Speaker Placement Explained
This is a pretty big one. So big, that we’re actually preparing a full, in-depth guide to getting it right. That being said: we can offer some (very general) principles in the meantime. If you want a more in-depth look, we recommend the one put together by the folks at SVS, who make some outstanding speakers.
For two-channel, wired speaker hifi systems: Put a little bit of space (about a foot) between the speakers and the wall. Try to put the biggest drivers roughly level with your ears - although don’t stress if that’s not possible, as it doesn’t need to be exact. Don’t put anything in between the speakers and you. You should not, in theory, have to ‘toe in’ the speakers - angle them to face your listening position - they can face straight out. Nevertheless, spend a little bit of time playing music you’re familiar with, with the speakers in different positions, to get the sound you’re comfortable with.
For wireless speakers: Generally speaking, the same rules apply as above. Distance from the wall, not having to toe in, that kind of thing. But the advantage here is that moving wireless speakers around is effortless. You should be able to find a spot that gives the best sound with no more than ten or twenty minutes of listening from different positions.
For home heater setups: This is where things get complicated. When you have five, seven, nine or eleven speakers (plus a subwoofer) positioning is tricky.
Let’s start with the easy bits: the front floorstanding speakers. These go, as your probably shocked to hear, on the floor, usually on either side of the TV. The exact placement of these is largely dependent on the shape of your room, but you want them in a rough triangle with the place you’re going to be sitting. They should be roughly equidistant, and shouldn’t be too close to walls or corners, which can lead to their bass frequencies getting a little muddled. Next up, the subwoofer. The received wisdom is to put the thing underneath or next to the TV, but there’s actually a little trick you can use to find the best place to put it. Wire up the subwoofer (and we’ll talk about wiring in the section below) then put it in the place where you’ll be sitting. Find something bass heavy. A track by Skrillex or Diplo would be ideal. Start playing, then crawl around the room at floor level. Yes, we know you look ridiculous, but there is a purpose to this, we promise. Find a spot in the room where the bass sounds the best, where it sounds as it’s meant to. That’s where you want to put your sub. This trick isn’t completely full proof, and again, largely depends on the size of your room, but it’s still very useful tool to have in your arsenal.
Now: the surround speakers. The easiest one of these to place is the center speaker, which should be labelled as such. Put it in front of or just underneath your TV. Job done. Next, check out the front left and right speakers, which, again, should be labelled clearly. These are quite tricky to place. You need them at ear level when you’re sitting in your listening position, and you also don’t want them too far apart or too close together. Doing either of those things will mess with your sound.
Start with the speakers around three feet from the TV on either side, and work from there. You’ll need to experiment a little bit to get it right. Assuming you’ve got a 7.1 system, you will have four more speakers to place. Two of them should go directly to the sides of your listening position, again at eye level. The biggest mistake we see is people mounting them in the ceiling or in the corners of the room. Don’t do that. Don’t be a corner-mounter. Get two on either side, and two at the rear. And by rear, we mean a good three or four feet behind your listening position. By now, you may be thinking: what if I have a small room? What is my listening position (usually the couch) is up against the wall? How do I place rear speakers then? Answer: you don’t. If you have a small room, a 7.1 system is going to be wasted. You’re far better off buying a 5.1 system, or better yet, ditching surround sound entirely and just going for a good pair of floorstanding speakers. It will save you time, money, and irritation. We know. We’ve been there.