Today's anguish... where to wire for surround


Active Member
For anyone who's been following my living room redecoration/remodeling project, here's a pic of my living room at its worst low point... Wednesday morning, before I ripped off the upper drywall, biohazard barrier still in place:


Here's my living room as of around 10pm Thursday... new power outlet boxes installed (I'm not putting the outlets themselves in until the drywall's up, because I'd just have to take them out to cut the holes anyway), and media wiring about 10% complete:


OK, so here's my latest dilemma... what to do about the rear surround speakers. Obviously, I'm going to have them... but the devil's in the details, and insofar as the wall with the front door and sliding glass door is concerned, it's a detail I HAVE to nail down before Friday afternoon. The other wall (with paint experiments) isn't as urgent, because all I really need to do THERE is get the speaker wires (and probably a cat5, just for good measure) to the baseboard... it's a normal, hollow, interior wall, so I can defer the specific placement details until the time comes. Unfortunately, the left wall (the one with the front door, foyer, and sliding glass door) is yet another exterior wall with 3/4" between the drywall and concrete, and filled with foam insulation to boot, so I pretty much have to nail down its future location and run the wires there NOW.

Background info: The room will never, ever have 7.1. It would be logistically impossible. Any speakers on the room's rear wall (adjacent to the stairway) MUST be surface-mounted, because (surprise, surprise) that's the living room's THIRD unbuildable wall with insulation-filled 3/4" non-void below the drywall. Without even getting into aesthetics, the right rear 7.1 speaker would project into the stairway, and I'd be guaranteed to bash my elbow against it multiple times per week. Before anyone asks, ceiling speakers are out, too... there's about 1cm between the top of the ceiling drywall and bottom of the metal concrete pan deck slab above, and there's barely enough room for 3/8" MC-type conduit+wire (for the ceiling fan), let alone a speaker cone.

That said, a rear speaker for 6.1 would probably be do-able... if it's worthwhile. The question is, can any decent home theater amp synthesize 6.1 surround from 7.1? Or if I put in a single rear speaker for 6.1, would it sit more or less unused forever since almost nothing explicitly supports 6.1? Alternatively, could I mount a single dipole-type speaker, feed it both 7.1 rear channels, and expect it to sound at least a little better than 5.1?

Now, for the 5.1 rear/side speakers. Concentrating mainly on the left side, since that's the one I HAVE to commit to tomorrow, where should I have its wires emerge from the wall? Here's a pic showing the right side on top, and the left side on the bottom (pink oval shows likely speaker location area):


Complication #1: See the purple vertical lines in the pics? It's because the sliding glass door's left side doesn't line up with the right side of the wall on the other side of the room. The purple lines show where the wall or door-edge on the opposite side of the room is located. There's absolutely NO WAY I can have the left and right speakers equally distant from the far wall (where the TV will be... the wall I had to gut), unless maybe the left-side_rear speaker is mounted to a bracket that somehow shifts it so it's physically cantilevered in front of the sliding glass door. Believe it or not, that's not inconceivable... the past few days are actually the first time I've even OPENED the sliding glass door for any real purpose. I basically treat it like a big window, since the front door is a whopping ~4 feet further to the left and leads to the same courtyard.

Complication #2: the room will have an asymmetrical layout. Once I finally finish painting, I'll be replacing all the furniture. Currently, the main candidate for "couch" is Ikea's Manstad:


Its "ottoman-end" will be against the right wall (the one with my paint experiments). Its opposite (left, from a sitting position looking at the TV) end will be slightly to the left of center of the TV, and about 4' to the left of the room's center (the room is 14' wide, and 10' deep if you measure from the far wall where the TV will be to the rear of the couch... roughly 7-8' from eyeball to TV screen). A fourth person MIGHT be seated in my reading chair (normally, will sit against the living room's far wall, to the left of the TV, but can be easily moved so it's right next to or below the left rear-side surround speaker.

So... how high should the speaker go? Ear-level? Ceiling-height? Level with the top of the front door? FYI, the room's ceiling is 8'; the front door is 80", the sliding glass door is 7'10" (but will be flanked by a pair of faux pillars whose only real purpose is to visually justify bumping out a valance in front of the sliding glass door to avoid a trainwreck with the crown moulding).

What kind of speaker jacks should go there? I've pretty much settled on Pass & Seymour light almond jumbo-sized unbreakable decora-style outlets for the room. My default choice for the speaker is to mount a shallow plastic outlet box near its future location, slap a 2-keystone decora plate on it, and populate it with a pair of keystone-style speaker lugs. The problem is, that's a fairly HUGE visual footprint for something that really should be kind of discreet (or at least not loudly and proudly announcing its presence to anyone who glances at the wall). Is there any good alternative to a full-sized Decora-keystone plate with keystone-type lugs? Maybe even a small, discreet surface-mounted box (ideally, in Pass & Seymour light almond, or paintable to match the wall) that's just big enough for a pair of speaker lugs, and no more?
I would place the boxes as high up on the wall as possible. I think you will want to have the speakers at or on the ceiling. You can always point them in a downward direction if needed, but since this isn't a dedicated theater room, I think you will want the speakers up out of the way as much as possible.

You also don't have to worry about keeping the speakers exactly equidistant from each other. In a perfect world, you want too, but most better quality receivers will have a speaker adjustment feature. You measure how far the speakers are from the screen, and the reciever will automatically adjust the volume and delay so the speakers sound like they are equidistant. Many of the recievers that do this also come with a microphone that you can hook up to help with these adjustments. I've bought several used Integra Receivers off E-Bay for as little as $75 and as much as $400 and they all have this feature.

Perhaps the new HD soundtracks are different (I really haven't kept up with all this), but it use to be that there was no true (discrete) 7.1 sound. There was a discrete 6.1 sound and the receivers would matrix in the additional speaker to get 7.1. But there is no 7.1 soundtracks on SD DVDs. Many don't even have a true 6.1 soundtrack (DTS-ES Discrete). So do not fret about "only" having 6.1 and not 7.1. Honestly it won't make a difference. In fact, don't buy into the idea that you have to have 6.1 even. Many great sounding rooms are only 5.1.
Hmmm. Here's an idea I thought of for the left speaker... thoughts?

1. Cut a narrow vertical channel in the drywall from ~36" up to ceiling, stuff a speaker cable and cat5 cable into the channel, then drywall patch, texture, and paint over it.

2. leave about 2 feet of slack in the cable(s) up behind the crown moulding, then run it the rest of the way to the wall jack behind the receiver.

3. Someday, when I'm ready for the speaker, decide where along the vertical line I want it to be, and cut the shallow hole for the plastic outlet box. The wire(s), slightly mangled, will be reachable. Gently pull another foot or two down, cut off the mangled part, and run into the box.

I'm thinking that I should probably put some kind of short conduit segment at the point where the cable transitions from the crown to the channel to avoid having the cable cut into the drywall, but since I'd only be pulling about a foot or two from slack that's already in the crown above it, it might not be necessary...