These days, big, 5-foot speakers around the family TV don’t result in superior sound. Modern surround sound systems pack a big punch in a series of small speakers, but to get the most out of your home theater system, you must set it up correctly for your space.

I was lucky enough to get in touch with Amanda Wildman, an integrator and electrical apprentice and part owner of a technology installation company called TruMedia located in Michigan since 2003. She also sits on the board of the CEDIA, the Association for Smart Home Professionals. Wildman believes the purpose of surround sound is to create a space where you and your family can have an incredible visual and audio experience that elevates your sense of reality while watching your favorite films.

Wildman encourages anyone in the market for speakers to first ask themselves a series of questions: what experience am I trying to create, what are my limitations, and what are the best products that will play (or integrate) together?

To have an enhanced audio experience, you dont have to buy the biggest or most expensive system. In Wildmans experience, every situation is unique and will require a different speaker setup. For example, if you live in an apartment, a sound bar may be all you need and not a 7-speaker setup that sets you back $1,600.

Another common problem that is often overlooked during the installation process is sound bouncing which causes an unpleasant echo. Hardwood floors, windows and empty wall space can all contribute to sound echoing. Wildman also mentioned that artwork, especially metal, can cause some disturbing high-frequency sound bouncing. Adding soft surfaces into a space can drastically help absorb the sound.

But first, you’ve got to set it up correctly.

For our DIY surround sound installation, I purchased a 5.1-channel surround sound system because it was within my budget and included a receiver. It was also appropriate for the size and layout of the room. Installing hidden speakers into the walls was not an option here, and the homeowner did not want to mount the speakers to the walls. Instead, I placed the three front speakers on the TV console and purchased two speaker stands for the two rear speakers. The subwoofer was placed in the right front corner of the room since the left side was the walkway into the room.

What are the most common home surround sound speaker configurations?

Sound bar: A sound bar is best in small spaces like an apartment or living room and is a quick way to replace the TV speakers with a much better sound quality.

2.1-channel: Ideal for smaller rooms and is a less expensive setup that has two front speakers and a subwoofer.

5.1-channel: A great option for larger-sized rooms and is more affordable compared to a 7.1 setup. Includes three front speakers, two rear speakers, and a subwoofer.

7.1-channel: The advanced option for larger spaces includes all the speakers of a 5.1 set up in addition to two side speakers. This is the most expensive option but is worth it if you want the paramount surround sound experience.

How much does it cost to install a surround sound system?

The average cost to have a surround sound system install in your house is just over $700, but the bill can vary from several hundred to upwards of $1,700. Factors that impact the cost of professional installation include: size of your home, number of components, mounting the speakers, location and other considerations.

Do you need to hire a pro to set up a home theater system?

Professionals are not required to install a home theater system especially if you are only adding a sound bar. All you need is a basic familiarity with DIY electrical work. However, the experience of a professional can be valuable especially if you have a complex setup or wiring it for multiple rooms. If you are building a new home or a theater room, it is better to reach out to a professional before the build to guarantee the room layout is optimal for surround sound setup.

Prepare the room and measure

To start, move furniture, plants, pictures, etc. near where you’re going to run the wire.Tip: I found it helpful to remove the extra wires and other components from the TV console to eliminate potential confusion.Next, measure the dimensions of the room to help determine where the speakers will go.Tip: Make sure to have extra speaker wire to run the perimeter of the room underneath the carpet near the baseboards.

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