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How to Set Up Your Surround Sound

When you’re searching for the ultimate home theater experience, surround sound is an obvious key component. After all, secondary to the big screen, the big sound is one of the best parts of going to the movie theater. The sound envelops you and pulls you into the story.

What may not be as equally obvious as how elemental surround sound is to your home theater is how to get it set up just right. If you want your home theater to sound like the Cineplex, you have to be willing to test and tweak the system until you find what aural enthusiasts refer to as the “sweet spot.”

Determine your configuration

How many channels, or layers, of sound are you looking for? Common configurations include:

2.1—Two speakers (one left and one right) plus a subwoofer. This is the most basic and affordable surround sound configuration. Today’s HDTVs aren’t known for having very powerful speakers. A 2.1 surround sound configuration will give your HD experience the boost it needs.

5.1—Five speakers (one left, one center, one right, one left surround and one right surround) and one subwoofer. To begin to mirror the theater experience at home, a 5.1 set up is the best starting point.

7.1—Seven speakers (one left, one right, one center, one surround left, one surround right, one surround rear left, one surround rear right) and one subwoofer. The 7.1 set up most closely mimics the sound experience you get in a movie theater. Essentially, you sit in the middle of a circle of sound.

Speaker positioning within your chosen configuration

In all cases, you should apply some basic principles for speaker positioning. Here are the Seven Surround Sound Secrets to designing an astounding sound system:

  1. Speakers should be at ear-level height when you’re sitting down. Most speakers come with stands or can be easily mounted on the wall or after-market stands. Don’t put speakers on the floor, especially if your TV room is carpeted. You’ll end up with a muffled, far-away sound, which is the opposite of the surround sound goal.
  2. While we’re on the topic of muffling, let’s talk about your furniture. Hiding speakers behind bulky furniture may make your room more fashionable, but it does nothing for your sound quality. Think about low profile speakers like BOSE® Acoustimass® speakers. Alternatively, you could opt for in-wall or in-ceiling speakers.
  3. Front left and right speakers should be about three feet from you and three feet from the TV on either side. Angle these speakers toward where you will be sitting, 30 to 45 degrees.
  4. Center speaker should be centered with you and the TV. You can position it above or below the TV but be sure to get it as close to ear level as possible.
  5. Left and right surround sound speakers should be at the sides of where you will sit, on a 90- to 110-degree angle to you.
  6. Left and right rear surround speakers should be behind where you will sit, angled toward you at 135 to 150 degrees.
  7. Don’t be afraid to vary these rules and test what works best for your room set up. Room shape, furniture and home décor, such as area rugs and drapes, will all affect acoustics.