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Whether you’re looking to set up your home theater or upgrade an existing one, speakers are a vital part of the system. A frequent question that arises is whether it’s OK to mix speaker brands in your setup.
It isn’t bad to mix speaker brands in your home theater if it’s done with care. The exception may be the three center, left, and right front speakers, which are the hub of your audio experience, as a lot of the audio passes between them. Using the same brand and line ensures consistency in range and tone.
The best way to decide if mixing speakers brands is OK is to understand each speaker’s role and the potential issues. So, before you splash the cash, read the guidance below. It could help you avoid expensive mistakes.
Check out my recommended speaker setup.
Mixing Front Speaker Brands
The front speakers in your home theater system are the central part of the audio setup. The term front speakers is a collective reference to the center speaker and the two speakers on either side of it, the left and right front speakers.
These three speakers are three out of the five or seven in a typical 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system (read my article on this).
In most home theatre setups, the center speaker and the left and right front speakers are three separate physical units. However, the two side speakers are usually a matching pair.
So, it’s feasible to have one brand for your center speaker and another brand for your left and right speakers. But should you?
Well, let’s explain what role the front speakers play before looking at the issue of mixing brands.
The Role of the Center Speaker
The center speaker in your system is often the most important out of all your speakers.
No surprise that it sits in a central position in a home theatre setup. Right in front of the viewing position, at the center of your sound stage.
The bulk of the movie dialogue is channeled through it. Since dialogue is crucial in most movies, playback needs to be crisp and clear. Your center speaker ensures that you can hear the dialogue over the music and sound effects.
It also plays back some of the soundtrack and sound effects.
The center speaker needs to be able to cover a wide range of frequencies, from mid to high.
As you can gather, it’s the center speaker doing all the heavy lifting within your soundscape. So, think of it as the leading actor on your soundstage.
Front Left and Right Speakers
So, your center speaker is your leading actor. Then, consider the left and right front speakers as the supporting actors.
Although it’s a supporting role, these speakers do an essential job. They carry most of the movie soundtrack and sound effects.
Additionally, voices will pass to these speakers from the center speaker as a character moves across the screen.
Given that a large part of their role is the soundtrack, these speakers handle a wide range of frequencies. So, they’re the type of speakers you have in a music system.
Why Mixing Brands of Front Speakers May Be Bad
Any movie buff would agree that you need the right chemistry between leading and supporting actors.
Well, the same applies to your center speaker and your left and right supports. Let’s say that all three speakers, center, left and right need to be on the same wavelength.
Together their output dominates your audio experience. And that’s the thing. You want the front speakers to dominate your sound stage together. You don’t want one or the other hogging the limelight. The sound they produce needs to blend.
This is most easily achieved if the speakers use the same drivers, crossovers, frequency response, and materials. These factors contribute to giving the speakers the same tonal quality. That preserves the sound signature no matter which speaker is outputting it.
Without this, the audio will lack clarity, uniformity, and consistency. For example, it might result in a character’s voice sounding like another person’s voice as it moves between speakers.
Matching specifications ensures sound passes between the front speakers seamlessly. The result is to enhance rather than detract from your listening experience.
The point is made well in this brief video.
Buying the same brand makes matching specifications a doddle. Take this Klipsch 3.0 Reference Premiere Home Theater Bundle (check price on Amazon) as an example. You’d be safe to assume excellent compatibility between the included left and right front speakers and Center Channel.
Is Using the Same Brand Enough?
So, it’s best to stick with the same brand for your center, front left, and front right speakers.
But, you should also look to stay within the same product line where possible. Because often, different product lines within a brand will have different specifications.
If you match both, you’re more likely to achieve the synergy needed between your front speakers to optimize your audio experience.
Mixing Left and Right Surround Speakers
These speakers play the background sounds and special effects in the movie. So, in some ways, their role is somewhat similar to the front left and right speakers.
Without them, your system would be designated as a 3.1 setup, or 3.0 if you had no subwoofer. That’s a perfectly acceptable setup. So, perhaps we can look at the surround speakers as the extras.
Still, the point of surround sound for your home theater is, well, surround sound. So, you want to have surround speakers.
Now, it’s usually best if they’re the same brand and product line as your front speakers. The reasons are those highlighted above.
Many manufacturers produce surround speakers along with front speakers. For example, let’s take the front speaker bundle above.
For that bundle, you can get the Klipsch RP-250S Reference Premiere Surround Speakers (Amazon link). So, the same brand, Klipsch, and the same line, Reference Premiere.
But, it’s not as crucial as matching front speakers. That’s because the role of the surround speakers is less prominent in the whole soundscape. They’re primarily there to provide the atmospheric sounds, to fill out the central attention-grabbing audio.
The subwoofer is the dark, mysterious figure lurking in the shadows of your system.
Its role is to handle the very low-frequency end of the sound range, the bass. Your subwoofer is crucial when it comes to adding depth to your audio. Without it, your sound would be thin and one-dimensional.
So, subwoofers are the final piece of the jigsaw that is your sound system. In other words, they complete your sound picture.
But, because they’re operating within a different range from your other speakers, they don’t need to be matched in the same way.
You’ll need some overlap between the top of the subwoofer’s range and the bottom of the fronts speakers’ range. That will give a smooth transition when the subwoofer takes over the handling of the bass frequencies. But that’s not brand dependent, and should be adjustable via your AV receiver.
To Mix Speaker Brands or Not – Summing Up
In summary, it’s not bad to mix brands of speakers in a home theatre system.
If you’re planning on doing so, you need to match specifications for the best results.
In the main, however:
- Your front left, and right speakers should be a matching pair
- Try to brand and line match, the center, and the left and right front speakers
- The surround speakers should be matching pairs
- Brand match the surround speakers if possible
- The subwoofer doesn’t need to be brand matched
Ultimately, it’s your system. If you’re thinking of mixing speaker brands, especially front speakers, try before you buy. See what combinations give you the best listening experience.
In the end, the soundest choice of all is what works for you.
Check out my recommended surround sound setup.