Height speakers not that big a deal

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 5, 2011 - 2:26 PM

Many systems don't support them.

Q Do you use height speakers in your home theater?

A Height speakers are a relatively new development in the world of surround sound.

A typical surround system has five or seven speakers, plus a subwoofer. A five-speaker surround system has front left and right main speakers, a center channel and two rear surround speakers. A seven-speaker surround system adds two more back speakers to the mix. Both setups create a 360-degree surround field.

Height speakers are mounted on the ceiling in the front to add a dimension of height to the surround field.

There are several reasons why I don't use height speakers in my home theater.

First, my home-theater processor, an Anthem AVM 50, does not support height speakers. That means I would need a new processor. It would cost more than $5,000 to get something comparable to what I have now that supports height speakers. Then I would need an amplifier and the speakers on top of the new processor.

I would not spend that kind of money to add height speakers, especially since their benefit is questionable. I'm happy with a conventional surround-sound experience.

Height speakers seem like overkill, at least in terms of the typical home-entertainment consumer.

My e-mail inbox has a lot more messages from people looking to avoid complexity than those looking to add it. For example, I regularly get e-mails from readers looking to buy surround bars or wireless speakers so they can avoid running speaker wires across the room.

Height speakers might be suitable for some people, though.

Let's say you want a surround system with five or seven speakers and a subwoofer. If you have a big, dedicated room, lots of money and want the best home-theater experience possible, then go for it. Get a projector or huge TV, a top-of-the-line receiver and lots of great speakers, including two for height.

Next, consider a more typical movie watcher who wants a home theater with five speakers and a subwoofer to be placed in his family room. Here I go back to thinking it isn't worth it.

Most people have trouble getting five speakers optimally placed in a family room or living room. Adding two more on the ceiling just adds complexity.

Next you have financial considerations. Suppose you have a $2,500 budget, of which $600 is allocated for the receiver and $300 for the subwoofer. This leaves $1,600 for speakers.

If you buy five speakers it works out to an average of $320 each. If you need five speakers plus the two height speakers, it is only $228 per speaker, almost $100 less apiece. That extra $100 per speaker goes a long way in terms of sound quality.

I'd rather have great sound from five speakers than mediocre sound from seven.

Submit questions and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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