Once you have decided on the type of speakers you are going to use in your home, you need to know where to put them. The positioning of your speakers will greatly alter your perception of the sound being produced, and is as important a factor in how your audio system behaves as acoustic treatments and soundproofing.
Before placing your speakers, you should consider your positioning in the room as this will give you a better indication of the equipment you need and where it should be located. For example in a home theatre setup, the most important positioning is wherever you're going to be seated while watching movies.
If possible, you should try and sit closer to the speakers than the walls, as this increases the ratio of direct to reflected sound – you will hear more of the sound coming from your speakers and less from sound reflected off the walls.
Generally speaking, we use direct sound to localise the direction of sources and the reflected sound to perceive the size of the soundstage.
In terms of imaging, we respond better to the horizontal than the vertical, so channels should be added in the same plane as our ears before placing speakers higher.
5.1-channel surround system
If you are incorporating a surround sound system into your home audio setup, each speaker has a different role with its own important positioning. These are listed below, with a guide to their relative placement:
The centre channel speaker is there to bond your TV’s sounds to the screen so it should be the first speaker you place in the home theatre.
True to its name, it should be centred and can be placed above or below your TV, as close to ear-level height as possible. Better still, if the speaker can be tilted, angle it towards your ear level.
Left and right speakers
The left and right speakers take care of the stereo imaging of your audio, so both speakers should be an equal distance from the TV (and centre speaker), and you. Around a metre on each side is a good rule of thumb. They should also be on the same plane as your ears when you are seated.
The subwoofer is the speaker that really gives you the movie-theatre rumble from your surround system. Even though its inclusion is crucial, low frequencies are omni-directional, so it can be placed almost anywhere in the room. However, you need to be careful because the closer you place your subwoofer to a wall or a corner, the ‘boomier’ the bass becomes.
Left and right surround speakers
The left and right surround speakers are the speakers that really put you in the middle of the movie – the sound literally envelopes you so it is important that you get your rear speakers positioned as best you can.
However, this is not always easy, due to the design or layout of the room. If possible, it is ideal for them to be placed to the sides of your seating position, either in line with your ears or just behind you.
6.1 and 7.1 channel surround systems
These alternatives have more than two surround speakers and you may have to experiment with the positioning of the additional speakers. Try placing them behind your listening position, facing the front of the room. If it is necessary for you to put them close to your listening position, don’t direct them at your ear-level as this can cause them to overpower your front speakers.