Home Theater Speakers, Seats, and Distance – How Far is Too Far?
When people start to wonder about upgrades to their home theaters, they often ask about speakers, amps, TV size, and a ton of other things. One of the first questions they get back is to describe their rooms. The reason is simple: It is impossible to know what you need without knowing the layout of the room. That’s because the distance between your seats in your home theater and your speakers, TV, and other gear makes a huge difference. But why? Why should your seating distance be so important?
We’ve already discussed in detail how to pick the correct screen size, and how picking the wrong size can make your home theater experience uncomfortable. In short, a screen that is too small is hard to see. One that is too big makes it hard (and nauseating) to see what is happening on the screen. But these effects are fairly obvious. Go sit in the front row of a movie theater and see how it makes you feel. The effects aren’t subtle. But home theater speakers are also affected by the distance from your seats.
How Far is Too Far?
There is no perfect number that we can point to that defines “too far.” Is 20 feet too far? Almost certainly. But it depends heavily on your speaker’s sensitivity. In general, however, 12 feet is about as far we’d recommend, with 15 feet being the absolute maximum. When you put this much distance between your home theater speakers and your seats, you are likely asking your gear to perform near their limits. If you have very sensitive speakers, this might not be the case. But if you are, how can you tell?
Too Little Volume
At these distances, your home theater speakers may not be able to push enough volume to your seats. The math on how this works isn’t complicated. As you sit farther away, it takes more and more power to achieve the same volume. This can create problems all down the line. The key with more sensitive speakers is that they don’t require as much power to hit specific volumes as other, less sensitive speakers. This means you can place them farther away and not risk damage to them.
But even if you are sitting closer, if the room is large, you run into the problem with bass. While we always recommend using a subwoofer with your speakers (even towers), your speakers are playing a lot of bass. If you are in a very large room, they still have to push out enough bass to crossover evenly with your subwoofer. If you are worried that your speakers are not keeping up, play some sweeps. If you notice the volume dropping as you near the crossover point, you’ll know that your speakers are getting lost in your room.
If you hear anything weird, you’ll want to turn the volume down immediately. What do we mean by “weird?” Clanging, popping, or buzzing would qualify. These sounds are usually not subtle and they sound like something is breaking. Because usually, something is. Clanging usually indicates that your drivers are bottoming out (trying to push past full extension and hitting the backplate). Clipping (either the speaker or the amplifier) can result in buzzing and popping sounds – neither of which you want to hear. A loud pop can indicate you just blew a driver. And that would be bad.
Smells and Heat
If you smell something burning, power everything down. If you turn the volume up too high because the distance between your seats and your home theater speakers is too great, you can melt your voice coils. This will irreparably damage your speakers and void their warranty. Likewise, if your amp or receiver is getting very hot, you are likely too far away from your speakers. Turn it down and start to look for solutions.
Obviously, the easiest fix is to move your speakers closer. How much closer? Even a couple of feet can make a very large difference. Of course, it goes without saying that moving your couch closer gives the same effect. In this case, we are going to assume moving the speakers or seats is a non-starter. So, what else can you do?
You either need a new set of speakers or an external amplifier (or maybe both). Modern receivers have plenty of power for most situations. But if you find that the distance between your home theater speakers and your seats is causing issues, then you’ll need an upgrade. An external amplifier can provide more power than a receiver. A more sensitive set of speakers can make better use of that power. But how do you know which is the one you need?
There is no easy answer to this question. A more powerful amp can usually solve your problem, but only if your speakers can handle the extra power. More sensitive speakers can also usually solve the problem, but only if your amp/receiver can provide enough power. In general, however, if your speakers are 12 feet away or less and you are having issues, we’d recommend an amp. If your speakers are 12 to 15 feet away, upgrade your speakers. If bass is your issue and you aren’t sitting very far away, upgrade to larger speakers. And if you need your speakers greater than 15 feet away and you are having problems with bass, you probably need both new speakers and an external amplifier.
With normal speakers and AV receivers, you can place your home theater speakers about 12 feet from your seats and not have the distance cause a problem. That’s a good rule of thumb. If you can’t place them that close, you still might be okay. We’d recommend trying it out and slowly increasing the volume. If you can play your system as loud as you want without risking damage to your gear, then don’t worry about the distance. But if you think you are having a problem, we’ve got some solutions.
Have you had issues with your seating distance from your home theater speakers? Let us know in the comment or on our Facebook page!