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How To Set Up a 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System


35
by Marshall April 27, 2014
In this article, we help you gure out exactly where all your speakers should
go and how to adjust the necessary settings. Were going to be talking about
a 5 speaker home theater setup which consists of a center, front left and
right, and 2 surround speakers. When you hear the term, 5.1 speaker
system, the .1 refers to the subwoofer.
Weve already talked about positioning a subwoofer, so for help with that
check out our subwoofer placement guide (../../subwoofer-setup/easysubwoofer-placement).
In this educational video, we take you on a tour of a typical 5.1 speaker
system which includes (front left, front right, center, left surround, right
surround, and a dedicated powered subwoofer). We show you where each
speaker should be placed and also discuss proper set up and calibration to
ensure the best performance.

(http://www.audioholics.com
/home-theater-connection
/how-to-set-up-5.1-speakerhome-theater-system
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How To Set Up A 5.1 Speaker
System

Tips to Keep in Mind


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Tip number 1: Your speakers probably came with a users manual that has manufacturer recommendations
for placement of your specic speakers. While our video will give advice that weve found to be pretty
universally applicable, we also recommend that you consider the manufacturers advice on placement. This is
especially true if you have nontraditional speakers, like MartinLogan electrostats (../../tower-speaker-reviews
/martinlogan-theos) or Denitive Technology bi-polar speakers. (../../bookshelf-speaker-reviews/def-techstudiomonitor-65-video)
Tip number 2: Try to keep your speakers and seat out of corners and away from walls. Placing your
speaker, or head, in a corner or near a wall will reinforce low and mid frequencies, making explosions way too
loud, or dialogue dicult to understand. Two to Three feet away from walls is recommended, but if that
doesnt work in your room, just try to give yourself as much distance as possible.
Tip number 3: Wood and tile oors are easy to care for, and look great, but hard surfaces bounce high
frequencies back up towards your ears making them too loud. Those bounced, or reected frequencies, also
arrive a fraction of a second later than the ones that headed straight towards your ears from the speakers, so
you get a very short echo that can make it dicult to understand dialogue and can mask small ambient
details. The same goes for a hard coee table in front of you. Use a thick area rug between you and your
speakers if you have hard oors, and try to use smaller end tables to the side instead of coee tables to the
front.
Tip number 4: Well refer to ear-level at times during this video. Thats the distance of your ears from the
oor. This will vary, but for most folks its somewhere between 32 and 36 inches. Before you begin, you
might want to get out a tape measure and nd the distance from your ears to the oor when seated in your
favorite seat.
With those few tips in mind, we can move onto the center speaker.

Center Channel
This ones pretty easy. It should be directly in front of you, centered above or below your display. Try to keep
it as close to your TV or display as possible. The center channel (we use center speaker and center channel
interchangeably) will reproduce almost all of the dialogue. So, If its too far away from the display, it wont
sound like the voices are coming from the moving lips on the screen, it will sound like they are coming from
your oor or ceiling.
Also, its tempting to stu that center channel on a shelf inside your media center. But, the sides of your
furniture work just like the walls in your room, or cupping your hands around your mouth: it changes the
tonality of the speaker, and can sound unnatural. Buy a speaker that youre okay looking at, and get it out of
your furniture where it can get some breathing room. If you must put it in a media center, move it as far
forward as possible so that the front of the speaker is even with the front of the furniture, and for the
audiophile looking to go the extra mile, line the space around the speaker with acoustic foam from a
company like Auralex Acoustics (../../acoustic-reviews/auralex-sonosuede-room-acoustics-system) to absorb
reections.

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(CenterSpeakerAimatEars.png/image_view_fullscreen)
Aim your center speaker at your ears
Ideally your center channels tweeter, thats the smallest driver that reproduces the highest frequencies,
should be at ear level. This is because it is the most directional; the more it is pointed above, below, or to the
sides of your ears, the more likely it is the frequencies you hear will not be accurate, and you may have a hard
time understanding dialogue. However, this just isnt practical with a center channel because ear-level is
pretty close to eye-level, and is typically in the middle of your display. You dont want your center channel
blocking your view, so angle the speaker up or down slightly to aim the tweeter at your ears. Some center
channels are designed to re at an upward or downward angle based on the shape of their cabinet, or may
have an adjustable foot for just this purpose. You can also use a professional product like the Auralex MoPAD
(../../acoustic-reviews/auralex-mopads-monitor-isolation) for this, or one of my favorite budget tweaks, a pair
of rubber door stoppers.
To recap, your Center channel should now be:

Directly in front of you centered above or below your display.

The height should be as close to ear-level as possible without blocking your display.

Tilted with the tweeter aimed at your ears.

Out of furniture and away from walls, if possible.

Front Left and Right Speakers


Lets move on to the Front Speakers. These go to the left and right of your center channel and should be set
up symmetrically, each being equal distances from your center channel.

(frontspeakerdistance.PNG/image_view_fullscreen)

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Experiment with angle and distance


You will want to experiment with the angle of the speakers to your seat, and were going to help you do this as
easily as possible. Dolby and THX standards state that your speakers should be 22-30 degrees o-center
from your listening position, but, at Audioholics, weve found that this is not a hard and fast rule, and our
speakers sound better a little closer together in our room. While you can eyeball this, a tape measure, a
calculator, and some simple math will help you be more precise.
First measure the distance from the center seat to the center channel. Multiply this distance by 0.3. Lets call
this new distance x, or gumdrops or whatever makes you feel good about trigonometry. By putting the
middle of your front speakers each this far away from the middle of your center speaker, you now have your
speakers 17 degrees o-center, which is near the minimum that we like here at Audioholics. Now repeat that
math, but this time, multiply that original distance by .6 and you have 30 degrees o-center.

(RugWithFrontSpeakers.png/image_view_fullscreen)

(EarLevel.png/image_view_fullscreen)

Use a rug to absorb re ections

Tweeter should be at ear level

Experiment within this range to see what sounds and works best for your room. Having a friend move
speakers while you sit in your chair and listen may be helpful. Put your receiver into stereo mode so that its
only playing sound out of the left and right speakers. Try to nd a position where your speakers are wide
enough apart that the sound lls the whole room in front of you, but not so wide that you dont get a good
center image where a singer or spoken dialogue sounds like theyre directly in front of you in the middle of
your display. If you cant move your speakers, try moving your seat. Also try experimenting with toe-in or
aiming the speaker directly at the center seat, versus having them ring straight out, to the left and right, of
the seat.
For your front speakers, the height of the tweeter should be at be at ear level. This means that Bookshelf
Speakers should be placed on stands. Once again, speakers like to breathe. Try to keep them away from
walls and out of actual bookshelves unless they are specically designed for that type of placement.
For tower speakers, the tweeter should already be at an average height, but you can always double-check,
and raise or tilt them if necessary.

(WallMountRearSpeaker.png/image_view_fullscreen)

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Surround Speakers
And lastly, the surround speakers. Per Dolby and DTS standards, your surround speakers should be 90-110
degrees o center, directly to the side or just a little but behind your seating position. Also, as opposed to our
front speakers, the tweeter of the surround speakers should be 2-3 feet above ear-level when seated as this
makes it them harder to localize. In other words, it makes it harder to hear exactly where the sound is coming
from, which creates a more realistic surround eld. This will likely necessitate wall mounting or using tall
stands.

Conclusion
After following these steps, even if you werent able to place your speakers in their ideal locations due to room
and furniture constraints, you can rest easy knowing that your system can still sound great. Youre now ready
to re up your receiver and set speaker Level, Distance, and Equalization. Well guide you through that in
our next set up article.
Confused about what AV Gear to buy or how to set it up? Join our Exclusive Audioholics E-Book
Membership Program (/combo-pack-ebooks)!

See also:
Crawling for Bass - Subwoofer Placement Tips (/home-theater-connection/crawling-for-basssubwoofer-placement)
Subwoofer Placement Tips for Cabinetry Installations (/home-theater-connection/subwooferplacement-tips-for-cabinetry-installations)
Basic Home Theater AV Set Up Guide - Hooking It All Up (/home-theater-connection/basichome-theater-setup-guide)
AV Tip: How to Avoid Blowing Out Your Speakers (/home-theater-connection/avoid-blowing-speakers)
Connecting Up a Sound Bar to Enhance Your Flat Panel TV's Audio (/home-theater-connection/settingup-sound-bar-tv-audio)
By Marshall April 27, 2014

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