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Mid-Week Poll: How Many Speakers Do You Use in Your Home Theater?

Let’s discuss audio in this week’s poll. Do you have surround sound in your home theater, or are you an old-school two-channel stereo listener? Are you still stuck with the TV’s built-in speakers, or do you have a tricked-out multi-channel system with speakers in every nook and cranny of the room?

I’ve tried to accommodate a lot of different possibilities in the voting options for the poll below. I expect that the majority of our readers probably have a tried-and-true 5.1 audio set-up with three channels across the front, two surrounds and a subwoofer. That’s the default standard for modern feature film soundtracks, after all.

I run a 7.1 system with two center back channels in my home theater. What do you have?

How Many Speakers Do You Use in Your Home Theater?

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[Banner image comes from the (totally absurd) Kipnis home theater.]

40 comments

  1. hurin

    I have a 4.0 system. I use a pair of Vienna Mahler as fronts and a pair of Vinna Haydn as surround. The Mahler each come with two 10 bass units, so they can easily replace a subwoofer.

    I used to think more speakers equal better sound, but have come to understand that fewer high quality speakers are a better choice than many midrange ones.
    My only regret was the loss of my surround back speaker, but I have a preprocessor with HDMI 1.1, and it was not possible to make use of it when playing HD sound unless it was 7.1 soundtrack, and they’re rare.

    It’s fun you should have a picture of the Kipnis studio, since his studio is the opposite of mine. I believe less is more, he obviously that more is more. He seems to be in possession of every snake oil HiFi remedy ever sold including a demagneticer for his DVD’s, guess physics isn’t his strong side.

  2. 7.1 here, have a Sony HD Audio receiver and Onkyo 7.1 speakers, it works great for my little living room, not worth putting more money into individual speakers when not much difference would be noticed with the space I have, I really enjoy the 7.1 converted soundtracks (like the new Jurassic Park), sounds freaking awesome when the forest is making noise and so are all the bugs, dinos and anything else all around the room :)

  3. T.J. Kats

    Standard 5.1 with Polk RTI4 bookshelfs for fronts and surrounds with the marching CSI3 center and an Outlaw LFM-1 EX sub in the living room. I would like to have a dedicated room in the basement by the end of next year and plan on doing 7.1 down there.

  4. Lahrs

    Sadly, I have been stuck with using only the TV speakers for the last few years due to living in a small apartment. The good news, we are moving into our first house over the weekend and I see a 5.1 set up in my future.

  5. Grrr, just typed out a long reply, hit submit, and lost it – turns out my cat pounced on the power strip in the other room, turning off the power to the router. She’s in trouble – she knows she is not supposed to be back there.

    Anyways, I chose 7.1 because it is what I have in the living room, but I also have a 5.1 HTiB in the bedroom (that used to be in the living room until I upgraded), I have a 2.1 in the bedroom near the bed that I plug my iPod into, and I had a 4.1 in the living room hooked up to the PC, but now I just route it all through the 7.1 – it went from a gaming system to a HTPC system, so this made more sense.

    My amp in the living room actually only powers 5 channels, but it will process up to 7, with the additional 2 being unpowered. Those can be either height or rear, and while I really wanted height, nothing is really made for height, so I went rear. So I am running this into the line input of my very first HTiB, because I just was not using it. My problem is, there seems to be a VERY SLIGHT delay between my fronts and the rears hooked up with the second amp. Most 7.1 encoded discs sound great, but when stuff gets matrixed up from 5.1 (and the rear channels in Nightmare before Christmas), I get what sounds like a very slight, processed echo. My issue is, I don’t know if it is supposed to sound like that or not. I got two really oldschool stereo amps out in the garage that I could hook up, but I no longer have speakers for them, and am just unsure if I want to buy new speakers for my older system, not knowing if that will fix the issue or not. Grrr.

    Next time I upgrade my amp, it will probably be a 9.1 or 11.2 system, but as i am preparing from going from a house to an apartment, the extra speakers at this time do not make sense.

  6. Brian H

    Not to discount the poll as a whole, but I would be interested to know if people set their speakers at ear height for best performance or higher for better aesthetics.

    • Drew

      Some speakers should be placed at ear height, while others should be placed higher.

      My front heights are placed at about 9 feet. My front towers are placed on the floor. My rears are placed at ear height. My rear surrounds are placed slightly above ear height, as they should be. My center channel is placed just above my screen.

    • Intresting question. Loaded answer.

      When I had the 5.1 HTiB in the living room, all speakers were at ear-level. This changed when I bought a new system and moved the HTiB to the bedroom.

      Currently, in the bedroom, 4 of the speakers are about a foot away from the ceiling. This was done because I got an ocassional tall object in the room, and putting the speakers lower would block sound coming from one speaker or another. The center speaker is right next to the TV, which is about 4 feet off the ground. It is pretty level with my ears when I am laying down. This setup does lead to some uneven sound – I really need to balance the sound, but I haven’t gotten around to this. But I rarely watch stuff in the bedroom that needs good, balanced sound – its really there because the speakers on the TV suck. In fact, I have been looking at the possibility of maybe just going to a soundbar in the bedroom.

      As for the living room, as I now have bigger speakers, the fronts could no longer fit where I had them before on the walls. My roommate came up with the idea of putting them on flower-stands (don’t know what else to call them). Therefore, the three front speakers are about two feet off the floor. The four rear speakers are all at ear level. However, as all speakers are balanced for the height and distance they are from my viewing position, the actual positioning of the speakers do not really matter too much. It sounds great.

      • You know, now that I look at it, the two speakers on the back wall actually are NOT at ear level, they are slightly higher. So my front speakers are about 2 feet off the floor, the back sides are about 4.5 floor from the floor, and the rears are about 5-5.5 feet from the floor

    • Brian H

      For my 7.1 set-up I bought 3 matched pairs of 5.25″ speakers, coupled with a dual 5.25″ cones center speaker, and sub. To a lesser degree I tried to match speaker length, type, and connections. I also wanted equal spacing between L/R from the center listening position.

      Having done all that coordination for my set-up, I took the ear-level height and high-level aesthetic height, and split the difference at 65″ (I had to make the aesthetic concession, but as a bonus, the speakers are a lot less likely to be blocked incidentally blocked) It’s been awesome for two years, but maybe the next set-up will just be mix and match. I don’t see either height speakers or a second sub in my future.

  7. Brian H

    I have been using 7.1 for two years, and even in a big space the extra channels seem extraneous. At first, I was disappointed that so few blu rays include 7.1 mixes, but DPLIIz works really well. As a result, 7.1 native mixes like Tron are underwhelming. I upgraded to 7.1 and high def sound at the same time, and loved it, but I might not recommend the two extra speakers (8% better movie surround experience).

    Games on the other hand, really make use of the the 7.1 Of course I’m talking about the PS3, sound on the 360 is an after thought(no 7.1 support, no high def sound format support). I use hdmi for my pc which limits me to 5.1 (I’m happy that I managed that, stupid creative).
    Games like Arkham Asylum, Heavy Rain, Far Cry 2, Red Dead- the tech in some game engines plus the ps3 make for an incredible 7.1 experience.
    Spoiler alert
    In Arkham Asylum, when Batman first goes into the morgue and he can hear the voices of his parents coming from all different directions- great for 7.1

    • I agree with stupid Creative. Never could get surround working, as they used some propriatary plug, and no one seemed to carry an adaptor or a cable of any kind. I had upgraded to a Turtle Beach soundcard that did 5.1 over spidif. But now I use an nVidia video card, and I use the HDMI on it. It supports 7.1, and I use it. I don’t know if any PC games support 7.1 though. If you want the 7.1 from your PC, you may want to upgrade your video card.

      • Brian H

        I have a bfg nvidia 280 connected by a semi proprietary two line cable to a Creative X-fi Fatal1ty. This allows my pc to process 5.1 through analog connections to a Logitech Z-5500 and at the same time, the pc takes that output, encodes it in either DD 5.1 or Dts 5.1(I usually leave it on Dolby), and passes it to the video card out the hdmi to my Sony STR-DN1000 7.1. In a nice bit of irony, while I love Sony STR-DN1000 7.1, it does not have 5.1 or 7.1 analog inputs.

        Biggest gripe with Creative is their Windows 7 64 -bit (lack of) support.

        • Yeah, I gave up trying to get the X-Fi to work. Its now laying in my box of parts as the most expensive piece of equipment that I never got to work. And yeah, I am also running Windows 7 64 bit, and was running Vista 64 bit before that.

          I have an nVidia – thinking its a 430. The HDMI on it supports audio, and the regular nVidia drivers power it. It supports Windows 7 64-bit with no issue. It supports DD, DTS, Dolby TrueHD, DTS MA, and PCM. And I currently have it configured for 7.1. I really suggest checking it out, it is just such an easier setup than using the Creative stuff, the drivers just work, you don’t have to mess with propriatary cables, and if you watch movies on your PC, you will get lossless audio.

  8. my sound system has been modified from its original version. :) . i have an HD pioneer 5.1 system. my analog 5.1 went kaput a year and a half ago and I kept my old speakers as they are fantastic.

  9. Drew

    With PLIIz (Front height) becoming more and more popular, I’m really surprised you didn’t give the option of a 9.1 channel setup.

    I’m using a 9.1 channel set-up in my primary home theater. Denon receiver, CSW, Klipsch, and Velodyne speakers.

    In my secondary home theater, I have a 7.1 set-up in use. Marantz receiver, Klipsch, Polk, and Boston speakers.

      • Drew

        I see it now. 7.1 with width and height channels. I should have selected that option.

        I guess my primary set-up is actually an 11.2 system. I’ve got the traditional 7.1 with front height, and rear width. Both the front height speakers and rear width speakers actually add a lot to my set-up because the ceiling is extremely high, and the room is over 25 ft. wide. I don’t know why I was thinking it was a 9.2 setup. I guess you never really count the number of speakers, you just add to increase the quality of the sound production.

        I had to upgrade my receiver this year to one that had connections for traditional 7.1 plus height plus width. The receiver I had in use previously allowed for 7.1 plus EITHER height OR width. I always used the height option, and I actually still feel that the height speakers are giving me more than the width ones, because I have my rears and rear surrounds placed close to the seating/listening position.

        • Since you actually have one of these systems, I would like to ask how it sounds. Especially the height – that is something I am really interested in. AFAIK, no mixes exist for higher than 7.1, so I am assuming that its being matrixed. Most of the stuff I have that gets processed up from 5.1 to 7.1 sounds horrible, and I normally end up turning off the back speakers on anything less than a 6 channel mix. So how do these sound on an 11.2 system?

          Of course, I guess the best thing would be to actually hear for myself, but even the high-end electronics store in my area doesn’t have anything on display above 7.1.

          • Drew

            I’m very happy with the added benefits of the height channels. I’m a big advocate for what they bring to a home theater set-up in a room with high ceilings. If I compare my primary home theater to my secondary home theater while listening to the same film, I can definitely hear some added spaciousness up front, and some gains in panning effects. The height channels certainly broaden the sound stage in front, and add some ambience that you don’t get without them.

            Keep in mind, that everything I just said only applies with the right audio track. You’re not going to get much, if anything out of the height channels from the majority of movie soundtracks. I’ve noticed that native 7.1 mixes really work well with the height channels for some reason. This can probably be attributed to the fact that native 7.1 mixes are typically included on films that have larger and more spacious sound fields.

            If you ever end up setting up your home theater in a room with extremely high ceilings, I strongly believe that the heights will give you a significant improvement. For the most part, the heights aren’t really going to produce a lot of sound, however, any time an audio track is mixed with a lot going on in the front channels, the heights will kick in and compensate for anything that should be coming from a position higher than the subject you are watching. Think of films with a lot going on above the characters. The height channels really add a lot to your overall surround experience while watching movies like this. The best example I can think of from a recent film is Transformers 3. I was so impressed by the sonic reproduction in the front soundstage, I decided to directly compare my experience using my secondary home theater. I would watch a certain scene and then immediately watch it again in my secondary home theater. I wanted to be certain that it wasn’t just placebo effect. After doing this for a while, I gained the certainly that it wasn’t. I don’t know how much of the difference is from also using width channels in my primary set-up, or the fact that the overall equipment is of slightly higher quality, but I definitely felt like the height channels were expanding and adding dimensionality to the front sound stage. I was really impressed!

  10. JM

    6.1 Onkyo HT S760 from I believe 2005.

    I try to sit in the center of the couch so that the rear speaker can hit me straight in the back of the head the way the guys at audio emporium told me would create the ideal sweet spot effect and if I think about it consciously while watching a movie encoded for that I can totally feel the vibrations in an immersive way which is why I have not yet bothered to upgrade to a seventh speaker on account of my slightly undersized ears.

  11. August Lehe

    I’m not dying to spend $1,000 FOR A SURROUND BAR, BUT I WONDER IF ANYONE has experienced the Definitive Technology SURROUND BAR? IT’s 45 INCHES WIDE AND only 2 or 3 INCHES TALL. IT has six mids and several tweeters….Sounds great for a small room! How would one drive it? I ALSO HAVE A SUB CUBE.

    • Alex

      I haven’t used Definitive’s, but I have a Polk SurroundBar 50 that is wonderful. It was an aesthetic concession for my theater and while it doesn’t quite get the rear channel effect, the front sound stage becomes so wide that it does sound like you are hearing things directly to your left and right. It’s even good enough that it ticks the dog off as he goes dashing off to the side to try to find the source of the noise.

  12. August Lehe

    I FORGOT….my two rear dipolar surrounds are up high…Center Channel is just below the screen and the two fronts flank the screen. My NHT CUBE SUB is just behind the screen…

  13. Ted S.

    I have 7.1 set up, two speakers in the rear. Love it, especially films encoded with true 7.1 surround sound like Tron: Legacy and Transformers 3.

  14. Drew

    I suspect that a lot of people have two subwoofers in use. Perhaps the poll could be adjusted to reflect this. There could be options for a straight-up 5.2 or 7.2 system, or other options that account for the use of 2 subwoofers.

    A high percentage of high-end receivers are offer multiple subwoofer outs, and a lot of people wire their front R&L’s to the subwoofer, and the subwoofer to the R&L’s on the receiver. This is actually the ideal way to wire your sub if the receiver, fronts, and sub are all powerful enough and of enough quality to handle it. If wiring this way, many people use their subwoofer out and run another subwoofer to the back of the room.

      • Drew

        Using two subs only results in the bass frequencies canceling each other out when the subs are set up improperly, and/or positioned improperly. If they are each positioned correctly, and set up properly, two subs can really add a lot to any set-up. Especially for those home theaters that are in very large rooms. I had mine professionally positioned and set up. The difference beween one sub and two in my primary home theater is vast. With both subs working in unison, the LFE production is phenomenal!

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      I think the poll has enough options as it is. I also think that using two subwoofers is not as common as you may assume, except for people with very large rooms. The danger of using two subwoofers in the same room is that the bass frequencies can cancel each other out unless you’re extremely careful about how you position and set them up.

      Anyone who uses two subwoofers should vote for the next closest option in the poll and explain in the comments what they do.

  15. Tony Smith (Lone_gunmen)

    5.1 but updating to 7.1 early next year, pending budget. It will be a lossless set up, unlike my current set up.

  16. paramedic0112

    I have a 5.1 set up. It’s the standard three in front, two in back, with a sub. All Sony products, including reciever. I also have apple tv, xbox 360, and a turntable connected to the reciever and 5.1. I really want to upgrade to 7.1 next year. I would also like to start getting some higher end speakers.

  17. August Lehe

    SORRY, Definitive Technology…The Mythos $999 Surround Bar has TEN mids (Not six) and Three Tweeters…I apologize for the goof! I hear it does a pretty good job with the rear channels…

  18. andy

    Let me see now. I’m currently rigged for DOLBY TrueHD 7.1 and dts7.1 that hardly gets used, expect for DOLBY!

    How many speakers I have? Whew, 34 and I still have more to install at later date.

    I have some extra DOLBY decoder/processors for creating matrix-five-screen plus I can place an extra channel overhead with some mixes that have an anti-phase signal within the stereo surround mix on a few films I have noticed sound steered towards the rear surround that is re-plugged to play overhead the seating.

    The overhead can also be switched in between DOLBY 7.1 with the sidewall surrounds to be ether used for extracting centre phantom from the stereo sidewall surrounds or be re-plugged in a few seconds to add extra excitement to Eraser (1996).

    I’m working on an idea for below surround but since the content on the mix won’t relate to underneath below surround as the effects will not match its still worth a try over most home cinema.

  19. August Lehe

    Seriously folks, Anyome tried the BOSE VideoWave Home Entertainment Syatem? I’m about a year away from my major Home Theater Purchases, except for Blu Ray. Just wondering!
    I don’t even know if 3-D is addressed by BOSE…