How many do you need?  First, decide if you are going to use a 5.1  or 7.1 speaker set-up.  A 5.1 system consists of 5 speakers and 1  subwoofer.  It will have a front left, center, front right, surround  left, and surround right speaker (the surround speakers in a 5.1 system  are called the “rear” or “back” speakers in normal conversation).  A 7.1  system adds another set of speakers behind you.  Most people can only  fit a 5.1 system in their home.  You can see the recommended speaker  layout for a 5.1 and 7.1 system to the right. 

 Now what?  Once you know the placement and how many speakers  you’ll need, it’s time to decide which type to buy.  There are several  types of speakers including: satellite, bookshelf, in-wall, in-ceiling,  center channel, tower, and soundbar.  You will also need a subwoofer.   When deciding which type of speaker and subwoofer is right for you,  consider these 3 factors: sound quality, room decor, and price. 

Bookshelf Speakers

 These speakers can be found in various sizes ranging from the size  of your toaster to the size of a 5-gallon bucket.   Bookshelf speakers  can be wall mounted, placed on a shelf, or placed on a stand.  Good  bookshelf speakers can provide excellent sound.  They will rank behind  tower speakers as far as sound quality goes.  They are probably the  hardest to add to your room decor because they don’t really look like  they belong no matter where you put them.  If you can find a place for  them, you can get great sounding bookshelf speakers at a reasonable  price. They start at $100/pair – $2000/each depending on quality.  The  average consumer will spend $200-$400 per pair. 

In-Wall Speakers

 In-wall speakers are installed just as the name describes- in  the wall.  They can be the size of a toaster to the size of a small  microwave (just the front of the microwave).  In-wall  speakers will cost more than bookshelf speakers, but comparable  bookshelf speakers will sound better.  Usually, they are installed on  either side of a flat panel TV with a 3rd installed either above or  below the TV.  The side speakers are installed vertically with the 3rd  speaker installed horizontally serving as the center channel.  That 3rd  speaker can be hard to place, since it should be centered on the TV and  there is often a wall stud in the way.  You can always move the stud  (following building codes) or move the TV, but that might be more than  you want to deal with.  Another option is to install the side speakers  in the wall and have a table top center channel on a shelf or cabinet  below the TV.  In-wall speakers also work great as rear speakers. 

In-wall speakers sound great, are easy to install (if there  isn’t a stud in the way), and can go with any decor.  Windows and studs  are an in-wall speaker’s greatest enemy.  They will make installing them  difficult or impossible.  If your wall has room for an in-wall speaker,  you want great sound, and you don’t want to disrupt the room decor,  in-wall speakers should be your choice.   Prices will range from $100  each to $2500 each depending on quality.  The average consumer will  spend between $200 and $500 per speaker.

In-Ceiling Speakers

 These speakers are just as the name describes them- installed in  your ceiling.  They are very easy to add to any room since they blend-in  and can be painted to match your decor.  The sound quality of an  in-wall is not as good as either an in-wall or bookshelf speaker, but  can still sound very nice.  They can be installed in almost any room and  are great for background music in kitchens and bedrooms.  If you want a  really clean looking installation and can’t find a place to use in-wall  speakers, in-ceiling speakers are a great option.  In-ceiling speakers  range in price from $100/pair to $1500 each.  The average consumer will  spend between $150 – $350 each for surround sound speakers and $150/pair  to $400/pair for background music speakers.   The above photo is an in-ceiling speaker installed above a shower.  This one is moisture resistant, so it’s perfect for this environment. 

Center Channel

 Every home theater system needs a center channel.  It is by far  the most important speaker since it plays the majority of all the  sounds.  For that reason, it is crucial that you get a quality center  channel.  Even though any type of speaker can be used as a center  channel, you should use a speaker designed for that purpose.  A table  top center channel will be the best that you can get.  Normally, you put  them on a shelf or cabinet above or below the TV.  They will range in  cost from $100-$1900 depending on quality.  The average consumer will  spend $200-$400. 

Satellite Speakers

 These speakers are very small and discreet.  They can be ceiling  or wall mounted or placed on a stand.  They can be as small as your fist  or as large as two fists.  Even the best satellites can’t compare with  good bookshelf speakers for sound quality, but they can make up for it  by their discreet appearance and low cost.  If you are not a big sound  buff (audiophile), but you still want to have the home theater  experience at a low price, then satellites should be your choice.   Satellite speakers are the most difficult to install due to the fact  that you can only make a small hole to bring the wire out, and all your  work is visible once the speaker is installed.  They are usually sold in  complete packages with a subwoofer included. The price will range  between $300-$1500 depending on the quality you want.  Average consumers  will spend between $700-$1000 on package.  

Tower Speakers

Tower speakers are the best sounding speakers since they can provide  such a wide range of frequencies.  In other words, tower speakers will  produce low, mid, and high tones that are smooth, loud, and clean.  They  are very large and can be hard to place, but they have such a  commanding presence that they can make a home theater system look  powerful and engaging.  Once they are installed, they can be part of the  room decor.  They are the most expensive of all the speakers, but if  you want the best sound possible, towers speakers are a must.  Prices on  tower speakers vary dramatically starting at $300 each and going up to  $3000 each or more.  The average consumer will spend $500-$800 each.  

Soundbar Speakers

Soundbars are relatively new to the home theater world.  It’s one long  slender speaker and sometimes comes paired with a powered subwoofer.  A  soundbar uses technology to simulate surround sound.  The Yamaha  soundbar, for example, uses tiny speakers that can individually pivot in  order to bounce the sound off your walls and ceiling.  They create the  effect that sound is coming at you from the sides and rear of the room.   Some soundbars do better than others, but none sound as good as a full  surround sound system.  They should be installed above or below the TV  (preferably below).  Soundbars usually have a receiver built-in, so you  don’t have to buy a separate component.  They are great for rooms that  can’t have a full surround sound system and bedrooms (where you might  want nice sound but don’t want a battery of speakers).  Prices range  from $700 to $2000 depending on quality.  The average consumer spends  $1200-$1700 on a soundbar. 


Subwoofers are used to add clean bass to your system, and your  home theater will not be complete without one.  There are two types of  subwoofers: passive and powered.  Passive subs are powered by a separate  amplifier.  Powered subs have a built-in amplifier. The only passive  subwoofers you will usually find are in-wall subs.  Even though they  don’t sound as good as a stand-alone sub, a good in-wall sub still  sounds nice and solves the eye-sore problem.  Mini subwoofers are  gaining popularity now and they pack a surprising punch.  These tiny  subs are about the size of a large toaster as opposed to a standard  subwoofer’s large microwave size.  A good subwoofer gives solid, clean  bass at very low frequencies and won’t crackle or distort at high  volumes.  Subwoofers have a wide range of prices starting at $300 going  up to $3000 depending on quality and size.  The average consumer will  spend $400-$700 on their subwoofer.