You’ve been thinking long and hard about how you will put this Home Cinema System together and next on your hit list is Choosing Surround Sound Speakers. So where do you begin?
There are flush recessed, wall mount & floor standing. There are various configurations such as 5.1, 5.2, 7.1, 7.2 etc, there are passive and active, there is even the option of invisible speakers. The key is to decide on these and other factors at the start so you have a way forward.
These elements need consideration at the beginning but also at different times in the project. This is not simply a matter of considering once at the beginning of the project design stage and then expecting things to fall in line, it’s not that easy. It’s simple, but not easy. You need constant reference to the end result every step along the way to create the result you want as cabling and construction work will depend on the type of speaker system selected.
Let’s take a closer look at the factors needing consideration.
- Power. Wikipedia have some great information for those of you who really want to get into the nitty-gritty of Audio Power behavior. Even if you’re not that concerned with the technicalities you should give this stuff a read so as to improve your understanding and subsequently your ability to choose. Understanding power ratings on speakers and amplifiers is something you need to get a grip of before you buy.
- Speaker Construction. The better the base material used in speaker construction, the better the speaker. Stands to reason really. Electrical signals received by your speaker are converted to audio output by the speaker. If the speaker is made of high quality material then it will output sound closer to how it was recorded and loose less of the original frequency range. I’m putting this very simply here so if you would like more info check out this article by Audioholics or this one by eCoustics.
- Positioning. Cinema Surround Sound is achieved by positioning the speakers around the listener at the correct height to obtain maximum impact. The greater the number of speakers in your configuration on the plane of 360 degrees then the greater the impact of the audio reproduction. 7.1 or 7.2 Cinema Surround Sound is what you should be thinking for your configuration. (7) stands for the seven speakers that comprise the output of the low and mid range audio frequencies. The (.1) or (.2) stands for the number of Sub Woofers in the system. I would strongly suggest 2 x Sub Woofer in your system. Place your Surround Sound Speakers at a height equal to that of the ear of a seated listener where at all possible (usually between 1.2m to 1.5m AFFL). Sub Woofers are not restrained by the same limitations low and mid frequency speakers are and so has more scope for positioning, however, do test for your “sweet spot” in advance.
Finish. This is entirely your own choice. The more choice available to you on the speaker finish then the more expensive the speaker will be. Some higher range speaker manufacturers such as RBH offer totally bespoke wood finish on their Signature Series Range. The thing is when you buy at the top end you have a product that is unique to you. The bigger your budget, the better the speakers, in all respects. Obviously if you have chosen a recessed speaker set up then you don’t need to worry about the custom finish because they dont have one. The Grills on recessed speakers can be painted (carefully) so you have the flxibility of matching your decor.
- Recessed Vs Surface. The choice here is whether or not you want a clean unobtrusive, descrete look like you get from Paradigm, versus a wall mounting and floor standing solution as seen in Fig 1.3. Both surround sound speaker solutions will give you the audio quality you are looking for although some would argue that the wall and floor standing option has better audio reproduction because the cabinet construction is prefabricated to a definite specification where as with the recessed method you are relying on the wall and ceiling construction to be good enough to compliment the speaker but there are arguements for both. I happen to have a preference for custom installed In-wall. Another consideration is that more effort and cost is associated with the recessed method and good acoustic insulation is required in the wall construction. Most higher end recessed speakers like Paradigm come with recessed back boxes as an option so lessening the loss of audio quality.
Active Vs Passive. Put very simply, active speakers are more expensive and of much higher quality than passive speaker types. B&O, Martin Logan, Steinway Lyngdorf and such, manufacture active type speakers at the top end. If you want the best then you should be shooting for these bad boys but be prepared to part with Mega Bucks. The top end Steinway Lyngdorf Model D will set you back about €150,000.00. (They are amazing, like nothing I’ve ever heard before). Active speakers are speakers that incorporate the amplifier as part of the speaker it’s self and are considered by purist’s to be the only way to build a speaker. Passive speakers are merely the cone and tweeter of the speaker, with the amplification achieved from a separate surround sound speaker amplifier.
- Low, Mid & High Frequency output. This is a very broad way of explaining the range of sound output frequencies. Speaker cones, tweeters, and woofers are manufactured to achieve specific range of sound reproduction. Some achieve good low frequency, some achieve good mid frequency, and some achieve good high frequency reproduction. Any speakers you buy may combine these in a single speaker to achieve a good wide range of reproduction. If you have a speaker like this with several cones then turn on your existing system at low volume and get your ear up close to each one at a time. You will hear the very different rage of sound from each and you will know what I mean. See Fig 1.3 above
Installation. This one is easy to convey. Where you are using surface speakers such as wall mount or floor standing you will need to bring the cable (or cables if you have selected bi-amp speakers) to a standard outlet box and terminate in a speaker outlet plate and your done. If you have chosen custom install recessed speakers you will need to do a lot more planning and put in a lot more thought. Consult your speaker installation guide for information on this DONT THROW YOUR INSTALLATION INSTRUCTIONS OUT like you usually do! Follow the guide image above for locating the speakers correctly. If you are using a custom install Sub Woofer test it out for the best location before installing. If you’re room configuration does not allow rear wall mount, floor standing or in-wall recessed speakers then look at using in-ceiling directional speakers such as the Paradigm SIG-1.5R-30. These guys will direct the sound to the listening position sufficiently.
There is lots to consider and like every element if you are taking on this project yourself then take your time and do the research. If you are hiring someone to do this for you there’s no doubt it will happen much quicker and this information will hopefully give you some insight. I can’t possibly cover every eventuality here or I’d be writing until the cows come home so you wont get everything you need or want from this post only, but it might be the start you need.