You’ve decided to setup your very own home theater setup, which can be very exciting, but also challenging. One of the first things you’re going to want to buy is your speaker system. All equipment comes with many questions, but you don’t want to get it wrong with the speakers, so how do you choose your home theater speakers?
To choose home theater speakers, you’ll want to choose the best options for the size and type of room you’re setting up, and you need to be able to hook everything up to a receiver. For the minimum count for a 5.1 setup, you’ll need a center speaker, two front speakers (left and right), two rear speakers (left and right), and at least one subwoofer.
Let’s take a closer look at everything you’ll need to get started on purchasing your home theater speakers.
Things to Consider When Choosing Your Speakers
One of the key features of any theater for moviegoers is how the sound cuts right through you and hits you hard. The dialogue, sound effects, and scores are all part of what makes movies so thrilling. The speakers are the key ingredient in making a great movie experience.
You’ll want to capture that same effect when setting up your surround sound system. This goes from not only buying the right speakers but also comes down to the speakers’ layout. Placing them in bad areas of the room will result in a lackluster sound that wouldn’t give you the goosebumps you’re hoping for.
When purchasing your speakers, you want to find the right kind of speakers for the room you plan on converting. There are several things to consider when analyzing the room.
Size of the Room
This is one of the first things you need to consider when developing your home theater surround sound system. You’ll want to make sure that whatever speakers you buy are capable of reaching every area of the room to get the full theater experience.
The size of the room is going to determine how many speakers you can use. If the room is too small, you’ll need smaller speakers. Similarly, if the room is larger, you’ll need more powerful speakers.
Now, small rooms with large speakers can leave you hearing more bass than anything else. On the other hand, small speakers in a large room will sound flat and too localized. You need a balance between the two, which is why it’s so important to consider the room size.
Walls, Floors, and Corners
When determining your room’s optimal speaker setup, you want to also take into account the walls, floors, and corners.
You don’t want to put your speakers into the corners of the room. Corners can muffle certain sounds if floor-standing speakers are placed in them. They can cancel out the bass, which is the last thing you want from your surround sound system.
When it comes to walls and floors, hard surfaces are just bad on sound as corners. Large stretches of flat, hard surfaces will change the way the whole system sounds. This is due to how sound waves travel.
There is a lot of science involved that isn’t really necessary for this article, but hard surfaces like walls and floors create echoes because the sound waves bounce off them and then back to you. When picking your speakers, you need to consider the walls and floors to prevent these echoes from happening.
You can determine if your chosen theater room is the right fit by standing in its center and clapping. Listen for echoes. If you hear them, you can either choose a different room or add a few things to the set up to break up the flat surfaces. This can be furniture, curtains, or rugs. These will muffle the echo and help the speakers sound their best.
Number of Speakers
Finally, the last thing you need to think about in this part of your home theater process is the number of speakers you want to go with. There are typically two ways to go about this: six or eight channels.
Now, these types of setups are known as 5.1 surround sound or 7.1 surround sound. The 5.1 setup uses six channels, which connect to six speakers. The 7.1 setup is eight channels, connected to eight speakers.
The reason these are known as 5.1 or 7.1 refers to the number of standard speakers and subwoofers. 5.1 setups have five standard speakers and one subwoofer. 7.1 setups have seven standards and one subwoofer. There are also 7.2 setups you can go with, but you may find that it is unnecessary.
A 5.1 surround sound setup has a standard sound quality, while a 7.1 will have more depth. However, if your room size can’t support a 7.1 setup, it isn’t wise to go with that option. As mentioned above, cramming too many speakers into a small space will only ruin the overall sound experience.
A 5.1 layout is easier to set up and is typically cheaper. The 7.1 layout is perfect for large rooms but more expensive.
The Types of Speakers You’ll Need
For a 5.1 surround sound setup, you’ll need the following speakers:
- Center Speaker and/or Soundbar – Sometimes, you can find center speaker/soundbar combos, which would be ideal.
- Front Speakers – You’ll need two of these.
- Rear Speakers – You’ll also need two of these.
- Subwoofers – For a 5.1 setup, you’ll only need one subwoofer.
For a 7.1 surround sound setup, the following speakers are what you’ll need:
- Center Speaker and/or Soundbar – As mentioned above, you can sometimes find a combo.
- Front Speakers – You’ll want two of these as well.
- Side Speakers – You should also have two of these.
- Rear Speakers – You’ll need two of these.
- Subwoofers – For 7.1, you only need one, but if you’re using a 7.2 setup, you’ll need a second subwoofer.
Pick a Center Speaker
So, what exactly is the center speaker? This is the big speaker that will typically sit underneath your TV, although some say above the TV is best. This will connect to your receiver and will need an amplifier to play sounds.
The center speaker is going to be the speaker that primarily handles any dialogue. However, it can also be used on some music and effects. It’s typically a single-channel speaker as well.
In addition to handling dialogue, center speakers can add depth to your movies as well. The center speaker will work with the front and rear speakers to move the sound effects from the front, back, or sides of the room.
Center speakers are often confused with soundbars. These two speakers are very different, and this article will go over soundbars in more detail in a bit. Despite being two different speakers, it’s possible to get a center speaker/ soundbar combo.
Top Three Center Speakers
- Polk Audio Signature Series S35 – This speaker has five stars on Amazon and is a reasonable price compared to the others on this shortlist. It offers a big sound for such a thin device. It works great for confined spaces. So, if you’re short on space under your TV, this could be the speaker you need.
- Definitive Technology CS-9040 Center Channel Speaker – This center speaker is the most expensive on this list, but it offers a beautifully clear sound that is also powerful. It’s also a little bulkier than the Polk alternative above, but if you’re not tight on space or money, this could be the speaker you’ll love.
- Klipsch R-52C – The Klipsch is a mid-priced center speaker that also has a five-star rating on Amazon. It provides you with a clear, crisp sound that makes dialogue and music lyrics stand out the way they should.
Pick Your Front Speakers
When it comes to your front, you need to choose between bookshelf speakers or floor standing speakers. These two options are the most popular for the front left and right speakers in your setup. So, what’s the difference between them?
A bookshelf speaker is going to be smaller. It was designed to fit on a bookshelf, hence the name. Don’t get them confused with satellite speakers. These bookshelf speakers are larger than satellite speakers, which are typically used as rear speakers. You can, of course, use satellite speakers for your front setup, but you may not enjoy the sound experience as much.
Now, placement can get a little trickier with these smaller bookshelf speakers. Typically, they’ll work just fine on a TV stand if you have space. However, if you don’t have space, floor stands for your speakers are an option. These Perlesmith Speaker Stands are available on Amazon and are compatible with many different speaker brands.
Floorstanding speakers, sometimes called loudspeakers, are bigger and typically more powerful than bookshelf speakers. These are the best options for larger rooms, but they are almost always more expensive. They are also designed to work with low frequencies, which don’t make them the perfect choice for a movie experience unless you have a subwoofer.
If concert-level music in your home theater is more your goal, floor standing speakers are a better choice. These speakers sound great with music, and their size will ensure you have a great experience. Also, if you’re only concerned with the music, using floor standing speakers means you could potentially avoid getting a subwoofer. At least at first.
The purpose of your front speakers is to focus on the musical score of your movies and the special effects. The sound will move from left to right in sync with the movie so that it sounds like it’s happening right in front of you. An explosion on the right side of your screen will blast sound from the front right speaker.
Top Three Front Speakers
- Audioengine HD6 – These bookshelf speakers pack a huge punch. Not only are they clear, and the sound is crisp, but they’re also wireless. This is a big feature because it allows you to put these speakers anywhere without worrying about wires reaching your receiver or TV. You can order them today from Amazon, and get a three-year transferable warranty in case anything happens.
- Q Acoustics 3050 – These are some great floor standing speakers. The sound is clear and provides deep elements to your listening experience. These speakers are perfect for larger rooms. However, they’re not wireless like the bookshelf speakers listed above, but instead, they will connect to your receiver through traditional audio wiring. If you’re looking for great speakers for a large room, these just might fit the bill.
- Polk Audio Monitor 40 Series – These Polk Audio bookshelf speakers are the cheapest on this list, but don’t let the price tag fool you. These speakers are great. They provide a wonderfully crisp and clear sound that is perfect for an at-home theater. You can use these for any small to medium-sized room and get excellent results.
Choose the Rear Speakers
The next step in your journey to a home theater setup is to choose your rear speakers. These are going to be the speakers that sit behind your seating area.
Now, some setups might not need these speakers. It all depends on your preferences. If you’re on a budget and can’t afford rear speakers, you can certainly opt not to get them. However, you might find that your surround sound setup is lacking.
Satellite speakers are the most common option for rear speakers. They are smaller than bookshelf speakers, which makes it easy to keep them out of the way. You can mount them as well if you’re limited on floor space.
You can also use floor standing or bookshelf speakers for your rear speakers, but you may discover that to be a bit unnecessary. Your rear speakers are meant to give you that enveloped surround sound experience, but your front and center speakers will do the heavy lifting.
If your goal is to really experience a sound powerhouse, go with the bigger speakers as your rear setup. However, you may find that most satellite speakers will do what you want, especially when paired with a subwoofer.
Satellite speakers are typically great for high- and mid-level frequencies, but the low frequencies are harder. This won’t be an issue if you have a subwoofer, though.
Top Three Rear Speakers
- Polk Audio SR1 – These tiny little speakers are great for just about anywhere in your home theater setup. They can be used as front or rear speakers, depending on what you need. They can be mounted or sit on a tabletop. The sound is crisp and clear, making it a perfect addition to your setup.
- Pure Resonance Audio – What’s great about these is the swivel action they provide, essentially coming with four speakers for two. The swivel allows you to point the speakers in whatever direction you want, enabling you to utilize the most out of these little satellite speakers. They can be mounted or set on a tabletop, whichever is most convenient for you.
- Cambridge Audio Satellite Speakers – What’s great about these speakers is that they’re big enough to not compromise on sound quality, but they’re still small enough to use as your rear speakers. They can be mounted or set on a tabletop. They also have a great sound for their size and handle high frequencies with ease.
Decide on Your Number of Subwoofers
Your last speaker is going to be your subwoofer. Now, if you’re only going with three speakers, two front and one center, you might not need a subwoofer.
Something to note with subwoofers is that they can’t just be placed anywhere. The subwoofer needs to be placed in the right spot to achieve the best sound. This could take a few trial and error tests, but you'll be good to go once you find that sweet spot.
The trouble with the subwoofer is how the bass sounds interact with the room. This is why you’ll hear a heavy bass frequency in one area of the room, but not in another. It’s because of this interaction that placement is so vital.
Some will solve this problem by using two subwoofers. This could be especially helpful in large rooms but might be overkill in small to medium-sized rooms. Having a second subwoofer can also help with the workload of your first subwoofer. It will balance the amount of sound between the two.
Another thing to note is that most surrounding sound systems will come with a subwoofer when sold as a set. This means there will be no compatibility issues.
Top Three Subwoofers
- Polk Audio PSW10 – This Polk Audio subwoofer will make a wonderful addition to your surround sound system. It handles those bass sounds effortlessly. You’ll feel every punch and special effect from the movies you’re watching. The best part: it works seamlessly with other Polk products, so you won’t have to worry about compatibility if your other speakers are also Polk branded.
- Klipsch Reference R-10SW – Another high rating subwoofer, the Klipsch, offers everything you need in a subwoofer. It handles those low-frequency sounds with ease and will get your pulse pounding with its power. Easily connect this to your surround sound system, and you’ll be good to go.
- Elac SUB1010 – Another great subwoofer to consider. This one is about the same price as the Polk. It will handle the bass nicely and give you the theater listening experience you need.
Find the Right Receiver
The AV receiver is going to be the most important part. It syncs all of your speakers together and connects them to your TV. Without it, your entire system won’t work.
You want to make sure there are enough HDMI ports for your IO and be able to handle all of your speakers with one or two extra just in case. You also want to make sure there are enough channels for your speakers. You’ll need one channel per speaker. You can find receivers that have anywhere from three to 15 channels.
It all depends on your needs. If you think you’re going to be using only a 5.1 setup, you’ll need six channels. If you think you might want to have a 7.1 or 7.2 setup, you’ll need eight for the 7.1 or nine for the 7.2.
Top Three Receivers
- Denon 5.2 Channel Receiver – Available on Amazon, this receiver is great for anyone who doesn’t plan on upgrading to a 7.1 or 7.2 system. It has the right amount of channels needed for your 5.1 or 5.2 setup.
- Denon 7.2 Channel Receiver – If you’re thinking of upgrading in the future, or if you want to start with a 7.1 or 7.2 setup, this is the receiver for you.
- Pyle 5.2 Channel Bluetooth Receiver – This receiver is great because of its Bluetooth capability. If you have wireless speakers in your surround sound setup, this could be the receiver you need.
Consider a Soundbar
Sometimes, you just don’t have the space for all of these speakers. When that happens, a soundbar could be your best option. These slim speakers are usually more than one speaker, all wrapped into one.
A soundbar comes with all three of your front speakers inside one case. You’ll have your front right, center, and left speakers ready to go without taking up space. This can be a great alternative if you also hate the way those big speakers look.
Additionally, you'll find that most soundbars are packaged with a subwoofer as well.
Top Three Soundbars
- Polk Audio Signa S2 – This is a great option if you’re on a budget with a small space available because it comes with a subwoofer. You essentially get your entire surround sound system in one purchase.
- Sonos Beam – More on the pricey side, this is still a great soundbar option. It’s a perfect compact size so it can fit right underneath your TV without sacrificing much-needed TV stand space.
- Bose Solo 5 – Another great soundbar by a well-known audio brand. You’re sure to have a good experience using this soundbar.
Speaker Placement Is Key
The key to having the perfect sound in your home theater is the placement of the speakers. There are a lot of different layout design options you have available to you. Check out this link to see a variety of home theater speaker layouts.
5 Best Surround Sound Systems Available
Sometimes piecing a set of speakers together on your own is more trouble than it’s worth. When this happens, it never hurts to consider all of your options. This means purchasing a set. In addition to less stress, it can also be cheaper to purchase your speakers in a set.
Below you’ll find five surround sound systems available, so you don’t have to worry about the individual speakers. The best part: you know they’re all compatible with each other. Be careful not to buy any old home theater in a box set. Make sure it will fit your needs.
- Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1 – This is a great 7.1 system with everything you’ll need to get started. All of the speakers are designed to give you the very best 360° sound throughout your entire home theater. It has Bluetooth capabilities and works seamlessly with your devices. The subwoofer points its sound down to the floor to give it an even dispersal throughout the room. This is also the second cheapest option on this list.
- Bose 5.1 Home Theater Surround Sound – This is a great option if you are limited with space. This set comes with a soundbar, a subwoofer, and rear satellite speakers. The subwoofer is wireless. This set is perfect if you don’t want anything too big, but still want that surround sound quality to your home theater. The only downside here is that the set is expensive. For only a 5.1 setup, it might not be worth it to you.
- SVS Prime Satellite Surround Sound – This is another 5.1 setup, but you can’t beat it for the price. It’s a compact set of speakers, so you can place them virtually anywhere and get some great sounds. You get five satellite speakers with this set as well as a 4.5” subwoofer. The sounds are clear and crisp. The subwoofer delivers deep and resounding depth to the bass that is surprising from its size.
- Klipsch 5.1 Surround Sound Pack – Another great audio brand, you’re sure to have a great listening experience with this set. It comes with everything you need for a 5.1 setup. Each satellite speaker comes ready to mount so you can keep the entire system up and out of the way.
- Enclave Audio CineHome II – Last on the list, but not the least worth mentioning. This is a great system because it comes with everything ready to go. Just plug and play with no hassles. It’s a 5.1 setup, and all it needs is one cable to hook up to your TV.
While setting up a home theater can be overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. The speakers are some of the most important parts you need to purchase to complete your theater. Hopefully, this guide has given you a better idea of how to choose your home theater speakers.