Can I Use Surround Speakers As Front Speakers?

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What Is Surround Sound?

Surround sound is a home theatre presentation that gives the impression of multispeaker playback. It offers a more realistic and immersive listening experience that imitates actual physical presence at the event or venue. In a surround sound audio system, not only can the listener hear from multiple playback channels, but they can also hear instrument and vocal parts coming from different directions.

Most surround sound systems come in a 5.1-channel, 7.1-channel, or Dolby Atmos configuration. The five channels are the left, center, and right back speakers, the left and right surround speakers, and an additional back surround speaker. The extra speaker back surround channel is a channel created to add mainly directional sound effects for greater depth and ambience.

The number of channels on the speakers depends on the number of surround speakers, which in turn depends on the home theatre speaker system you have.

What Each Speaker Does in Surround Sound

Firstly, let’s take a look at what each satellite speaker is used for and the role each speaker plays. This will help you understand why you would not want to use surround speakers to fill in your front soundstage.

When you build a surround sound system you need to have a center speaker so that dialogue plays in the center of the room. Using a single very large center speaker (such as the center channel speaker from a Theoretical Acoustics setup) would prevent the dialogue from getting lost and allow you to experience the movie in the best way possible.

For the best surround sound experience, you need to have satellite speakers placed behind your main listening area. The purpose of these is to produce the background sounds from the movie, such as the background music, ambient sounds, and surround sound effects.

Surround sound is particularly effective when it’s used to create the feeling of a helicopter flying over you, a crowd cheering behind you, or the sounds of the night.

Center Speaker

As Front Left, Right Speaker.

For a basic 5.1 speaker configuration we need six full range speakers, one center channel and one subwoofer. For a great 5.1 system, you need some good full range speakers and a good center channel or a few if you can afford it. If your speakers are older than 12 years, it would be a little better to replace them all. If you don’t have the budget for that, then adding a center speaker is a good option.

Differential Wiring

All 5 of the speakers should have either red and black wires for positive and negative or all black wires. The 5.1 speaker inputs on an amplifier or receiver will have color codes on them. If it is non differential, then all of the wires on a channel will be the same color. This is a problem if you want to use surround speakers as front left and right speakers.

If you pick up a good surround speaker and hook it up to your fronts, you will have to strain the surround speaker to hear the dialog and distortion may occur. If the front left speaker has red and black wires and the surround speaker has red and black wires, you can solve this problem by using the green wire as a common. Connect the + to red and black in the front speaker and the + to the green in the surround speaker.

Left and Right Speakers

One of the hottest formats to come along in home theater in the last few years has been “Surround Sound,” as in 5.1, or 7.1. In this scheme, the front left and right speakers are equally important.

The name tells you what they do. The left speaker delivers the left-channel information to your left ear and the right speaker delivers the right-channel information to your right ear. The left and right speakers also make up the center speaker, which is used to provide the center channel information. Together, the stereo speakers and the center speaker make up the Front Channel.

Because these speakers make up the front two channels for audio playback, they have some requirements to meet. If you'd like to maximize your home theater experience, you'll want to make sure these speakers are of good quality.

First, they must be able to handle high volumes without distortion. Since the left and right speakers are so close together, they interact more than any other speakers in the system. Distortion from one speaker can cause its mate to be out-of-sync or can cause "feedback" to occur as the sound is picked up by the microphone and returned to the speaker, creating a loop. Second, they must be able to produce good sound at high volume levels. You may find that lower-end speakers break up or distort at high levels.

Surround Left and Right Speakers

Many of today’s surround sound speakers are also multi-channel front channel speakers.

Using these surround left and right speakers as front channels can give you what many audio professionals call a large left & right front sound field that expands your listening experience far beyond the edges of your TV screen.

But Which Surround Channel Speakers Can I Use as Front Channel Speakers?

The placement of your main left, center, right and subwoofer speakers are usually the only components that matter when determining your channels. However, some surround speaker sets, particularly those that are not enclosed in a cabinet can function as front speakers.

To determine if your surround speakers are capable of serving as front channel speakers, you’ll need to check the speaker specifications. Frequently referred to as THX standards, the speaker set should be labeled as THX certified or THX approved. Many surround speaker manufacturers also use the THX logo on their products.

In addition, THX standards specify response specifications such as frequency range, sensitivity and non-linear distortions. These are typically listed on the back or inside of the speaker’s enclosure.

If your surround speakers are THX certified, you can then use them as front channels.

Subwoofer

The goal of your surround speaker setup is to give you the illusion of sound coming from wherever the screen’s action takes place. That’s why we typically install one surround speaker behind the listener.

As a result, with a 5.1 speaker setup, only two of the speakers are actually producing sound. The rest of the speakers are acting as amplifiers for the front L and R speakers.

However, it’s fairly common to have one of the surround speakers double up as a front speaker.

Depending on the speaker arrangement (see section 3), it is recommended you setup your left and right surround speakers behind you, instead of using your surround speakers as your front speakers.

The other three speakers can function as front speakers. Since it’s only one speaker, the setup can be a bit tricky. Personally, I prefer to place my subwoofer underneath the TV, since it’s still fairly centrally located, but it’s out of sight.

That leaves the center and surround speakers as options for the front speakers. I usually put the center speaker at the top of my TV. It’s a thick screen, so the top is usually less visible. Since this option takes up the minimum amount of space, it’s my first choice.

Things to Consider When Using Surround Speakers As Front Speakers

In order to make sure that surround sound speakers work in a surround sound setup, you must understand the concept of channel order. It’s also important to pay attention to speaker impedance and power handling.

Here are the basics that you need to know about the role of surround speakers in a surround sound setup:.

Summary

Absolutely, yes! The 7.1 surround system works with your center front and rear speakers to create a complete sound imaging system. The more speakers, the better the sound. Keep in mind that from experience, having two rear speakers is the minimum requirement for a surround speaker system.

The center speaker’s placement is at the center point between the front left and right speakers. This placement allows for the audio from the audio source to be distributed more evenly throughout the front and two rear speakers. Likewise, the center speaker’s location, in addition to the spacing of the two front speakers, allows the listener to be surrounded by the sound.

So, yes you can use your surround speakers for front speakers. However, the point of having four front speakers is that they better distribute the sound evenly to the listener. This is why most surround speaker systems come with either two or four front channel speakers.

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