How to: Creating ideal surround sound

To get the most from your favorite movies, you have to have surround sound. But for many people, this can be daunting…with five speakers to place (not including the subwoofer, which we’ll deal with separately), finding the ideal placement might seem like a major undertaking.

Actually, though, you can get the most from your speakers by following a few simple tips.

Center channel placement is important because it is responsible for delivering dialogue, which, obviously, should seem to come directly from the characters onscreen. For that reason, the center channel speaker needs to be centrally located. It can be placed directly above or below the monitor, as closely to it as possible. If you’re using a rear projection television, the most likely option is to place it above the screen. If you have a front projection system, you have choices—stand mounting, or placement on furniture, for example. It is important, though, to place the speaker so that its front edge is even with the edge of the shelf or the stand that supports it. Unwanted diffraction occurs when the center channel is too far back into a cabinet or other surface with edges that could impede sound dispersion. If you’re using a center channel speaker with a traditional CRT (cathode ray tube) television, the speaker should have magnetic shielding to prevent interference.

For the left and right front channels, the distance between the speakers should be 6-8 feet at minimum, and form an equidistant triangle to the primary listening position for the best stereo imaging. The optimum room shape is rectangular, with the speakers usually along one of the shorter walls, facing the opposite side. If possible, do not place speakers against a wall or at the rear of a bookshelf. Try to keep the speakers—especially rear vented models—at least two feet from the surface behind it, unless you use a vent plug.

For best results when mounting surround speakers on a rear wall, position them so that they flank the main listening area and point toward the front of the room. They should be raised to a height of approximately six feet and should ideally have a minimum space of six feet between them, as well.

By following these basic rules, it’s possible to create the ideal “sweet spot”—one that makes hearing your favorite films as much fun as watching them!