Posted Wednesday 5th November 2014 at 10:02am
What is Surround Sound?
Like the name suggests 5.1 surround sound is simply sound that surrounds you when you are watching your favourite movie or TV show. The "5" in 5.1 represents the 5 speaker positions: Front Left, Front Centre, Front Right, Rear Left and Rear Right. The ".1" is the number of subwoofers or sub sonic speaker drivers. These devices deliver the punch in an explosion sound. 7.1 systems have an additional left and right pair of speakers either placed at the front "presence speakers" or at the rear "surround back speakers".
DTS, Dolby Digital, NEO6 & Pro-Logic are all varieties of the same thing. Some are infinity better quality than others. Most quality surround sound amplifiers support the new high definition formats that are now on Blu-ray DVDs like Dolby True HD, DTS HD Master. These latter formats deliver a very high resolution digital audio signal. When listening on quality speakers that have been installed correctly, the comparison to the standard dolby digital is chalk and cheese. One of the most common comments we get from our clients the very first time they hear their new system is that they've never heard such detail in a movie before. They now hear instruments in the score and sound effects that they'd never noticed on their old system.
A good surround sound speaker system will have you feeling like you are in the middle of the action, like sitting in the crowd watching a world cup football match or being in the middle of a war zone of a hollywood block buster, there really is nothing quite like it. Our advice is allow at least 40-50% of your overall budget for a quality surround sound system.
Where should 5.1 and 7.1 speakers be placed?
5.1 surround sound speakers ideally should have the centre speaker at 0º and the front left and right speakers at 30º from centre. The rear surround left and right speakers should be between 110-150º from the centre speaker.
If you are able to place your speakers in these positions then you'll be either very lucky or you've put a lot of thought into where the doors, windows and furniture are located. The truth is, speaker placement is nearly always a compromise. If you keep the ideal positions in mind when planning where to put your speakers, you're off to a good start.
Ceiling or flush mounted wall speakers are generally speaking not as good as good quality speaker boxes. Having said that, they can still offer good quality sound if you choose the right speakers. We have tried and tested many brands. Prices range from $400 up to $4500 per pair. We recommend Sonance, Triad and Flatline acoustic speakers. Click here to read more about these speakers.
Getting the cables to the speakers
Another thing to keep in mind with regard to ceiling mounted speakers is, make sure you know what you're doing before you cut an 8” hole in your ceiling. Can you get speaker cables back to your amplifier? Are there any roof trusses or paster-board battens where you want the hole? Use your stud finder, remove down-lights and if possible peer through these holes into the roof cavity, or the best option is, if possible, get into the roof space and using measurements to the nearest walls, check that you can indeed miss everything you need to miss and then cut the holes from below.
Other things to consider
Wireless surround sound speakers systems are nice in theory but not yet up to the standards most of us expect and the term “wireless” is a little misleading. 240V power to the wireless receiver and speaker cable from the receiver to the speakers are still required. Will you need speaker stands for the speakers? If so, will they be in an area that leaves them prone to being knocked over? If so, consider wall mounts. If this is the approach know the weight of the speakers. Make sure the mounts can handle more than the speakers weigh by at least 15%. Also make sure the mounts are secure in the walls. Don't screw a 10kg speaker on a plasterboard wall unless you want to find out what is behind the wall the hard way. Wallmates maybe OK for small speakers that weigh less than 1 or 2kg, but larger wall mounted speakers should have a solid mounting point like a stud or noggin behind the plasterboard.
Do you have something to place all the equipment on that is safe and accessible? Wall units are nice, my wife loves them, but they often limit access to the back of the equipment. Movable stands are also nice, they roll out for rear access but make sure they are strong enough for your system. Get the specs and add up the weight before you hear a crash one night and come into your entertainment room to see a pile of wood, wires and equipment on the floor.
Above all else, take your time. Do not rush any stage of setting up your home theatre. A few additional moments now will save you a lot of time undoing a mistake. It's like the old carpenter's saying, measure twice and cut once. You are going to have many, many hours of enjoyment from your system, take some extra time to make sure you do it right. This goes especially for measuring and running the speaker wires, setting up the cables behind the equipment and deciding which inputs and outputs on your amplifier and other equipment. Each extra few minutes spent in proper setup will save you hours fixing something later on.