What Is the Best Way to Set Up a Surround Sound System?

what is surround sound how to set up

Whether you have a home theater, a man cave, or just a TV in your living room, installing a surround sound system will elevate any movie you watch. You TV’s built-in speakers just can’t handle the deep bass of an explosion or the soft footsteps that a speaker system provides. But, if you’ve been shopping around for  speakers, you might not know whether to get a 5.1 surround sound system or a 7.1 surround sound system. Here’s everything you need to know about what surround sound is and how to properly set up your surround sound system.

What is Surround Sound? 

Surround sound is a term used for audio systems that have multiple speakers placed around a listener to achieve a more immersive audio effect. With a surround sound system, you will be able to hear sounds coming from multiple directions.

speakers

There are several types of speaker setups systems. You can tell how many speakers or audio channels and subwoofers that a particular system has by the number in its name. The first number tells you how many speakers are in the system, while the second number tells you how many subwoofers the system has. For example, a 5.1 system comes with 5 speakers and 1 subwoofer.

what is surround sound
(Image Source: Dolby)

If you see a sound system that has a 2 at the end, like a 7.2 system, that means it comes with two subwoofers. Adding a subwoofer helps even out the bass, which might be louder on one side with only one subwoofer. If you do get a sound system with two subwoofers, they should be placed on opposite sides of your screen.

Each speaker in a surround sound system has its own purpose, and each speaker should be placed in a specific location for the best audio experience. Here are the different kinds of surround sound setups, what each speaker does, and how to set each of them up.

What is 2.1 Surround Sound?

A 2.1 surround sound setup has two front speakers that give you stereo sound and a subwoofer that adds deep bass. You should place the front left and right speakers at a 22-30-degree angle, and the subwoofer should go on the floor on either side of your screen.

2.1 stereo
How to position the front left (FL), front right (FR) and subwoofer (SW) speakers

Ideally, you want the two front stereo channels to be at ear-level and about two to three feet away from the wall. You should also avoid placing the subwoofer in the corner, so you don’t get an echo.

While this is the most basic setup, it can be a big improvement over your TV’s built-in speakers.

What is 3.1 Surround Sound?

A 3.1 surround sound setup has two front speakers, a subwoofer, and a center speaker. You should place the center channel speaker directly in front of the listener. This center channel adds more depth and clarity, especially to dialogue.

3.1 setup
How to position the front (FL & FR), subwoofer (SW), and center (C) speakers

This is the ideal setup for anyone who wants to elevate their home theater on a budget, but doesn’t have enough room for a full surround sound system.

What is 5.1 Surround Sound?

A 5.1 surround sound setup has two front speakers, a subwoofer, a center channel, and two surround speakers. With a 5.1 setup, you should place the surround speakers behind the listener at a 110-120-degree angle.

what is 5.1 surround sound
How to position the front (FL & FR), subwoofer (SW), center (C), and surround (SL & SR) speakers

This is the first “true” surround sound setup because it actually envelops the listener in sound from all directions. It is also the most common setup because it isn’t too complex, and most DVDs, broadcast TV, and media streaming sources use 5.1 surround sound. Dolby Digital and Dolby DTS also work with a 5.1 setup.

The two surround speakers create a much more immersive effect, which can instantly improve your home theater experience. But, if you do not have room to place your surround speakers at an angle behind you, they can also be placed on either side of your seating area at a 90-110-degree angle.

What is 7.1 Surround Sound?

A 7.1 surround sound setup has two front speakers, a subwoofer, a center channel, two surround speakers, and two rear speakers. With this setup, you should place rear speakers behind the listener at a 135-150-degree angle.

what is 7.1 surround sound
How to position the front (FL & FR), subwoofer (SW), center (C), surround (SL & SR), and rear (RL & RR) speakers

Unlike a 5.1 speaker setup, a 7.1 surround sound system gives you audio from the both sides, as well as behind you. Since all of the audio that is meant to come from behind is now handled by the rear speakers, you can move your surround speakers to either side of your seating area at a 90-110-degree angle.

With so many speakers surrounding you, this setup is usually reserved for home theater rooms.

What is 9.1 Surround Sound?

A 9.1 surround sound setup has two front speakers, a subwoofer, a center channel, two surround speakers, two rear speakers, and two wide speakers. The two wide speakers should be placed in front of the listener at a 50-70-degree angle.

what is 9.1 surround sound
How to position the front (FL & FR), subwoofer (SW), center (C), surround (SL & SR), rear (RL & RR), and Wide (WL & WR) speakers

With a 9.1 setup, the addition of the wide speakers will bridge the gap between the front and surround speakers. That means you will have sound coming at you from almost every angle. Since this is such a complicated setup, however, it is generally reserved for larger home theater rooms. However, it might be hard to find an inexpensive AV receiver that works with a 9.1 setup.

If you’re in the market for a new speaker system, check out our list of the best budget-friendly surround sound systems.

How to Set Up a Surround Sound System

To set up a surround sound system, you will need an AV (audio/video) receiver. This device allows you to hook up and control multiple speakers. It then processes, separates, and amplifies your audio to drive your speakers.

An AV Receiver also lets you switch between different audio and video sources, so you can easily switch between your CD player, Xbox, or TV audio with the push of a button.

Depending on what kind of AV receiver you have, all you need to do to set up your system is to run wires from your speakers to the AV receiver. You should see the name of each speaker next to a connection on the back of your AV receiver.

back of av receiver how to set up surround sound
(Image Source: Amazon)

If you don’t want to see lots of unsightly speaker wires running through your home theater, you can either conceal them in the walls or buy a wireless setup. However, even wireless speakers need to be powered, so you will still have some wires to deal with.

If you’re in the market for a new AV receiver, check out our list of the best budget AV receivers.