The sound of bullets whizzing past your head, the roar of a crowd or a spaceship flying by are all examples of how a properly installed surround sound system can enliven the home theater experience. To achieve the best results from your setup, consider a few things when it comes to choosing the main, subwoofer, center and surround speakers. Making the right choices here will result in an immersive, cohesive sonic environment, filling your home with great surround sound for years.
Think about how much space you're trying to fill. Small, home-theater-in-a-box style systems or subwoofer/satellite packages may look sleek and sexy, but they lack the oomph to fill large spaces without distorting the sound or being damaged by high volumes. Large speakers have drivers that range from 5 1/4 to 8 inches on average, creating room-filling bass and overall sound with less effort than their smaller cousins. Note that large speakers do not necessarily require more power from a receiver or amplifier, so go larger if your tastes and space demand it.
Subwoofers are the necessary component in any home theater package. Reproducing that exciting, room-shaking low end created by passing trains, explosions and thunder, subwoofers add visceral life and energy to any setup. However, that cute little subwoofer that you plan to hide in the corner or behind the sofa may prove disappointing, as it might lack the amplifier power and speaker area needed to move much air. Spaces up to roughly 2500 cubic feet can be effectively filled with subwoofers in the 8- to 10-inch range; the latter are recommended if you want to always have more than enough. Moving into 3000 to 4000 cubic feet, consider 12- or 15-inch subwoofers for maximum impact and enjoyment with all your surround sound content. Beyond this point, either 18-inch subwoofers or multiple 15-inch models will serve you well.
Timbre matching is the process by which all speakers in the surround sound system have the same tone. For example, the left speaker and center channel could be swapped with little to no noticeable change in sound. Choosing speakers from not only the same company but also the same series helps ensure that as objects pass through the surround environment, their sonic characteristics don't change. Mixing and matching brands is discouraged -- and really not necessary -- since all major speaker brands offer multiple sizes and quality levels to deliver the results you want at the price point you want to hit.
Aesthetics and Practicality
If you have nice furniture and dread adding big black boxes to your space, bring a sample piece of wood or a small drawer from one of those pieces and use it to match -- or get close to matching -- your new speaker array. Since speakers are effectively furniture more than appliances, having a color mismatch may look jarring or intrusive. Good speaker companies know this; they offer multiple wood shades and tones ranging from black, beech, rosewood and others to meet your concerns. As an alternative for open spaces with kids, pets and active floor traffic, in-ceiling or in-wall surround sound speakers offer good sound without taking any floor space at all, and they're nearly invisible.
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