Home Theater Basics: Choosing Your Sound System

Home Theater Basics: Choosing Your Sound System

There’s a huge difference between watching your favorite movie and experiencing it full on. But to do this, you don’t just need a big TV or projector. You need a full home theater audio system to give you a full range of sound. 

Unfortunately, setting up your home theater isn’t as simple as plugging in any couple of speakers into your TV. Before anything else, you have to choose a rig that suits your room.

Components You Need


Harman Kardon AVR 151 w/ HKTS 30BQ Package

A complete home theater package from Harman Kardon

For a less hassle-free approach, it’s ideal to check out home theater systems that come as a pre-matched bundle. Even if you decide not to go for the entire package, you’ll still have a good idea what makes up a good rig. In addition to a main receiver or amplifier, you’ll find that it includes the following:

  • A center channel speaker that usually sits below or above your TV.
  • Front left and right speakers that come in either bookshelf or floor-standing designs
  • Two or more surround speakers to go behind or beside your seating area
  • One or two subwoofers that boost your frequency range on the low end.

This 5 speaker + 1 subwoofer setup is a good place to start. It’s also the minimum amount required for Dolby 5.1 surround sound (the .1 is the subwoofer).

Receiver Before Speaker

Harman Kardon AVR 171/230
Harman Kardon AVR 171/230

If you end up with creating your own setup from scratch, it’s best to start with shopping for your speakers. This makes sure that you won’t put too much load on your amplifier, causing the sound to cut out during loud sections. In the worst-case scenario, it might even cause your receiver to shut down or burn out altogether.

Always consider the size, layout, and shape of your living room. You don’t want to end up buying speakers that you have no room for—you’ll just have a harder time fitting all of them into a smaller room. Additionally, speakers and amps that are too large could also be too loud for a small room.  

On the other hand, having an underpowered setup might put unwarranted stress on your rig. After all, audio equipment shouldn’t be pushed to their maximum limits all the time. Around 50 watts per channel will be more than loud enough for a normal-sized room. Just remember that loudness doesn’t always equate to sound quality. For some higher end brands, even 10 to 20 watts will be enough to make a big sound.

Location Matters More

A simple setup

As long as no object is physically blocking your speaker, your placement will be more important than your chosen wattage.

The center channel speaker has the important job of playing the dialogue. An actor or whoever is speaking will generally be in the frame and around the center of the screen. This makes this speaker perfect for delivering dialogue in a way that sounds like it’s coming directly from the characters. Hence, it should be placed in line with both the screen and where you’ll be viewing from.

Meanwhile, the front left and right speakers provide a more lateral but still directed sound. Along with the subwoofer, these two are the absolute bare minimum to any home theater system (also known as 2.1 surround sound).  They help create a smooth transition for objects moving across the screen. This is an important element to an immersive auditory experience.

Next are the left and right surround speakers, which add another dimension to your home theater experience. These are in charge of environmental and ambient sounds. If you’re watching a movie, these could be the sound of the actors’ footsteps as they walk across the scene. These speakers are vital for creating the auditory illusion that you’re right there with the characters, listening in on what’s happening.

Subwoofers are a cost-efficient means to add more bass to your sound. Unfortunately, these low-frequency sound waves are also more likely to bounce around your room. This results in either a hollowed-out boomy sound or a dead spot. That makes the subwoofer one of the trickier speakers to place.

It’s best to put your subwoofer near the front of your room. If you have a lot of space left, it’s best to avoid putting this it in a corner. Putting your subwoofer close to walls will make it sound louder, but it will also tend to sound muddier. That’s also the same reason why it’s best to avoid putting it under any other object in your room.  

Though creating your own audio system has its own benefits, you can never beat the convenience of getting a pre-set home theater system. Consider your options well before you decide what’s best for your room.

John Arzadon
John Arzadon