Learning how to setup at-home surround sound audio has never been easier. If you wanted to implement such a system back in the early-2000s, you needed an audio expert. But not in the modern world of today. Nowadays, all you need is the internet, and your eyes peeled back.
Online tutorials and surround sound system guides from experts have simplified the whole process. So let’s find out more about surround sound and the best ways to set up a home theater. It all sounds great, doesn’t it? It will do if you follow these steps…
The Invention of Surround Sound Audio
Surround sound is a relatively new concept first invented over the past 30 years, right? Wrong. Did you know that surround sound was first discovered way back in the 1930s?
The first experiments that culminated in surround sound were from that time. However, the technology was firstly used by Walt Disney in the revolutionary movie “Fantasia” in the 1940s.
We’ve had 80 to 90 years to perfect surround sound technology. And boy, have we perfected it, especially over the past 20 years. Surround sound systems today bring the cinema to your living room. They’re so accessible and affordable. It’s no wonder that movie cinemas are becoming a thing of the past because you can have your own home theater system.
What is Surround Sound Audio?
The simple definition of ‘Surround Sound’ audio would be a system of stereophonic sound with three or more speakers that surround the listener from every side. This creates the most realistic sound effects for movies and TV shows. That’s the simple definition. But obviously, there is much more to this ground-breaking audio concept.
When compared to the standard 2.1 stereo setup, it’s like night and day. Surround sound is not just a different league; it’s a different sport entirely. The important thing to remember is the more audio channels (speakers) you use, the more realistic the sound becomes.
Understanding the current configurations…
There are currently three popular surround sound configurations: 5.1, 7.1, and 9.1. But what do these figures mean? The first number denotes how many speakers are in your system. The second number shows how many low-frequency channels exist. This low-pass filter can deal with frequencies lower than 120Hz.
Some sound systems have three digits instead of two. It’s not uncommon to see a sound system using a combination of numbers such as 5.1.4. In this case, the first number is the number of speakers as usual. The last number denotes an aerial speaker. If you want to learn how to setup at-home surround sound audio, an aerial speaker is a proverbial cherry on top.
Standard 5.1 Surround Sound Configuration
Do you see the term ‘5.1 surround sound’ everywhere and wonder what it means? It’s the standard surround sound system configuration. This system consists of six channels, which combine five speakers and a subwoofer. The subwoofer is to channel low-frequency bass sounds that give any system that deep and booming feel.
This is the most uncomplicated surround sound audio system that has all the elements you need. The setup will culminate in a very full and balanced wall of sound.
This is achieved by three front channels (speakers), two rear channels, and the subwoofer. If you use DVD or BlueRay, this is the ultimate setup. And if you have a Dolby Digital or Dolby DTS system, 5.1 is also compatible.
Understanding Your Surround Sound System Components
Now we have assimilated some of the basics; it’s time to get down to brass tacks. What hardware devices and accessories do you need to create the perfect surround sound for your home theater? We have to discuss this before we can even contemplate implementing surround sound at home.
Do you need an Audio Visual (AV) Receiver?
Your system might need an Audio Visual (AV) receiver. Some systems need one, and others don’t. For those who don’t know, an AV receiver can receive multiple audio and visual signals at once from numerous devices. The AV will process and amplify the signals and send them to your display and speakers.
Those who need an AV probably have an older system that doesn’t support modern connections such as HDMI ARC. Newer surround sound systems don’t need a receiver due to the HDMI connections. This consolidates your audio and visuals into one port, as opposed to the multi-channels used with an AV receiver.
Make sure your TV has HDMI ARC, or you might not be able to implement a modern surround sound system.
Using a Decoder
You will also need a decoder that is compatible with your system. An important tip is to look out for a receiver that is compatible with Dolby Digital. Most DVD players and all HD broadcasts in the US utilize Dolby Digital.
A decoder with channels that decode and receive Dolby Digital is important. However, if you are implementing a 7.1 system, ensure your decoder can process Dolby Digital Plus.
Choosing the Correct Input and Output Connections
If you have ever worked with audio, the amount of cables used is directly linked to stress levels. Joking aside, choosing the right surround sound cables for input and outputs is extremely important. You do not want to become entangled amidst a cacophony of cables.
AV receivers need a multitude of cables and connectors. There’s no way around it. If you have a 5.1 surround sound system, there are only a few cable and connector types you will need. Here are some of the most common when learning how to setup in-home surround sound audio systems.
HDMI Cables for 5.1 Surround Sound
The most important cables for modern surround sound systems are HDMI cables. A system that is not HDMI compatible can cause you untold headaches. HDMI cables are required for modern home movie theaters and are used for all HD and 4K modes.
Most modern receivers have numerous HDMI ports for inputs and outputs. And if your receiver is HDMI ARC compatible, you will limit the number of cables you need to use. You can buy HDMI cables at extremely low prices.
Digital Coaxial Optical Input Cables
Digital coaxial optical input cables are very similar to standard coaxial cables. But they are cheaper and easier to purchase. If you have a Sony/Philips (S/PDIF) interface, digital coaxial cables are highly compatible. And they support many functions such as Dolby and DTS, and stereo.
Analog RCA Cables for Multi-Channel Connections
Surround sound setups are vastly different from stereo systems. Standard two-channel stereo systems use the basic right/left connections made for two speakers. Surround sound systems need multiple channels for numerous inputs.
You will need to connect to every channel. This means you will need a handful of RCA analog cables to connect from your DVD player or BlueRay.
Do not ever underestimate how important it is to connect surround sound speakers properly. This is one of the most important parts of creating your home theater system. Every speaker has to be connected to the correct port on your receiver.
Your first impression might be confusion and chaos. But don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it initially appears.
You will find that each section is labeled as the front, back, center, surround, and so forth. This makes it much easier. Match the speakers with the correct locations, and that should be fine. Make sure everything is connected properly, especially the color-coded input wires.
Setting Up Subwoofer Connections
The perfect piece to the surround sound jigsaw puzzle has to be the subwoofer connections. Without a subwoofer, your audio will sound tinnier than Tim the tin-miner on a tin-mining expedition in Timbuktu. You need to know how to set up your subwoofer preamp outputs properly for the total surround sound experience.
You cannot properly learn how to setup at-home surround sound audio without connecting your subwoofer. Your subwoofer will need a dedicated connection. They have in-built and integrated amps, so pretty much power themselves. You do not need a receiver to power a woofer. Make sure you have a subwoofer cable to make this happen.
Setting Up the Perfect Surround Sound Room
This is often overlooked by many. You will need to know how to set up your room for surround sound systems. And it doesn’t matter if you have a high-end, all-inclusive surround sound system or a simple soundbar. The premise is all the same. The position and layout of your system will dramatically affect the audio and acoustic delivery.
Rearranging everything in your room for the best audio performance is essential. What’s the point of creating a home theater system if you are going to half-ass the layout of your room? Here are some things you seriously need to consider.
In-Room Materials Affect Everything
You might not realize it, but the materials in your room have a massive effect on acoustics. It’s why recording studios spend so much on lining their walls with treatments that control the acoustics. Basically, hard surfaces make sound waves bounce, while carpets and soft furnishings will dull the sound.
All these things make a difference to your home theater system.
It’s important to create a balance of all these materials. If you have too many hardwood floors, invest in some rugs. Strategically placing acoustic panels on your walls and corners will also help to balance the sound.
These don’t have to be boring bits of foam, there are much better-looking products available like the 3D Acoustic Panels LETIGO, or if you want something better and want to spend more, the Sound Absorption-Diffuse Acoustic Panel provides great acoustic results and looks superb.
Perfectly Positioned Layout – Acoustic Feng Shui
Perfectly positioned layouts are not reserved for feng shui masters manipulating the flow of energy for good luck reasons. You need to ensure that all the furnishings in your room are positioned against the wall. This will minimize echo. And remember to move anything that sits directly between you and the speakers for unobstructed sound.
Arranging Speakers Correctly
We are now at the business end of creating the perfect surround sound home theater system. The final piece to the puzzle is knowing where to position surround sound speakers. You might have to try out a few different layouts until you get the best sound. It’s all about what sounds best to you. The ideal scenario starts with you sitting in the center of the room.
As we already know, a standard 5.1 surround sound system uses five speakers (and a subwoofer). The center panel should be aimed right at you, while the Front-L and Front-R are both slightly slanted towards you at a 22 to 30-degree angle.
Make sure that the rear Surround-L and the Surround-R speakers are positioned equidistant from you, just above your ears. But remember, you might have to fiddle around to get the best positions that suit your room and requirements.
Best Surround Sound Audio Systems to Buy
Now you understand what it takes to create the perfect home theater system, we need to find a product that suits you. Here are some of the most highly recommended and best surround sound systems from industry insiders and experts.
This professional home theater system is a desirable choice for those creating their first setup.
Powerful surround sound system that enjoys wireless connectivity and a fantastic subwoofer and top-notch audio.
This majestic surround sound system is one of the best high-end systems you can buy. This is for the best professional home theater setups.
Stunning 7.1 surround sound system from one of the most reliable and reputable electronic brand names.
This is another extremely high-end surround sound system from a top brand.
Need Great Speakers for your Surround Sound System?
Well, you have come to the right place. Check out our in-depth PreSonus Eris E3.5 Review, our KEF Q150 Review, our Yamaha NS-6490 Speaker Review, our Devialet Gold Phantom Review, our Klipsch Sub-12HG Review, our Fluance Signature Series HiFi Review, and our Polk Audio RTI A3 Review for awesome items you can buy in 2023.
You might also enjoy our comprehensive Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 3 Review, our ELAC Debut 2.0 F6.2 Floorstanding Speaker Review, our Definitive Technology BP9020 & CS9040 Plus Center Channel Speaker Review, our Pioneer SP-FS52 Floor-Standing Loudspeaker Review for more amazing products currently available.
And don’t miss our detailed reviews of the Best 7.1 Home Theater System, the Best High End Home Theater Speakers, the Best Smart Speakers, the Best In-Wall Speakers, and the Best Powered Speakers on the market today.
How to Setup at-Home Surround Sound Audio – Final Thoughts
When you need to learn how to set up a home surround sound system, it’s not as confusing as you might imagine. If you follow our advice and steps, you should be getting the most from your acoustic performance in no time at all.
You need to learn about receivers and understand the cables and connections. And then, the most important part is setting up your speakers and room for optimized surround sound. You might never go to the movie theater again. Just don’t tell Quentin Tarantino we said that.
Until next time, happy listening.