Front Height Speakers vs Surround Back: 5.1 Going to 7.1
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We often receive lots of questions about height vs surround speaker systems. Let’s say you are moving from a 5.1 to 7.1 surround system and you are thinking about adding front height speakers or surround back or rear surrounds. Can you use both? For example, should you add surrounds and then add two ATMOS speakers? Which is the better option? 

Today, we are pleased to focus on the differences between front height speakers and surround back to help you make the best of your surround sound setup.

There is no issue using both front height and surround back speakers in a 7.1 home theater setup. If you must choose between them, rear surrounds will add more to the experience, especially in terms of ambiance, directional effects and panning effects. You already have 3 channels in the front (left right and center) so front height speakers will only add ambiance even with Atmos/DTS:X.

Let’s get into more details.

How Does a Surround System Work?

This helps us understand why front height speakers and surround back differ and how they complement each other to improve your experience, let’s talk a little about surround sound systems from 2.0 to 13.1 systems.

Surround sound is the main element that sets home theaters apart from ordinary TV and stereo setups.

Surround sound systems allow you to enjoy an immersive cinematic experience in your living room by positioning different speakers around the room to handle different audio channels like left, right, center, rear, and so on. Of course, there’s a subwoofer as well.

To have an efficient surround audio system, you need to place between two and three speakers in front. You also require almost the same number of speakers behind your listening position. These are the front height speakers and surround back, respectively.

The home theater will split the audio signal into multiple channels. So, each of the speakers will produce different audio grades designed to enhance your entertainment experience.

Front Height Speakers

The right and left front height speakers produce the most superior and direct sound.

front height speakers

They should be aimed at the listener. Normally, you can place them directly above the main front speakers. You can also place them wide to close the gap between the sides of the room and the main center speakers.

Center Speakers

You need a center speaker for the best experience. You can place your center speaker either above or under your TV screen.

What is the purpose of this speaker? It helps to anchor the sound originating from the front height speakers as well as produce any dialog in the audio. 

The speaker typically helps to play the same sound effects and dialogue as the front speakers don’t directly manage that.

In other words, the center speaker ensures that the sound you receive appears like it is coming directly from the TV to improve the soundstage. 

Surround Back 

Surround-back speakers complete the cinematic experience. In this case, the speakers will sit behind you.

surround back speakers

They do the following:

  • Fill in background noises like rushing water, kid playing kids, dogs barking, and much more.
  • Complements front height speakers

Key Differences Between Front Height Speakers and Surround Back

Front Height SpeakersSurround Back
Produce the most prominent soundFill in background noises
Center speaker anchors its soundComplements front height speakers
Positioned in front of the listening positionFound behind the listening position
Reproduces the show’s dialogue and the main actionThe exact position of the speakers depends on the surround configuration

Which One Should Be Louder, Front Height Speakers or Surround Back?

Now you have seen how front height speakers and surround back speakers are unique but complement each other. They also depend on the center speaker to give you the overall desired sound quality. However, which of them are louder?

Front height speakers are typically designed to be louder than surround back speakers. They feature larger drives that are designed to produce higher-pitched sound. Some people may choose to turn them up louder than the main front speakers which can cause problems.

As the speakers get louder, you will begin to lose some of your show’s dialogue and main action, which is undesirable. So, it is best to allow the surround back to focus on minimizing the background noises.

How to Position Front Height Speakers

Basically, front height speakers should be placed in the upper left/right corners of the front stage.

The first and most crucial step is to position the main front and center speakers. The placement of the front height speakers and surround back speakers will largely depend on where the center speaker goes.  

How to Position Front Height Speakers

Since your main front speakers handle most of the music, sound effects and can reproduce the dialogue, you should focus on balancing the sound field across the screen. 

The objective is to ensure the front right and left speakers and the center complements each other. To achieve this, you should do the following:

Create an equilateral triangle balance: Ensure the left and right speakers are at an equal distance from the TV. Moreover, they should be at an equal distance from the listening position. Imagine creating an equilateral triangle with the front left, the front right, and the primary listening position forming the corners.

Place the speakers slightly away from the center speaker: To position the center speaker in the correct position, you should imagine creating a circle that touches all the corners of your triangle. Try to position the center speaker on top of the circle. This is almost between the front and the left front height speakers.

The front left and right speakers should form about 22-to-30 degrees from the sitting position.

Toe-in the speakers: You can have the speakers angled slightly to point to the listening position. 

This will give you a narrower, more focused sound. Otherwise, you will get a wider soundstage. 

Give the speakers a slight angle: Many audiophiles are okay with 45-to-60 degree angles. Nonetheless, you can start by experimenting with 30 degrees on each side of the center speaker. 

If that doesn’t suit you, try moving the front speakers closer to the screen. Listen as you do this. If you notice that is not improving the sound quality, move the front height speakers apart.

The optimal location for the front height speakers will be about 60 relative to the primary seating position.

Have near-ear level: Put the speakers as close to your hearing level as much as possible. If you use floor-standing speakers, consider raising the height a little bit.

How to Position Surround Back Speakers

Positioning surround backs speakers is based on your surround configuration.

5.1 Surround Configuration

Surround back speakers should be placed behind your listening position in a 5.1 configuration.

5.1 channel surrounds

Technically, surround back speakers do not exist in 5.1 configurations. Nonetheless, depending on your needs, you can consider the left and right surround as the surround back.

front height and surround back speakers in a 5.1 home theater system

Dolby recommends between 110 and 120 degrees from the listening position. However, this is often next to impossible if you have a small room, mainly due to space limitations. In most cases, a 90-degree angle on each side is the better option. 

THX, on the other hand, suggests a range of 90 degrees to 110 degrees. At 90 degrees, we should not talk about “back” since the surround speakers are placed either at a right angle. However, if you work with 110 or 120 degrees, we can find the speakers at the back of the listening position. You can always make compromises. 

Ensure the surround speakers are slightly higher than the front height speakers. 1-to-2 feet above your head-height while sitting is the standard.

Remember that the purpose of the surround back is to create an ambient sound in your listening room. So, positioning them slightly away from your ears will help you to achieve this.

However, as we mentioned before, don’t try to get direct up-front sound from them. This is a preserve for the front height speakers.

7.1 Surround Configuration

The speaker placement for the 7.1 surround configuration is almost the same.

The main difference with 7.1 channel surrounds is that they have true surround back speakers that need not be positioned at 90 degrees to the seating position.

7.1 Surround Configuration

These speakers should be positioned at the rear of the seating position at about 135 to 150 degrees.

You follow the same principles above but ensure that the surround back speakers should be between 135 degrees and 150 degrees.

Wrap Up 

Having a compete-surround system allows you to enjoy movies, shows, and music in a more immersive way.

Having front height and surround back speakers will aid in creating that special cinematic experience.

However, if you must choose between the two, surround back speakers will add more to the experience.