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Setting Up a Surround Sound System

All these different approaches and channel configurations beg the question—how should you set up the speakers in your home theater surround system? The answer is surprisingly simple, as each new addition is just that—an addition to the basic plan.

We'll start at the front of the room. No matter which system you're working with, matrix or discrete, you have three audio channels—left, center, and right. So that's how you position your speakers. The center channel goes on top of or beneath your television screen, the left speaker goes to the left, and the right speaker goes to the right. Simple enough so far.

Now we have the surround speakers. Notice that I called them surround speakers, not rear speakers. Most people call them rear speakers, but most people are wrong. They're technically used for surround effects, which means that they need to surround you. So put these speakers to the sides of the listening area—not to the rear. The best position is on a plane with the main listener's ears, or just slightly behind that, on the side walls.

If you have a 6.1-channel EX or ES system, you have another speaker to deal with. This one most definitely is a rear speaker, and that's where it should go—directly behind you. If you have a 7.1-channel system, position two speakers behind you—one to the rear left, one to the rear right.

The only other speaker you have to worry about is the subwoofer, and it's not much of a worry. Sound in that low frequency range isn't directional, so it really doesn't matter where you put the speaker. Most folks stick it in the front of the room, only because it's easier to run a short speaker wire than a long one. In some rooms, you might get a little better bass if you position the subwoofer next to a wall or (even better) a corner, but that's kind of a trial-and-error thing. Probably best just to stick it in a place where no one will trip over it.

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