The best spot for a home theater is in a room that’s completely enclosed and far removed from the main living areas of the house. In reality, more people choose their busy, centrally located family room as their primary movie-viewing venue. And that’s okay. With careful equipment selection and placement, a family room can function admirably as a home theater. Here, we’ll discuss how to create a surround-sound effect in a room whose dimensions and design elements can impede speaker placement.
Choose a Format
More isn’t always better when it comes to speakers. In other words, a seven speaker surround-sound setup won’t necessarily sound better than a five speaker surround-sound arrangement. “In a smaller room that measures around 15-by-12 feet with 8-foot high ceilings, 5.1 (five speakers and a subwoofer) is sufficient,” says professional audio/video designer Lance David of Gramophone in Timonium, MD. “A room with a width or depth of 20 feet might call for a 6.1 system (six speakers and a subwoofer) or a 7.1 system (seven speakers and a subwoofer) to completely fill the space with sound.” Larger rooms might also have more than one main seating area. For such cases, David recommends a 7.1 arrangement because it will allow you to place two additional effects speakers on the side walls closer to a secondary seating spot.
Map It Out
Every surround-sound arrangement includes three front speakers. The center-channel speaker should be positioned above or below the TV, with the side speakers positioned eight to 10 feet apart from one another. Ideally, the left and right front speakers should be placed level with your ears when you’re in a seated position. The left and right rear effects speakers should be located two to three feet behind the main seating area parallel with the left and right front speakers. They should be raised at least six feet above the floor. A 6.1 surround-sound system adds another rear effects speaker to the mix. It goes in between the rear left and right speakers. A 7.1 surround-sound system adds two effects speakers intended to be placed on the side walls at the same height as the rear speakers.
What About the Sub?
Every surround-sound system has a .1 at the end (5.1, 6.1, 7.1). This .1 denotes a subwoofer, a device that can produce the low bass effects. A subwoofer usually looks like a big box, and its heft makes it a tough piece to work into a room. The typical location for a subwoofer is near the front of the room on plane with the front three speakers. If that’s not possible, look for a subwoofer with a phase control switch. This will allow your installer to adjust the output of the sub so that the bass sounds good from just about any location in the room.
Most installers recommend floorstanding- or bookshelf-style speakers as the best options for a surround-sound system. “Freestanding speakers can be easily repositioned, and they are able to reflect sound off the walls in back of them for better depth of sound,” David explains. However, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers are a viable alternative when space is tight or if you prefer a setup that’s less obtrusive. In-ceiling speakers, in particular, can be a real lifesaver when wall space is limited, a common dilemma in family rooms with fireplaces, large windows and lots of artwork on the walls. Featuring moveable tweeters and angled grilles, in-ceiling speakers can be pointed toward the listening area to create a sonic experience that’s nearly as good as what you’d get from wall-mounted speakers.
Few rooms offer ideal accommodations for speakers. You can however, enjoy great surround sound by using speakers, audio/video receivers and subwoofers that can be tweaked to compensate for imperfect placement. If you’re willing to experiment, you’ll have a surround-sound system that’s just about perfect for your family-style home theater.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.