How to Choose a Surround Sound System

More Surround Sound Buying Tips

You should get high-quality cables for your surround sound sytem. Or, if you don't want to deal with that many wires, you have other options.
You should get high-quality cables for your surround sound sytem. Or, if you don't want to deal with that many wires, you have other options.

Surround sound experts like to reiterate the idea summed up in the old adage, "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link." In other words, there are a lot of things that can go wrong with your audio system even if many of the components are top-quality. For instance, it's not wise to be stingy on the connective wires. Though they might seem like they're all alike, these wires can significantly affect the quality of your sound [source: CNET].

We've already mentioned the frustrations that come with stringing wires around a room. Besides the so-called wireless setups we discussed, there's another way to dodge this problem. It's called virtual surround sound and it will simplify the process for you -- even if it doesn't result in the highest quality sound. These systems can consist of just two regular speakers and a subwoofer (hence designated as 2.1) or of a single digital sound projector, which contains a row of speakers.

If you don't opt for the ­virtual surround sound or home theater in a box (HTB) options, you'll have to pick speakers individually. For this route, avoid mismatching brands of speakers, especially when it comes to the left-front, right-front and center speakers [source: CNET]. Although movie buffs should spend about the same amount on each speaker for the cinemalike experience, if you plan on listening mostly to music, aim to spend the biggest chunk of your speaker budget (30 to 40 percent) on the front-left and front-right stereo speakers [source: CNET].

As you might expect, proper placement of the speakers is essential to getting the most out of your surround sound system. But what you might not know is that it isn't something you should put off thinking about until after you've made your purchase. That's because while you're at the store, you should consider buying speaker stands. It's tempting to pinch some pennies here and mount your speakers on bookshelves and tables, but individual stands will deliver the best audio experience. Other advantages to stands? You won't have to waste shelf space, and they make for a slick, professional look.

For more cool audio electronics articles, browse the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • ­A/V Club. "How to Get Gr­eat Surround Sound." FirstGlimpse. A/V Club. June 1, 2006. Vol 3, Issue 6. (March 19, 2009) 2F2006%2Ff0306%2F09f06%2F09f06.asp
  • CNET. "10 tips for better home-theater sound." CNet. (March 19, 2009);contentNav
  • CNET. "Surround-sound buying guide: Separate speakers." CNet. (March 19, 2009);contentNav
  • CNET. "Surround-sound buying guide: Where will I put all those speakers." CNet. (March 19, 2009);contentNav
  • Sams Technical Staff. "The Savvy Guide to Home Theater." Tech Publishing, 2004. (March 19, 2009)
  • Slone, G. Randy. "The audiophile's project sourcebook." McGray-Hill Professional, 2001. (March 19, 2009)