Help! I Can’t Place My Speakers Optimally!

You’ve read all the articles, you’ve studied all the diagrams. You know where your speakers should be placed, but you have a problem. It’s not going to work. There is or isn’t a wall. Maybe the layout or room shape is the issue. Whatever it is, you just can’t place your speakers in the optimal locations.

This is a problem. You really want good sound. It is important to you. So are your doomed? Is your dream of a cinema-like experience never to be realized? Do you need to give up, get a new hobby, burn the house down and buy a new place with a better room for a home theater with the insurance money?

Take A Breath

Before you grab that gas can, just relax. Setting up a home theater isn’t as rigid as it sometimes seems. Sure, the people on the Internet will tell you that you NEED to place your center speaker closer to your display. Or that you MUST get the biggest screen possible for your room. Don’t listen to these people.

There are best practices in home theater, just like there are in anything. The more you learn about a thing, the more you understand how you could have done things better in the past. But just because something isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean it won’t work. Nowhere is this more true than in speaker placement in home theater.

Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 Atmos-enabled speaker layout
This is a Dolby Armos 5.1.4 system using Atmos-enabled speakers for the height channels (image courtesy of Dolby.com)

Look At It From A Different Angle

As you probably know, most of the speaker placement recommendations involve angles. Not just one angle, but a range. And really, you can take these as recommendations. There are some absolutes. You can’t put surround speakers at the front of your room. You can’t place your main speakers behind you. But as long as things are relatively in the right location, the surround effect will work.

Permission: Granted!

When people worry about the placement of their speakers, they are often looking for permission. Permission not to have a perfectly symmetrical, optimally laid out, speaker configuration. If that is what you need, consider it granted. As one that has been in the AV and home theater game longer than many of the people with questions have been alive, I feel I have that power. Your speakers can be in non-optimal positions. Want some examples?

Trust Your Ears

In each of the above (and many more) suggestions, the speakers are placed in non-optimal positions. The old adage: If you don’t hear a problem, you don’t have a problem is true. Reading that your speakers aren’t at the optimal place in your room doesn’t mean that moving them will make your system sound any better. In fact, it could make things sound worse. It could be that your non-optimal locations for your speakers somehow corrects for acoustic problems in your room that putting the speakers in the “best” place would exacerbate.

You Aren’t the Only One

Your home theater isn’t just a room where you watch movies. It is space in a functional home. You can’t move walls, adjust ceilings, and redesign layouts just because Dolby says so. You have to live in this space. And that means that maybe your left surround is a foot or two farther away than your right surround.

And don’t believe for a second that you are the only one. Receivers have individual trim levels for every speaker for a reason. They know that there is no guaranty that both your surround speakers will be the same distance from your main listening position. The electronics in your receiver and room correction will adjust for non-optimal speaker placement.

Just get your speakers as near as possible to the places that are recommended. Let the electronics do the rest. And if it sounds good, it is. Got some non-optimal speaker placements? Share them on our Facebook page!

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