While TV sets have gotten thinner over the years, their sounds have not gotten any better.
No home theater experience is complete without the best sound system paired with the best video system. Luckily there are different home audio options to choose from that would meet your budget, your home entertainment needs, and personal tastes.
However, making the right choice for the best home theater entertainment sound equipment requires know-how. This post looks at different types of home theater audio systems available, from soundbars to stereo speakers to full-blown, amped-up, surround-sound speaker packages.
By the end of the post, making the right choice for the best sound system for what you want to achieve should be less overwhelming.
Surround Sound Speakers
A surround sound format is what tells your soundbar or home theater receiver exactly which sounds to send to certain speakers. There are two major companies that specialize in surround sound format; Dolby (Atmos or TrueHD) and DTS (DTS-HD or DTSX).
Home Theater receivers are categorized by a set of numbers or channels. These numbers refer to the number of speakers that the receiver actually supports. For example, a 7.2 receiver means the receiver supports 7 full-range speakers and 2 subwoofer speakers.
A basic home theater surround sound setup is considered a 5.1 receiver. That includes a center channel, two main speakers, two surround speakers, and a subwoofer.
Receivers such as 7.2 or 9.2 come with more speakers which can cater to high channels, wide channels, or even ceiling speakers. Dolby Atmos and DTSX formats come with overhead speakers.
Overhead or ceiling speakers provide more immersive (aerial) sound experience such as raindrops or airplane flying and so on.
Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers come with top mounted speakers that allow sound to reflect off the ceiling and bounce back towards the listener to emulate ceiling-mounted audio experience. While they are a good alternative the sound is not as effective as actual in-ceiling speakers. That often times depend on the room configuration it is installed in.
If you want Dolby Atmos but are not looking at a full home theater audio setup, Dolby Atmos soundbars are a good alternative (the one that reflects sound off the ceiling).
Soundbars are slim, unobtrusive and together with a small footprint, they are really easy to set up.
They come either with or without subwoofers. Some soundbars produce enough bass on their own to still be a big improvement over TV speakers. They are generally as good as other sound systems.
Moreover, a subwoofer with a rich bass sound adds a lot of punch and generally helps fill a room with sound. These days, most soundbars subwoofers are wireless. They connect automatically once connected to a wall outlet and can be located farther away from the soundbar.
Easy to connect, most soundbars are designed so that one cable comes from the TV to provide the audio signal. An optical digital cable is normally good enough, but a soundbar that connects via an HDMI cable provides more support for a range of audio formats. That means you get better sound quality and more immersive surround sound experience depending on the soundbar.
HDMI (TV)-ARC is a feature that makes everything simpler and easy to use. ARC lets the TV communicate with the soundbar. It can send audio signals to the soundbar, and it allows you to use one remote to control the volume.
Certain soundbars can also act as a hub for home entertainment gear. That means all your gear plugs into the soundbar and just one HDMI cable runs up to the TV.
Soundbars that include a third digit like 5.1.4 (see surround sound above) means it uses Dolby Atmos (which bounces sound off the ceiling).
These are just some of the main features and surround options for soundbars. Their prices also vary widely according to what features they provide.
Soundbars Mounting Tips
Mount the sound bar if your TV is wall-mounted unless you have an individual stand just for the soundbar. Some models allow you to sit your TV right on top of the soundbar. There are soundbars that can be split into two, where sounds will be coming from the sides of the TV rather than underneath it. This allows for right and left full stereo sounds.
If wall mounting the soundbar look for one that closely matches the width/length of the TV for a better look.
Soundbase is another home theater audio equipment option. A good soundbase can provide as great sound quality as a good soundbar without a subwoofer. These speakers are set underneath your TV.
Check measurements to make sure the soundbar will either fit on the surface of the soundbase, or the soundbase will slide under the TV and fit between its legs.
Finally, choose a soundbar if you will be using it in a relatively square room (ideally small apartment or room) as it works by bouncing sound around to enhance the surround sound. For larger rooms, premium sound bars that include up to seven individual speakers will be a better option.
Home Theater-in-a-box system
This home theater audio system is the one to choose if you are looking for a single package true surround sound system.
The most common system known as the 5.1 channel surround-sound (5 speakers and 1 subwoofer).
A typical 5.1 setup comes with the following:
- A left and right speaker on either side of the TV for soundtracks and special effects
- A center channel speaker in front of or below the TV for dialogue and other on-screen action
- Two rear speakers for atmospheric and directional sound effects
- A subwoofer usually placed off to the side or in the corner for deeper bass
Depending on the room configuration and size, a 7.1-channel system would be a good option. It is very popular and usually adds side speakers to the set up for a more complete surround-sound effect.
All of these systems either include a dedicated A/V receiver or a Blu-ray player. If you don’t need either of these, you can also just choose a speaker system package.
Build your own Home Theater Audio system
Building your own home theater audio system from scratch gives you the flexibility to choose the type of system you want to set up. It also allows for building the setup over time it starting on a limited budget or just experiment and see which setup will work best.
You can start with two powerful floor speakers for rich stereo sound that provides high-quality audio for listening to music. Later on, as you build your home theater system, you can add a center-channel speaker for clearer movie dialogue, then add a subwoofer for even more powerful bass, and finally purchase rear speakers for the full surround-sound experience.
Home Theater System Universal Remote Control
Instead of using multiple remote for your Home Theater system, a universal remote will allow you to control everything from a single device. There are small hubs that can connect your smartphone to be used as your home theater remote control device.
There are various options to choose from, but one that lets you set up activities will automatically turn everything on or off with one button.
A universal remote can also be used to control other devices (such as lights, thermostats, and other ‘smart’ functions) in your home. For instance, RF-capable universal remotes with RF extenders allow you to control devices that are behind closed doors, walls and inside cabinets.
Alternatively, using your voice you can control your home theater system using either the Google Home or Amazon Echo.
Voice control using Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa
Home theater system now comes with smart technology which is the ability to control other devices by voice commands. TV remotes with built-in mics and “push to talk” functionality, for example, to search for TV shows and movies, are common these days.
Home Theater Accessories
In order to protect all your home theater equipment from a power surge or a lightning storm, investing in a good power surge protector is a wise decision.
A surge protector with a dual rating or a power conditioner if your budget allows for it is highly recommended.
Depending on how powerful your speakers are, you may have to look for thicker gauge wire.
Speaker cable with a gauge between 16 and 14 is usually good enough, but no less than 16 gauge wire.
A 100-foot spool is usually enough for most rooms.
Banana plugs are also needed to make your installation easier and cleaner.
If using a projector instead of a TV, you’ll need a media player (such as a Blue-ray player) which you may already own. Unlike smart TV most projectors don’t come with built-in apps to play movies. In order to play 4K contents on your 4K TV or projector, the media player should support 4K contents.
Home Theater Audio System – Conclusion
Choosing home theater speakers largely depends on individual taste. There are ways to find what works best for your room size and shape. Good sound will always be appreciated no matter what. As such, it’s always recommended to listen to the speakers before deciding which one to go for.
Choosing a Soundbar
If a soundbar is going to be placed on an entertainment stand, make sure the height of the bar is not going to block the TV infrared. Some soundbars have IR repeaters to work around this by passing the infrared signal back to the TV. Even so, make sure the soundbar is not as tall as to block any of the TV picture or display area.
Choosing Floor Speakers
When setting up floor speakers, the center channel should be directly under your screen/TV. The main speakers should be at least 6 feet apart on the sides of your screen/TV.
As for surround sound speakers, Dolby recommends installing them at or just above ear level. This really depends on your personal taste and there is much room for experimentation to find the sounds that work best for your system.
Best subwoofer placement
When it comes to the subwoofer, if you have more than one place in your room to it can go, then you can test through the subwoofer crawl. What that entails is placing the subwoofer in your seat and play something through the subwoofer. Then crawl around on the floor where you think the subwoofer might be placed and listen to find the best spot to put the subwoofer.
Check out the following related post on setting up your home theater system:
- Home Theater Buying Guide, Digital Trends