Excellent audio makes a huge difference in your home entertainment center. Poor sound quality undermines the entire TV or movie watching experience, while great sound makes it easy to become immersed in what is happening on the screen. Just having high-quality speakers is a great first step, of course, but to really maximize sound quality you also need to place those speakers optimally. While the ideal speaker arrangement depends somewhat on the layout of your home entertainment center, the acoustics of your home and your personal preferences, following certain principles will help you find the best possible speaker placement.
Most people are visually oriented and make placement decisions based on what is visually appealing. Thus, speakers tend to end up where they look best, not necessarily where they sound best. Since you interact with your speakers using your ears instead of your eyes, however, the rule of thumb is to put your speakers at ear level. If it is necessary to place a speaker above or below ear level, consider tilting it up or down to direct the sound towards your ears.
Your center speaker, which anchors dialogue and connects sound to the screen, should be the first one placed in your home theater. Its exact placement depends on where you put your TV, as it should be right above or below the screen, centered if possible. As with your other speakers, the center speaker should be placed as close as possible to ear level, but the presence of the TV screen at eye level can make this difficult. If you must place your center speaker significantly higher or lower, tilt it up or down to direct the sound toward your listening position. In addition, make sure your center speaker is video shielded to prevent distortion on your video screen.
Your left and right front speakers play arguably the most important role in your entire surround sound system. They handle movie soundtracks, provide all of the sound when you listen to stereo music and take on the bulk of the workload when you watch TV. Place the left and right speakers equidistant from the center of your TV screen and from your listening position, and make sure your center speaker is also the same distance from your seat. Ideally, they should be tilted at a 22 to 30 degree angle with respect to the screen and should be placed at ear level. Floor-standing speakers are designed with ear height in mind; smaller speakers can be placed on stands or attached to a wall to achieve the desired height.
The left and right surround speakers should be placed approximately level with your listening position or just a little behind. In terms of angles, they should be about perpendicular to your TV screen. Unlike the front speakers, surround speakers should be placed somewhat above your sitting ear level: A good guideline is to place them level with your ears when standing. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by mounting your surround speakers on walls; if you do so, be sure to use studs to prevent them from falling.
The foundation of your entire sound system is the massive subwoofer, designed to provide the deepest bass sounds. Since the deep tones of the subwoofer are more felt than heard, many people believe they can just place it wherever there is space. In fact, placing your subwoofer close to a wall can significantly increase its sound output, and putting it in a corner can give you even more decibels. Experiment with placing it closer to or farther from a wall and see if the change improves your listening experience.
Ultimately, the key to optimal speaker placement is to use trial and error. Try angling your surround speakers up and down, moving the left and right speakers slightly closer to or farther from the television and bringing them closer to or farther from the wall. Consult the instruction manual as well and try the manufacturer’s device-specific placement to take advantage of the unique properties of your speakers. Keep making those adjustments, listen closely while you watch TV and movies, and you will find a speaker arrangement that fits your TV, your home theater and your preferences.