How To Choose a Home Theater Speaker System

Created by ELAC

For at-home live concert fans and movie-goers alike, building a home theater speaker system is an essential part of your living environment. All the steps involved can feel overwhelming, from surround sound and subwoofers to all the parts in between. Below, we’ve compiled a basic guide to help you navigate some of the most confusing aspects of how to choose a home theater speaker system with ease. 

1. 5.1 vs. 7.1 Systems

Overall, there are two primary types of home theater systems:

    • 5.1, or five speakers and a subwoofer: Three front speakers positioned to the left, center and right with two surround speakers, either positioned at the back or to the sides of the couch.
  • 7.1 or seven speakers: Three speakers are placed in the front with four surround speakers positioned to the back and sides. Some people choose to include height speakers to create a more immersive experience.

The 5.1 system is less expensive than the 7.1 system, and which one you choose will also be based on the size of your room. Any room larger than 200 square feet can hold a 7.1 system. To get an idea of what’s out there, check out our selection of home theater speakers.

2. Height Speakers

Height speakers can help improve a home theater speaker system by bouncing sound off the ceiling or directing it down to you—creating an immersive sound that’s almost cinematic. To make these speakers work for you, you need a low ceiling for the sound to bounce off of or must be capable of mounting these speakers high on the wall. Height speakers aren’t necessary for a basic system if you’re just getting started, but they do make for a better sound experience in a larger room.

3. A/V Receivers

Audio/Video (A/V) receivers serve as audio air traffic controllers that help the sound get to the right speaker at the right time while giving speakers enough power for the proper volume range. A/V receivers also transmit video signals from the source to the television. You’ll need an A/V receiver for a traditional (wired) home theater system unless you have a wireless system. Most home theater system packages include A/V receivers, but if you’re building your own system slowly, don’t forget this important component.

4. Subwoofers

Powerful home theater systems with immersive sound need solid bass. A system without a good low end can bring disappointment, but a solid subwoofer adds the efficiency and full range you need for an optimal experience. 

Subwoofers are typically included in home theater packages and are already matched to the speakers for the best sound. However, if you need to purchase a subwoofer on your own, we recommend purchasing one of higher quality, just in case.

5. Wired vs. Wireless Home Theater Systems

Wireless is on the rise in many industries, and it makes sense that manufacturers would hone in on the popularity of wireless home theater systems. What are the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a wireless system over a traditional system?

One of the more frustrating aspects of a wired home theater system is all the wires and cables that go with it. Getting rid of those should mean fewer complications with home theater systems, right? Unfortunately not since wireless systems can prove to be more expensive than wired systems, and wireless systems still require speakers to be powered by an outlet. The bigger your wireless home theater system, the more plug sockets and long extension cables you’ll need. 

6. Surround Sound Software

Surround sound isn’t just created by strategically placing your speakers around the room. You will need the software (codec) to create the sound by decoding the incoming audio signal and directing it to the proper speakers. The two most popular codecs that people know are DTS:X and Dolby Atmos, and each one works best for certain systems:

  • DTS:X is designed for systems that don’t require height speakers, and it uses”multi-dimensional audio” to provide an immersive experience. It’s a more common choice since it works well on more affordable 5.1 systems.  
  • Dolby Atmos needs height speakers to function, and it works best for at least a 7.1 system setup. 

Besides these two popular options, there are dozens of other codecs available, and you don’t need a nuanced understanding of them as you weigh how to choose a home theater speaker system that works best for you.

7. Soundbars

As discussed earlier, traditional home theater systems typically have three speakers at the left, center and right positions, which is especially important for clear dialogue in films. However, you can opt to replace these speakers with a sound bar. 

This single-box solution can conveniently replace what would seem to be a bulky system to some eyes. A soundbar still delivers good sound and may come with dedicated surround speakers. 

It won’t replace a multi-speaker system in terms of an immersive experience. However, if you need to minimize the number of speakers, whether due to space or aesthetic preference, getting a soundbar is definitely a viable option.

8. Home Theater Accessories

Though home theater system packages come with the “big” essentials, you’ll need to purchase the smaller accessories, such as speaker stands and speaker cabling. 

Speakers function best at ear level, depending on the size and design of your system, so a set of speaker stands will help with this setup immensely.

Speaker cabling is needed to connect the speakers to the receiver. No one specific brand is better than the other, and all that matters is that it’s about 16 gauge. You’ll need to strip the insulation to connect the wire to the speaker by placing it directly to the bind posts on the speaker’s back. You can also opt to purchase a banana plug that lets you just plug it in. Some speaker cables come with banana plugs that are already attached for convenience.

If you’re more of a music lover than a movie watcher, we would also recommend investing in a solid stereo amplifier rather than a receiver. A home theater speaker system is built more around the movie-watching experience, but you can still get decent sound for music, regardless.

Still feel a little stuck about which home theater system is best for you? Take a look at what we have to offer here at ELAC, and feel free to reach out and tell us about your dream home theater system. We’d love to help.