How do I select which speakers are best for my home theater?

Written by
HTD Staff
Published on
March 23, 2022 at 4:53:00 PM PDT March 23, 2022 at 4:53:00 PM PDTrd, March 23, 2022 at 4:53:00 PM PDT

When choosing a set of speakers for your home theater, start with the center channel. On average, the center channel is included in 50% of an entire movie soundtrack and reproduces over 90% of the dialogue. Choose a center channel speaker that fits your space as well as your budget and make sure it can easily fill the volume of your room with clear, distortion-free vocals.

Next, choose the front left and right speakers. Ideally, these should sound as similar to the center channel speaker as possible. In the world of high-end audio, this is often referred to as "timbre matching" (pronounced tam-ber).

The front three speakers create the front soundstage similar to the way a pair of stereo speakers creates the soundstage in stereo music. If the front three speakers are not matched well, the soundstage starts to fall apart. Imagine listening to stereo with a large wooden speaker in the left channel and a small plastic speaker in the right channel and you get the idea.

So, if you select the Level TWO Center Channel speaker, it is best to buy the Level TWO Main speakers in order to achieve the best sonic match and thus the best soundstage. Similarly, if you plan to use an in-wall speaker for the center channel, then your best match for the front left and right channels will come from two other identical in-wall speakers.

If you're pressed for space, or your layout doesn't allow you to extend the front left and right speakers any wider than the TV screen itself, soundbar speakers offer an elegant solution. Soundbars mount to the wall just below or above the TV. Our Versa SB3 connects to your home theater receiver in the same way as other speakers. Think of it as essentially three separate speakers in one cabinet reproducing the front left, center, and right channels of a surround sound recording.

If you would like to use in-ceiling speakers for the front three speaker channels, your best best is the HDX-R65AIM. This model is built with an 18 degree downward angle which directs the sound more at the listening area compared with strictly down-firing speakers. You can adjust the angle of the tweeter even further to improve the effect.

If your situation does not allow for a perfectly matched set, you can still achieve decent imaging and panning effects as long as the speakers are not too different. Just be aware that without a matched set you are straying from the best possible audio experience.

Moving on to the surround speakers, again, the ideal setup is to use the same speakers in the back left and right as used for the front left and right. However, it is difficult to establish a "side" soundstage between the front and back speakers so having the back speakers match the front speakers is not nearly as important as having the front three match. Often, our customers who choose Level THREE for the front speakers, opt for Level TWO speakers in the back because of space considerations. The result, while not exact, is perfectly fine because we design these speakers for a similar tone.

For similar space and cosmetic reasons, in-wall speakers are often used in the back even though regular cabinet-style speakers are placed in the front. This is also acceptable, just be aware that the tone will be different, so you are exchanging a bit of sound quality for aesthetics. Should you go this route, choose an in-wall speaker that is designed to be as close in tone as possible so that panning effects are not distracting. We recommend using the HDX-R65 (round) or HDX-W65 (rectangular) when combining with our Level TWO or Level THREE cabinet-style speakers.

In some rooms, your only option for side surround speakers may be directly left and right of where you sit. In smaller rooms, having the side speakers so close to the listener can be distracting. One solution is to use a wall-mounted speaker that simultaneously fires at off-angles in front of, and behind the listener. These models are usually labeled specifically as "surround sound speakers" because they can ONLY be used for that application.

If your home theater receiver supports Dolby Atmos or another "height" speaker format, any of our HDX or SDX in-ceiling speakers will get the job done. Again, select a model that is as close in tone as possible to your other speakers.

Finally, a powered subwoofer is necessary for reproducing the unique Low Frequency Effects channel recorded in most of today's movies. It can also help augment the lowest frequencies in every channel. Unlike your other speakers, timbre matching is almost irrelevant when selecting a powered subwoofer. Instead, we recommend you focus on how well it blends with your main speakers when listening to music.

Here's a tip - speaker drivers are typically built in the following sizes: 4", 5.25", 6.5", 8", 10", and 12". In general, you'll want to get a powered subwoofer that is 3 "sizes" larger than the driver found in your cabinet-style main speakers, or at least 2 sizes larger than found in your in-wall or in-ceiling speakers. That is why our Level TWO Main Speakers (5.25" driver) are best matched with the Level TWO Powered Subwoofer (10" driver); the Level THREE Main Speakers (6.5" driver) are best matched with the Level THREE Powered Subwoofer (12" driver).

That said, we have plenty of customers who, often for space considerations, prefer to use the smaller Level TWO Subwoofer with their Level THREE speakers. Others want all the low-end they can get and pair a Level THREE Subwoofer with significantly smaller speakers. As always when selecting speakers, your subjective personal preference should play a role when deciding what sounds best, and works best for you!