Placement For Music and Home Cinema
One of the most important things to consider when shopping for in-wall, on-wall, or ceiling speakers is where you're going to place them. How you place your speakers depends on how you're going to listen to them, as well as what your room's architecture allows. Whether you're installing them in your current home or pre-wiring a home that's under construction or being renovated, the guidelines below can help you get a speaker setup that sounds good and works with the build and design of your room.
After you've determined what type of speakers you'll need and how many, check out our article on choosing in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. You'll find helpful tips as well as key factors to consider when deciding between different speaker features and models.
Speakers for Home Cinema
Free standing Speakers
Try to place speakers at least 2 feet away from corners and other surfaces that might interfere with or reflect sound, such as tall or bulky furniture.
Home cinema speaker setups typically have 5.1 speakers as a minimum. This is 5 speakers and a subwoofer, the .1. Dolby atmos and other 3D sound formats now commonly include 4 or 2 height / ceiling speakers. This is then a 5.4.1 or 5.2.1. Another common upgrade is two more surround speakers to the left / right, this gives a 7.4.1 or 7.2.1 system.
For a 5-speaker setup, the right and left surrounds should be to the right and left side of your main seating position.
For a 7-speaker setup, the two additional back surround speakers should be placed behind the main listing position, at equal distances from the main listening seat, and about half as far apart as the right and left surrounds. They should be about as high as the left and right surrounds.
In Wall Installed Speakers
If you're installing 5, 6, or 7 in-wall or on-wall speakers for a home cinema surround sound system:
- Place the front left and right speakers so that they're at or slightly above ear level when you're seated, both equidistant from the main listening position. If the speakers are in a wall that's 10 feet from your chair, place them no more than 10 feet and no less than 5 feet apart from each other to maintain a good stereo effect.
- Place the center channel speaker so that it's at ear level when you're seated. If your television is wall-mounted, place the center channel speaker slightly below. If your TV rests on a stand or table, place the center channel speaker just above it, and angle the tweeters down towards seated ear level if possible.
- Place the surround speakers above seated ear level (as high as standing ear level). If the rear surround speakers are placed at seated ear level, they will overwhelm the sound coming from your front speakers, resulting in muddied and inaccurate surround sound. However, if your system will incorporate Dolby Atmos® surround sound, we recommend placing all in-wall or on-wall surround sound speakers at seated ear level to ensure optimum Atmos height effects or Atmos home cinemas. For best results Dolby recommends using four ceiling speakers, with one pair located in front of your listening position and a second pair behind it.
- Using two ceiling speakers for Dolby Atmos is also possible and for some budget atmos compatible amplifiers is the only option, this is also often preferred in smaller rooms where 4 ceiling speakers could be impractical. If your system can only accommodate one pair of in-ceiling speakers, mount them slightly in front of where you’ll be listening. Don’t worry if your speaker placement isn’t perfect, your Atmos-enabled receiver’s auto calibration system will help dial in the sound for optimum performance. All ceiling speakers are compatible with Dolby Atmos although bear in mind that quality increases with cost. We recommend speakers such as Q Acoustics Qi65CP as a great quality good value ceiling speaker for this purpose.
Ceiling Speaker Home Cinema Systems
If you're installing 5, 6, or 7 ceiling speakers for a home cinema surround sound system:
- Place the front left and right speakers at an equal distance from your main listening position, in front of your TV, LCR ceiling speakers are the best option for this although a good ceiling speaker with a pivoting tweeter will also work. If the speakers are 10 feet from your chair, place them no more than 10 feet and no less than 5 feet apart from each other to maintain a good stereo effect. Measure the distance from the speakers to your chair in a level, horizontal line — i.e. don't measure upwards from your seat to the speakers in the ceiling. If your speaker's tweeters can swivel, aim them towards your seating position. This can help create a realistic soundfield — you'll be able to hear objects on the screen as they move from left to right.
- As you're choosing speaker locations, also keep in mind the effects of reflected sound. Even if you angle the tweeters toward you, you'll still hear the sound that's reflected off the wall behind the speakers. Ideally, that reflection should be at the same level as your TV screen. You can figure out how far away from the wall you should place your ceiling speakers by using a mirror. Mark the spot on the ceiling where you think the speaker should go, then sit in your favorite listening position. Ask a helper to hold a mirror up to the wall, moving it up or down until you can see the mark on the ceiling reflected in the mirror. That's where the sound will reflect off the wall. If the speakers are too close to the wall, the reflection will be too high; too far away from the wall, and the reflection will be too low. In some setups, you may find that you prefer to aim the tweeters directly at that spot wall to get more reflected sound. If your in-ceiling speakers have that feature, experiment with aiming your tweeter before you put the grille on.
Place the center channel speaker right in the middle of the front left and right speakers. Also aim its tweeter (if possible) directly towards your seating position.
See the images below for placement of surround speakers in 5 and 7-speaker setups. If you have aimable tweeters in your surround speakers, you'll generally also want to aim those towards your seating position. You may also position these speakers closer to the adjoining wall than the front speakers. The sound will reflect off of a higher point on the wall, which is generally desirable for surround speakers.
A Dolby Atmos surround sound system incorporating only in-ceiling speakers is not recommended.
For a 5-speaker setup, the left and right surrounds should be to the left and right of your main seating position, as far apart as your front left and right speakers.
To bring out the best from any home cinema setup, you'll need a subwoofer with a high crossover if you want to get good full-range sound. The subwoofer will deliver low frequency sound that adds to the existing sound from your ceiling and in-wall speakers giving a full range home cinema experience. See our range of subwoofers for your ideal product.
Speakers for Music
If you plan to spend a lot of time in a room listening to music, rather than using music as pleasant background sound then investing some time planning your speaker locations is a good idea. Try to place the speakers at least 2 feet away from corners and other surfaces that might interfere with or reflect sound, such as tall or bulky furniture.
In wall or on Wall Speakers for Music
To obtain a good stereo effect, place the left and right speakers an equal distance from your prime listening seat, at ear level while seated. If the speakers are in a wall that's 10 feet from your chair, place them no more than 10 feet apart from each other and no less than 5 feet apart.
Ceiling Speakers for Music
For a good stereo effect, place the left and right speakers an equal distance from your prime listening position, and (if possible) aim the tweeters toward your seat. For example, if the speakers are 10 feet from your chair, place them no more than 10 feet apart from each other and no less than 5 feet apart. Measure the distance from the speakers to your chair in a level, horizontal line — i.e. don't measure upwards from your seat to the speakers in the ceiling.
For listening to music from in-wall and ceiling speakers it goes without saying that generally the more you spend on your speakers the higher the performance quality (clarity) and quantity (power handling). In-wall, on-wall, and in-ceiling speakers can do a great job with the highs and mids, to get a good delivery of low frequencies, and a full range sound we recommend models with an 8” driver or 6.5” as a minimum.
In rooms you'll move around in or frequently entertain in, speaker placement designed for critical listening won't work. The music will be too loud in one area and too soft in another, a flaw that will be most obvious when the volume is low. By employing three or four speakers in a room, or by judiciously using a combination of direct and reflected sound, you can create a relatively even soundfield. You'll hear some degree of stereo effect regardless of where you are in the room.
We've written the guidelines below to help you achieve that desired effect. Some of them are situation-specific, while others are more general. As you read them, note which ones apply to your room, needs, and goals.
Try to keep speakers about 2 feet away from corners and other surfaces that might interfere with or reflect sound, such as tall or bulky furniture.
For rectangular rooms of less than 300 square feet, two speakers should suffice. Place them near opposite corners.
For L-shaped rooms, or for rectangular rooms larger than 300 square feet, use 3 or more speakers. Stagger them across the space for good sound dispersion. If you do end up using an odd number of speakers, stereo input single speakers can be a good choice.
For a narrow, long room, place the speakers at either end. (Wall speakers can go either at the ends themselves, or on an adjacent wall.) Stereo input speakers are a good solution for this relatively awkward space.
When your décor or budget won't allow more than two speakers in a large room, try to place left and right stereo speakers near (but at least 2 feet away from) the corners, or at far ends of the room, to better disperse the sound.
(A) Diagonal placement gives good coverage in a typical rectangular room of 300 square feet or less. (B) Use three or more speakers in a large or L-shaped room. (C) In a narrow room, place the speakers in the middle at either end. In this example, stereo-input speakers would be a great choice.
Speaker placement in rooms you'll be entertaining in, such as a dining room:
In-wall: Place them low on the wall and in opposite corners. This creates multiple reflections and a very pleasant and pervasive sound field at a low volume. Turned up loud, this placement will sound muddy and hard, but for dining room conversation enhancement, it's unbeatable.
On-wall: Since you probably can't place on-wall speakers very low on the wall, move them higher up the wall, 6-7 feet from the floor. Place them roughly in opposite corners, and aim the speakers towards the middle of the room. On-wall speakers may be a good option for some homes, but in-wall speakers will most likely yield better results.
Ceiling speakers: Avoid surfaces in the room that will reflect sound in a disruptive way. For example, if you place a ceiling-mounted speaker directly over your dining room table, the sound may reflect upward off the table and interfere with conversation. Ceiling speakers are a good option for dining and entertainment rooms.
Speaker placement in rooms you probably won't be entertaining in, such as a kitchen or den:
In-wall/on-wall: Place the speakers about 6 feet off the floor. While wall speakers are a great option for many rooms, they tend to create more "hot spots" (areas where the sound is much louder) than ceiling speakers do.
Ceiling speaker: These will be relatively easy to place, and are less likely to create acoustical problems than wall speakers. Just follow the general guidelines above to fit your room's shape and size, and you should be in good shape.
Ceiling speaker placement in your bathroom:
If you want to install speakers in your bathroom, stereo single ceiling speakers are a great way to go. One stereo input speaker plays both channels of stereo music with one woofer and two tweeters; they're great for small rooms or larger awkwardly shaped areas. Depending on the size and layout of your bathroom, you may want to use more than one. For example, if your bathroom is relatively large, placing a stereo-input speaker above the sink and one above the bathtub will ensure you can follow that morning's news, even during noisier activities like brushing your teeth or showering.
Stereo Single Speaker
this plays both the left and right channels of stereo music via one woofer and two tweeters.
Ceiling Speakers for background listening
In hallways, entryways, laundry rooms and other less-trafficked areas, it may seem like overkill to install speakers. But if you play the speakers in the living room so that they're at the right volume in the entryway or laundry room, the volume in the living room will be uncomfortably loud. Installing speakers for background listening lets you enjoy music pretty much anywhere you roam in your house, without having to crank up your speakers to floor-shaking levels.
Stereo single speakers are often the most effective way to bring background music to small rooms. In larger rooms, you'll probably want to use more speakers, staggering them throughout the space. Since the volume in these areas will generally stay low, you don't have to worry as much about the effects of reflected sound as your goal is simply to disperse the sound over as wide an area as possible.
With these goals and guidelines in mind, take a look around your home. You'll want to follow these tips when you can, but rooms vary, and there may be other factors you need to take into account. For example, if there are in-ceiling light fixtures in a room where you plan to install ceiling speakers, you might tweak the placement of your speakers to keep them in line with the light fixtures for a more pleasing look.
You can get a good idea of what's involved in installing in-wall or ceiling speakers with our step-by-step installation guides for in-wall, in-ceiling, and on-wall speakers. If you're planning on installing your wire and speakers yourself, make sure you're comfortable with all the tasks described.