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Surround Sound Speaker Placement for Music

Multi-channel music is usually mastered in a studio with direct radiating speakers placed in pre-determined spots. The standard for surround sound speaker placement calls for them to be on or close to the back wall, so my placement suggestion for surround sound speakers is to place them on the back wall facing the front speakers. With music, the artists and producers want you to hear where the sounds are coming from so the best way to do that is to use monopoles (speakers that radiate in only one direction) aimed directly at the listener. That way, you can tell that the rhythm guitar is back left while the lead guitar is front center (or whatever . . . ).

Movie soundtrack reproduction is a different beast. Originally, surround sound info in a theater was reproduced by an array of speakers located along the side walls. (Still is, at least in most theaters). Thus, the surround information was not firmly placed in space – you could tell it was there but you weren’t supposed to know exactly where “there” was. Remember that most movie surround information is what’s called “ambient” information – crickets, wind, rainfall, leaves rustling, etc. – and didn’t carry any really important cues.

The whole point of home theater is to try to “shrink” the theatrical experience so we can enjoy movies at home. One of the ways to duplicate the aural atmosphere is to make sure that we can’t precisely locate the source of this ambient information. THX originally specified dipole speakers for surround use as they presented a very diffuse, non-localized soundfield. The only way to do this with direct radiating monopole speakers is to locate them so they aren’t aimed directly at you. That way, the sound bounces off of walls and ceilings enough to confuse the ear/brain combination so that it can’t figure out exactly where the sound is coming from.

Hence my suggestion that the surround speakers go slightly behind the prime listening/viewing position and well above ear level.

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