Working home theatre magic in a non-ideal situation - Rapallo New Zealand :: Home Theatre & Hifi | Design & Installation
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A few weeks ago we talked you through home theatre speaker placement in the ideal case of having a separate rectangle shaped room that is dedicated to the joys of home theatre shenanigans. While this is all very nice for some, most of us don’t have an ‘ideal room’ and have to double function the living room. This means that the room might not be rectangular at all; you may have to deal with an open plan living room that opens up to a kitchen and dining area. You may not have an entire wall space dedicated solely for your 5.1 or 7.1 front speaker set-up. You may actually have to work with a tiny apartment and the last thing on the option list is a pair of tower speakers and a massive subwoofer.  Or the kids may display some early engineering skills and have a secret desire to remodel your brand new speakers.


Does this mean you have to give up on the surround sound dream? That 5.1 or 7.1 is not for you at the moment?

It’s easy to list the options: either we work around the limitations and are smart about how we can make your surround sound dream work or we drop the surround sound dream and live happily ever after with a good sound bar (Nothing against those, by the way, if that is what you are happy with).  Now, I don’t know about you, but at Rapallo we love a good 5.1 or 7.1. I say we can make this work with some tips and tricks.


Let’s have a look at front speaker set-up first. Bottom line is we want to approach the ‘ideal set-up’ as closely as possible, meaning that we really want to try to place the left and right front speaker at ear level so they fire directly at you. We are going to assume that tower speakers are not an option because of space restriction, little fingers that need to be be kept away from your speakers or the wife’s veto on a pair of monsters in her living room.


Placing bookshelves or satellites at ear level may be an ‘in your dreams’ situation and your speakers may need to be placed either above or below ear level. In that case we recommend angling them up or down towards you. Auralex Mopads are a great and inexpensive tool for this as they place your speakers on a slope, but also stop the resonance transfer from the cabinet it is placed on.

Obviously the same reasoning applies to your center speaker.


If you cannot place your left and right front speakers at the ideal equilateral triangle distance we talked about in our ideal situation blog, make sure you toe the speakers out (or in).


A built in cabinet is an effective way of keeping your audiovisual equipment safe and out of sight. Alternatively, cut-out wall cavities for speakers and your equipment are also a consideration that might suit your personal situation.

And if all the above fails, we like the Sonorous modular entertainment system cabinets as a straight forward, flexible, well-built and fairly economical option.


That said, you may be in a situation where even bookshelves or satellites are not an option as front speakers. In that case you may want to consider in wall front and center speakers placed at ear level. We would not recommend in ceiling speakers for this use as you will never get even a fraction of the whole frequency range, sort of foregoing the whole surround sound idea.


With subwoofers it’s about being creative. You really just want to play around with them, trying to get the delays right. Tuck them in a corner or put them beside the couch so nobody stumbles over them. Use them as a side table.

While two smaller subwoofers are often easier to place than one big one, dual subwoofers also provide better optimal frequency response for all listening positions and are a lot harder to localize. In the case of a non-ideal set-up they are the go-to solution.

If all else fails, absolutely look into Definitive Technology Mythos tower speakers.Not only are they great sounding, awesome looking slim speakers. They have the subwoofer incorporated! No need to further break your head over that impossible subwoofer spot.


For the surround channels, go in-wall or on-wall if you can. In case of an open plan living area where there are no back walls for your rear speakers, in ceiling back channels are an acceptable solution. After all, we don’t want these speakers to be localized anyway.


And finally, what about when you live in a really tiny space, like a small apartment? The obvious way to deal with this is to keep things equally small and out of the way. Depending on your situation, there are two options to consider: either go in-wall or have a look at some of the small but very adequate 5.1 systems especially designed for small spaces like the SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 system, Jamo Home Cinema System, Definitive Technology ProCinema System or the Focal 5.1 Pack Dome. All the placement rules we mentioned earlier of course apply.


And so we leave you with some thinking to do about how you can still dream of a 5.1 or 7.1 set-up even if you don’t have the luxury of a dedicated ‘ideal’ home theatre room. Yes, there are some compromises to be made. After all it is not ‘ideal’. But in our book it is still a whole lot better than the alternative of pushing sound through your television speakers.

We hope these ideas will put you on the road to solving your home theatre dream hurdles. Give us a ring if you get stuck. Always happy to help, as you know. 


The Rapallo Team








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