How to Determine Speaker Placement for Built-In Home Theater Speakers

So you’ve decided on putting in your custom home theater speakers in that new man cave of yours. Movies will take on a whole new experience, Super Bowl parties?! Bring it on!

Before you shop for speakers, stop for a minute to plan. Remember your Dad telling you “measure twice, cut once”?

There are a few options for speaker placement in home theaters. Some of you will experience room constraints. You might have windows or doors at the “ideal” speaker location; a fireplace might be the center piece of the room. Don’t worry, I can point you in the right direction.

There are 2 stages of decisions about where you are going to mount your speakers:

  1. Which walls or ceilings
  2. Where ON those walls/ceilings

Let me suggest the “ideal” location. From my experience, the best speaker locations for a 5.1 surround in wall speaker home theater system is front left, center and right speakers in the front wall level with your screen and the rear speakers in the side walls behind your listening area by about 6 feet pointing toward each other.

Ideally the subwoofer would be toward the front of the room, but can be anywhere in the room if that’s not possible. In this scenario, seats are in the middle of the room.

The locations for a 7.1 are similar. The decision to have a 7.1 over a 5.1 is usually decided by if your room needs it.

I think a room smaller than 20 feet deep really doesn’t “need” a 7.1 type system as you’re likely to be sitting near the back wall and the 6th and 7th channels (mid side speakers) are placed beside your sitting position to help fill in the gap between the front speakers and rear speakers.

The extra speakers ahead of your listening area aren’t doing much good. The locations for the front speakers are the same, the rear speakers move back another 4 ft. behind to about 10 ft. total from your sitting area and the “mid side” speakers should be in the walls next to your sitting location pointing at each other.

I know, I know, I hear you saying that your room can’t work like that. It’s ok. We’re installing a home theater in our homes not the other way around.

The next best locations are (in order of better to ok):

  • Front wall, rear ceilings, wall mid sides (7.1)
  • Front wall, rear ceilings, ceiling mid sides (7.1)
  • Front wall, rear wall pointing forward, wall mid sides (7.1)
  • Front wall, rear wall pointing forward, ceiling mid sides (7.1)
  • All Ceiling

Now that you’ve decided “which walls/ceilings” you want the speakers, we can put them in the ideal position.

The center channel should be above or below the screen. If you have a question about which, error on the higher side, above. If you have a drop down screen, below is the best place.

The left and the right speakers are the most important placement decisions! This is where you will get most of your imaging advantages from your system and this placement will anchor the other speakers positioning.

From the best seat in the house, you want to have a 45 degree spread between your left and right speakers. Take your arms and point them straight to the side (like you’re getting ready for a sobriety check, I hear this is how it starts!), that’s 180 degrees separation. When you point straight ahead, that’s 0 degrees. At 45 degrees, you’ll be pointing at your ideal speaker location from the best seat in the house. The height off the floor should match up to somewhere between the top and bottom of your screen…again if in doubt, error on the high side.

The rear speakers should be on the same plane as the front speakers. Place them behind your seating area by about 6 feet. They should be about 7-9 feet high if they are in the wall. If your seat is up against the rear wall, then use ceiling speakers and place them a few feet outside the plane of your front speakers.

The mid sides in a 7.1 system should be right beside your seating area 7-9 feet high. If in the ceiling, still beside your seating area on the same plane as the front speakers width wise.

With a ceiling only location, the center should be directly over the screen, The front left and right speakers should be separated by the 45 degree rule as mentioned above. The front 3 speakers should be no more than 30″ away from the front wall.

The rear and mid side speakers are on the same plane as the front speakers.

If you decide on all ceiling speakers, there is a new design in ceiling speakers that have the WHOLE speaker array inside the frame ANGLED so that the speakers are pointed toward your seating area instead of pointing straight down, giving you a better front image. Here’s an example here.