Surround sound speakers come in various sizes and levels of quality, depending on your needs and your budget. You can go wild and spend a few thousand dollars on a set of speakers, or you can spend less than a hundred bucks. They can be pretty big (up to six feet in height) or they can be small enough to fit on a bookshelf.
What you choose depends on how much you want to spend, how much room you have, and whether you want them to stand out or if you want to hear them but not see them.
You Need at Least 5 Speakers for True Surround Sound
You need a surround sound system to get the full “movie theater effect” when watching a movie at home. This is because your two stereo speakers can make the sounds in the movie appear to be coming from where the director planned. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice that cars seem to move from right to left or front to back during the movie. You can get something of a left to right effect from a set of stereo speakers, but you won’t get the front to back. And when something happens behind the camera, forget it.
With surround sound speakers, and the correct receiver, you’ll hear the sounds the way the director intended. This will help you feel like you’re in the movie scene, instead of just watching it. Most surround systems come with left and right front speakers, left and right rear speakers, and a center channel speaker that goes somewhere close to the TV. This speaker handles most of the talking by the actors. Most systems will also have a subwoofer to handle the super low sounds that you feel more than hear.
You Don’t Need Big Speakers to Get Big Sound These Days
Huge advancements in speaker technology have been made since I started getting into stereos back in the late ’70s. Back then, if you wanted big sounds you had to have big speakers. Mine were about four-feet tall and weighed almost 50 pounds each. The last set of surround sound speakers that I bought weighed in at about two pounds each and, except for the subwoofer, measured only six inches on a side, and yet they sound better than my first set of speakers.
I will break the available speakers up into four categories:
- Big speakers that are at least two-feet tall, with multiple speakers to cover the whole sound spectrum.
- Medium speakers that are around one-foot tall and usually have two speakers to cover the full range of sound.
- Small speakers that can easily be mounted on the exterior of walls or placed in bookcases.
- In-wall speakers that require cutting into walls.
The Best Large Surround Sound Speakers
The Mythos STS SuperTower System by Definitive Technology come with two front tower speakers (47-inches tall by 10.375 inches wide) that also contain subwoofers to produce the deep bass that you feel in your stomach. The rear, or surround speakers, measure only about 10×4, yet they produce rich full sound. The center speaker measures close to five inches high by 28-inches wide.
This system has no separate subwoofer because the front speakers each contain a 5×10-inch powered subwoofer. Power handling for this speaker system is 300 Watts (W). The price for this speaker system varies widely, but is advertised at about $1500 on the Definitive website.
These Medium-Sized Surround Sound Speakers Are Visually Unobtrusive
Not everyone is going to want speakers that can double as furniture. That’s where something like the ProCinema 1000 Sytem, also from Defintive Technology, come in. The front and rear speakers all measure about 11×6 inches, while the center speaker measures about 4×14.5 inches. This speaker system comes with a separate powered subwoofer that measures 14.5 inches tall by 12 inches wide and 19 inches deep. Max power handling is 200 W for the front, rear, and center speakers and 300 W for the subwoofer. MSRP on these is around $1500.
This Boston Acoustics System Is Easy to Hide
One of my favorite speaker companies is Boston Acoustics, so it’s no surprise that they make one of my favorite speaker systems in the small and easy to hide genre, the Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS Special Edition Home Theater Speaker System. The front, surround, and center speakers all measure 4.5×4.5×3.75 inches, while the subwoofer measures close to 12x11x15 inches. Yet, even with their small size, the sound is rich and full. Power handling for these bookshelf/wall-mount speakers is 250W max. Crutchfield currently has these at the excellent price of just under $300.
In-Wall Speakers Blend in With the Walls
I usually prefer my speakers to be heard and not seen, so I normally go with speakers that mount inside the wall or ceiling. However, in order to do this you will either need to be able do some climbing in the attic/crawlspace, or be willing to open up your walls to run the wiring. Also, you will normally have to purchase two sets of satellite (front and rear) speakers, a subwoofer, and a center channel speaker, all separately, instead of in a matched set.
My favorites are the Polk Audio RC55i for front and rear speakers, the Polk Audio SC-C for a center channel, and the Polk Audio PSW-110. The satellite and center speakers in this grab bag all mount flush into the wall, while the speaker can be used as an end table. The surround speakers all handle 100W, while the sub can do up to 200W. Also, you don’t need to get fancy to mount the speakers: Simply cut and finish the holes, run and attach the wires and a quarter turn of four screws secures the speaker to the wall. You’ll spend about $1,500 for all six speakers here.
Photo Credit: Philips Communication