Should Surround Speakers Be Louder Than Front Speakers?

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How a Surround System Works

Surround sound systems are popular for movies but can add a level of realism to gaming as well. To create a realistic 3D soundscape, a surround speaker system must have surround sound effects from all sides. If the surround sound speakers are too quiet, you’ll just have sound stage coming from the front speakers.

Even when the surround sound speakers are at a good volume level, the front speaker should still be louder than, or at least equal to, the subwoofer. The distance between the subwoofer and the front speakers will directly affect the relative volume level between the two.

Here are a few reasons why it’s important that the front speakers be louder than the surround sound speakers:

{1}. If the front speakers are too quiet, an unnatural surround sound experience will be created. The sound stage will stay focused at the front, and the surround speakers may contribute nothing to it. This can cause the sound to seem spread thin, making it hard to tell where the sound is coming from.
{2}. In a perfect world, the volume of the front speakers will match the volume of the subwoofer so you don’t need to adjust it manually. The front speakers, which are facing you, and the subwoofer can even look the same size.

Front Speakers vs Surround Speakers – Which Should Be Louder?

Surround speakers deliver sound from behind the viewer(s) and offer a greater feeling of immersion than front speakers can. When you take the time to properly set up your surround sound system, the difference in sound is immediately apparent.

Most people pair the surround speakers with the front speakers. But the surround speakers don’t always have to be as loud (or louder) than the front speakers.

The degree to which surround speakers should be louder than the front speakers is determined with individual and situational variables in mind. For instance, the volume level of the front speakers is affected by the number of viewers, whether those viewers are sitting close together or far apart, the distance of the speakers from the center of the room, the angle of the speakers to the viewers, and the texture of walls and ceiling.

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

How Loud to Have the Speakers

In your Theater?

This is an age old question. One that gets asked on almost every home theater forum on the internet. The answer to this question has nothing to do with overall volume preferences or tastes. The answer is an objective one and based solely on the physical limitations of your body's hearing and your room. It's pretty much science.

When you hear loud sounds, you experience a sudden change in volume. Your body can only recognize a certain amount of dynamic range. What does dynamic range mean? Dynamic range is the difference between the softest and loudest sounds your body can physically experience. The larger that range, the more fine-tuned your ears are to hearing subtle changes in volume.

To visualize dynamic range, think about the range between the loudest sounds (such as fireworks) and the softest sound (such as a butterfly landing on your ear). Think of the loudest sound as your amplifier and the softest sound as your surrounds. Which would you rather have at a higher volume – your rears or your fronts? It's like when a bassist is miked. The amplifiers and speakers are turned up full blast, and he sits in the front row. What did he get, a good punch in the gut or a slap in the face? I rest my case.

How to Set Up the Front Speakers

Let’s start by briefly explaining how home theater surround sound systems work. A home theater surround sound can be broken down into five main parts: the center speaker (often referred to as the TV speaker), the left and right front speakers, the left and right surround speakers, and a subwoofer. The front speakers are the ones which house the active drivers, the speakers which produce the mid-range and high-range frequencies. The surround speakers produce the lower bass frequencies.

Therefore, one of the most important factors to consider when setting up a surround sound system is the surround-to-front ratio. While the ideal surround-to-front ratio is dependent on your listening preferences and what you’re watching, general guidelines are:

A 3-2 surround-to-front ratio is a typical surround sound setup. With this ratio, you have an equal number of speakers playing from the front and the rear. This allows for natural, spaciousness.

A 4-1 surround-to-front ratio is a common home theater setup. With 4 speakers active, it’s suitable for most movies and TV shows. The four surround speakers can give you a great surround sound even though only one front speaker is in use.

Conclusion

Surround speakers are not supposed to be louder than front speakers.

When you first start adding home theater speakers to your living room to create a surround sound system, there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about the usage of the speakers. And everyone seems to have a different opinion about how to setup surround sound speakers.

Things are a little bit more complicated when you’re adding surround sound speakers to a room where multiple people are going to be hanging out instead of watching TV. Here’s some good advice.

If you’re using your system to watch movies, your surround speakers should be synchronous with the front speakers. They should all be turned up to the same volume and all the components in the movie soundtrack should be equally balanced.

The problem with setting the surround speakers louder than the front speakers is that the entrance ways for the sound will be completely different. If the front speakers are loud enough to cover the entire room, the surrounds will have to broadcast the sound over longer distances, which is harder to do. That’s why you should follow this simple rule.

To cover your whole room, mirror the capacity of the front speakers in your surround speakers. And don’t forget to set the volume level of the surrounds equally with the fronts.

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While it’s definitely easier to set up surround sound speakers than speakers, there are do’s and don’ts to get the best of them.

For optimum surround sound, you need a well-balanced setup with the surround speakers playing the same volume as the front speakers. Here’s what you need to know to get the best surround sound possible.

Understanding the Basics

First things first, the surround system consists of a subwoofer and three to six surrounding speakers. The subwoofer reproduces low-frequency bass sounds while the surround speakers output medium to high-frequency sounds.

The most important thing to remember about a surround setup is that the volume should be balanced between all of your speakers.

In more technical terms, the volume should be matched in three areas: a) the frequency area, so all speakers play lower and higher frequencies, b) the distance area, so the speakers are about the same distance from the listening position, and c) the reverberation area, so the speakers are reverberated by the same environment.

While the three speaker systems and home theater systems are targeting for the same goal, the purpose of the speakers themselves are different from each other.