Ceiling speakers and 'True' Surround Sound

rf73July 23, 2010


We are building a new home and have the option of wiring our family room for 5.1 "surround" sound through the placement of 5 in-ceiling speakers plus an in-wall subwoofer. Our family room space is not a traditional '4 sided' space, and one of the walls is almost completely taken up by a window bank; therefore wall mounting was not necessarily available and the in-ceiling setup seemed the most space-efficient way to go. We actually don't have a back wall due to placement of our center hall staircase.

Living room is about 15X18 if you drew a parallellogram over the floorplan, but there's a ton of open space. TV will be focused front and centered over the hearth.

I have read on this board and other HiFi audio sites that 'in-ceiling' 5.1 or 7.1 will not give you 'true' surround sound due to the fact that 'true' surround sound is meant to fire laterally and the ceiling speakers will be firing 'downward', or 'cascading' over the listener.

I've been in homes that have both setups and can't recall having had any specific difficulty or dislike for either; then again I'm not an audiophile. Would appreciate any thoughts or experiences.


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5.1 (& 7.1) is used for the audio program on digital video sources in home theater systems. It was designed, and the sound is mixed with the intention that the front speakers are at ear level to the R/L of the screen and that the rear speakers are about three feet above ear level on the rear wall. And, it is very directional!

Music is two channel (excluding DVD-Audio) and only enhanced by the receiver if desired to create more spacial ambiance. But other than R/L it is non-directional.

I have attempted to make the best of a bad situation for customers who had speakers installed in the ceilings during new construction and then tried to use them for 5.1 sound. I can tweak things on higher end equipment, using test discs, measurement equipment & black magic to make it better but it is never really right. The number one problem is that onscreen dialog is hard to make out on ceiling installations.

Oh, I almost forgot.. reflections! Coming from the ceiling directional sound can reflect on walls and surfaces and cause all kinds or anomalies. I have even had to suggest hanging tapestries and other things to reduce the reflections.

So, for music, ceiling speakers are great (the sound almost showers over you) but for surround sound, they just ain't gonna work!

I hope you can find somebody truly professional in you area that has worked with these issues and can suggest other alternatives.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2010 at 7:17PM
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Since I will be in a similar position next year I thought I would follow up.

Our new home build great room setup has the ability to have high quality in wall center channel, plus Front R/L, and an in wall subwoofer, all in the correct location relative to the TV. We won't have it over a hearth or fireplace, so the TV will be the main feature of that wall.

However, the rear channel speakers will have to be either on stands at the rear of the couch/seating area (not preferred) with speaker wires in the floor, or the 2 rear channel speakers will need to be in ceiling speakers.

I think this is a good compromise since we can up the quality of all speakers, plus in a 5.1 system the rears aren't as important as the fronts and center with regards to dialog. At least that is what I have been told. We won't have perfect enveloping surround sound with pinpoint accuracy but we will have a decent system - we hardly watch movies anyway - mostly sports and broadcast TV

Does anyone have other ideas for us???

We don't want to have any speakers or wires coming out of the floor - and can't use wireless since we don't want a plug in the floor either...


    Bookmark   October 5, 2010 at 5:03PM
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No such thing as surround sound. This was a fraud pertetrated on the consumer by the electronics industry many years ago, with the blessing of the FCC. Two frauds actually. First, all audio is recorded in two channel stereo. To achive "surround sound" the turner digitaly strips a given frequency range and sends it to another speaker. Do this enough times and you get 5.1 or 7.1 or however many channels you might want within the audio range of human hearing, excepting of course the sub woofer. Second fraud is the way the FCC allows them to list the power output of a system. In surround sound, they can add the power to each speaker and list the total watts as the power of the system. Stereo has to list the power to a single side. Hence, the actual power output is the same as a 100 watt stereo as a 500 watt 5.1 system. Speakers...huge issue here. Only high end surround sound systems have modestly good speakers. You can get studio monitor quality floor standing speakers at a fraction of the cost of a high end surround system. Throw in a good receiver, and your modestly priced stereo system will outpoerform most high end surround sound systems every time. If you have the room for the floor standing speakers in your house.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2010 at 5:04AM
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tcian says no such thing as surround sound. That's a load of horsedung. A Dolby Digital 5.1 recording will have 6 independent channels encoded in it. Same with DTS and many of the newer standards. The original "Dolby Surround" that was introduced in 1982 was processed stereo. Get out of the 80s.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2011 at 12:19PM
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