What Does Each Surround Sound Speaker Do?

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An Overview of 5.1 Surround Sound Speakers

Multiple speakers are included in a surround sound system for home theatre, but they are not there to add to your cleaning chores! It can be useful to start at the beginning and look at the fundamentals before going into the specifics of selecting your speaker system and configuring it.

surround sound

It would be simpler to install your speakers and achieve the finest sound quality in your room if you know what each one of them does in your system. What precisely is surround sound, and what function does each speaker serve? A 5.1 system is the most typical speaker configuration in a home theatre.

However, let’s start out simply and think about the most typical type of surround sound. There are other layout types with additional speakers, and  we will describe some of these as we go. A 5.1 surround sound system has six speakers, and each one serves a particular purpose.


  • Front left
  • Front right
  • Center
  • Surround left
  • Surround right
  • Subwoofer

Central Channel Speaker


Most movie dialogue comes from the centre speaker. This makes it the most crucial speaker for movies and TV. You won’t enjoy movies if you can’t hear the words, right?

Due to its position in the room and role as a speaker, the centre speaker is frequently different from the others. This widens the soundstage when people are conversing on screen.

Flatter and broader speakers can be discreetly placed above or below the TV screen. Multiple woofers and tweeters can disperse sound from a core speaker.

A centre speaker’s tweeter is horizontal, while a bookshelf speaker’s is above the woofer. A typical bookshelf speaker can be used as a centre speaker, but it may be harder to place around your TV and lacks the design elements of a dedicated centre speaker.

The centre speaker in a 5.1 soundtrack plays music and sound effects in addition to dialogue. Thus, the middle should mirror the front left and right speakers in frequency response.

Can surround sound work without a centre speaker? Yes. Speaker layouts are customizable.

centre channel speaker

Disabling the centre speaker in the setup menu of your AV receiver will downmix the sound to 4.1 and play the centre channel audio through the front stereo speakers. The soundtrack was originally mixed for 5.1 channels, although some people like the sound without a centre speaker.

Front Left and Right Speakers

The majority of a soundtrack’s music and sound effects are played through the front left and right speakers. They will also be used for dialogue when characters’ voices wander over to the side of the screen.

front and right speaker

Important as they are, these speakers must be able to faithfully reproduce a wide range of tones, from the deep bass of music and effects to the high tones of instruments like bells and cymbals. Subwoofers are responsible for producing really low bass, and I will get to that in a little.

The front speakers are responsible for playing back the most crucial music and sound effects, thus they need to be of the highest possible quality. However, that could be conditional on your planned system usage.

You can save money on the front left and right speakers if you only use them for infrequent movie and TV viewing. Nonetheless, front speakers are more crucial if you plan on using your system for listening to high-quality stereo music. The front three speakers are the backbone of your home theater’s audio system, so don’t scrimp on them if you want to have a terrific movie experience.

front and right speaker set up

There should ideally be a seamless integration between the left, right, and centre channels in the front speakers, creating a full and immersive front soundstage. The vast majority of consumers will match their centre channel speaker to the brand or price range of their front left and right channels to guarantee a consistent sound throughout the room.

As you can see, they have a similar aesthetic to the centre speaker shown in the previous paragraph, and their same technological underpinnings ensure that they will function well together. However, if you’re using speakers from a different manufacturer, you can adjust the equalisation settings on your AV receiver to create a more pleasing listening experience.


Your choice of speakers will typically come down to:

  • Your room’s dimensions and layout
  • How much room you have for speaker placement.
  • In light of how much money you have to spend and the music you intend to play via them – audiovisual works, musical compositions

However, the sound quality from these little satellite speakers may not be up to par. Having music or a movie played through floor-standing speakers is a terrific idea, but they require a lot of room. Therefore, bookshelf speakers usually offer the optimal trade-off between price, convenience, and sound quality.

Surround Sound Speakers

The major music and sound effects in the surrounds are typically played back through the left and right surround speakers. In terms of frequency reproduction, they should be on par with the front left and right speakers but less crucial.

surround sound speakers

Therefore, while they should ideally match the front speakers, it is more customary to skimp there. Overall sound quality will not suffer as much, but using the same high-quality speakers throughout the system is preferable if at all possible.

There are two more speakers placed in the back of 7.1 surround sound systems to further expand the sense of space, and these additional speakers must meet the same specifications as the surround left and right speakers.

They, too, should ideally match the quality of the front speakers, although you might not even notice if they don’t. In a 7.1 setup, it is recommended that the four rear surround speakers be matched for optimal sound quality.


More often than not, smaller satellite, bookshelf, or in-wall speakers are used for the surround sound system. There is no reason not to use massive floor-standing speakers as surrounds if you have the room for them and the budget to do so.

However, it may be more difficult to prevent them from drowning out the front speakers and place them properly. In a surround sound mix, the low-end audio is typically sent to the subwoofer, and the rear channels don’t have much of it.

surroundsound speakers

If this is the case, you may be wasting your money by purchasing full-range floorstanding speakers for your surround speakers. However, they will excel at 5.1 surround sound.

Bipole And Dipole Speakers

The speakers used for surround sound are typically monopoles or direct-radiating speakers. Speakers like the one depicted above are considered “standard” since they project sound in front of the listener.

bipole and dipole speakers

And they’re the usual choice for the big speaker at the front of the classroom. However, bipole and dipole speakers are two specialised varieties often employed as surround speakers.

Bipole Surround Speakers

The two internal speaker drivers in bipole speakers discharge sound in opposite directions, hence the name “bi-directional.” They are set up to disperse the music throughout the room rather than focus it on individual listeners.


Due to their ability to disperse sound more evenly than more conventional direct-firing speakers, bipole speakers are ideally suited for use as surround speakers in a 5.1 or 7.1 system. Furthermore, bipole speakers produce in-phase sound, meaning that both speaker drivers emit sound at the same time.
Small satellite designs or tiny bookshelf sizes are common for bipole speakers.

Dipole Surround Speakers

Dipole speakers, like bipole speakers, house two individual speaker drivers in a single enclosure. However, there is a major distinction. To put it another way, when one side of a dipole speaker pushes, the other side pulls, resulting in an out-of-phase sound.

dipole speakers

The resulting sound is extremely dispersed and hard to localise, making them ideal for use as surround speakers. If you want to get the most out of your bipole or dipole speakers, make sure you instal them as instructed in the user handbook. With bipole speakers, you can place them in a wider variety of locations than with dipoles.


When compared to other speakers, the subwoofer is completely unique. The sole purpose of the subwoofer is to replicate the low bass end, but its addition can greatly improve the audio experience.


Most people don’t have speakers capable of reproducing such low tones, but a dedicated bass speaker may make a world of difference in the quality of your listening experience. To enhance and complement the sound coming from other sources, it might be quite useful.

Also, there’s no need to blast it to the point of making the walls vibrate. In most cases, balancing it such that it only accentuates the bass is the way to go. Certainly, crank up the volume to your heart’s content!

Typically, subwoofers are placed in a sizable, hefty box; some of these boxes have a sleek, modern design, while others don’t. The best technique to construct a speaker that can accurately reproduce low bass frequencies is to use a large cabinet, as this provides the extra physical space needed to produce extremely low bass tones.


However, there are a variety of subwoofers available, so you should be able to find one that fits in your room. The size of the cone in a home subwoofer can vary anywhere from 6 to 15 inches.

Typically, a bigger cone is better able to reproduce low frequencies. Keep in mind that not all subwoofers are created equal; if you don’t have a lot of room for a large subwoofer, don’t rule out the possibility of using a smaller one.

Most home theatre subwoofers are powered, meaning they have their own internal amplification to boost low frequencies. So, your home theatre receiver isn’t truly powering the subwoofer.


An LFE connection on an AV receiver is typically used to send the audio signal to a powered subwoofer, which is then connected to the wall outlet. You can save time setting up wires by using a wireless connection with some subwoofers.

Dolby Atmos Speakers

Dolby Atmos is a new form of speaker that has recently been offered to the home theatre market.


Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks are two recent enhancements to Blu-ray discs. There are also more soundtracks available beyond the normal 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound settings. Both Atmos and DTS:X provide a similar service, namely an enlarged audio track with the objective of producing a 3D sound field (especially in the overhead area) (particularly in the overhead area).

Dolby Atmos speakers, however, allow you to hear this supplemental sound and improve the entire audio experience in your house without the need for additional speakers. The same device could be referred to by a variety of names, including Dolby Atmos speakers, height speakers, and above speakers.

Due to the range of models and possible positions, setting up these speakers is a little more complicated than with normal surround sound speakers. Dolby Atmos audio can only be played through a set of at least two specially built Atmos speakers, which are arranged to maximise the illusion of height.


Dolby Atmos allows for as many as 24 surround speakers and 10 Atmos speakers in a single room, but most people will only use four or six. You should know that your AV receiver will need enough channels to power the additional speakers regardless of the speaker layout you choose.

The fact that multiple kinds of speakers can be utilised with Dolby Atmos adds another layer of complexity, as I’ve already mentioned. You may acquire an elevation speaker with Dolby Atmos capability and place it up at the same height as your conventional surround speakers.

These reflect sound off the ceiling and direct it downward toward the listener, giving the impression that the sound is coming from above. You may alternatively instal your speakers overhead and direct the music toward your listening area.


These speakers can either be in-ceiling installations or regular direct-firing speakers mounted on the wall and aimed downward. There are even slanted, wall-mounted elevation speakers made specifically for Atmos that can simplify installation.

The majority sound will be coming from the front of the room, exactly like with surround speakers, so you can get away with using cheaper Atmos speakers.
If you already have excellent surround speakers, you may want to shell out a little more money for Atmos speakers that can keep up with the quality of your existing setup.


They need not be the same brand as the rest of your speakers, however some people do so to ensure a uniformly good quality and aesthetic. If you want to learn more about Dolby Atmos and 3D audio, check our beginner’s guide to Dolby Atmos.


It may not seem crucial, but understanding the role of each speaker in your system is obviously beneficial. Unfortunately, surround sound speaker systems require a large number of unsightly speakers. You’ll have a better idea of which speakers are best, and which system is best suited to your home, once you understand what they’re doing.

After reading this, you should be able to determine whether or not your space calls for satellite, floor-standing, or bookshelf speakers — or even bipoles and dipoles — and where you should set them up.

If you’re still hesitant, read our article on the top surround-sound speakers for your home theatre.

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Meet the Author

Discover the world of high-fidelity audio with Ashwin, your go-to expert at AVFive.com. With a deep passion for home theater speakers and equipment, Ashwin offers insightful articles and reviews, helping both newcomers and seasoned enthusiasts craft the perfect audio experience. Join the quest for sonic excellence today!

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