While home theater systems are often born multi-channel, many others grow up to become 5-, 7-, or more channel systems. For those whose stereo systems evolve into home theater set-ups, there are questions about the speaker complement as well as increasing amplifier channel capacity. Do you need a subwoofer? Must all the speakers in a home theater system be identical or at least the same brand? Can the extra speakers be smaller?
Some enthusiasts are partial to the speakers they’ve been using and others are reluctant to spend the additional money to replace good speakers. The good news is that a “full replacement” is not necessary.
The “timbre” of a speaker, that is, its sonic balance, is important for the “front three.” The left-front, center, and right-front speakers should all have the same sonic balance. This can be critical for voice reproduction; if an actor is talking off-screen to the left or right (with the voice coming from the appropriate speaker) and then walks on-screen with the voice coming from the center speaker, you really want it to sound like the same person. Ideally, the three should be the same speaker (your center channel speaker can be smaller if it has the same timbre and reproduces all the sound above 80 Hz with its bass directed to the left & right or properly placed subwoofer). As you add more speakers and/or sit farther away from the additional speakers, the timbre of these extra speakers becomes less important. If you are just using a different brand or model for rear, surround or effects speakers (and now Dolby Atmos ceiling speakers) timbre matching is nice; but far from necessary. The dispersion pattern of the auxiliary speakers is more important (omni-directional is often the best) than timbre matching.
So, the main front speakers should be matched and the surrounds need not be matched to them – although they should be matched to each other. How about the subwoofer?
Subwoofer brand matching in home theater systems has very little benefit. The placement of the subwoofer is more important. If you are using a subwoofer/satellite system for music, the value of the same brand can become important. The transition from the subwoofer to the smaller speakers is critical for accurate music reproduction in the octave of the crossover (because both speakers are playing the same notes). You can count on the manufacturer to make certain their own subwoofers and satellites work well together, with a smooth and seamless transition.
Home theater and multi-channel music systems are becoming more prevalent, even among music-only enthusiasts. Clearly, for many listeners and viewers, the surround or enveloping sound multi-channel delivers is both dramatic and enjoyable. And, while the investment in amplification and processing is significant, the “upgrade” need not require the purchase of an entirely new complement of speakers. You can stick with what works for you – and build from there. With the Hafler Hookup, you don’t even need change from your stereo amplifier – that’s a discussion for another blog…
Enjoy & Good Listening!
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John Strohbeen Author
John Strohbeen is the president of Ohm Speakers.