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I Used New Surround Sound Speakers So You Don’t Have To

New and old speaker side-by-side

I Used New Surround Sound Speakers So You Don’t Have To

Key Points

  • New surround sound speakers don’t offer a substantial upgrade over older ones, except for some modern styling and directional speakers that can be pointed towards the ceiling or floor.
  • The most important speakers to upgrade are the front and center channels, and a quality subwoofer is vital to a surround sound system.
  • Reasons to buy new surround sound speakers include having damaged speakers, needing a wireless option, sound not filling the room, and adding channels for larger rooms.
  • Consider upgrading the receiver before the speakers, as it is the most important component and more likely to get outdated.

Surround sound speakers provide the most immersive movie-watching experience. With so many technological advancements in the last decade, it is easy to believe that surround sound speakers also received some upgrades. However, I found that new surround sound speakers don’t offer a substantial upgrade over older ones.

Other speakers, such as portable Bluetooth ones, have seen some major improvements, thanks in part to shrinking amplifier technology. In fact, the only reason I bought new speakers was that the old ones were simply too small. In the end, there was one speaker that really blew me away, and it’s probably not the one you think.

Surround Sound Speaker Overview

Sony bookshelf sscs5 speaker.
Sony’s SS-CS5 is the perfect replacement for small surround sound speakers.

A standard 5.1-channel surround sound system uses a small speaker in each corner of the room, one under the TV, and a single subwoofer. Newer systems, including the popular 7.2-channel system, use a few extra speakers. The small speakers may also be swapped out for larger bookshelf speakers or even freestanding floor speakers if the receiver is powerful enough.

A central receiver delivers a different audio signal to each speaker via a wire. The receiver interprets the raw audio signal from a TV or other input and sends the proper signal to each speaker. Therefore, there are no integrated electronics in the speakers that can get outdated. However, some newer systems do use wireless speakers, but these are sold as sets rather than individual components.

What’s Special About New Surround Sound Speakers?

New surround sound speakers may feature modern styling with sleek lines. While there are several styles of surround sound speakers, most are still rectangular boxes. In reality, basic shelf speakers and even tower speakers have changed very little over the years. However, there are a couple of new speaker types, including upward-facing speakers.

Companies like Klipsch and Sony now make directional surround sound speakers that you can point toward the ceiling or floor to fill the room with sound. Many of the newer speakers also support higher-wattage amplifiers. Although older speakers will work with these newer amplifiers, you risk damage if the volume is too high.

How My New Surround Sound Speakers Differ From My Old Ones

Sony SSCS8 center channel surround speaker
The Sony SS-CS8 was a major addition to my old center channel speaker.

In my situation, I didn’t need to upgrade the sound quality, but I did want bigger speakers. I purchased a pair of Sony SS-CS5 and an SS-CS8 to replace my small Sony speakers. I used the SS-CS5s for the front and got some fantastic results. The old speakers were very small and designed to be mounted on the wall. The downside is that they didn’t have great mid-range sound.

Another problem was that the small speakers couldn’t get very loud, so they were not great for listening to music. However, the center channel was the worst part of my old system because it was hard to hear dialogue in TV shows and movies. Although replacing the front surround speakers did help substantially, the center channel speaker made the biggest difference.

Are New Surround Sound Speakers Worth It?

New surround sound speakers are absolutely worth it in certain situations. If you are like me and need bigger speakers, buying new ones is a good idea. However, if you have good old speakers, you won’t see much improvement from upgrading. The most important speakers to upgrade are the front and center channels.

Additionally, you shouldn’t overlook the subwoofer. I already had a good subwoofer, so I didn’t bother upgrading. However, a quality subwoofer is vital to a surround sound system. When upgrading from a 5.1 to a 7.1 channel system, you must buy two new speakers for the extra channels. Finally, don’t overlook used surround sound speakers in good condition, as people often sell them very cheaply after upgrading.

When Should You Buy New Surround Sound Speakers?

The most important factor when considering new surround sound speakers is whether you actually need them. Here are just a few reasons why you should consider buying new speakers.

Old Speakers Are Damaged

Firstly, you should buy new speakers if your current ones are damaged. While a minor imperfection may not affect sound, a damaged wooden box definitely will. Additionally, a speaker with a broken cone must be replaced. However, replacing speakers that have cosmetic damage or look outdated is also understandable, especially if they are in your living room.

Need a Wireless Option

The next reason to buy new speakers is to avoid a conventional wired surround sound system. Running wires through walls can be pretty difficult. Not to mention, renters can’t start drilling holes all over their house or apartment. Wireless speakers provide exceptional sound without the need for messy wires. Keep in mind that there are kits to add wireless functionality to old speakers.

Sound Is Not Filling the Room

Two old Sony surround sound speaker
My old front speakers were too small for the room

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Surround sound speakers bundled with a receiver are usually around three inches wide. That is good enough for ambient sound in a small room, but these speakers won’t get very loud. Despite my original speakers offering good clarity, they could not create a loud enough mid-range sound. Of course, you should also upgrade if your current speakers distort the sound when used at higher volumes.

Adding Channels

The last reason that will lead you to purchase new speakers is adding channels. Larger rooms can benefit from seven or more channels. Those extra speakers in the middle of the room provide a constant flow of sound, adding even more depth. There are speakers designed for the middle surround position. However, upgrading your front speakers and moving the old ones to the middle may be a better option.

Other Surround Sound Speaker Considerations

Unless your speakers are falling apart or are low-quality, I would not worry about upgrading them. There are many ways to upgrade your surround sound system. Instead, I would first upgrade the receiver because it is the most important component and is more likely to get outdated. Much like speakers, receivers usually hold up pretty well over the years.

Even though the audio quality of an old receiver may still sound good, its functionality will not keep up with modern demands. Firstly, modern receivers support newer codecs, like Dolby Atmos. Additionally, new receivers have features like HDMI 2.1, ARC, and wireless connectivity. Another factor to consider is your existing wiring, which may need to be replaced before upgrading to higher-powered speakers.

Wrapping Up

I would definitely buy new surround sound speakers again, but that doesn’t mean you should run out and buy new ones. For instance, I would not replace my small rear surround speakers with larger ones. There are many other types of speakers to consider, such as in-wall and in-ceiling options. However, soundbars also provide great audio without the need for a bunch of speakers and messy wiring.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do speakers sound worse with age?

Speakers rarely degrade with age; however, cheaper cones are more susceptible to breaking and cracking. Although it is possible to replace damaged cones in some speakers.

Is it better to buy speakers individually or in a bundle?

A speaker bundle is often the cheapest way to go, but it is best to determine the speakers you need for a given room first. Then, you can look for a bundle that includes the needed speakers. If you can’t find an appropriate bundle, then it may be best to buy speakers individually.

What is the purpose of upward-facing surround sound speakers?

Upward-facing speakers are growing in popularity and many people choose to place them on top of floor-standing speakers. The concept is that the sound from these speakers will bounce off of the ceiling and do a better job of filling the room with sound. However, many upward-facing speakers can also be mounted to a wall.

Are speakers compatible with any surround sound receiver?

For the most part, speakers are universal. The most important thing to look at is the OHM rating on the back of the speakers, and ensure it is not below the rating of the receiver. Wireless speakers are the main exception because they are usually designed to work with a specific receiver or product ecosystem.

Can surround sound speakers connect directly to a TV?

No surround sound speakers must connect to a receiver that interprets and amplifies the audio signal coming from the TV. To avoid using a receiver, consider buying a soundbars as the amplifier is built-in and many support rear speakers and a subwoofer.

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