Surround sound delivers an audio experience like no other. It converts your home to a home theater through a multi-channel speaker system. Compared to traditional models, the 5.1, 7.1, and 9.1 models are perfect for surround sound at home. You can binge your favorite shows, movies, and games from the comfort of your own home. Research suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic is leading to a tremendously increase in the home theater market size. Therefore, more and more people want to learn how to set up surround sound real quick.
So what are these home theater speakers or what is a surround sound system, and how should you set them up to get the best experience? What does surround sound mean and how does it differ from the older system? Let’s read in detail about how to set up surround sound at home and convert your home into a mini-theater.
What is Surround Sound?
A sound recording started as a monaural where all tracks were recorded in one audio channel. Then emerged two-channel systems, binaural recordings where it feels like you are listening to a live performance. Taking this one step further, surround sound systems enter the scene with multi-channel recordings.
Do you know that surround sound is a multi-channel sound system released by Dolby Laboratories? It became so popular that it’s now used more as a generic term encompassing different types of multi-channel sound systems in the market.
This system includes more than one surround sound speaker to provide a realistic audio experience. The audio tracks are played in individual speakers. If a track (or the voice) is missing when you play an audio file, it means the connection has to be checked.
What are the Elements of a Surround Sound System?
The 5.1 channel, 7.1 channel, and 9.1 channel are called surround sound systems. The 5, 7, and 9 denote the number of speakers. The digit after the decimal denotes the number of subwoofers. The following are the elements of a surround sound system.
This is the largest part of the sound system. It produces low tones and bass and is a powerful unit that uses air pressure to release the low thumping and drumming sounds in the room. When you increase the volume, you can feel the thumps reverberating around you. Placing the subwoofer on the floor will increase its impact.
This is a vital part of the speaker system. This speaker produces the voice and other sound effects. High-end surround sound systems have a larger central speaker to enhance the effect.
Satellite speakers are located on the left and right sides of the speaker. You put them in the front and rear. For example, there are four satellite speakers in a 5.1 surround channel. Two on the left (front and rear) and two on the right (front and back)!
Mixers or equalizers are built into the computers in most instances. You can also find mixer software for devices. But if you need extra power to amplify the sounds, you have to attach a separate equalizer.
What is Dolby Surround Sound?
Dolby Laboratories have been pioneers in the speaker world for decades. The first Dolby surround sound was introduced in 1982. It encodes four analog audio channels into two channels. This is done for audio storage and transmission. When Dolby surround is played on a regular stereo, the sound comes through two channels. But when you play it on a Dolby surround-enabled device, it plays through all four channels.
The left, right, and center channels are in full range (20 Hz to 20 kHz) while the rear is limited to a certain bandwidth in the frequency range of the audio being played.
PCM vs. Dolby Digital
There are two ways to manage and present audio recordings. One is the PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) that converts analog audio into digital audio. PCM audio on a DVD is a two-channel stereo track.
Dolby Digital® uses left and right speakers, front and back speakers, and a central channel to play the audio tracks in individual speakers.
While PCM works with standard DVD players, Dolby Digital delivers exceptional sound when used with HD TV. Using Dolby Digital with an ordinary sound system setup will reduce the audio clarity and dim your experience.
You can choose the settings when you connect the input and output devices to your television. Apart from PCM and Dolby Digital, you might also see options like Dolby Digital Plus, DTS, or Dolby Atmos®. For Atmos output, you need to go with the automatic TV setting.
Dolby Atmos Speaker Placement
Before you set up the home theater system for Dolby Atmos, you’ll first need to understand the role and position of each speaker. This will fetch you the best sound experience.
Let’s consider Dolby Atmos 5.1 surround sound to consider the placement of the speakers.
Align the central speaker with the seating position. It should sit in a straight line from the center of the couch. There should be around a 30-degree angle between the left and right speakers on the couch.
The back speakers should be around 120 degrees from the couch on the opposite side of the room, facing the front speakers. The subwoofer sits beside the left/ right front speakers and on the floor for maximum impact. The speakers will surround you, resulting in a surround sound experience in your home.
What is a 7 Channel Receiver?
We’ve talked quite a bit about the 5.1 system. Let’s see what a 7 channel receiver is. The 7 channel receiver is either a 7.1 surround sound or a 7.2 surround sound. The only difference between these two is the number of subwoofers in the system. The 7.2 system has two subwoofers instead of one.
A 7 channel surround sound system has two front speakers, two back speakers, and an additional set of rear/side speakers, along with the central speaker and a subwoofer. Blu-ray discs are compatible with 7.1 speaker systems. The first 7.1 theatrical soundtrack was released in 2010 for the movie Toy Story 3. Post this, several famous movies like Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, etc. used Dolby Surround 7.1.
What is a 5 Channel Receiver?
We’ve been talking a lot about channels and audio tracks. But what exactly is a channel? It’s nothing but the sound playing from a single point. For example, when a singer sings into a microphone, it is considered as one audio channel. The music from other instruments is segregated into other channels and combined to produce a complete song. Each speaker in the sound system can play on the channel of audio.
A 5 channel receiver accepts these soundtracks and plays each of them through the individual speakers. The central speaker is used for the voice, while the subwoofer handles the bass. It is considered a basic format and is used in theaters, DVDs, or gaming consoles. It delivers a high-quality musical experience.
What is an AV Receiver?
An AV receiver is an audio/video receiver and is a part of the home theater setup. It receives signals (of both audio and video) from different sources and amplifies them to send the audio sounds via the speakers and the video track through the TV, monitor, projector, etc.
The AV receiver is controlled using a remote to adjust the sound and picture settings. The AV receiver is nothing but an amplifier and has at least a two-channel sound system with an inbuilt mixer. An AV receiver can accept data from radio, DVD, Blue-ray, VCR, gaming consoles, and so on.
The 5.1 surround sound system was considered a standard AV setup until the 7.1 system was introduced and acquired more fame. Today, we find both models in the market, along with the 9.1 surround sound system (with 9 speakers).
Stereo Receiver vs. AV Receiver
Though both are a part of the home entertainment system, a stereo receiver is different from an AV receiver. One cannot fully replace the other.
The key difference between the two: the stereo receiver amplifies sounds. It can be connected to a CD player or a musical instrument to channel the audio through the receiver and into the speakers. It cannot accept video.
The AV receiver accepts both audio and video. It can play tracks from a CD, DVD, Blu-ray, and many other input sources. The AV receiver is both a link and controller that connects the inputs and output sources.
If we talk about the quality of audio delivered by both the receivers, the stereo receiver gains more points. It has been built for amplifying music.
That said, the AV receivers these days have HDMI connectivity. Some come with 4K and HDR video transmissions. These ensure a better sound quality, along with exceptional video quality. Another advantage of the AV receivers is that they are built for 5.1 channel sound. The stereo has only a two-channel system. If the original track was made for a 5.1 system, AV receivers deliver the surround sound perfectly.
How to Set Up Surround Sound System?
To get the best results from the surround sound setup, you first need to optimize the setup to suit the room.
Fine-Tune the Surround Speakers
Arranging the speakers is almost always a trial and error job. You’ll need to move them around until you get the level of clarity you want. The last you’d like is to hear the outside noise when enjoying your favorite movie or show. Check the speaker connections once the setup is complete.
Consider the Acoustics of the Room
Excess furniture and décor can swallow the sound. Yeah, bare walls and minimum furniture will amplify the audio. This doesn’t mean you have to empty the room. Just get rid of things that aren’t needed in the room. Think of it as spring cleaning.
Create a Clear Path
You need to see the speakers. Yes, even the rear speakers should be visible. Don’t hide them behind vases or flowerpots. The front three speakers should stand and deliver audio, and the waves should reach you directly and align with the ear level.
Work Things Out
The set up can take time and you should be ready for it. You can also experiment a little by angling the speakers inwards or outwards. You can then try different combinations of these until you find the one that works best for you.
7.1 Surround Sound Setup Diagram
There’s no point in buying an expensive home theater sound system if you just dump the speakers at random places. The placement of the speakers is as crucial as the equipment. The front speakers and the central speaker are the vital ones. But don’t leave the back speakers anywhere either. Here’s a quick diagram of a 7.1 surround sound setup.
- Let’s start with the seating area first. You need to position the couch directly in front of the TV at a safe distance for the eyes. Now, measure from the center of the couch.
- The central speaker should be at 180 degrees from the center of the couch. Ensure the central speaker sits in the middle of the TV stand where you are also placing the main unit of the home theater system.
- Place the front left and front right surround speakers on either side of the television. Maintain a little space on the side and place the front speakers diagonally.
- Next, pick up the surround left and surround right speakers. These will be beside the couch (on either side) at an angle of 90 degrees from the center and 180 degrees from each other.
- Now, you’ll need to place the back left and back right speakers behind the couch on the other side of the room. These speakers should be at 130-150 degrees from the center of the couch. The back speakers will be closer to each other and close to the couch compared to the front speakers.
- The subwoofer is remaining. Place it either close to the front speakers or a little behind this pair. Your 7.1 surround sound setup is ready to use.
We hope you understand the 7.1 surround sound setup now. Did you know that you can even buy 7.1 surround sound headphones? Check out the best surround sound headphones now.
Ideal Home Theater Speaker Placement in 5.1 Surround Sound System
The 5.1 surround sound system has 5 surround speakers and one subwoofer. Place the subwoofer on the floor and arrange the surround speakers around your seating. Here’s a quick diagram of a 5.1 surround sound system speaker.
- The center channel speaker, the couch, and the TV should be in a single straight line.
- The front speakers should be a foot away from the TV sideways. Place them diagonally, turning the speakers inwards.
- The speakers behind the couch (rear surround) should be closer to the couch and in line with the front speakers.
- The left front and back should form a straight line and the right front and back speakers should also form a straight line.
- Turn the back speakers inward, diagonally facing the backside of the couch.
- Place the subwoofer behind the left or right front speakers.
How do I connect my Surround Sound to my TV with HDMI?
There are two ways to connect the surround sound to the TV, and one of them uses the HDMI cable.
- To use the HDMI cable, your speaker system and TV should have the ARC (Audio Return Channel) feature. This feature eliminates the need for another audio cable to connect the two devices.
- Mark the HDMI ports with ARC to highlight which port you should use for the connection. If either device doesn’t have the ARC feature, you’ll have to use the audio cable, optical digital cable, or coaxial digital cable.
- Take the HDMI cable and connect the sound system to the TV through the ARC port. Then, turn on the Control for HDMI settings on the TV and the system (receiver).
- You will need to read the related articles and the user manual to know how to turn on the control for HDMI as it depends on the devices you own.
Is a Center Channel Speaker of a Home Theater System Necessary for Surround Sound?
The three channel speakers in the front are necessary for surround sound. Of course, the rear surround channel speakers are just as important. Some people don’t like to use the central speaker out of all the surround speakers. However, it is easy to tell when the central channel speaker should be used and when it shouldn’t, in a surround sound system.
Since the central speaker is separated from the front left and right speakers, you can adjust the volume without disturbing the rest of the speakers. Also, the audio will be evenly distributed if there’s a center channel speaker right in the middle. Without this anchor in the center, you might experience more fluctuations in sound, especially when you move around the room.
How to Install Ceiling Speakers for Surround Sound?
To get the best surround sound experience, ceiling speakers are a great option. They help in evenly distributing the sound to deliver a rich audio effect throughout the room.
You need a few tools and some skills to install the ceiling speakers for surround sound. A ladder, drywall saw, blue painter tape, measuring tape, screwdriver, wire stripper, and a pencil are some items you need to gather first.
- Then choose where you want to install the ceiling speakers. The placement should be similar to how you arrange them on the floor.
- Also, make sure other fixtures like the light and fan don’t get disturbed in the process. Use the blue tape and pencil to mark the speaker positions.
- Measure the circumference of the speaker and cut cardboard of the same size. Mark the center in it. Place this cardboard on the ceiling and draw a circle.
- Then saw off the false ceiling and make the hole. Now, run the wires back to the receiver. Follow the instruction manual to connect the in-ceiling speakers to the wires.
- Ensure the wires are not loose and cover the copper parts.
- Fix the speaker in the hole and tighten the screws. Don’t overdo this part. It’ll damage the speaker. Fix the magnetic grill on top, and that’s it.
What Does a Soundbar Do? How to Connect a Soundbar to TV?
Soundbars came into existence to make up for the lack of audio effects produced by the flat screens. TV audio is not powerful enough to provide the kind of sound experience you expect from them. A soundbar delivers sonic sound that matches the picture quality of the high-end television.
But what is a soundbar? It’s nothing but an all-in-one speaker system delivered in a single thin and long tube-like unit. Instead of setting up the entire surround sound system, you buy a single soundbar and place it on the TV stand. Most soundbars are active and come with built-in amplifiers. Just connect one to your TV, and you’re good to go.
How to Connect Soundbar to TV?
There are different ways to connect the soundbar to the TV.
- One is to use the HDMI cable. Follow the same process we’ve mentioned in one of the previous sections. Check if both devices have the ARC feature and plug in the HDMI cable.
- The second method is to use a digital optical cable. However, it can transfer only up to 5.1 channel sound.
- The third method is to use a 3. 3.5mm line out. Remember that it’ll deliver only the basic sound, and that means investing in a soundbar is of little use.
- Or, finally, you can try the headphone jack to plug it in. But again, the sound quality is compromised.
How to get Surround Sound on PC?
To get surround sound on your PC, first, check if your computer has a sound card. Go to the Device Manager and then get to Sound, Video, and Game Controllers.
If the computer doesn’t have a sound card, it’s easier to use an external one. Before you buy one, choose whether you connect the 5.1 or the 7.1 channel.
The installation instructions will change based on the sound system. Ensure you set the speakers as default when you play an audio/video file on the computer. Run the configure option on the computer to ensure that all the speakers are working.
Go ahead, buy your favorite surround sound system, and set it up with your TV or Blu Ray for a wonderful audio-visual experience right in your home. Don’t forget to grab some popcorn. Enjoy!
We hope you found our guide on how to set up surround sound useful. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to post them in the comment section below.