I’ve seen articles telling consumers they are better off using speakers from the same manufacturer. In reality, there are different schools of thought. I’m actually an advocate for using different speakers from various manufacturers as a method of maximizing your home theater. Using different speakers (on purpose) can give you greater flexibility, allow you to budget more easily, and also give you greater options for the aesthetic and performance needs of your home theater.
Using Different Speakers for Better Surround Sound
Here’s the thing—many loudspeaker manufacturers make excellent solutions for main speakers and even your center channel, but a lot of them may not support the surround sound speaker type you need for your particular room. Or, they may not have an affordable solution in your budget. If you have a really long room with side walls, for example, you may really want dipole surround speakers. Many systems don’t include a dipole option or those options are reserved for their higher end systems and home theater packages. So what do you do? Stick with the same brand? Not necessarily. Branch out, and see what’s available to meet your particular needs.
Since surround speakers are meant to be more diffuse (Dolby Atmos surround sound aside), choosing to have dipole or bipole speakers from another manufacturer isn’t going to disrupt the enveloping sense of surround you’re after. Surrounds were never designed—in a 5.1 or 7.1 system—to be timbre-matched and heard the same way as your front speakers. Surrounds are primarily meant to surround you with environmental sound. These are ambient speakers used to create an environment more than they are to create pinpoint accuracy for rear-positioned sound effects. This frees you up to mix and match surrounds and achieve the sound you need for a great home theater. Keep that in mind as you’re shopping for or even upgrading your speakers.
Using Speakers from Different Manufacturers for Better Bass Response
I rarely find that the same companies who make the best main speakers or surround speakers also make the best subwoofers. In fact, until you get to the higher-priced models, this is—more often than not—quite the opposite. That means you can use the best speakers for your room to create the surround sound you desire, but move to a company who makes the best possible subwoofer for your room to pick up the important deep, tactile bass you want.
This is especially true for speaker kits. It is a rare thing to have a powered subwoofer included with a 5.1 kit can beat a product from a company known for great subwoofers at the same price. Another great feature of most speaker packages is that they are similarly discounted whether or not you purchase a 5.0 system or a 5.1 system. This is great news—and a real secret that most consumers miss. You really can have the best of all the different speakers a home theater system can support. The secret is understanding your needs and being willing to do the research to did the best solution, not just the one that a particular manufacturer offers. And should you end up with a package and an additional subwoofer—give the smaller sub to a friend, sell it, or use it in your office or bedroom.
Mismatching the Center Channel Speaker in a Home Theater
One speaker I do not recommend purchasing from another brand or manufacturer is the center channel speaker. There’s good reason for this. For one, a lot of sound hovers around the center of the soundstage, but also travels from left to right with the onscreen action. Changes in tonality can cause the sound image to raise up or drop down rather than evenly moving across the sound stage for left to right. Anything that takes you out of the “suspension of disbelief” is a bad thing. When you watch a movie you want to think about the on-screen action—not your speakers.
Matching the center channel speaker to your mains (your left and right speakers) will give you a solid home theater experience by ensuring (at least on the part of the hardware) that you can enjoy a smooth soundstage that doesn’t colorize the sound as it moves between the two main speakers.
Are you ready to shop for speakers? Armed with this knowledge, it’s our hope that more and more consumers will be freer in their purchasing decisions and less constrained to stay completely within a particular manufacturer’s offerings. You really can have the best each manufacturer has to offer, and your home theater will be better for it!