Characteristics of a "good" home theater sound

Over the years, I have listen to many home theater setup, some very conservative, some very lavish but the endgame is always the same - i.e. to get the best home theater sound. But what exactly constitutes a “good” home theater sound? I believe the following are the characteristics:

1) Speakers cannot be localized (timbre-match using same make of speakers)
2) Subwoofers cannot be localized (with proper phase and time alignment)
3) Sound “follows” what is presented on your screen (this is especially hard for object-based sound)

The last point is rather difficult to implement because most of the height speakers are usually of different make and models. For instance, for aesthetic reasons, we go for in-ceiling speakers but the specs (like the type of sensitivity, crossover and driver used) which are very different from the bed speakers (5.1/7.1). This is not ideal as the height speakers will sound very different from your bed speakers during a panning scene. This will probably take you out of the experience. As far as possible, try to use the same type of speakers for your height solutions - i.e. all bookshelf across the board. Having say that, I would say a good Room EQ does help to minimize this issue to a certain extent.

At the end of the day, a well-calibrated home theater sound should put you right in the middle of the action or story. Both image and sound should come across as realistic as possible without being overtly distracted by the sound. If you are able to achieve that, you will know you’ve nailed it…

So what are your thoughts or any characteristics that you think should be included?


Well some prefers more “HT” hence the speakers used shall be more 'cinematic", aka brighter, louder, Horns etc

Some prefers hybrid, more in between “stereo” and “HT”, hence speaker used tends to sound a little warmer in order to fit in stereo listening.

Best to have separate system, this constitutes to having different room,which to some, or maybe majority, challenging to achieve since mostly staying HDB.

I’ve came across customers with mostly speakers positioning out of place (especially surround pairs putting high up) due to space constraints, they heard alright initially, until they heard what actual sound panning are, they’ll start to make changes.

Hence, “Good” tends to be very subjective to individuals but yes, the pointers above does makes sense.

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Very good and valid points…There are some audiophile-turned-home-theatre enthusiats who believed to start with 2 channels to get perfect stereo imaging then moving on to home theatre surround setup, which means LCR is crucial. People like Kaydee6 and Gene Dellasala approached it this way.

I agreed that it is HARD to achieve the best of both worlds, hence 2 setup, one for Home Theatre and the other for Hi-Fi music listening will be ideal but in Singapore where real estate is a “luxury” (unless you lived in a landed property), this is going to be challenging.

My belief is to get 2 things right! First is to get the bed layered speakers (5.1/7.1) right and whenever possible BUT we know if your setup is in a living room, the surrounds will always not be ideal. Hence I will rather advocate members to focus on the front mains and the dialogue which together formed about 80% of the cinematic experience and dare I say, 100% for stereo listening. So if I am going to plan on the layout and how I spend my money to maximize the sound quality, I will first:

  • Get a good LCR which can do reasonably well for music and movie. It need not be expensive but it should provide the same timbre matching and tonality all across. This is more critical than having more speakers like wides (rarely use by most of us since most of us simply DO NOT have the space for it).

  • Get at least 2 matching subwoofers of identical make and model (e.g. 2 ported or 2 sealed subs, but never mix) to get a smooth bass response throughout as this will ultimately benefit BOTH hifi music listening as well as movie watching.

  • Surrounds or even surround backs can be placed at best efforts. The key is to create a “surround-field” that encircles you within the surround bubble as much as possible whilst considering the space constraints one might face.

  • ONLY after the bed-layered speakers sounded great, will one considered to work towards the height speaker layout. The room size will dictate how many height speakers you can install. If your room size is not big and you have to force yourself to install all 2 pairs (4 height speakers) close to each other, you are doing it wrong. There is simply no separation between the front and the rear hemisphere. In this case, do not use in-ceiling speakers, instead ceiling mount the speakers on the front and the rear walls will be more appropriate.

I always believe in foundation must be right before we can build a skyscraper from the ground up. Get LCR and your subwoofers right is what I will do for those with living room or small-space setup. The rest can be best effort imho. This way, you will get at least 80% of the sound system right instead of 50-50.


I am a HT guy and i believe 2 channel setup is the most important fundamental setup for both Stereo and HT. Distance between left right speakers and distance between MLP to front left right are important, speaker that toe in get better center image but will strink soundstage as compare to speaker without toe in that have a wider soundstage less focus on the center imaging. It take some time to adjust your MLP position through listening to some familiar sound track that you are familiar with. For some track you can hear sound coming from your left and right ear, sound above your head and behind you. After than adding the center speaker and surround will help to enhance your music and movie experiences. You will achieve better surround bubble feel when playing music or movie.


Agreed too. To add on to the 3 areas, imho, i feel the following are key to me:

  1. strong layered but balanced bass tactile (low rumble & chest thump). This is a deal breaker for me.
  2. seamless LCR and surrounds sound panning (and cannot feel there is a big “hole” between speakers)
  3. dialogue is clear + cannot be localised to centre speaker location
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The question of HT vs stereo speakers has come up multiple times in multiple forms. It seems to mean different things to different people.

The take from Erin here seems to be one of the most objective and easy to understand explanation.

For stereo, audiophiles often prefer a wider dispersion speaker. When done right, this can present a wide sound stage, which is advantageous for stereo.

For HT, wide dispersion speakers will send a lot of energy to the sidewalls, which results in more reflection energy and a less focused sound - ratio of direct sound to room reverberation sound. Once this ratio drops below a certain threshold, the sound goes to mush as you cannot hear the speakers over the reverberation energy in the room.
With multi channel HT, many speakers sending a lot of energy into the room. Often a lot of absorption is used to manage the reflection energy. Preserving ambience is less critical as the surround channels have ambient cues encoded. That is why a lot of HT setup do not sound good for 2ch stereo - all the ambience energy has been absorbed. The next level in HT sound stage and sound field can be achieved using a mixture of absorption and diffusion - most recently covered by the Anthoni Grimani feature series with Audioholics.

So it is implied that narrower dispersion speakers - eg Kef coaxials, and newer designs using waveguide on the tweeter eg Buchards etc work well for HT. Benefits include higher efficiency (more output always good for HT) less energy to sidewalls.

That is not to say wider dispersion speakers are not suitable for HT. If the speakers are well designed, and the room acoustic treatment is tailored to the dispersion of the speakers, one can achieve just as good HT performance using wider or narrower dispersion speakers.

As Wind mentioned, and also recent youtube reviewer talking about buchardt speaker - the WG on the tweeter can impart a certain ‘projection’ of the sound field, which tends to be perceived as more dynamic, exciting and advantageous for HT. My interpretation of this is the inherent direct/ reverberant sound ratio from the speaker output in a given acoustic environment. A narrower directivity speaker will naturally have a higher ratio, but a wide and even dispersion speaker with significant front stage absorption will also have a high ratio, which gives good clarity.

One thing that is implicit and very difficult to achieve regardless of wider or narrower dispersion, is actually the evenness of dispersion. Meaning the entire spectrum of sound energy is equally wide or narrow, varying in a smooth mannar. When there are significant variations in dispersion / directivity through the mid and high frequency, the resultant sound is unpredictable and difficult to control even with the best room EQ.

My recent experiences shutting down the HT, moving to temporary rental and setting up a makeshift 5.1.2 HT, and now the living room 7.1.4 setup using various kinds of speakers has actually been very enlightening. I have been pleasantly surprised at how decent the results are post calibrations, with various types of speakers, hardly ideal and often breaking some preconceived notions.

Apologies a bit long rambling post. A topic very fundamentally close to my heart and hope to chat a lot more here!!

Edit: Arendal speakers are really really good for HT, based on their controlled directivity and even dispersion with frequency. Was lamenting that they are not really available here in Singapore.


Excellent summary!

  1. Speakers cannot be localized (timbre-match using same make of speakers)
  2. Subwoofers cannot be localized (with proper phase and time alignment)
  3. Sound “follows” what is presented on your screen (this is especially hard for object-based sound)

Hi Desray,

Can you share your experience about what makes the LCR speakers more or less localized in the sound stage?

Is it more to do with the

  1. type /model of speaker used,
  2. the physical placement and setup,
  3. the acoustic environment ie treatments of the front stage, or
  4. the room EQ calibration by the AVR processor?

In a later post maybe I will outline some of the considerations for the above list, from my research and experience over the years.

I think this hobby is very fraught with trial and error. Often we have no idea why something works or doesn’t work. Changing gear to ‘upgrade’ often turns into a ‘side-grade’ where the result is different, but not necessarily better.
The understanding of cause and effects is not clear, so it is often difficult to make the right changes to get the desired effects. We upgrade a piece of gear for one reason, but maybe end up getting another result instead.

Often we hear stories of people talking about something special in their previous setup, which was lost when changing gear. And no idea of how to get that magic back…

Or we experience something we like in a friend’s setup that we visited. But upon purchasing the same piece of equipment, the results is still not the same as the original experience.

The recent revolution with data driven reviewers like Amir and Erin has really helped reduce the uncertainty in gear selection.
This will help enthusiasts determine what they require, and how to get there with a data driven approach, compared to trial and error.


Talking about equipment upgrades for one thing and losing something else in the process. I think an example of this can be seen in the evolution of commercial HT subwoofers.

In the early 2000s with emergence of SVS, it was a race to 20hz output, at the cost of everything else, namely bass speed or quality.
I think a lot of these generation of subs deliver the sheer 20hz output, but somehow the midbass impact was missing. There was a hole in the response between the subs, and the mains speakers.

In terms of HT experience, good midbass impact may be even more important than low bass authority…

This may be partly why the KK12012 subwoofers were so popular, because it literally filled the hole in the subwoofer market. Subsequently, Other subs like the Hsu MBM, or PSA subs using pro midbass drivers began to emerge, with more balanced output. Good midbass, and good low bass extension.

In recent years, the overall quality of the HT subwoofers have increased significantly, and consumers are able to get decent midbass impact, together with good low bass extension and authority.

Nevertheless, all newcomers to the hobby seem to have to go through this learning curve in their HT bass…

Bit of a tongue in cheek summary from a chat with some audio kaki

The bass journey goes something like this.

  1. Want a bit better bass than HTIB or 2.1 PC speakers
  2. Get small 8in or 10in hifi subs. Have bass quantity but not really quality or authority.
  3. Get better subs like SVS etc that has 20hz authority.
  4. Omg the modal peaks. My ceiling is falling and neighbor calling police and wife kick me out.
  5. Get some treatment to manage decay times and EQ capabilities to cut modal peaks. Get dual subs to smooth in room response.
  6. After treatment and EQ peaks, response feels tame… No midbass impact and excitement. Chasing more output. Upgrade to 15s or 18s.
  7. Moar and MOAR.



Thx for sharing this bro. Learnt a lot and easy to understand.

Is there anyone using arendal speakers here or in ex-XP forum? I kind of remember 1 or 2 members bought the subs + speakers tog but could be wrong.

Wechnivag - are u referring to the arendal 1723 series? I like the wave guide design of the speakers, and also the interesting surrounds design. But 1723 is shipped in is quite ex. Maybe the 1961 would fit budget better

Based on the distortion measurements data, the 1961 would be more than sufficient for HT use, regular watching at - 20 or even - 15 I suspect.

Probably cannot hit reference, but who actually regularly plays at reference levels. Size wise the 1723 is quite a bit larger than the 1961.

1961 actually available just across the causeway in JB. They have the MTM monitor or the angled surround model.

Remember the Hsu CCB 8 (:rofl:) that you ordered - those are also very good for HT.

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Examples of speakers with smooth, even directivity control that would perform very well in a HT setup.

Wider directivity, non WG /horn loading

Narrower directivity - WG tweeter

Coaxials - controlled directivity similar to WG. Hard to beat Kef performance fpr the $$ especially Q series

Finally the latest tour-de-force 800 pound gorrilla - Perlisten

Edit : Adding the Arendal 1961 bookshelf and towers

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Oh wow. Msia carries 1961? :scream:

Yes i like the slimmer dimensions of the 1961 (and the price point too) . I can even wall mount them. They made it so flexible.

I wonder how the 1961u would fair against the kef R series ha…

What do u think of their tri-directional design of their surrounds? I was quite intrigued by it ha

The 1961 has truly blameless textbook directivity performance for a classic 2 way TM. This directly translate to very, very good staging and imaging. This reviewer can sometimes go off tangent or hyperbolic, but his comments here on the sound of the 1961 is totally consistent with my expectation of how they should sound based on the measurements. Even compares them to the LS50 meta, and how it sounds more similar than different. So i would expect very similar tonality vs Kef R series, especially post calibration. Main differences likely in output and distortion limits.

Only nit picking left is really in the areas of subjective character - the highs from a fabric dome vs a metal dome… or ribbon tweeter etc. And component quality - resistors, capacitors in the crossover. But getting the directivity and tonal balance right for a given set of hardware and price point really maximises the performance. And Arendal knocked it out of the park with the 1961.

For surrounds, i think good to stick with the regular TM, as the 1961 tripoles may likely have less predictable performance. They may sound ‘better,’ but likely preference related, and also likely content related. Where they may present some things better but other things worse.

If more output is needed, one can use the 1961 monitor, which is a MTM design.

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So far a bit technical and serious talk. Let’s lighten up the mood with a bit of tongue-in-cheek satire. Please do not get upset with me if some of this hits a bit too close to home, as satire often does… :sweat_smile:

The bass journey goes something like this.

  1. Want a bit better bass than HTIB or 2.1 PC speakers.
    Users upgrading from active desktop speakers, headphones, soundbars. Freshly bitten by the Hifi buy and want better gear! Sadly, we don’t have much of these crowd anymore today. Cannot recall the last time we had a new forumer posting with questions about equipment purchase and planning new setup…

  2. Get small 8in or 10in hifi subs. Have bass quantity but not really quality or authority.
    Subs like this
    Used wharfedale SW-150 subwoofer for sale, Audio, Soundbars, Speakers & Amplifiers on Carousell
    Yamaha NS-SW050 Active Subwoofer, Audio, Soundbars, Speakers & Amplifiers on Carousell
    and this from Carouhell :laughing:. As you probably know, i do lots of my gear shopping on carouhell. There are some gems to be found. The thrill is in the hunt!! Actually, i have heard these jamo subs at Best Denki etc, they have a surprisingly fun and punchy sound. I actually have some ideas about how one could use them in a HT setup. It’s not what you think! Maybe subject for a later post.
    2x JAMO SUB250 subwoofers, Audio, Soundbars, Speakers & Amplifiers on Carousell

  3. Get better subs like SVS etc that has 20hz authority.
    Entry level subs like SB/PB 1000. REL HT1205. (ok REL not entry level :sweat_smile:)
    Even mid tier, high performance / price ratio champs like Rythmik F12, F15 etc. Good buying decisions, but the next challenge is taming them in the room.

  4. Omg the modal peaks. My ceiling is falling and neighbor calling police and wife kick me out.
    We used to see requests for help on forum, and Desray, Ronildoq, countless others have all done the community great service in helping optimise location and calibration to tame these little monsters.
    I also remember seeing ‘for sale’ posts for subs saying ‘too much for my space’ or ‘my wife asked me to sell or else’.
    Jokes aside, this is a huge barrier and sadly, many cannot progress past this hurdle in their journey. Some audiophiles who say ‘i only listen to female vocals’ or ‘i do not run subwoofers in my HT,’ or ‘bookshelf speakers are better for small rooms’ ( :sweat_smile:) may be because they have given up on trying to tame the bass peaks in their space. Accepting that no bass is better than terrible bass…

  5. Get some treatment to manage decay times and EQ capabilities to cut modal peaks. Get dual subs to smooth in room response.
    Welcome to the start of HT Nirvana! You have almost made it, no doubt with the help of countless hours reading on XP and AVSforum, talking to all the resident expert. Now is the time to truly enjoy what the movie soundtracks are really conveying.
    Weapons of choice include the venerable Rythmik subs, the midbass champion KK12012, and lots of users of the mighty JL Audio subs. JL is somewhat an enigma to me and i’ve always puzzled to understand its secret sauce. From theory, it should not have that speed and agility given the type of driver specs used. Another enigma is REL subs, with their somewhat hyperbolic approach of speed and high level connections. Also something i’ve been trying to figure out.

  6. After treatment and EQ peaks, response feels tame… No midbass impact and excitement. Chasing more output. Upgrade to 15s or 18s.
    You know who you are… Reading and drooling over all the monster 18 in subs on AVSforum, . Entry to this club include the Rythmik F18, Seaton F18, JTR and quite a number of DIY builds with Ultimax, LMS and Peerless drivers.

  7. Moar and MOAR.
    Need we say MOAR? :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

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haha we need to hear our foley effects of celery breaking in utmost high fidelity!!

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Amir from ASR is gonna be pissed after watching this. :joy::joy::joy: