Can I Lay My Surround Speaker On Its Side

Surround speakers tend to be controversial speakers in your home theater setup. Sure, everyone understands that the surround speakers need to be to your sides (or slightly behind) your seats in order to work effectively. Spouses and partners often lobby for smaller speakers that are easier to place. One question that comes up is orientation. Speakers (especially bookshelf-style speakers) tend to be taller than they are wide. This doesn’t work for placing a speaker on a shelf or in a bookshelf. Can you lay a surround speaker on its side so that it fits better? How would that affect the performance? Let’s discuss.

Effects on Sound Quality

We’ve talked about turning a speaker on its side in order to use it as a center speaker. There are some sound quality concerns with turning a speaker on its side. But your center speaker needs to work well with your front left and right speakers. The center speaker also needs to have specific dispersion patterns in order to provide a wide listening cone for your entire couch.

Surround speakers are entirely different.

While it is quite easy for us to identify timbre differences between the front three speakers, it is much less noticeable for surround speakers. The sound quality differences of laying a surround speaker on its side are minimal. Most speakers will work perfectly well on their side as surround speakers.

How To Minimize Detrimental Effects

Placing a speaker inside a cabinet can seriously affect how the speaker sounds. You’ll want to pick the best speakers possible (we help here) but nearly any speaker can work as a surround. There are a couple of things you’ll want to look out for (along with the previous two links).

Front Baffle

If your speaker is placed on a shelf or bookcase, make sure that the front of the speaker is proud of the front of the shelf upon which it sits. This will eliminate any reflections from the driver off the shelf.

Decouple Speaker

Speakers often come with small rubber pads for the bottom. These are often not enough to fully decouple the speaker fully. What you want is some way of stopping the vibrations from the speaker from traveling directly into the shelf or stand. Adding something squishy (like a mousepad) is a great solution.

Don’t Block the Front

It should go without saying but we are going to remind you not to block the front of the speaker. Too often we find that making one compromise on speaker placement snowballs into many more. You can place a speaker on its side for surround, but don’t put anything between the front of that speaker and your seat. You want the speaker to have an unobstructed path from its drivers to your ears.

Still Follow Our Placement Advice

We know that placing speakers can be difficult. If possible, you still want to place them as close to their optimal locations as possible. While laying a surround speaker on its side might not affect its sound that much, placing it poorly certainly will. Of course, once you have the speaker, you can always try it in both orientations and hear for yourself. We think you’ll agree that laying a speaker on its side in the surround position doesn’t substantively affect its sound quality.

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