Home theater speakers typically reproduce all audio frequencies on a soundtrack except for the lowest bass and the low frequency effects (LFE) channel, which are reproduced by subwoofers. Low bass is redirected from speakers to subs below a crossover frequency - normally 80Hz - via bass management in an AVR or pre-pro.
Three main types of home theater speaker exist: stage or left/center/right (LCR) speakers, typically mounted behind an acoustically transparent projection screen or around a TV; surround speakers mounted in or on the side and rear walls; and top speakers mounted in or on the ceiling.
The cinematic reference requirement for speaker sound pressure level (SPL) output is 85dB program + 20dB headroom, though few home theater enthusiasts listen at true cinema reference, so output requirements can normally be relaxed 3 or 6dB.
Great sound quality is the prime requirement! Speakers should accurately reproduce the soundtrack at cinematic SPLs without audible distortion.
Suitable form factor. LCR and surround speakers should be shallow format sealed boxes or in-walls, to minimize their intrusion into the theater and/or allow them to be hidden behind stretch fabric. Top speakers are normally mounted in-ceiling, and should have angled baffles to direct high frequencies at the seating area.
Excellent acoustic measurements. On axis frequency response should be close to flat so that the soundtrack is presented faithfully and without timbral distortion. Speakers must have wide dispersion in order to provide a consistent audio experience across multiple seats.
On a limited budget in a small room? Consider the Procella P5V, a 91dB efficient, 4-1/2" deep, sealed cabinet design that can be used as an LCR, surround or top speaker.
MSRP is $1000, with an in-wall version, the P5IW available for $1349. In larger rooms, the P5 makes an awesome surround speaker companion to the $2800 P8.
Sonically, Procella speakers are balanced to the warm side of neutral and offer great dynamics, lagging behind class leaders such as JBL Synthesis only on the resolution front.
Simply put, a near perfect home theater speaker.
With a list price of $3000, the SCL-3 is a 91dB efficient in-wall with 110 degree dispersion and superb acoustic measurements. It's one of the only compression driver based speakers that manages to blend high sonic resolution with zero listener fatigue, a testament to JBL's transducer and waveguide design capabilities.
If you need more SPL output, move up to the SCL-2 at $6000, which more than triples the amount of woofer surface area and uses a dual diaphragm compression driver like the M2.
JBL Synthesis and Procella are the main speaker brands we use in our home theater projects. For mixed use music / movie rooms, we highly recommend ATC, manufacturers of highly resolving speakers such as the HTS40. Other brands we use include Revel, KEF's Extreme Theater models and Martin Logan's Stealth series.
How do you know that the a speaker will deliver the goods in your home theater? It's not just a question of reading reviews, picking the award winners and hoping for the best. In a high performance home theater, the speaker and powering amplifier are engineered to meet the specific coverage and SPL requirements of your project. Here are the main questions we answer through our Audio Design service:
Will this speaker deliver desired SPLs / cinematic reference in my theater?
How many amplifier Watts are required to meet SPL requirements?
Does this speaker have enough dispersion to provide even sound coverage across my seating area / key seats?
Nyal Mellor, Founder, Acoustic Frontiers