Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Skip to main content

Home Theater Speaker Sound Calibration Guide

By April 5th, 2022Home Theater, Technology

Home Theater Speaker
Sound Calibration Guide

speaker set up guide on tv
Home Theater Speaker Sound Calibration Guide

There is much that goes into setting up a home theater space. There’s no doubt buying a new TV or installing a projector system is exciting. You probably spent a lot of time deciding which option was best for you and considering which screen tech would deliver the most immersive experience. Enjoying incredible picture quality is only one part of an immersive home theater experience.

The second part is ensuring you enjoy world-class sound quality. To achieve this, you need to ensure you calibrate your speakers correctly.

It's never been easier to get fantastic sound, but beware!

speaker next to plant
black speaker next to a desk

Today, even the most basic home theater speakers come with auto-setup features. You can lay out your speakers, plug them in, press go, and everything is done for you.

Knowing this, you’re probably wondering why you need to be reading this, or even why a guide to home theater sound calibration exists!

If you’re not much of a techy person yourself but love your home theater, the idea of standing around with a decibel meter probably couldn’t be more unappealing!

However, if you're looking for the very best sound quality, beware that these auto-setups don't always deliver what you want.
Stereo Info

Even relatively small adjustments to things like EQ can lead to your speakers delivering a sub-par performance. If you’ve spent thousands of dollars on a speaker system, this is the last thing you want to happen!

If you know what you’re doing when setting up your speaker system, you could potentially spend a little less on your kit but still enjoy the highest quality sounds.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know to do just that!

Understanding your surround sound system

blue speaker next to flowers
skinny blue speaker next to flowers

What type of sound system do you have?

We’re talking on simple terms here. In this context, you’ll either have:

“Out of the box” sound system

An “out of the box” sound system from a specific manufacturer, such as Sony. You’ll have a smaller window of opportunity to tweak and fully optimize your sound with this option. However, you can still perform a manual setup and achieve a high-quality, immersive sound experience.

sony speaker set

A custom sound system

A custom sound system, where you have purchased individual components from different manufacturers. It’s relatively common for experienced buyers to opt for different brands for specific types of speaker.

For example, if you know what you’re doing and what you’re looking for, you might choose a subwoofer from one particular brand or even select a different speaker manufacturer for speakers in various positions within your setup.

custom black sound system

If you buy an “out of the box” system, that’s when you’re more likely to be confronted with auto-setup options. Even so, we recommend you continue through this guide to make sure you get the best sound possible for your home theater system.

Before you start: Ensuring all your speakers are correctly connected

black speaker next to a plant
small black speaker on a desk

Before you get started with the broader calibration process and start thinking about positioning, make sure everything is connected correctly.

This is one area where you can use your guide to help you.

If you’re buying a fully wired speaker system,

make sure you have enough wire length to achieve the setup you want at home.

two black speakers and a subwoofer
surround sound black speaker set
If you're purchasing a wireless surround sound system,

this won’t be a problem! However, you’ll still need to ensure that all your components can identify and communicate with each other. This is even more vital if you’ve gone down the custom route and have different parts from separate manufacturers.

Run a quick test to check that all your speakers can produce sound before moving into the more detailed calibration process.

Positioning your speakers depending on your surround sound setup

blue speaker next to plant
small blue speaker on a desk
One of the most critical aspects of calibrating your home theater sound system is getting the positioning of your speakers right.

If your positioning is even a little off, you might end up sacrificing some sound quality. You’ll still be able to calibrate your speakers, but you won’t achieve an optimal sound experience.

This next section will explore everything you need to know about positioning your speakers.

General speaker positioning tips

We’re about to get into looking at specific speaker setups and positioning, as well as what to do if you’re looking to install your speakers into your ceiling, floor, or walls.

If you’re not doing any of those, then the first thing you need to consider is the height of your speakers.

Black Speaker

For optimal sound output – and the best calibration result – your speakers should be as close to your seated head height as possible.

Large black speaker with sound waves coming out of it

You can find a vast range of surround sound speaker stands both online and from your local consumer electronics store. If you have invested in custom décor for your home theater, it can be worth getting stands custom made, so they don’t look out of place!

If you have added home theater seat risers to your space, you can still achieve great sound by having speakers on slightly different levels.

Some manufacturers even produce speaker stands of different sizes to account for this and help you ensure everyone enjoys the same immersive sound experience!

Positioning your subwoofer

You could spend all day reading articles about the best place to put your subwoofer.

Save yourself the time because it doesn't matter where it sits, specifically in relation to the rest of your speaker system.
small white subwoofer
1
However, we suggest you place your subwoofer in the corner or against a wall for best results, considering the sounds and effects this piece of kit will generate.
2
They don’t need to be flush against the wall; around a foot away, but no further, is ideal if you have space.
3
Try to avoid placing it in an entertainment cabinet or another piece of furniture, as this will dampen the effects of its sound. Ideally, your subwoofer will have plenty of room around it!

5.1 surround sound setup

The specific positioning of your speakers will depend heavily on how many speakers you have.

5.1 is considered a typical surround sound setup, meaning you have five speakers, one subwoofer, and an amplifier or receiver. Your five speakers will be called center, left, right, left surround, and right surround in such a system.
img_tv_speaker_1

Your center speaker should go where your TV is. If your TV is wall-mounted, then the speaker will likely go and work best below it, and vice versa if your TV is on a stand on the floor. If you're reading this guide before starting your home theater, think about the space you'll need and speaker positioning when choosing a TV and overall setup!

img_tv_speaker_2.png

With the center speaker in position, you next place the left and right speakers in front of you, to the left and right of your TV as you look at it. Ideally, these should sit on the same angle as your center speaker and as close as possible to the same height, so the sound reaches you at the same time.

img_tv_speaker_3.png

However, you should try and position them as far apart as you can, but with all three equidistant from your seats. Placing your front speakers wider apart gives you a wider listening field. This prevents sound from becoming concentrated in the center of your room and potentially diluting the listening experience.

img_tv_speaker_4.png

Finally, place the left surround and right surround speakers to the side of you. These speakers deal with any rear sounds and effects. Although you're not "surrounded" in the traditional sense because the speakers aren't behind you, you'll still enjoy an immersive surround sound experience.

6.1 surround sound setup

In a 6.1 setup, you position your speakers precisely as you would for a 5.1 configuration, with an additional speaker located centrally behind you.

couch facing tv
surround sound grow in speakers
birds eye view of seven speakers facing a couch in front of a TV

Ideally, you’ll have at least a few feet of space behind in which to position your speaker. This allows you to get the maximum benefit from your sound system and really feel the difference of having authentic surround sound.

Something else to consider if you’re starting your home theater from scratch!

7.1 surround sound setup

With a 7.1 surround sound setup, you have two speakers behind you – left and right speakers, rather than a single speaker centrally.

couch facing tv
surround sound grow in speakers
birds eye view of seven speakers facing a couch in front of a TV

This setup is considered the best as you get a comprehensive and consistent field of sound, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a home theater space where you can have your seating directly in the center of the room!

Other potential surround sound setups & adding a second subwoofer

You don’t need to stick to these three setups! In truth, you can add as many speakers as you like, while adding a second subwoofer is also common.

If you opt for a dual subwoofer set up, look to position them opposite each other so you again maximize the field of sound and feel the full benefit of the bass and other effects they'll provide and enhance.
birds eye view of purple couch facing a television
subwoofer sound output
birds eye view of two subwoofers next to a purple couch facing a TV

The ideal setup for two subwoofers is to position both centrally, with one in front of you and another behind you. However, as with adding the central rear speaker in a 6.1 setup, you need to ensure you have at least a few feet between your head and where you’ll place the subwoofer!

Positioning your speakers for 3D sound

Depending on just how immersive you want your home theater sound experience to be, you might be considering creating 3D sound.

While some manufacturers will provide “out of the box” 3D audio solutions, you can easily create your own. However, you should ensure you opt for Dolby Atmos or DTS:X speakers for the best experience.

dtsx logo and dolby logo
dtsX and Dolby logos
When opting for 3D audio, you’ll typically end up with either a 9.1 or 11.1 surround sound system, assuming you stick with one subwoofer.

If you add a subwoofer for an even more immersive experience, you’ll then have a 9.2 or 11.2 setup.

It is possible to create 3D audio from a 5.1 or 6.1 system. Still, if you want sound coming from above and below, we recommend building up to a 7.1 system first and then turning your full surround sound system into a 3D audio setup.

What are your options when it comes to 3D audio?

1: Floor and ceiling speakers

This is perhaps the most authentic version of 3D audio, especially if you can get your speakers installed into the floor or ceiling.

four connecting speakers
3D audio
five connected speakers

However, depending on the size, and specifically the height, of your home theater, you may wish to consider whether this is the right option for you. We look in more detail at what you need to think about before putting speakers in the ceiling shortly.

Option 2: 7.1 plus front 3D speakers

This option allows you to create a 9.1 surround sound system. With this option, you need two upward-firing speakers. Mount these on top of your front and left speakers. If you cannot place them on top of your existing speakers for whatever reason, place them as high as possible, ideally within a few feet of these speakers.

two connected speakers
surround sound
seven connected speakers
Option 3: Option 2 plus 3D speakers on your surround speakers

To create an 11.1 surround sound system, you would need to do the same as in option two while also adding upward-firing speakers to both surround speakers.

four connected speakers
surround sound
seven connected speakers

If you’re creating a 3D audio experience with an existing 5.1 system, do the same, you just won’t have the rear sound from your regular speakers!

What to consider if you’re wall mounting your speakers

Wall-mounted speakers can be an excellent option for your home theater, especially if you’re able to wire them into the wall, so you don’t have visible cable running everywhere.

Naturally, you might want them a little higher, especially if your kids are allowed in your home theater space!

person mounting speakers
mounting line
dotted line
height line

There’s nothing wrong with having your speakers higher than your head listening height (and out of reach of small hands!) if you’re putting them on the wall.

person next to a speaker

There’s nothing wrong with having your speakers higher than your head listening height (and out of reach of small hands!) if you’re putting them on the wall.

Still, to maintain sound quality, you should aim to have your speakers as close as possible to the mid-height point of your walls.

Otherwise, you’re good to follow the general tips above!

What to consider if you’re putting speakers on or in the ceiling

Installing your speakers in or on the ceiling is a great way to save space and might even make your home theater feel a little futuristic!

However, whether having ceiling fitted or mounted speakers will improve your sound quality might come down to the location of your home theater space in your home.

For example,

Dolby suggests that an optimal sound experience from ceiling speakers comes between heights of 7.5 and 12 feet, with a maximum recommended ceiling height of 14 feet.

speakers on ceiling
Minimum height 7.5-12 feet
maximum 14 feet

For example,

Dolby suggests that an optimal sound experience from ceiling speakers comes between heights of 7.5 and 12 feet, with a maximum recommended ceiling height of 14 feet.

ceiling 14 feet high

Unless you live in an older property, it’s unlikely any ceiling in your home will get close to 14 feet!

However, many home theaters are found in attic or basement spaces. In some cases, this will mean the ceiling is relatively low. If your ceiling isn’t much higher than seven feet, consider how much you want speakers in the ceiling!

Mounting speakers onto the ceiling will also only work if they're above your speakers, so you're not continually trying to avoid them when moving around your home theater!
Speaker Info

While this is a solution, it will narrow your field of sound and reduce the quality of the sound experience you enjoy.

If you have more space and wish to mount your speakers on your ceiling rather than having floor-standing or wall-mounted speakers, the same recommendations apply regarding height. Otherwise, you should make sure you position your speakers equidistant from your walls.

Testing and calibrating your home theater speakers

speaker next to plant
small black speaker on a desk

Now that you know how to position your speakers, you can get to work on calibrating them and ensuring you can get incredible sound out of them! The next sections of this guide will help you achieve precisely that.

Displaying your receiver menu on your TV

First things first. To ensure you can set up your home theater speakers in as stress-free a manner as possible, you need to ensure you can get your receiver’s on-screen display on your TV. Otherwise, you’ll be left doing it using your receiver’s small LCD display, which isn’t easy!

Thankfully, modern receivers can typically easily connect to your TV and display via HDMI cable.

Silver and Black bluetooth stereo

However, if you’re using an old-school receiver, you’ll need to ensure you have an RCA cable handy to connect to your TV’s yellow video input jack

yellow, white, and red cables

If you have a modern receiver, once connected, you should be able to press the “Menu” or “Setup” buttons on your receiver remote and get started on your TV screen.

television remote

Understanding your receiver and options

Even if this is your first time setting up home theater speakers and a surround sound system, we recommend you spend some time playing around with your receiver’s menu and getting to learn what the settings are and what they do.

Could you read the manual? Sure, you could, but getting to know what you can do with your receiver will make it easier when you want to make changes to your speaker setup or tweak your settings.

Plus, your friends will be much more impressed if you’re able to bring up the menu and fix an issue rather than having to spend 20 minutes going through your manual to discover what settings you need to change!

Speaker distance settings

Remember our advice about creating the right distances between your speakers and between your sound system and your seating area? You’re now going to measure these and input them into your receiver menu. This allows your sound system to work out precisely what it needs to do for you to experience high-quality, calibrated sound.

img_speaker_distans_1

First, find the speaker distance settings for your receiver in the on-screen menu.

img_speaker_distans_2

You'll also need a pen or pencil, a notepad, and a tape measure. Achieving incredible sound means you need exact measurements here and don't resort to guessing or approximations!

img_speaker_distans_3

For each speaker, you’re looking to measure the distance from the front of the speaker to where your head will be when sitting in your home theater seats. Your receiver will then prompt you to input these for each speaker.

If you need to make sure you put your speakers in the right place – especially the left and right speakers as you face the TV and not the other way round, then do so.

The best receivers will ask for measurements in inches to give you a really precise and unforgettable sound experience. In contrast, some models may only ask you for measurements to the nearest foot or half a foot. Keep this in mind as something to ask about and look out for when buying a receiver!

Speaker crossovers

Speaker crossover settings are often the most easily misunderstood, especially by those new to home theater or who are correctly calibrating speakers for the first time. The big problem with that? Getting it wrong can create huge issues with your calibration and ruin your home theater experience.

Ensure you follow the guidance here closely and get it right.

First, what is speaker crossover?

In this context, it means the point when your amplifier or receiver stops sending bass sounds to your speakers and instead sends them to your subwoofer.

stereo with speaker and subwoofer next to it
subwoofer pulse
silver and black stereo with sound waves coming from it

The crossover setting you need will depend on how good a job your speakers do of producing bass sounds. Essentially, when you reach the point where your speakers can’t produce the necessary sound, you want your subwoofer to take over. As such, different sound systems will have different crossover settings.

Luckily, you don’t have to leave your crossover settings to chance! Speaker manufacturers tell you in their tech specs the frequency at which your speakers stop producing bass.

Look out for something like
frequency-img

Frequency Response

look-icon-1
look-icon-2
That means your speakers can play bass up to 60Hz

We recommend you add 20Hz onto this setting, as by the time you get to the very limit of your speakers’ capabilities, performance will already be starting to wane, and you’ll notice a difference in sound quality.

If you have a modern, higher-end receiver, you'll be able to set speaker crossovers for each speaker on an individual basis.
speaker test

If your speakers are different sizes, then you will typically need different crossover settings for each speaker. However, again the manufacturer should tell you what levels of bass each speaker can handle. If you have the same sized speakers throughout your surround sound system, then your crossover settings should be the same for each.

black crossover speaker

Sometimes, you’ll be asked only if your speakers are “large” or “small,” and then have to input your desired crossover frequency. Unfortunately, if you have speakers of different sizes, you won’t achieve 100% crisp, uniform crossover, but you can certainly get pretty close to it! In this situation, you should set the crossover point around the lowest frequency of your small speakers.

Black Speaker

Recommended speaker crossover

look-icon-2

Set the crossover at

look-icon-3
Within your crossover options, you will also have a separate setting for your subwoofer.

Typically, you will be able to choose whether your subwoofer reproduces the bass sent to your front speakers or whether to use it exclusively for low-frequency sounds and effects. This is one area of your settings you can test and see what you prefer. If you have high-end speakers, it’s often worth letting them handle the bass, so you really feel the impact when the subwoofer comes into play. If your speakers are lower end, then use your subwoofer in conjunction with them to give your sound experience a boost.

Speaker-level calibration

Almost there!

Now that you’ve told your receiver how big your speakers are, how far away from them you’re going to be sitting, and optimized your crossover settings, you can move onto balancing your speaker volumes relative to your seating position. Undertaking this final step equalizes the sound you hear and is particularly vital if your home theater setup means you’re unable to have your seats in the center of your room with speakers equidistant from you.

A hand holding a white microphone

You can do this by ear, but you’ll get much better results if you use a decibel meter.

While decibel meters are relatively affordable, you’ll also find decibel meter apps on both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store for Android devices.

app store and google play logos
App store logo and Google play logo

Apps aren’t as accurate as physical decibel meters. Still, they’ll do a good enough job, especially temporarily if you’re waiting for the decibel meter you want to restock.

Using the speaker level settings on your receiver, you’ll be able to trigger a “test tone,” which will allow you to measure the output of your speakers. You can then amend the output level as you need to.

Calibrating your speakers by ear

If you’re calibrating your speakers by ear, the best way to do it is to ensure you’re happy with the sound from the first speaker you test. Then, aim to ensure each speaker is as loud as the one you just set up. Doing it this way will make it easier to identify where you’ve gone wrong if your last speaker is vastly different in volume to the first – like a game of Telephone!

grey speaker
Girl wearing pink listening to music
Young girl listening to a speaker closely
Calibrating your speakers with a decibel meter

If you have a decibel meter, follow the below process:

1

Sit in your central seating position in your home theater seats.
2

Turn on the decibel meter and set the dial to 70dB – this is simply our recommendation; you can choose whichever level you like.
3

Set the weighting to “C” and the response to “Slow.”
4

Hold the decibel meter in front of your face, with the microphone pointing straight up towards the ceiling. It would be best if you didn't point the decibel meter at individual speakers, as this will distort your sound experience when done.
5

Use your receiver settings to trigger the "test tone" and adjust the volume of each, so your decibel meter gives the same reading.

Calibrating your subwoofer

Your decibel meter typically won’t read the low frequencies from your subwoofer as well as it can your speakers.

One way to calibrate your subwoofer is to find a conversion chart. However, it’s much easier to do it by ear, and you’ll be able to produce a setting that perfectly suits your home theater and sound preferences.

To calibrate your subwoofer, do the following:

1

Set your subwoofer volume to the halfway point or the manufacturer's recommendation.
2

Use the same receiver settings as you did for your speakers to trigger the test tone for the subwoofer.
3

The ideal level to reach with your test tone is a volume where the subwoofer is only just starting to shake the room. Don’t go higher, as real bass sounds will be much louder and blow you away if you do!
4

Test your subwoofer by watching a movie or listening to music you're familiar with. Adjust your subwoofer settings accordingly, depending on whether you want to decrease or increase the bass levels. If you have completed your crossover settings correctly, you shouldn't need to make any adjustments other than to the subwoofer volume.

What if you change your speaker setup in future?

black speaker on a desk
small black speaker next to a laptop

Once your speakers are calibrated, and you’re happy you’ve achieved as close to a “reference” sound (the sound the movie or show makers envisaged you experiencing) as possible, try not to touch anything! If you need to make any changes to your speaker settings once you’re set up, use your amplifier or receiver settings to achieve the desired effect.

Otherwise, we recommend you recalibrate your speaker setup whenever anything changes, including:

white dots

If you change any of your speakers or subwoofer.

white circle

If you add a second subwoofer or additional speakers, such as changing from a 5.1 to a 7.1 or turning surround sound into 3D audio.

last block icon

If you change your home theater’s configuration or layout, including the position of your seats and speakers, or if you mount your speakers onto the wall or ceiling.

You don’t necessarily need to recalibrate your speakers if you change TV (although we would do it anyway), but for anything else, you should do.

Calibrating your home theater speakers

blue speaker on a desk
small blue speaker next to a computer

If you have new speakers or have just calibrated your surround sound system, we suggest you watch at least two or three movies (ideally ones you’re familiar with so you know what they should sound like) before making any tweaks to your system. Even the best speakers may require a short period of “breaking in.” If you start making tweaks too early or decide after 30 minutes that you’re not happy, the chances are that you’ll spend your life making changes and never settle on something you’re happy with.

Furthermore, taking longer before deciding to make a change will help you understand exactly what the issue is, informing the specific tweaks you need to make.

Once you’re happy with your setup, all that’s left for you to do is kick back and enjoy your home theater in all its glory!