setup would go has 16 feet ceiling. TV is 65" and receiver will be Dolby Atmos capable. Thanks. San

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/6/2016

    San, you won't need to worry about any connection problems between your receiver and your speakers. Each of them will use either spring clips or binding posts to connect the wire. Whichever speaker wire you choose for your system will easily connect to either option.

    I'm going to put you in touch with one of our Advisors, who will help you choose the right gear for your new system!

  • Jeff from Dallas

    Posted on 10/25/2016

    The whole section titled "Voice match if you can, but it's not required" is flat out wrong. You should always voice match your speakers when possible. At the very least, the three front channels should ALWAYS be voice matched. This is especially important when watching movies as audio that pans across the screen (front channels) will noticeably change timbre across varying speakers. This can be extremely distracting. Anyone serious about movies should be very concerned about voice matching speakers. In commercial cinemas, all three front speaker arrays are identical. In custom home theaters, often all three front channels have identical speakers for exactly this reason. These cinemas (commercial and private) don't use any special "center channel" speakers. Center channel speakers are themselves a compromise by trading a matching configuration (to that of the Main L and R channels) for a space savings due to consumers often limited space above or below a TV. This varying shape inherently introduces audio issues and variations from the main L/R channels. This is why manufacturers put a lot of effort into trying to closely voice match the center channel speaker in a particular product lineup. With the phasing and dispersion issues of the different layout (horizontal), they have to closely match the tonality and timbre to try to keep the audio from becoming too distracting. If you really care about film, then ignore what the author wrote in that section.

  • Jason

    Posted on 1/12/2017

    Do speakers need to match receiver wattage rating or should they be higher?

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/13/2017

    Jason, aiming for a close power match is a good plan. And it's okay to have a receiver that's rated at more power per channel than a speaker is rated. Generally speaking, the more power you have, the better.

  • Brian from Lake city

    Posted on 4/11/2017

    I would like to do atmos or dts x but I really can't afford upward firing speakers and I rent home and can't install ceiling speakers can I mount small surround on ceiling and point them down will that provide atmos or dts?

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/12/2017

    Hi Brian, you can certainly ceiling-mount small satellite speakers for overhead sound effects. We have a good assortment of compact speakers and mounts that will work for that.

    Does your home theater receiver have Dolby Atmos or DTS:X processing? If not, that should be the first piece of gear picked for your new system. Feel free to give us a shout if you need some help getting going!

  • John from Beaumont

    Posted on 8/11/2017

    I am using all active speakers and am considering purchasing a DAC that can output sound to four speakers at the same time (no receiver). I am not using a center channel. Because of placement limitations, I am wondering about using four stand mount active speakers in the front and one 12-inch subwoofer that I own now (no center channel). So, there would be two fronts from one brand five feet apart and two fronts from another brand seven feet apart. The two fronts five feet apart have a big, bold sound with nice midrange and bass and the two fronts seven feet apart are more detailed in the treble. I would tow in the fronts that are seven feet apart. Would this 4.1 system make sense, or would I be better off with just two speakers and the sub? I am fairly happy with my current 2.1 set up, but I am open to changing things up. This 4.1 set up would only be for music. My room is about 4,800 cubic feet. I live alone, and so there is no need to accommodate additional listeners.

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/11/2017

    Great questions John. I'm putting you in touch with one of our advisors, who will reach out with room-specific advice for your setup.

  • David Howe from BAYPORT,NY

    Posted on 8/19/2017

    I have 4 Def Tech BP9060s with the A90 Atmos add on's. I was told by a in his words SUPER AUDIOPHILE that I should DITCH the A90s and mount speakers on my walls to get the best ATMOS EXPERIENCE?

  • Kramer Crane from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/21/2017

    Hi David, the Atmos speakers you have fire upwards towards the ceiling, which reflects sound effects down from above you. Wall-mounted speakers are not really able to do that. You could go in-ceiling for your Atmos channels, but that is not likely to be worth the trouble at this point. I would enjoy your system with confidence; you have excellent speakers.

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