The importance of speaker placement, wiring a home for sound

Week of November 7, 2004

Q: My house is in the construction phase and I am having it wired for a home theater surround system. After researching alignment in many online discussion forums, I feel that I may not have a huge alignment error. Not being very educated with home theater, I ordered the wiring for the three front speakers and two surround speakers to be wired one foot down from the ceiling and one foot in from all corners, with little extra wire available. The discussion forums seem to indicate that placing the speakers there would not yield very good sound.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could provide me with some information on how my home should be wired to achieve good sound.

-Scott Charron, Orlando, FL

A: Speaker placement is absolutely critical to achieving good sound quality- as important as the speakers you choose for your system. The speakers and the room interact with each other and it has a large effect on sound quality.

Most speakers are designed to be placed so the tweeter is at or close to ear level. With only a small amount of wire coming out a foot down from the ceiling, this will be almost impossible to achieve with the front speakers, and being so close to the corner you may find some undesirable interactions with the walls as well. The surround speakers are not quite as critical but you want to have some flexibility with the placement.

You will want to be able to adjust speaker distance from the rear and side walls, as well.   What you need is an approach that will allow maximum flexibility when you place your own speakers, as well as for the next owner should you ever sell your house.

Wall jacks are available for in-wall wiring installations. If you think of an ordinary AC electrical outlet but with speaker wire terminals, you will have the right idea. They are very inexpensive and are available for sale online or through your local custom home theater installer. Be sure to buy jacks with tarnish-free gold wire connections.

The installer should place jacks for the front, center and surround speakers on the wall near where your receiver will be located. Have them run wire from these jacks to speaker jacks located on the walls near the projected location of the speakers. Have them place the jacks a foot or so up from the floor, like an ordinary AC outlet, using 12-gauge wire in the walls between the jacks.

When you move in and set up your sound system, connect your receiver’s speaker outputs to the receiver jacks using ordinary speaker wire.

Connect the speakers to their corresponding jacks, again, using ordinary speaker wire. Leave some extra wire when you connect them so you can experiment with placement. When you have determined the ideal locations for your speakers, terminate the wire to a more appropriate length.

A final tip regarding speaker placement: anyone, even those who are not doing custom wiring, can probably move their speakers a bit and improve sound quality. If you are not an audiophile and did not take an inch-by-inch approach to speaker placement when you first set up your speakers, you may have sound quality “still on the table”, so to speak. Sit in your normal listening spot and have someone move the speakers around bit by bit- closer to the side and rear walls, toeing them in towards the listening position. Sometimes even an inch of movement can make a big difference in the way your system sounds!

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