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HiFi Clarity: Surround Sound Myths

Once upon a time, achieving the immersive audio of surround sound seemed as likely as sending a three-member team to the moon. Monophonic audio ruled the world of entertainment until one day when stereophonic sound took us to a height that we thought represented the pinnacle of sound quality. Eventually, technological advances helped us to achieve surround sound, which mimics the breadth and quality of the audio that we hear in movie theaters.

In the simplest description, surround sound is audio that surrounds a listener in an entertainment environment. If properly set up at home, creating a surround sound system is an incredibly special experience to watch a favorite movie or listen to a musical classic on vinyl. Surround sound pulsates from speakers located in every corner of a room, which projects the highest quality of audio, replicating sounds to the highest degree of detail possible as the audio mixers would’ve intended in the studio.

Surround sound also projects a diverse range of audio, from a booming, floor-shaking bass to the much lighter sounds that accompany the suspenseful scenes of a television show. For all of its advanced audio qualities, a surround system might not be all it is declared to be. HiFi audio experts, such as those of the team at Selby, are constantly clearing up confusion about setting up the audio portion of a home entertainment system. Let’s clear up some common misconceptions and share insights on what does and doesn’t make a difference in a surround sound setup. 

What Are the Components of a Surround Sound System?

A standard surround system requires four primary components.

Foundation Speaker

You can call it the main speaker, but every surround sound system starts with a foundation speaker that is the most important source of audio. A foundation speaker typically is the largest of the surround sound system speakers, which means it provides the most versatile source of audio of any other speaker connected to a surround sound system. The most important types of audio, such as dialogue and pivotal sound effects, come from the foundation speaker.


Developed to produce low-frequency audio, a subwoofer uses air pressure to create a deep, pulsating sound that envelopes a room in a lower frequency sound, or bass. Surround sound systems usually include a subwoofer located on the floor in a corner of a room to maximize the deep bass audio effect. When you watch a movie in a theater, the pulsating feeling you get at your feet during climatic scenes comes from a commercially built subwoofer. A subwoofer designed for home use generates the same pulsating feeling, albeit at a more nuanced level.


A mixer is part of the audio receiver used for home theater systems. Most personal computers contain an embedded mixer that is part of the sound card output specifications. Audio software programs such as iTunes include a mixer that flourishes when included in audio systems that need plenty of power to produce surround sound-like audio. For the highest quality of home theater systems, a separate mixer drives the powerful audio.

Satellite Speakers

Satellite speakers act like the planets that circle the sun. Placed in the left and right sections of a room, satellite speakers complement the bass-driven audio quality of the foundation speaker. The larger the room, the more powerful satellite speakers need to be for achieving classic surround sound effects.

4 Surround Sound Myths

Before you shop for a surround sound home theater system, you should learn about the four most common myths that help you purchase the right system for your entertainment room.

Surround Sound Always Sounds Better Than Stereo

Several audio variables determine the quality of surround sound, including the quality of the mixer used to harmoniously blend all sources of audio. How an engineer mixes audio determines the quality of a surround sound system. In addition to the quality of the mixer used to create the surround sound experience, you also have to factor in the way a surround sound system is calibrated to optimize every point of the audio spectrum.

An exceptionally designed stereo system can compete with a low-quality surround sound system.

You Do Not Need a Subwoofer

Advances in audio technology have led some consumers to believe a subwoofer is not required to set up a high-quality surround sound system. A subwoofer not only produces low-frequency audio that speakers or a soundbar cannot produce, but it also generates a unique Low Frequency Effects (LFE) channel that defines surround sound systems. Not only do you need a subwoofer to create a high-quality surround sound system, but you also benefit by purchasing a system that contains more than one subwoofer.

Larger Sweet Spot

The audio sweet spot which is the merging of levels, balances, and frequency, is often smaller for a surround system. Although professional engineers produce larger sweet spots, the fact remains that a consumer home theater rarely possesses the characteristics that create a larger audio sweet spot. This means the placement of audio components is important when setting up a home theater system that achieves surround sound quality.

Positioning Not Important for Speakers

To achieve the optimal surround sound effect, the locations in which you place the speakers represents one of, if not the most important element of, producing surround sound quality that mirrors what you hear in movie theaters. Many owners of surround sound systems fail to place the speakers in the right locations. For example, placing the center speaker on the top of a television reduces the powerful impact of the surround sound experience.

Positioning the speakers properly helps you create an audio system that drives sound from speakers that arrive at the position where you sit at the same time.

Setting up a home theater system that leverages the power of surround sound can increase the experience of watching your favorite movies and television shows. In fact, it can make it feel like you are at a movie theater if you do not subscribe to any of the four myths that are associated with surround sound systems.

Jeff Campbell