Should I get rear speakers for my home theater? Our expert's verdict on whether they're worth buying

Rear speakers can dramatically enhance immersion for films and boxsets

Living room showing a library of books with a TV inset into the picture
(Image credit: Studio Peake)

Should you get rear speakers for your home theater? All things being equal, the answer is generally ‘yes’.

While not essential, adding rear speakers to create surround sound adds a whole new level of immersion to your TV-watching experience. That might not be necessary if you mostly watch quiz shows or news broadcasts, but if you’re into movies, sports and gaming, rear speakers for your home theater will make a huge difference overall.

For movies built to enjoy with the best surround sound systems, you’ll get directional audio as if you were in the scene. For sports, you’ll get the roar of the crowd around you. And if you play games — well, hearing virtual gunshots behind you gives you a better idea of where to look for cover, for obvious reasons.

Rear speakers are especially good at amplifying ambient noise in a scene, without affecting the volume of the key dialogue, which (unless the line is delivered from behind you) still comes from the front speakers. If you have a scene in a cafe, for example, you’ll get the speech from the front speakers, but background chatter, the clipping of cutlery on crockery and rain on the windows from your rear speakers.

None of these things are essential, of course, but they definitely make things more immersive, so you should definitely consider getting rear speakers for your home theater.

But there are a couple of things to bear in mind before you start shopping.

They're not for small rooms

This is because having different speaker channels too close to each other muddies the sound, taking away the whole point of directional audio in the first place. If your home theater space barely has room for more than a sofa and your TV, then you’re probably better off going all in on one of the best soundbars, and forgetting true surround sound altogether.

The one scenario where we wouldn’t recommend rear speakers at all is for a small room. If your home theater setup doesn’t have much room between the screen and the spot where you intend to mount your rear speakers, then it’s simply not recommended. 

You don’t need to do it all at once

If you decide an all-singing surround sound system is worth it, you don’t opt for an ‘in-a-box’ solution, the beauty of surround sound setups is that you don’t need to do it all at once. If your budget is tight, you may prefer to build your home theater setup in a modular manner, to spread the expense and ensure that the speakers you pick out give the best sound quality possible.

If you’re doing it this way, it’s worth leaving rear speakers until a bit further down the line. Start off with a good quality AV receiver or amp, and quality front speakers, and you can get equally good rear speakers to match at a later date.

You don’t even necessarily need to match speaker brands, although you may choose to for an easy life. If you do decide to mix and match, just make sure that you don’t get rear speakers with a higher wattage than your front ones — that risks louder audio from the speakers designed for ambient sound, which obviously ruins the experience.

Should I get rear speakers for my home theater?

In short, if you have a decently sized home theater and the budget to do it well, then rear speakers for your home theater make for an excellent upgrade, helping your movies, shows and games feel more immersive than ever. 

Just remember that you don’t need to do it all at once and that a quality 2.1 sound setup will sound better than a cheap 5.1 layout, and plan accordingly.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. He often writes for T3 and Tom's Guide. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.