Speaker placement for home theatre
5.1, 7.1 and other surround sound setups
In this article: We'll show you where to place your home theater speakers for the best surround sound...
- Front speaker placement tips
- Center channel placement tips
- Surround speaker placement tips
- Speaker layouts for 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound systems
- Speaker layouts for 5.1.2 and 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos surround sound systems
...And we’ll also look at some simple ways to improve performance — even in challenging rooms.
Just unboxed your new home theater speakers? You’re in the right place! Let’s talk about where to put them to get the best sound and most fun out of your system.
Why is speaker placement important?
I know it can be tempting to put your speakers where they look the best in your room. And let’s face it, sometimes we’re limited with how much redecorating we can do! But if you have some flexibility with where your speakers can go, you’ll almost certainly improve how they sound.
Front left and right speaker placement
Your front speakers are the foundation of your surround system, so we’re going to focus our efforts here first. Our goal is to create a wide, immersive soundstage with excellent separation between each channel.
The key to a good soundstage is having enough distance between your front left and right speakers. Ideally, they’ll be spaced about as far apart from each other as they are from you. If that’s not feasible it’s okay — even small increases in separation between the front channels will improve your system’s performance.
Let your ears be the judge
Experiment with how far your front speakers are from the wall. The closer they get, the more that bass is reinforced. That can be good to a degree. But your overall sonic performance can improve if your speakers are pulled away from the wall — try a few different positions to see which sounds the best.
I’ve found that playing a familiar song or movie clip is a good way to get new speakers dialed in. Listening to the same passage after each adjustment helps me gauge how much of a difference a particular change in positioning made.
Create a listening “sweet spot”
Once your front left and right speakers are in place it’s time to focus their sound at your main listening position — typically the center seat in front of the TV. This is often referred to as the listening “sweet spot,” because it offers the best sound in the room.
Some speakers sound their best facing straight forward. Others benefit from being angled inward toward you. Check the owner’s manual of your speakers for “toe-in” instructions — many companies indicate their preferred angle for the best sound.
Regardless of the angle of your speakers, your tweeters will sound their clearest if they’re at the same height as your ears when you’re seated.
Here I am adjusting a pair of Polk Audio floor-standing speakers to focus their sound at my seat.
Center channel placement
Place your center channel right above or below your TV, and line it up with the midpoint of the screen. If possible, tilt it to direct the angle of the tweeter toward your ears.
Depending on its size, your center channel can go on top of your A/V cabinet, on a lower shelf, or even be mounted to the wall.
Surround speakers placement
What makes the home theater experience so much fun? For me, it’s when my emotions and imagination are completely engaged with what I’m watching. As in, I forget I own a smartphone kind of immersion.
A well-placed surround system can transport your imagination to another world.
5.1 surround sound
In a 5.1 system your surround speakers are best placed to the left and right of your listening position. Space them apart the same distance as your front speakers (or a little wider), and face them toward you.
If side placement isn't practical, place your surround speakers a few feet behind your listening position and angle them toward you. Here are my top tips for a clean installation.
In a 5.1 system your surround speakers are best placed to the left and right of your listening position. Aim them directly toward you for the best sound.
7.1 surround sound
In a 7.1 system the side surrounds go to the left and right of your seating position and face you. The rear speakers go behind your seats, angled in.
Your surround channels should at least be at ear level, and can sound even better when elevated by a foot or two.
A 7.1 system uses side and rear surround speakers to completely envelop you in the action.
Where you place your home theater’s subwoofer has a big impact on how it sounds. The same sub in one area of your room can sound markedly different when moved to another spot.
Putting your sub near a wall will typically reinforce the level of bass that you hear. Putting it in a corner gives you even more low-end punch.
I suggest trying your sub out in a few different places to see which gives you the tightest, cleanest bass. I moved mine around quite a bit before settling on a side-wall placement facing my main speakers. I didn’t initially think to put it there, but that’s where it sounds its best!
After trying it out in several spots I discovered that my SVS subwoofer sounds its best positioned along the front wall of my living room home theater.
Can’t run a sub cable? Go wireless with your bass
Most people put their sub in the front of the room so that it’s simple to connect to their home theater receiver. But if running a cable to where your sub sounds the best is impractical, use a wireless subwoofer kit and place it anywhere in the room you have a power outlet.
Add a second sub for better bass
Using two subs improves bass distribution by filling in gaps where bass response may be weak. A second sub also provides more impactful dynamics and greater system headroom.
The layout of your room will determine where the second sub should be placed. Some rooms get the best results by having a sub in each of the front corners of the room. Others get more even bass with one sub in the front of the room and the other in the back.
Try a few different arrangements to see where you get the best bass in your room. Once you've got your sub(s) in place, check out our subwoofer setup article for tips on getting deep, room-filling bass.
I'm a fan of using two subs to make movies and gaming as enjoyable as possible. The Paradigm MilleniaSub sounds ridiculously good for its size, and can easily hide behind furniture.
Dolby Atmos® and DTS:X™ guidelines
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X systems start with a conventional 5.1- or 7.1-channel setup and add two or more overhead effects speakers for ultra-immersive surround sound.
DTS:X works with any traditional surround system. Simply arrange your speakers to best fit your space, then let your receiver’s object-based surround processor determine where to best send dialogue and sound effects.
5.1.2 Dolby Atmos
Building a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system? Install your in-ceiling speakers slightly in front of your seat. They should be spaced about the same width apart as your front left and right speakers.
Going with one pair of in-ceiling Atmos speakers? Install them just in front of your seat for exciting overhead effects.
5.1.4 Dolby Atmos
A 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos system uses two pairs of overhead effects speakers to create an immersive sonic bubble.
Install the first pair a few feet in front of your listening position, and the second pair a few feet behind you. Space them the same width apart as your front left and right speakers for a wide, powerful soundstage and smooth transition of sound.
Two pairs of Atmos speakers completely immerse you in special effects. Install the first pair a few feet in front of your listening position, and the second pair a few feet behind you.
Check out our in-ceiling speaker installation guide for more tips.
Tips for challenging floor plans
Not every room 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.
Use the system layouts shown below to get the best sound in these challenging rooms.
Have an L-shaped room? Arrange your system using the 5.1 system guidelines. If you can, pull the couch out a bit to reduce sonic reflections off of the rear wall.
TV in a corner
This arrangement makes the best use of your space if your TV is in a corner. Have seating along both walls? A sound bar or 3.1 system is a better option since there are no good placement options for surround speakers.
Open floor plan
Have an open floor plan? Consider in-ceiling speakers for your surround channels. Place them slightly behind your seating area for exciting overhead effects.
3.1-channel systems (no surround speakers)
A 3.1 system pairs left, right, and center speakers with a powered sub to create a dynamic front soundstage. These systems are often better options than putting surround speakers where they won’t look or sound their best.
Optimize your system’s performance
Once your speakers are in place, it’s time to run your receiver’s room calibration software. The included microphone listens to test tones through each speaker at different volume levels. The receiver then automatically adjusts the timing, output level, and equalization for each speaker to best match your room’s acoustics.
Stabilize your speakers...
One of the simplest ways to improve system performance is by reducing vibrations — especially helpful if you have hardwood floors, large glass windows or doors, or other reflective surfaces.
We carry lots of great options for this — from replacemant speaker feet, to isolation platforms that your speakers sit on.
...and your subwoofer
A subwoofer isolation platform like the Auralex SubDude-II™ can make a noticeable difference in how your sub sounds.
Love a clean install as much as I do? Here are some helpful tips for keeping your A/V system neat and tidy.
Let us help you get started
Want friendly, one-on-one help choosing the best gear for your new system? Our expert Advisors can help you design a surround sound system for your home. Contact us for free, personalized advice.