How to set-up your home theatre speakers

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You don't have to be an electrician or an acoustics expert to get great surround sound from your home theatre system. Just follow the steps in this tutorial to set-up your home theatre speakers for optimum sound.

In this quick tutorial, you will need the following items:

  • Wire stripper
  • Wire cutter
  • Decibel meter, such as the RadioShack Sound Pressure Level Meter, or comparable smartphone app (if your system lacks an auto-set-up routine)
  • Tape measure
  • Speaker cable from 16 to 12AWG (between 1mm2 and 3.3mm2)

Note: US speaker cables, such as made by Monster, use American Wire Gauge (AWG), where the lower the gauge number, the thicker the cable. Meanwhile, European and Australian speaker cables label their products by the cross-sectional area in mm2.

We recommend a thicker cable if the speakers are a long distance from your amplifier, and for the best sound, ensure that each stereo pair of speakers has cables of equal length.

Home theatre

(Credit: Marantz)

Speaker placement

Arrange the speakers in an arc, at least 30cm from the wall and at near-uniform distances from the sweet spot (eg, the couch). Align the front and centre speakers' tweeter or high-frequency driver at ear level with vibration-damping spikes, stands or a wall-mounting kit. For a surround sound system, it's generally recommended that you opt for models of the same brand and make, for optimal timbre cohesiveness and seamless sound panning.

(Credit: CNET Asia)

To recreate a diffused surround sound field, the rear and side speakers should be installed 30cm to 60cm above ear level. This arrangement works best for movie soundtracks, though you may drop the height difference in the case of multi-channel music such as Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio — these materials are encoded in the studio with directional surround effects in mind.

Take some time to experiment for the ideal subwoofer placement, bearing in mind the bass reinforcement benefits of installing it in a corner. Having said that, do ensure there is ample space clearance for the speakers' ports and to avoid tight quarters. The latter usually results in boomy and bloated bass, instead of a nimble, tight and deep delivery.

Toeing in or out of speakers

This "toe in/out" technique varies the imaging of the left and right front speakers. Toeing-in focuses sound towards the sweet spot, while toeing out — with speakers parallel to the walls — spreads it over the entire room.

(Credit: CNET Asia)

Experiment with different angles for the best effect, but the general consensus is that the former is ideal for a small group of viewers. Stick to the latter if the home theatre system is set-up for your family needs.

Stripping cable

While it may seem to be a trivial step, it's important as proper termination ensures optimal electrical contact, minimises corrosion (eg, copper oxidation) and may pre-empt short circuits.

(Credit: CNET Asia)

Split each cable into two leads and strip off the insulation, leaving a 1cm-long strip of bare wires, taking care not to lose any strands along the process. Straighten before twisting the strands in a uniform direction and trim the excess with a wire cutter if necessary.

Take note that some cable strippers have different notches to cater for different insulation thickness.

Banana plugs

An alternative to bare-wire tipped cables are banana, spade and pin plugs. Attach these to your speaker wire for easy corrosion-free connections, but make sure to pick a plug that fits your equipment.

(Credit: CNET Asia)

On a separate note, two variants are available in the market: screw-on and soldered. Go for the former for a no-fuss termination unless you are comfortable with handling a soldering iron.

Amplifier binding posts

At the back of your amplifier or receiver, insert the bare wire tips into the hole on the side of the binding post and tighten firmly. Most speaker cables come with one marked strand, and this makes it easier to connect positive (red) to positive, and negative (black) to negative on both the receiver and speakers. Mixing up "+" and "-" means you will put your speakers "out of phase", which will sound really strange.

(Credit: CNET Asia)

Do exercise caution to ensure there are no loose strands touching either the back plate of the receiver or other cables after installation, as short-circuit prevention is not standard on all equipment. Damage resulting from such improper installation may not be covered under the manufacturer's warranty.

Speaker binding posts

Repeat the same exercise for the speaker's binding posts, and adhering to the polarity conventions and safety precautions discussed earlier.

(Credit: CNET Asia)

Some higher-end speakers also ship with two sets of posts for each channel with one being "high" and one "low". This means there are four posts on the back of each speaker in total — and this enables users to "bi-wire" or even "bi-amp" to increase performance (theoretically speaking, of course). If you choose not to bi-wire then the speakers come with a metal bridge that connects each of the red and black posts together. Hooking up the speaker cable to either of the posts in the same group is fine, provided firm contacts are established between the "high" and "low" posts.

Software adjustments

Now that your speakers are connected it's time to make sure they work properly. You have two options here: either automatic or manual calibration. Many receivers on the market feature automated audio calibration, and they are similar to Pioneer's Multichannel Acoustic Calibration System aka MCACC. However, in the past we've found this method isn't always accurate and completists may prefer to do the tuning by ear themselves.

Set-up is straightforward using this method: firstly, you connect an external microphone (usually provided) and place it at your listening position. The amp then plays a series of test tones which the microphone picks up, and the receiver then calculates the distances of each speaker and performs any necessary EQ adjustments. It usually takes about five minutes in total.

While the automated set-up above works out all these for you, the three speaker parameters used in manual calibration are: speaker size, volume balancing and sound delay.

  • Speaker size: set the type of speaker deployed for each audio channel. While there is no standard convention used throughout the industry, most of the terms used are self-explanatory. For example, "small" for satellite/bookshelf speakers and "large" for their floor-standing counterparts. Unless you want your subwoofer to take up the slack, it's best to set your speaker size to "large" regardless of which type of speakers you have.

  • Volume balancing: in a nutshell, this is used for getting an even balance for all of the audio channels. If you're not able to situate your speakers in the perfect configuration as in the illustration above then this procedure may be necessary. For this you'll need a sound pressure meter. Firstly, turn the receiver's test tone to "On", and adjust the receiver volume so that your meter hits "90dB" consistently. Most receivers will cycle the test tone through each speaker one by one, but will stop while you adjust a specific one. In this way you can adjust the level of each channel individually on-screen, using the "+" and "-" keys, so that each channel has the same loudness.
  • (Credit: CNET Asia)

  • Sound delay: this is usually measured in metres, and is the distance from you (and not the receiver) to each of the speakers. It's best not to estimate this, and using a tape measure to measure the distance from each speaker to your listening position will be more accurate. By keying in each individual distance the receiver is able to compensate for different-sized lounge rooms and ensure the sound from each speaker reaches you at the same time. You may need to refer to your user manual for adjustment details.

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AndrewS posted a comment   

Well written, easy to follow guide.. I followed all the setup advice and use the speaker wire and banana plugs I bought from


Paul anderson posted a comment   

Wow great guide to HT setup. I just followed your steps, and I have a complete HD system running. For room design and other consideration i followed this one:
Complete guide to home Theatre


bob3561 posted a comment   

Thank you, a well written and informative article, very helpful. posted a comment   


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