“Soundbars are really ugly — and I really don’t like bookshelf speakers either, they take up too much space”
When you’ve got a home theater setup in your mind, the biggest thing that comes to your thoughts is how loud can it get. The bass, vibration— those are all the most important parts of bringing you into the experience. But sound is important too, and the usual runaround from a salesperson makes it always sound like you can only have one or the other. So how to go about getting the best experience for the best price and aesthetic?
Thankfully, there are plenty of options for the full home theater experience you’re looking for. The tricky part might be figuring out which solution goes best for your needs. In a world with hundreds of speaker types and just as many brands, it can get a little overwhelming when attempting to come up with the best fit for your own home setup.
When it comes to immersive sound, there’s two main factors. The surrounding sound which either comes from your ceiling speakers (which are not nearly as visible and take up practically no space), or a bookshelf speaker set/soundbar. Mixing the two is the most common solution for a variety of reasons.
Think about this: when watching a movie, would you rather have the audio come down from above, or blow directly into your face? Some people prefer the former when it comes to the trade-off of not having ugly speakers in front of them. Others however would like to hear voices naturally from ahead. Surround sound can easily be placed in ceiling speakers, but the decision is yours for where the audio comes from.
Some brands make smart solutions to the audio problem. Sonos has created a product known as the Playbar which uses a wireless connection to your home theater system along with the other speakers and a Sub. This solution takes up almost no space, but still puts the audio directly in front of you, although the trade-off includes a little less intense volume as a result. The Playbar also needs to still be supplemented by either some in-ceiling speakers or other surrounding speakers that it connects to. Other brands offer similar solutions that are much more aesthetically pleasing than a massive bookshelf speaker.
The home theater setup you’ve created also will greatly affect your speaker placement. Products exist for minimalists such as Picture Frame TV models. These can be entirely hidden as a picture frame as their name describes when not in use, and thus are not usually tied with separate speaker setups that would be visible. If you want a simple picture frame TV, then a giant bookshelf speaker is not going to mesh well with your setup. Ceiling speakers usually end up being the preferred route to tie into a setup such as that one. That being said, not all bookshelf speakers are created equal. Some can easily mesh with an entertainment center and can be as small as a double stack of DVD movies.
Given that there are endless solutions for speaker placement, and multiple platforms to give yourself surround sound that you desire — a case could be made that the solution for your setup comes merely down to how you’d like your aesthetic to be set up. Minimalist solutions will probably require some ceiling speakers and maybe a few hidden bookshelf speakers, while other setups are going to end up going the full “man-cave” setup with some very large, and very powerful options. Given that either setup is still going to provide that 7.1.2 or 5.1 sound you’re looking for, it might as well look the way you’d prefer. Speakers and sound flow are very simple, so it doesn’t take too much thought to come up with a solution that works for your home.
Earlier I mentioned two different types of sound. Dolby classifies them as 5.1.2 or 7.1.2. Believe it or not, these aren’t just random numbers to sell products, they actually mean something. The first number is the number of speakers in your total traditional setup. Usually there’s your main speakers in front, and surround speakers behind you, which comes up to the 5 total for 5.1.2. The 1 that follows in the sequence is the number of sub woofers attached to your setup. The final 2 is for the total in ceiling speakers in the setup. Some setups don’t use in ceiling speakers, which is why sometimes you only see Dolby 5.1 or 7.1. A setup consisting of 7.1.2 is the same idea, there’s another row of surround sound speakers, and everything else is basically the same. These setups are to ensure full surround sound quality, of course different setups may require different alternatives. Some people require a variation taking up minimal space with a picture frame TV for example, adding only two in ceiling speakers as they prefer full minimalism. In this case, the only downside is the sound will be coming down towards you, which I mentioned before can be strange for audio.
There are plenty of solutions available for putting your speakers where they make the most sense, and experts at companies such as Regent5 can help you figure out what otherwise can be a very confusing mess. The Bay Area has no shortage of large homes, especially in cities such as Atherton or Hillsborough in the Peninsula region. These houses have room for almost any possible setup imaginable. A little education and demonstration on all types and kinds of speakers can go a long way in determining what is right for your home.