Matching Front and Surround Speakers

I've heard you say, "Make sure your surround speakers are the same brand as the fronts." I have Hsu Research speakers for the front left, right, and center, Axiom dipole surrounds, and a JBL 12-inch subwoofer. I've been told by lots of audio geeks that I don't need to match the surrounds to the fronts. But after I heard what you said, I got confused. Help!

Mark Hudson

I respectfully disagree with those who say it's not important to match the surrounds with the front speakers. All speakers have a certain tonal character, and speakers from a given manufacturer tend to have a similar character, while speakers from different manufacturers often have noticeably different tonal characteristics. If you combine front speakers from one company with surrounds from another company, chances are that, when a sound pans from front to back or vice versa—say, when an airplane flies across the room as depicted above—its tonal quality will change and potentially distract you, taking you "out of the movie."

This mismatch of tonal character is not always noticeable—you might get lucky and have no such problem with fronts from one company and surrounds from another. But for those who are buying a surround system, or adding surrounds to existing fronts, I recommend staying with one manufacturer to minimize the potential for tonal variations. Ideally, get surrounds from the same product line as the fronts, which further reduces the odds that the tonal character will be different between the front and back.

Some THX-certified A/V receivers have a feature called Timbre Matching, which is designed to address a related problem. Because of the shape of the outer ear, or pinna, the timbre of a sound changes depending on whether it comes from the front or the side. THX Timbre Matching strives to mitigate this effect and create a consistent timbre throughout the surround soundfield. This might also help integrate the tonal qualities of fronts and surrounds from different manufacturers, though I haven't tried it myself.

If you have an A/V question, please send it to askhometheater@gmail.com.

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COMMENTS
K.Reid's picture

Scott, in the event that a person made a purchase of their front, left, right speakers sometime ago and that line is no longer in production (e.g. B&W Matrix 801, 802, 803, etc.) - what is your recommendation? Should the prospective buyer go to Audiogon to try and find matching surrounds or try to find another model from the same company with a similar drivers - particularly the tweeter. An example would be matching aluminum domes w/aluminum domes, ribbons w/ribbons, kevlar cones w/kevlar cones, etc.

It could be very expensive in the case of B&W to fully update from the older Matrix line to the latest Diamond line to use an example.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I think looking for matching surrounds on Audiogon is a good idea. If you can't find the best match there, looking for speakers with similar drivers from the same company is the next best approach.
andlee2k's picture

Dear Scott,

I thought that those room correction systems like Anthem ARC, Audyssey, Pioneer MCACC, etc that come with most modern AV Amps, are also used to timbre match or correct any anomalies or mismatch with different speakers tonalities in an AV setup, be it 5, 7 or even 11 speakers, and for some the subwoofer(s) as well?

Scott Wilkinson's picture
Room-correction systems such as you cite are more about tweaking the system to compensate for the acoustics of the room rather than timbre matching.
Tucker1011's picture

To be fair, Scott, I had remarkable results with Audyssey 2eq for timbre matching (Onkyo rc260). Due to the odd characteristics of the room I had to sub out my dipole jamo surrounds for a pair of satellites from the old Spherex Xbox surround system. The effect was awful before Audyssey. After Audyssey, however it was nigh transparent and virtually flat on band response. I never thought it was possible until I tried it.

K.Reid's picture

Andlee2K

Scott mentions this in his comments but my understanding is that room correction systems will not remove tonality differences between different speakers. A/V receivers that are THX certified have timbre matching features but even they may not be able to fully eliminate tonality differences - just minimize them.

My understanding of the room correction software is that they address and minimize acoustical issues in a viewing room - among them being to minimize (but not eliminate) tonal imbalance, reflection issues, frequency response, balance dialogue and action effects, and minimize room modes due to low frequency sounds.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I think you're right on the money here; thanks!
yachtmandu's picture

"I've been told by lots of audio geeks that I don't need to match the surrounds to the fronts."

Unless you know what your doing take Scott's advice and match all speakers (sub excluded) from the same builder and the same series. However, if you choose to go the path less traveled...insure the specs and build on your surrounds are as close to the fronts as you can get. In other words, soft dome tweeters on the fronts - soft dome tweeters on the surrounds, sensitivity: no more than 1dB on either side of the fronts, ensure the surrounds can handle the wattage, and make sure the boxes are of similar construction. Don't use plastic cased speakers as surrounds if your fronts are heavy wood. If you get to this stage, then most modern AV receivers have an array of options for dialing it all in and can match any timbre difference. Once you get to this stage there is a whole new realm: the room....standing bass waves, reflection, and so on.
I don't know about you, but my wife looked at me like I was Roy Neary from Close Encounters when I wanted to tear up the family room floor and fill it with sound absorbing sand. Take Scott's advice, unless you know what your doing...bottom line - let your ears be the judge, make some popcorn with real butter and enjoy the movie.

Mark_887's picture

Finally register a account thanks to scott,didn't know it was "free".

Very good information on this. So i have one question. Do you guy's think i should replace my axiom dipoles with hsu hb 1 mk and use them as side surrounds?. The only reason why i went with dipole is because my bedroom is narrow. it's only 10x15x9 ft.

e39mofo's picture

As Scott mentions above, as long as you are able to match your drivers and components, you should be fine. You'd see a drastic difference when using silk dome tweeters with horn tweeters. That's a no no.

K.Reid's picture

Mark, I would encourage you to purchase the HB-1 MK2 from HSU, so that you will have matching speakers and avoid tonality/timbre imbalance. Consider purchasing mounting brackets and experiment with rear vs. side mounting on your walls. Consider placement about 6ft in height from the floor and see if all speakers sound coherent with a sense of spaciousness as well as seamless front to back sound panning. Enjoy.

Mark_887's picture

Thanks so much guy's and Scott Wilkinson Learn a lot.

Mark

joshuaajones's picture

Which stats should I pay attention to if matching speakers that cannot matchup completely.
Example: My L/C/R and 2 rears are all the same In-Wall 8" 3-way
speakers. I want to get side surrounds that match but cannot place these in-wall. How do I match a pair of satellites to these in-walls? Which stats are most important? Sensitivity, woofer cone/size, tweeter cone?

jmilton7043's picture

Dr Floyd Toole disagrees:
"Timbre matching of the surround to the L,C.R (front) channels. In my view, this is a dubious feature. Sounds arriving from the sides, or from random incidences will have timbres that differ from sounds arriving from the front because of the head and external ears - see HRTF explanation, p. 16. It is nature at work, and it needs no correction."- from his "white papers" on sound-

Different sized speaker cabinets as well as different locations and planes means timbre matching is difficult, if not impossible, anyway.

Alan99's picture

Good Afternoon,

My current system consist o the following:
Pioneer VSX-LX53 THX Receiver
Klipsch RF-52 II Floorstanders
Klipsch RC-62 II Centre
Klispch RS-42 II Surrounds
Energy S10.3 Active Subwoofer
Room size 3.7M x 3.4M

Would you consider the MRX-300 to be a better replacement unit than the VSX-LX53.According to the Reviewer it doesn't seem to have all the Bells and whistles,but it have enough horse power to drive any moderate speaker.

Does this unit feature Class D Amplication ?

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