I have been a home cinema enthusiast for years and am always looking for the next upgrade or DIY project.
How Do I Set This Thing Up?
Setting up and calibrating a home surround sound system can be a daunting task if you haven't done it before. This is an easy-to-follow guide that tells you exactly how to do it properly. I do go into some detail about what is going on, so if you want to understand your system, be sure to read it all!
There are two types of surround sound system. You have the 'home theater in a box' type system where you buy everything from one manufacturer. You don't have as much freedom to tweak the sound with a setup like this, but you can still set the volume levels accurately to get the most out of it. More advanced systems are generally comprised of an AV receiver with five to seven speakers connected, plus a subwoofer or two. Plugging them all in is one thing—getting them to sound good together is another.
This guide isn't just about set up and speaker locations, but also calibration of your surround sound system for the best possible sound. It's not tough, so let's get on with it!
What Is the .1 About?
The .1 added to the end of a 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1 system simply denotes the subwoofer. So, a 5.1 is five surround speakers and a subwoofer, a 6.1 is six surround speakers and a subwoofer and a 7.1 is . . . well, can you work it out?
Connecting All Speakers Correctly
The first thing to do is to recognise what it is that you're looking at. Most home theater/cinema systems are 5.1 systems. I will cover 6.1 and 7.1 systems later in the article, but first let's begin with a 5.1 system. What you'll have in a 5.1 setup is five speakers, a subwoofer and an amplifier/receiver. To set them up properly, you need three speakers at the front (one on either side of the tv and the centre speaker either directly above or below it). You then place the other two speakers to the side of the sofa, aiming them directly at your ears. Lastly, the subwoofer can go pretty much wherever you want it in the room, although generally you'll get the best results if you place it against a wall or in a corner. Use the image below as a reference.
5.1 Surround Sound Setup
You don't put the rear speakers behind your head, although they do handle the rear effects. Wiring the speakers up to the amplifier is fairly straightforward—you just have to make sure you connect the + to + and - to - terminals. You need to ideally have the front three speakers as close as you can get them to the same height. This is so you don't get a strange effect when effects pan from left to right or vice versa.
Make sure you get some good separation on the front left and right speakers. If they're on either side of the TV cabinet so that the TV is squeezed in the middle in between two speakers, the front sound field won't be very wide. So don't be afraid to put them some distance away from the TV, though ideally they'll be equidistant from your listening position.
6.1 Surround Sound Setup
This is a 6.1 setup. It's the same as the 5.1 version, but you have an extra channel behind your head, which helps with the rear surround effects. This can really help the surround effect. The more room you have behind you the better. If it is so close to you that you can rest your head on the speaker, you're not going to get a good effect; if you have several feet behind you, you'll be fine.
7.1 Surround Sound Setup
This is how a 7.1 surround sound setup looks. There are two speakers behind your head. This sort of setup has a really good field of surround sound behind and in front of you. This is the way I have my system set up! It does involve a couple more speakers and more wiring, but it is certainly worth it in my opinion.
So You've Got It Wired in. How Do You Calibrate It?
Now comes the fun part when you get to adjust the levels and calibrate the system. The speaker levels need to be set so they are an equal volume match for each other at the listening position. This means they will then compliment each other and one won't be way louder so effects will move around the room properly and sound natural.
There are two ways to do this. If you have a low end system, the home theater in a box sort of setup, then the best way to calibrate is to use an spl meter. These don't cost a lot and make things far easier than trying to calibrate by ear. You need to play a test tone through your receiver one speaker at a time and set each speaker to the same level on the spl meter. This is done from your normal sitting position. As long as they're all the same level relative to each other, it doesn't actually matter too much what that level is, but a commonly used level is 75 db for each speaker in turn. The subwoofer usually under reads on the spl meter due to their inaccuracy at measuring bass tones, so you may need to boost that up a little higher to have it matching the rest of the speakers.
If you have the next level up from an all in one and have a receiver and speakers then you can get better results. Most receivers nowadays have an auto setup system which will calibrate for you. Different manufacturers have different systems, Denon, Onkyo and Marantz receivers have Audyssey, Yamaha have YPAO (Yamaha Parametric Acoustic Optimizer) and Pioneer have MCACC (Multi Channel Acoustic Calibration). There is also another AV manufacturer called Anthem, who use something called ARC, which stands for Anthem Room Correction. All of these systems attempt to do the same thing though which is set up your system for you, although the consensus tends to be that ARC is the best, followed by Audyssey, with the others behind that. This is a matter of opinion and is the sort of thing AV geeks argue about, but that seems to be the way most people in the AV world think as far as I can tell.
Anyway the way they work is that you set up a microphone which is supplied with the receiver at your listening position, the receiver will then play a test tone through each speaker in turn and then calibrate system levels and EQ the sound for you.
There are still a couple of things you need to remember when doing this though. One thing to remember is that you need to make sure that the room is as quiet as possible. Turn off any fans, close the windows etc as you don't want any banging, booming or rumbling from buses driving past to affect the final result.
Set the subwoofer gain control to the middle of the dial. Set the crossover frequency on the subwoofer to maximum.
You Could Put the Microphone on Your Head, but I Don't Recommend It!
The easiest way of holding the microphone at the correct height is with a tripod. These don't cost a lot, so I recommend buying one. Set it up at your main listening position, pointing straight up at the ceiling at ear height, then run the auto calibrate routine. If you don't have a tripod, you can put the microphone on your head and move around to different positions, but it's a bit of a pain to do it this way! That's not to say I haven't done it like this myself in the past, but I'm glad I bought a tripod.
A lot of these systems will give you a better result if you take multiple readings, you want to be roughly around the main seating position though as if you try to use different seats it will mess up the final calibration. Get as many readings as possible, usually the system asks you to move the mic 6 or 8 times. The more information it gets, the better the results.
There is a diagram below with suggested mic placement positions. The more advanced systems ask for more positions. If yours asks for six or eight or so, just use the first six or eight positions on this diagram for an idea of where to put the mic. Remember that you're not calibrating for every possible position you're ever going to sit in on the sofa, but instead you're measuring the room for automatic room correction so make sure you do move the mic around. The first position is the main listening position, so that's the most important as the sound will be optimised around that area.
Adjusting the Subwoofer to the Correct Level
After the receiver has ran through its auto calibrate routine, then check what level the receiver has set the subwoofer (also known as LFE) level. The subwoofer usually has its own amplifier and the receiver will try and match the subwoofer output/volume level to the same level as the rest of the speakers, which may mean it has to either boost or reduce the level. The amount the receiver has had to boost or cut this level will then show up on the receiver.
There is only so much this can be cut or boosted. If the receiver is showing -12 or +12 for LFE level after calibration, then it is at its upper or lower limits and your subwoofer may be producing too much or too little bass. Under this circumstance, the receiver has done all it can to correct but can't get to optimum range without you intervening to adjust the dial. If this has happened, simply adjust the gain on the back of the subwoofer up or down (depending on the reading), then calibrate it again by re-running the receiver auto calibrate routine.
The ideal is to get it as close to 0 as possible, then there is no boosting or cutting between the receiver and the subwoofer, which leads to a minimum of distortion. If it's a few db above or below it's not the end of the world, so you don't need to get too obsessive, but just try and make sure it's not at the top of bottom of its range.
Different rooms affect sounds in different ways so sometimes you may need certain frequencies boosting or cutting, which you don't need to worry about as the receiver will try and do this for you. It does this by playing a full frequency range signal to each speaker, measuring how the room affects the sound then adjusting the output level and also the equalisation of the sound to try and produce what will end up at your ears as a neutral sound.
After you've ran the auto calibrate setup program, then you will need to adjust the crossover and LFE cutoff level. This is fairly straightforward. The THX standard is to set all of your speakers to small and then set the speakers crossover points to 80hz. The LFE channel for the subwoofer should then be set to 120hz. This is a different setting to the crossover setting for the speakers, you don't need to have the crossover setting for the speakers and the LFE channel setting at the same point, which is a misconception, always set your LFE / subwoofer channel to 120hz. These are the recommended settings that Audyssey, THX etc recommend.
The reason you set the crossover for the speakers at 80hz is that speakers struggle to reproduce the lowest frequencies you'll get from a soundtrack, which can go down to 5-10hz in some cases. If you set them to only play from 80hz upwards, then they don't distort and the sound is cleaner. The subwoofer will take the strain instead and do the job it's designed for, which is creating the low frequency effects.
If you have small satellite speakers, they may not be able to reproduce sound down to 80hz, so you may have to have the crossover for them set a little higher. The golden rule is you can always adjust your crossover up from what the receiver tells you it recommends, but never adjust it down, as if the system has had a go at playing a frequency through the speaker and it hasn't managed to reproduce it, the speakers simply aren't capable of playing any lower, so you get no benefit setting it lower than your receiver recommends.
Achieving 'Reference' Sound
The whole purpose of Audyssey, YPAO or whatever system your receiver uses to calibrate, is get the sound in your room as close as it can to a reference sound. In other words, you're trying to get it to sound when the sound engineers produced the soundtrack. This can be quite a different sound to what you're used to if you've always set up your systems by ear. But if you want it to sound how it should, then you should leave it like this. Of course since it's your system, you get to determine your preferences. For example, if you decide you prefer the bass a bit higher, then you're free to do that. This is what is called reference versus preference.
The reference sound may not be exactly to your taste straightaway, but you're best to watch a couple of movies before making up your mind so you can get used to it before making a decision to tweak anything.
The one thing that you shouldn't do is mess about with the dials on the back of the subwoofer once you've ran calibration. If you are going to do it, then adjust through the receiver.
If you move the speakers or subwoofer, or move the furniture around, then it's a good idea to calibrate again. Other than that, you're done. Go and listen to some music or watch some movies and enjoy your surround system, happy in the knowledge it's now all set up and performing properly!
I hope you have found this guide helpful.
If you have any comments then please leave them below.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Shailesh on August 04, 2020:
Pl suggest how to set Equalizer. How to use mobile apps SPL Meter. Auto calibration r not perfect. We have to make changes. I m using Yamaha sateallite speakers with Yamaha HTR 3072 AVR. There are one crossover for all speakers. So what crossover I should set 80 or above 80hz say 120hz. I m confuse about DB Level. It should set as minus or plus. As my Flat area is 120 sq feet and I can not fixed my speakers along with TV or as per your Diagram. Pl make detailed articale step by steps which covers all points related to AVR. If possible make video and post it on YouTube.
David on October 21, 2019:
HI I have a Denon S940 receiver where it has a Sub woofer setting under the speaker section and i have to choose whether i want LFE or LFE /Main and then I have the the cross over at 120Hz but on the back of the Sub do i turn the low pass knob all the way up clockwise to where it says LFE which is way pass the 120 and not set it at 80-90 Seem like the receiver is taking care of things instead of having to use the Sub adjustments knobs on the back of it .I think the receiver has a seperate amp built into it just for the Sub , Can you please tell me how to set the Sub knobs and the setting on the receiver Thank you
Sasi on September 18, 2019:
Very very helpful content mcacc setup nice thing thanks
Rajesh on August 24, 2019:
Very helpful information, Thanks.
Chandru. on April 27, 2019:
Sony 5.1 speakers fixed but audio only fr speaker and hooper what method use pls tell and gice drawing
C. Winston on April 08, 2018:
Very helpful guide, all it. Thanks
Prakash Aglawe on September 08, 2017:
Kindely suggest to protect the woofer from mouse/ rat which enters from behind the woofer opening has cut the wire/cable enter.Shoud i use steel wire mesh for protection from rat.
Ignas on September 07, 2017:
One educated man in the field of electronics told me that for a 5.1 surround system I'd need 6 amplifiers. Is that true? I have two stereo amps, do I need 4 more? And how do I wire everything to have sound playing from one source?
Mason Smith on July 20, 2017:
Hello there, I have all speakers necisary but am not sure how to wire zed speakers. For the back and front speakers do i wire the negative wire to the negative on a 3.5mm jack (from both speakers) and the positive from right speaker to to the right on the jack and the positive on the left to the left on the jack
Mohamed on July 15, 2017:
how to raise the level of rear speaker in onkyo 5805(b)
Dr. Rajesh Vyas on November 07, 2016:
Hi, I bought Sony Home theater 5.1. and want to swap surround speaker with front speakers, can I do that?
Rain Defence (author) from UK on June 14, 2016:
Sounds like you've broken the speakers by playing them too loudly. Sorry to hear that. The only solution is to buy a more powerful system that can handle the volume you want.
Voie Opina on May 12, 2016:
I have a problem with my onkyo HT s5850, before i calibrate my speakers just to testing the sounds, the speakers set is clear and deep the bass subwoofer is so heat pumping in other words what i bought is perfect for what i want, then later on, after reading the manual, i prefer to calibrate my surround speaker according to the manual setup to make the sound more powerful and in 360 effect, afterwards, done calibrating and start to test some heart pumping song from rock music, i was so disappointed because the sub woofer speakers are not responding clearly, i try to adjust adding some more subwoofer volume and it sounds like the speaker is going to break even in very low volume, i said "whats going on" i try to inspect some wiring and some given set up from receiver, everything is in garbage now, just like I'm listening to the mono speaker, i try also some default setting from receiver and its the same, please help me to solve my problem.
walash on May 07, 2016:
am still waiting for help on my problem, the back 2 speakers sound very very low. please help me. i want here sound from all the 5 speakers loud.
walash on May 06, 2016:
Hi, nice article thumb up
I am using microlab x15, is a 5.1 surround speakers with Creative Omni 5.1 soundblaster.
All speakers are connected but when i play sound from my laptop which the soundblaster is connected to only give me sound from front 3 and the Subwoofer and not the other 2 back speakers. Basically I've set up as instructed to connect 5.1 channel speakers. thank you
Sanju Durge on April 22, 2016:
I have a 5.1 Sony home theater system. It comes with bluetooth and wifi. So I need to know can I increase it to 7.1
Johnk520 on May 26, 2015:
Wow! This could be one particular of the most useful blogs We've ever arrive across on this subject. Basically Wonderful. I'm also a specialist in this topic so I can understand your hard work. dgkekakedeae
StevieDoc8@gmail.com on April 10, 2015:
To whom it may concern I recentley bought a sony S Master surround sound system with a DVD Recorder DAR -RH1000 system. I can only receive sound out of my centre spkr surround right spkr and the sub woofer is very tinny sounding it frustrating me as I was told its the easiest system in the world to set up as it colour co ordinated a nine year old kid could do it so please help help help yours not as clever as a nine year old stevie doc many thanks in advance
stevie doc on April 09, 2015:
Hi there I have a 5.1 system sony S master I can only get sound out of my left surround centre and a tinny subwoofer sound iv connected it properrly as its colour co please help it's a DAR 1000 syst
kam on April 04, 2015:
Hi I have a Sony receiver connected to 5 speakers. But when I do the test for the sound , it gives me error 20.. can you help me please ..thx
mercurio2054 on December 25, 2014:
can you review the onkyo ht-s3700 home theater.
Rain Defence (author) from UK on June 26, 2014:
As long as they're plugged into the correct place there won't be a problem.
Jefferson Webster on June 26, 2014:
Brought a 5.1 surround system from Argos and the two smaller speakers are the same each saying left on each speaker cable.. Will this still put out same sound even though they are same..?
Sm on June 03, 2014:
My surround speakers are connected to my computer but it increases it's sound extremely suddenly
Sm on June 01, 2014:
My 5.1 frontech's speakers are set with my computer but the sound suddenly increases extremly without manually increasing it . how to solve this problem
Rain Defence (author) from UK on May 25, 2014:
You need to check the settings on your cable box. Usually you can tell it whether you want to have the sound output to the tv through hdmi or to a separate output. Just go into the menu and adjust it there.
missmoosh13 on May 24, 2014:
hello, need help! I have a Kenwood 5.1 surround system, my husband had to hook it up through r cable box because had no more outlets in the tv. he hooked it all up and no sound comes out? help! plus the volume button goes from 0 to -99 is that normal?
Rain Defence (author) from UK on May 15, 2014:
I'm not quite sure what you're asking here?
sara on May 15, 2014:
As above but 7.1 channel (minimum) Surround Sound Receiver
As above but Audio Matrix
As above but 1:2 VGA splitter
Rain Defence (author) from UK on January 10, 2014:
I'm happy to help, but don't really understand the question?
dave on January 10, 2014:
Hey great advice all the time you really know your stuff ,,so i was wondering if you could tell me what to do with a 7.1 system if one wall is missing for my left and rights parti. the right thanks
Rain Defence (author) from UK on October 31, 2013:
That part's a mystery to me too.
Dean Walsh from Birmingham, England on October 30, 2013:
Great article... now if you can just write an article on how to get the money to buy one I'll be sorted.
Rain Defence (author) from UK on August 29, 2013:
Glad it was useful!
topledtvs on August 29, 2013:
Thanks for the great setup ideas. I have always been a little iffy on how to set up my speakers. Voted up!
Rain Defence (author) from UK on February 11, 2013:
I'm glad you found it useful!
Lillee McLoflin from Texas on February 10, 2013:
Very helpful hub on a very complicated subject. Thanks!
Rain Defence (author) from UK on January 10, 2013:
Hi, what are you using for your source?
muaaz on January 09, 2013:
Hey so I just got a pioneer 5.1 system, installing was mental at first got no sound buy fixed that, now when I first got sound it came on all speakers then suddenly it only came through the front speakers and the subwoofer and the two rear don't produce any sound but they work perfectly for the tone test, so do you have any tips that could help
Rain Defence (author) from UK on October 14, 2012:
Hello, what are you playing through it? It might be a case of setting up whatever you have going through it to 5.1 output through the menu. If you've done that then you should go through the output modes on the system itself. It may have defaulted to stereo plus sub, rather than 5.1, some do.
lakone212 on October 14, 2012:
Hi there, I have setup DENON HT-390XP with 5 speakers. front and subwoofer working fine, but I don't hear SR/SL speakers. is there missing setup on my own or I have to do something?
any answer would be greatefull helps... thanks.
Rain Defence (author) from UK on September 08, 2012:
Hi, you need to set up the cable channel up so it uses the hdmi for picture and optical for audio. It is possible to do this as I've done it before but I can't recall the exact procedure from memory. The first thing I'd do in your shoes is download the full manual from the denon website, the answer is in there although the manual is pretty comprehensive. After you've got the manual, do a search through google for ' batpigs denon to English dictionary'. Once you've read that you'll be able to understand the manual as it explains it well. Good luck!
ulric on September 08, 2012:
Ok sorry for delay waiting for optical cable!
So I plugged optical cable in and now........... if i turn DENON to TV audio i get sound in all speakers hurray but no picture on tv boo. Obviously If i turn on CBL/SAT on denon i get picture but no sound on all speakers. its driving me crazy urgh
Rain Defence (author) from UK on September 03, 2012:
Hi Ulric, well sky will only play 5.1 surround through optical, not hdmi. It's a quirk of their boxes, you'll need a separate optical lead if you want to get 5.1.
Your speaker wires do have to be connected positive to positive, negative to negative on both the receiver and the speaker side. If not, they will work, but not properly, so make sure that they are connected up correctly.
As far as pro logic goes, there is an option in the denon menu to set up the rear speakers. If you want to use all 7 speakers, then you can go through the 'surround parameter' menu and set the rears to use dolby pro logic IIx, this will turn a stereo or 5.1 signal into a 7.1 signal by splitting the signal into all the speakers. For 5.1 this will split the surrounds into the rear, or in your case the kitchen speakers to make pretend 7.1 out of 5.1. It is a very good effect in my opinion. 7.1 will just automatically play through all.
You may need to go through the PS3 menu to set the sound output up correctly, as if you feed the denon a 5.1 or 7.1 signal, it should play through all of the speakers. I can't help with this side of things as I don't have a PS3.
If you go to the denon website and search for your receiver, then you can download the full manual for it, it isn't password protected or anything so you can browse at your leisure. Definitely do this.
I hope this has been of some help, if you can't work it out then I would recommend joining an AV related forum and asking in the receivers section. You will get lots of replies that can go into a lot more detail than I can here, I've found out a lot about AV over the years from doing that and most members of those types of forums are usually more than happy to help.
Stick with it, you'll get there!
ulric on September 03, 2012:
Also wanted to add that some of the wires on a couple of speakers aren't red/black they are both white does it affect speaker if u put them wrong way round even though noise comes out of all speakers?
ulric on September 03, 2012:
Firstly thank you for taking time to reply.
Set up is HDMI SKY to AVR- DENON 2113 then HDMI from AVR to TV using 20m HDMI Active TV Cables.
I set up with Audyssey Amp Assign mode set to surround back, connecting 7.1 channel speakers using surround back speakers ( the 2 kitchen speakers being the surround back ones) then run program waited for all the tests to complete and saved configuration.
Like i said when it tests u hear every speaker being tested but once finished and calibrated it seems sound only comes out of front 3.
I also plugged in PS3 to try BLUray movie and the only difference was that the SUBw also worked.
DENON only send basic set instuctions, the more detailed ones are on supplied computer disc. I tried to post the set how i wired the back but it says page is password protected, but basically all speaker connections used as 7.1 channel speakers using surround back speakers set up.
I can't see 'pro logic mode' anywhere!
ulric on September 03, 2012:
Firstly thank you very much for taking time to reply.
Set up is SKY receiver HDMI to AMP then separate HDMI back to TV. I read DENON instructions but can't see how to manually set all speakers. I also plugged PS3 into DENON and ran a BLUray movie that's supposed to play 5.1.
but again sound from front 3 and the SUBw but not other the other 2 back speakers or the kitchen ones. I wanted to paste the page from the PDF manual that comes on disc to show the page i used to wire the speakers but it says it is password protected. but basically I've set up as instructions to connect 7.1 channel speakers using surround back speakers. I used the Audyssey set up with amp assigned to 'surround back' mode. Can't see 'pro logic mode' not sure about that!
Cheers hope that is enough info.
Rain Defence (author) from UK on September 02, 2012:
Hi, if it plays out of all the speakers during setup, then it will be just a case of setting the output mode. What source are you playing from and how many channels is the sound? With 2 channel or even 5.1, you can manually tell the receiver to output through all 7 speakers & sub, using pro logic mode.
Give some more info and I'll try to help.
ulric on September 02, 2012:
I followed yours and DENON AVR-2113 instructions to set up but when i've finished calibrating it only plays sounds out of the front 3 speakers!!
i have 7 speakers (5 in Font Room 2 in Kitchen)all in the ceiling along with a decent SubW, the guy in the shop said plug the leads in for normal 5.1 then add the 2 kitchen speakers into the additional slots and set it as surround back speakers. when i run the set up all the speakers generate the test sound but when its finished all i get is noise out the front 3 and the sub! This is the first time i've invested in an AVR only because speakers were already in the ceiling when we moved in but now i'm wondering if ive wasted my money :-( can u help???? Please.
DMVmimay on August 28, 2012:
very helpful hub... its nice to read your hub, thumbs up!
Rain Defence (author) from UK on August 20, 2012:
Yes, this means your front right speaker and your surround right speakers have been detected to be out of phase. This can be a detection problem by the amp, but it usually means that the positive and negative speaker terminals, which are usually red and black have been connected to the incorrect terminals on your amplifier/receiver. They need to go red to red, black to black. You need to check your wiring to make sure it is all wired up correctly.
On occasion speakers can be wired up incorrectly on the inside, so if the wiring is ok on the outside, it might be worth trying to take the speakers apart and check the wiring is ok internally. It's usually fairly straightforward to do this as the bass drivers often undo pretty easily do you can have a look inside.
You probably won't have to do that, it's just a last resort.
Mike on August 20, 2012:
I have read you article about this sound system. I've been trying to calibrate my system and continue to get a message; Phase FR, SR. Can you tell me what is going on with this?