Speaker placement plays a pivotal role in the overall sound quality that you will be able to achieve in your home theater. The true art- and science- behind speaker placement is not easily acquired, yet so worth the effort. When it comes to rear speakers, how far back should they be?
Rear speakers can sit back 6-10ft from the listener with the tweeter placed at least 2ft above the listener’s ear. Ideally, the speaker will be placed at least 2ft away from the surface behind it, or you can use wall-mounted speakers- in either case, angled between 135-150° from the room’s center.
Realistically, how far back you place your rear speakers will also depend on the quality of the speaker you are using. With a higher quality rear speaker, you should be able to adjust the output to be more accommodating for a larger space giving you leeway in placing them further back in a large home theater room.
Work with the specifications of your unique space and adjust as needed. Let’s take a closer look at the various components that go into rear speaker placement.
How Far Back Should Rear Speakers Be?
Depending on how you have your home theater room set up, there will be various components that influence the distance that your rear speakers should be placed behind you.
Specifically, some rooms are longer than they are wide and others are the opposite. So, with so many factors to consider, how do you know where the right spot for your rear speakers to go?
Depending on the quality of the rear speakers, you should be able to adjust the output capacity to accommodate your listeners from a variety of locations. Ideally, you can place them 6-10ft behind the listener, although high-quality speakers can be placed further back.
When it comes to the placement of your rear speakers, this will also depend on how you plan to mount them.
For example, if you are mounting your rear speakers on the wall, you will not have room to work with behind the speaker (obviously, the wall will be there), but this also eliminates the possibility of the sound carrying behind the speakers and getting “lost” in the space.
Still, even if you are positioning your rear speakers closer to you (on a stand and not mounted on the back wall), you will need to pay closer attention to the angle of the rear speaker in the first place.
Assuming the output capacity is appropriate to accommodate your space, and you are using high-quality rear speakers, you should be able to hear the sound coming from them without them sounding like they are off in the distance.
The angle is important, though, in how the sound waves will be emitted from the rear speaker. While subwoofers are known to be omnidirectional and can carry out low-frequency bass emissions from any direction, this is not the case with most rear speakers.
Because of this, you will want your rear speakers facing forward at 135-150° from the room’s center- or from the center listener (aka the axis of the room in which placement of every other component is decided).
In testing the position of your rear speaker, it is ok to move them around.
Of course, with some rear speakers weighing a considerable amount, or you not wanting to have to drill holes in your wall multiple times while testing the location and placement of your speakers, knowing how the speakers will sound in your unique home theater room can sometimes require you to test them out.
You might find that placing them on your back wall is an ideal location aesthetically, but this placement might cause you to consider adding or removing sound-absorbing materials, adjusting the angle of the speaker to fit with the sound system more cohesively, or opting for higher-quality speakers in the first place.
Regardless, you might not know this until you test them out live.
Should Rear Speakers be Louder than Front Speakers?
Check out my article: Should Surround Speakers Be Louder Than Front Speakers?
With booming bass and a resonant sound coming from your rear speakers, you might be tempted to keep turning them up. After all, the louder the better, right?
This is not always the case. You need to develop a cohesive sound quality that is able to perpetuate high-quality audio- not just the loudest option available. Still, in wanting to have a high-quality sound system (that is also loud), you need to know which speakers should be louder- front or rear?
While rear speakers need to be loud enough to clearly impact the audio experience within your home theater, front speakers should remain the loudest and clearest. This is to help distinguish the audio heard in dialogue and more subtle changes in varying frequencies.
Interestingly, much of the dialogue that you will hear will be distinguished between the audio channels on the front left, center, and right.
Still, even in this combination, you will find that the center audio channel is often the one that perpetuates the clearest dialogue and distinguishable differences between mid-range and high-frequency audio.
Because of this, you want to support the listener’s ability to clearly hear what is being emitted from the front of the room. If you were to overpower your rear speakers, your overall sound quality would suffer from it as the clarity and precision would be lacking and your booming background noise would become distracting.
For this reason, among many others, keeping the rear speakers at the same noise level or, more commonly, quieter than the front speakers is highly suggested.
This does not mean that the frequency range has to remain the same, as you will likely send lower frequencies to the subwoofer (which can be placed in the back of the room), but you just want to focus on not letting your rear speakers overpower your front speakers.
In a sense, you can imagine this as a live concert experience. While the maestro conducts the orchestra up-front, you can appreciate the background acoustics coming from the speakers in the background.
Yet, the focus should always remain on the front audio so as to create the least distracting, most clear, and most enjoyable audio experience for the listener.
Do Rear Speakers Make a Difference?
So, if front speakers are the ones doing the majority of the work, you might begin to wonder why you should get rear speakers in the first place. If you need to place them towards the back of the room away from the listener, do they even make a difference to the overall quality of sound you will be able to achieve in your home theater room?
Rear speakers are an irreplaceable part of a sound system when well-placed and appropriately incorporated. Rear speakers help to perpetuate a more robust sound quality for the authentic surround sound effect- including mid-range and low-frequency audio.
Still, the importance of choosing the right type of rear speaker and placing them well is incredibly important. For example, if you are working on a home theater setup in a small living room and your couch is not placed more than 2ft off of the back wall, then you might want to reconsider using rear speakers.
If you were to use rear speakers in this example, the sound perpetuated by the rear speakers would not travel to the listener’s ear in the same way that it would if it were placed the minimum of 3ft back with an ideal 6-10ft range away from the listener’s ear. In this case, you would likely hear a more distorted audio sound with an increased localization pointing to the back of the room.
Instead of choosing rear speakers in this example, you could bolster the side and front speakers and add a high-quality subwoofer to help expand the frequency range and output capacity. Otherwise, the audio quality would suffer from the use of rear speakers in a room that could not accommodate them well.
On the opposite end, when you use rear speakers in a room that is able to accommodate them well, you will likely wonder why you never installed them in the first place.
If you are able to place the rear speakers in an appropriate location in your home theater (that is, far enough back from the listener, spaced far enough apart, and working in cohesion with the other pieces of sound equipment), they make all of the difference to the fullness of sound you will experience.
The rear speakers will be able to decrease localization, more evenly distribute sound to create a true surround sound effect, and can help the listener to truly feel like he or she is immersed in the media that you are streaming. If you are able to use rear speakers in your home theater, then investing in them is definitely worth it.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.