Almost on a daily basis I see forum users asking questions about speaker placement so I thought I would give some general guidelines to help you get the most out of your new or current audio system. Since surround sound is a large part of the Home Theater experience, proper speaker setup and placement will add to your experience and enjoyment.
A standard surround sound system has 6 channels of audio information coming across the speakers. 4 directional speakers, a center speakers (used mostly for dialog) and a sub woofer speaker. This is known as a 5.1 setup. 5 stands for the 4 directional speakers and 1 for the center speaker. The .1 stands for the sub woofer, which is non directional. There are a few other types of speaker setup; Stereo 2.0 or 2.1 (if you have a sub woofer), 3.1 (including a center channel), 6.1 (adding a rear center channel) or 7.1 (adding 2 rear surrounds). This guide is for the setup of the 5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 surround sound systems. These same guidelines can be used for a 2.0, 2.1 or 3.1 system.
The speakers in a 5.1 surround sound system are labeled as the following. Center speaker (also known as C) is where most dialog is directed, it usually is placed directly in front of the listener. Front Left (also known as FL or LF) is a surround speaker, sound effects are passed to it and as its name describes sits in the front of the listener to the left. Front Right (also known as FR or RF), is a surround speaker, sound effects are passed to it and as its name describes sits in the front of the listener to the right. Both the FL and FR are used for stereo as well. NOTE: In action scenes like with fast moving cars, many times the sound is panned, that is the sound is heard from the FL then moves to the C and then on to the FR all seamlessly.
Surround Left (also known as SL), is a surround speaker and sound effects are passed to it and as its name describes sits on the side or slightly behind the listener to the left. Surround Right (also known as SR), is a surround speaker and sound effects are passed to it, as its name describes sits on the side or slightly behind the listener to the right. The sub woofer (also know as LFE or low frequency emitter) is non directional and can sit almost anywhere.
The standard set forth by the ITU (international telecommunications union), calls for varying positions and angles from the reference listening position and angling of speakers to provide the optimum listening experience with a surround sound system. That is, where to place the speakers so they sound the best. The standard calls for a placement of your speakers at varying degrees from the center. (see diagram for illustration
The reference listening position is where you sit. Most people will place their couch or chair in front of the TV and thus in front of the center speaker, this is your reference listening position. If you are not in front of the TV then your "experience" will differ meaning the you will be out of the "sweet spot", a area where you hear all the speakers independently of each other.
Place your center speaker at 0 degrees from the reference listening position. Place your front left (FL) and front right (FR) at 22 to 30 degrees from the center. Place your surround left (SL) and surround right (SR) at 90 to 110 degrees from the center. It is strongly recommended to keep the 3 front speakers (FL, C, FR) at the height of the listeners ear and at the same distance to the listening position. It is also highly recommended to keep all of the front speakers on the same plane. That is to keep them in line with each other and not have the center speaker in front of, higher or lower than the LF and RF speakers.
The easiest way to find all the correct angles, is to use an analog clock. Here's how to do it. Place the analog clock in your "sweet spot” (reference listening position), directly in front of the TV in your chair or couch. Position the clock where 12 o'clock is pointing to the TV. On the front wall near your TV is where you are going to place your Front and Center speakers. The Center speaker is placed at 12o'clock . The front right speaker is placed at 11 o'clock on the front wall. The front left speaker is placed at 1 o'clock on the front wall. Your surround right speaker is then placed at 4 o'clock on the side wall right to the listener. Your surround left speaker is placed at 8 o'clock on the side wall left of the listener. That's it for your main speakers.
If you are one of those that own a 6.1 or a 7.1 surround sound system, the additional 1 or 2 speakers are back surround speakers (SB). These will mount directly behind the listener at 6'o'clock for a 6.1 system or 5 and 7 o'clock in a 7.1 system. (see diagrams for illustration
The placement of the sub woofer is not set in stone because the sub woofer is relatively non directional. Some manufacturers suggest placing this on the floor near to the center speaker, most just suggest to place where it sounds the best. I found the best position to usually be on the floor near either the LF or RF speaker.
A note about speaker heights:
Front speaker height is crucial and it is always best to keep them at the listeners ear level when seated. If that can't be done then make sure that all three front speakers are at the same height. The surround and rear surround speakers should be mounted at 1' to 2' above the listeners ear level to prevent localization, distraction from the front speakers and to allow room filling surround.