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How to set up a home theater with a high ceiling or difficult room size


Surround sound system can be a great addition to your entertainment needs, taking your movie watching, gaming, and parties to a next HIFI level. A good quality sound cannot be achieved without a good home theater receiver. Nowadays, the receiver comes with lots of inbuilt features, they can not only produce a very high-quality sound but also comes with tons of smart and advanced features that can amaze you.

Receivers do come with many features like Dolby, DTS, DLNA, 3D, 4K, Bluetooth, WIFI, Ethernet, Dual-zone, Airplay and much more. Yes, you can even control your receiver with your smartphone apps.

If you are a first-time buyer and looking to buy your new home theater system, the first thing that can bother you is how much does it cost? Do you really need it? Will the system work as per your room acoustics?

Cost vs. Long-Term Benefits:

Yes, home theater systems can be a little expensive for some but you don’t have to go for a very high-end model. There are much good quality and budget-friendly receivers and speaker from various brands that can produce very high-quality sound. You can add a couple of options in your wish list and monitor their prices at different stores. Trust me, once you start using a receiver and sound system, you will never see back.

Dual Zone Setup:

Some receivers do have dual zone option. With the dual zone, you can play different music in different zones with the same receiver. For instance, you are watching a movie with your 5.1 / 7.1/2 surround system in your living room, whereas, someone wants to listen to a light music in the bedroom or a speaker in the backyard. This can be done if you have a dual zone receiver and pre-wired speaker connections the same. Based on your required you need to decide on your receiver.

Powered Subwoofer vs. Passive Subwoofer:

A subwoofer is a key element of your speaker system. You get all your low-frequency sounds from the subwoofer. The subwoofer generates explosions, thundering and the earthquake effect that you get when watching a movie in the theater. Now that you know what it does, you surely understand that this requires power. Power can be given to the woofer either directly through the power supply (Powered Subwoofer) or can be shared/supplied through the receiver (Passive). It is a good idea to consider buying a powered subwoofer than the passive one so that subwoofer has it own power to produce good sound.

Front Firing vs. Down Firing:

As we just discussed, the subwoofer produced a low-frequency sound that means you don’t hear the sound directly as you hear from the speakers. Subwoofer just enhances the overall effect by producing an extra bass and effect. As per our research, down-firing subwoofer gets more points than the front firing ones. Especially if you have hard flooring you should definitely go for a down-firing subwoofer. We will also talk little more about the placement of the subwoofer later in this section

One more important point to make note of, when looking for a subwoofer you should at least go for a minimum 10-inch subwoofer. This should be the starting point.

Room Acoustics Problem:

Room acoustics is basically the way sound behaves in the room. As you must have already experienced, sometimes we hear a different sound in a particular part of our house than the other part of the house. This sound difference can be due to the layout of the room, furniture placements, windows, wall, and many more things. Speakers and subwoofer placement can play a very important role here. Let me explain more about this with the below example:

My Current setup with a 20 feet high ceiling and a long rectangle living room.
Speaker Placement:

It is advisable to place the speakers at the level of your TV or close to the height of your ear to get the optimal result. The distance between each front speaker and the rear speakers should be minimum around 6 feet or equally divided.

I have set up my speakers at 12 feet high mounted on the wall and distance between each front speaker is less than 5 feet. We don’t see any issue with the sound. This setup is done in the living room (35 feet x 15 feet) with a 20 feet high flat ceiling. On one end of the room we have stairs going up the stair to an open loft and another end of the room is where we have the home theater setup. But the sound from the system feels GREAT! It is been more than 5 years and whenever we have a party or our friend’s come home, they do give very good comments on our sound system.

This is what I have and I love it.

Receiver Yamaha R-N303BL Stereo Receiver with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth & Phono
Speakers Polk Audio TL1600 5.1 Compact Home Theater System with Powered Subwoofer
Speaker Wall Mount VideoSecu 5 Black Universal Satellite and Audio Speaker Mount Bracket for Wall or Ceiling MS40B5 WM6
Speakers Wire AmazonBasics 16-Gauge Speaker Wire – 100 Feet
Sub-woofer cable Mediabridge ULTRA Series Subwoofer Cable (15 Feet) – Dual Shielded with Gold Plated RCA to RCA Connectors – Black

Wall Mounting vs. Floor Standing vs. In-Ceiling Speakers:

As per my experience, the ceiling speaker and good for light music but not very well for a home theater experience. I noticed a lot of bass from the ceiling speaker as compared to the wall mounted and floor standing speaker. You cannot even direct the wall-mounted speakers to a specific angle. When watching a movie, the voice notes coming from the center speaker and side speakers are equally important to the music and bass effects from the rear speaker and subwoofer respectively. You can also look for Omni Directional speakers, which produces a 360-degree sound effect. This way you don’t have to worry about the point the speakers towards the listener. I currently have a wall mounted speaker setup and I am very happy with it. If you have big speakers than wall mounting might not be a good solution, as it would look too bulky in a small room. I preferred buying smaller speakers to enhance the beauty of the room too.

Subwoofer Placement:

Subwoofer placement can be tricky when it comes to room acoustics. It is a good idea to buy a long subwoofer cable so that you can test its placement in your room to get the best sound output from it. Don’t keep it too long or you might end up getting a little delay in the sub-woofer effect. The optimal location for the subwoofer is on the side of the TV. Some even place it right beside their couch. Placing it besides the couch can surely add an extra bass to the sound effect. Some like it and some don’t. I have placed my subwoofer on the right side of the TV pointing the opposite wall (the stairs). Even I had to place it in a couple of different location and test it with different sounds to see understand a bit location and soothing sound to my ears.

Receivers do come with a microphone to auto adjust the sound based on their location. Like my Yamaha receiver has its own YPAO mic to auto-calibrates the sound. The mic comes with a long cable, so you just have to connect the mic to the receiver and take it near your sitting area. Make sure that you raise it near your face so that it is aligned to your ear and then start the calibration. The calibration does automatically adjust the distance and height of all the speakers based on the microphone location. Receivers also have a scene preference to auto adjust the sound based on the video you are watching like, Movie, Drama, Concert, Sports, etc.

Hope this helps you in deciding on your home theater system.


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