If you’re looking to install ceiling speakers and think there’s a rule of thumb of how many of them you need, you’d be disappointed.
Unlike speaker wattage per square foot, here a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work.
As there are different layouts, here we also want to calculate per zone (1 room = 1 zone), along with per square foot. A lot will also depend on the speakers’ power and the ceiling height.
Also, the higher the ceiling, the more coverage a speaker has.
Typically, a zone is two channels powering two speakers. However, you can have an area in a house (for example – living room + dining room) that you’ll always want to use together.
In that case, you could combine the speakers from two rooms into a single zone. That would indicate that you’ll get four speakers in one zone.
In this article, I’ll explain how to calculate coverage for ceiling speakers and recommend the number of speakers per square foot by looking at the most common layouts.
A Quick Guide
For most ‘normal’ sized rooms (under 300 square feet), one or one pair of average 4.5 dB speakers usually are more than enough. However, people typically specify upwards of two pairs or more in larger spaces.
This means that even if your living room is on the larger side, one pair should be fine (don’t overdo it!)
Room size in square feet
|Number of ceiling speakers
|100 – 300
|1 – 2
|300 – 500
|3 – 4
|500 – 800
|5 – 6
An average ceiling speaker (4.5 dB) has a coverage of 128 sq ft. at 8 feet of ceiling height. As we move up to 13 feet, the coverage increases to 680 square feet!
|128 sq ft.
|210 sq. ft
|300 sq. ft
|420 sq. ft
|540 sq. ft
|680 sq. ft
One thing to remember in spaces with lots of hard surfaces (granite or stone worktops, tiled floors, etc.), like the kitchen, is that all of these are very reflective surfaces, so choose your speakers carefully! I always recommend Polk Audio RC60i (Amazon link) here.
Silk dome tweeters tend to have a smoother, less harsh sound than metal (aluminum or titanium) tweeters which helps with this.
For larger rooms, go for an 8-inch speaker instead of a 6.5 inch. The more oversized cone will give you a more low-end response too.
Another thing to consider is sound transfer to the rooms, especially if they are young children’s bedrooms.
You can help yourself with this by getting your builder (or DIY) some sealed enclosures in the ceilings above where your speakers will be. This has two positive things: it helps stop sound coming through the floor, and if the speaker is in a box, it will work better.
More is not necessarily better
More is often not better, as you get phase cancelation if your ears are not the same distance from the two speakers.
This perfect place that is the equivalent distance from the two speakers is normally called the “sweet spot.”
A pair of speakers with a stereo signal can have a wide sweet spot. That is because you have different sounds coming from the two speakers.
Two speakers with the exact same signal, like two “right” speakers near each other, will have phasing problems. That means specific frequencies will disappear wherever you are between the two speakers.
When adding more speakers, consider this – it will take away power from your other speakers. If you can’t correctly place them in the room (ceilings), it may create an auditory imbalance, and you may not be as impressed with it if it isn’t done right.
100 – 300 Square Feet – One to two speakers
Though four ceiling Atmos speakers in optimal rooms are far superior to two (primarily because of the lack of front/back panning effect in a two-speaker setup), there are some caveats.
Those with suboptimal spaces may wonder whether suboptimal placement worsens the experience with four Atmos ceiling speakers instead of two.
Here are the two most common options for people with 100-300 square feet of space:
Option 1: 5.1.2 (two speakers) – OPTIMAL
- Better speakers, as you can theoretically spend twice as much on them.
- Optimal placement as they would be 6 ft from the front speakers and approximately the same from the rear speakers.
That is not a huge room (let’s say it’s 200 sq. ft). You don’t need more than two speakers, but you have to get decent speakers.
If you have two rooms in that 100 – 300 sq. ft, depending on the room layout, two speakers in the primary listening area should nicely cover the other room.
Alternatively, you could place two speakers on the border between the two rooms. But the speaker should be placed, so both areas get decent stereo imaging.
Going for mono speakers could make finding a suitable amp tricky since two mono speakers would have half the impedance at the amp.
You could get too low impedance levels if you wanted more than two speakers. However, you should also check the speakers’ impedance since many ceiling speakers already tend to be on the low side.
I bought some Pyle ceiling speakers (Amazon link), and one of the reasons was that they were 8-ohm impedance which means I have 4 ohms at the amp will all four running.
Option 2: 5.1.4 (four speakers) – NOT RECOMMENDED
- Front-to-back panning
- Suboptimal placement if the rule of thumb is to have Atmos ceiling speakers 6 ft from the surrounds, which obviously would be impossible in a 150 square feet space
The big thing here is the receiver cost.
A whole LOT of AV receivers will do 5.1.2 cheaply and easily.
The step to 5.1.4 means a 9.2 receiver, and that price jump is Massive.
Given the square feet you have and that price jump, your money will go significantly further with 5.1.2.
Here, with four ceiling speakers, you could have one pair in room no.1 and another in room no.2.
If you choose 5.1.4, you want to go for regular stereo pairs of speakers and have a switch so you can play a pair on their own or both pairs together.
This would also work well and give a good sound. Don’t worry too much about stereo imaging since the sound is coming from the ceiling, and also, ceiling speakers tend to provide a diffused sound anyway. Therefore, stereo imaging is not essential.
300 – 500 Square Feet – Three to Four speakers
For 300 – 500 square feet, I recommend three to four speakers.
More speakers mean less volume to achieve a comfortable listening level.
Think grocery store, where the volume is low, but there is a speaker every 10 feet; you can hear them everywhere rather than a few blaring in the corners.
The perfect configuration would be four speakers toward the corners.
Roughly 1/3 in from the corner leaving approximately 2/3 of the ceiling toward the center. There is no reflection, and low volume is easy to hear.
If you’re looking for speakers for a garage (or similar), don’t put anything expensive there because dust will likely shorten the lifespan. I put these Micca M-6C speakers in my garage and my cousin’s house with a medium-end amp and a high-end subwoofer. They sound amazing.
You must experiment with the exact location if you want the best sound. Pick a product, mount it on a baffle or in a box, and temporarily try a few spots. Then, pick your favorite and wire for it.
Here you can see building plans for my 330 square feet of space:
In the photo, you can see that the rear speakers are tough to fit in due to the windows, and the surround speakers are challenging due to one side being completely open.
Regarding rear speakers, sometimes we humans have difficulty telling the height of sounds behind us – so the front is much more critical to get right.
When I researched online, there were favorable reviews for in-ceiling speakers like the Klipsch CDT-5650-C speakers, which use angled speakers to make the sound seem like it’s not coming from the ceiling. So I bought them. And I loved them.
500 – 800 Square Feet – Five to six speakers
If you have 500 – 800 sq. ft on disposition, make sure to go with at least six ceiling speakers.
Here we usually have basic rectangles like this:
My friend was in the process of building a 20×40-covered patio attached to the house.
While the AV company told him to go with just three ceiling speakers, I advised him that if the patio is going to be split into two or more sections, he must go with 2 in each section.
Based on my recommendation, he covered the patio and went with four speakers, and now he’s loving it.