Choosing The Best Sound System For A Small Apartment 4

surround system for small apartment
Many apartments have a similar layout to the one pictured here. While it can be difficult to get a true surround system, you can still have a great audio setup!

It goes without saying that if you’re building a killer home theatre system or stereo system you want to have the best sound possible for your music, movies, and games. Not much sense in spending time and money on one part of the equation while neglecting the other. The problem is, if you live in an apartment, condo, or townhouse, you’re limited on your options when it comes to space. You might think that you can’t have a truly superior surround sound system for apartments. But that’s simply not true. There are lots of great options in speakers for an apartment living room sized setup these days, and in some ways having a smaller space actually works in your favour, such as the fact that you don’t require really loud and powerful speakers to have a great sound in that enclosed space. Let’s take a look at how you can choose the best sound system for a small apartment, with tips on how to best utilize the space you have, and some pointers about components and setup.

Map out your space. Sit down and draw a diagram of the room where you’ll be installing your home theatre system or stereo system. Then measure the distances between where you’ll be seated and where your speakers and television will be. If you haven’t made a decision on what type of speakers you’ll have and where they’ll be mounted, on a bookshelf, on the wall, or custom installed in the ceiling, getting some distance measurements for the places where you’d like these different speaker setups to be will be helpful in making your choice. Getting the right distances and angles for particular speakers makes a big difference in sound quality.

Choose a 2, or 3 channel system instead of a 5 or 7!

Stereo System for a small apartment
You can’t go wrong putting your budget towards a pair of high quality bookshelf speakers. Quality over quantity!

Speaker placement is very important to getting a true surround effect, and in a smaller apartment or condo, you probably don’t have enough space to properly place the rear speakers in a 5.1 surround sound setup. Instead of struggling with how to fit a 5.1 system into your space, dedicate your budget to a high quality 2 (Left, Right) or 3 (Left, Centre, Right)  channel system. Whatever your budget, you will be able to get higher quality speakers if you are only dividing it between 2 or 3 speakers rather than 5, and most audiophiles would agree, it’s better to have a high quality 2 channel system than a budget 5.1 system. You can always add onto a smaller system later and turn it into a 5.1 when you move into a larger space and have more room.

While there are plenty of options for Bookshelf or Tower Speakers for your Apartment here are some options that will work great in a smaller space.

Kanto Tuk Powered Bookshelf Speakers (Pictured)

Paradigm Monitor SE Bookshelf Speakers

Kanto YU Passive Bookshelf Speakers

In-Wall / On-Wall Options

in wall on wall speakers
The ultimate space saving speaker design.

Use your walls. Since you have limited floor space to work with, and you don’t want your speakers to be placed behind furniture or anything else that might muffle the sound, the obvious solution is to go up. New technology has resulted in wall-mounted “on-wall” speakers that provide excellent sound quality, are just as thin and shallow as a flat-screen TV, and they’re available in a wide variety of colours to complement any decor.  If you’re worried about damaging the walls in a rented place, know that most speaker mount brackets only require a couple of drywall screws to attach them, and if you want to hide the wires, you just need to drill a couple of small holes to run them up inside the wall. All of this can be quickly fixed with a little spackling and paint, and you can take the speakers with you to your next home! You can either have a 2 channel, or 3 channel system with on-wall speakers.

If you are in a townhouse, or larger condo that you plan on living in for several years, then In-wall or in-ceiling custom installation might be an attractive option. These offer better sound quality and are less obtrusive and noticeable than other types of speakers, but they are also more expensive and much less portable. They also require cutting some good sized holes into your walls. These are mounted flush with your drywall and are hidden by a grill that is almost invisible. Most speakers of this type use an open back design without an enclosure, using the inside of the wall itself to fulfill the purpose. However, if sound filtering into a neighbours home is a concern, which is one potential drawback of in-wall and in-ceiling design, higher end makes and models are available that do feature enclosures that will reduce the sound transfer, as well as protect the speakers from dirt and debris and damage from structural settling. If you’re a handy kind of person it’s possible to install these yourself, but most people will probably opt to have them professionally installed.

View In-Wall Speakers | On-Wall Speakers

What about Soundbars?

soundbar for apartment
Soundbars are great for when space is limited. Stick with quality options for the best sound.

Soundbars have become a very popular choice for upgrading your TV’s audio. They have a self-contained power unit and amplifier so they don’t require a receiver, which saves on space, and many include a wireless subwoofer to add some bass into your system. Typically though, most cheap (Under $300) soundbars have only 1” or 2” drivers which can provide good highs, the subwoofer provides good lows, bud there’s a gap in the midrange because the physical size of the speaker cannot reproduce those frequencies. Higher quality soundbars from companies like Sonos solve this problem with the use of passive radiators, and higher quality components. Passive soundbars or speaker bars are different in that they use a receiver, and they are usually equipped with larger 4” or 6.5” drivers (with a true Left/Centre/Right Channel) which delivers a much better sound, and still retains the space-saving benefits! As you are utilizing a receiver, you can always add a subwoofer and in the future you would be able to add rear surround channels into this setup to achieve a full 5 channel surround sound system.
Check out these soundbar/speaker bar options:

Sonos Arc (Pictured)

Samsung Harman Kardon Cinematic Soundbar

Sonos Beam

Other Opportunities

Acoustic Panels Can Be Printed To Match Your Decor. Panels Shown Are From

Treating your room can have a big impact on your apartment’s sound. If your floor is not carpeted, than area rugs are a must! Consider hanging acoustic panels. Especially in a small room, acoustic panels can greatly enhance the sound by filtering unwanted frequencies & reflections, while making your stereo system a bit more neighbour friendly . They’re not terribly expensive, and they can even be purchased with paintings or photos printed on the canvas so that they double as artwork. Use Google to find some easy to follow DIY options if you want a fun weekend project.  If you’d rather not hang them on the wall, you can also set them on stands.

When you go shopping for your system, bring your measurements along, and ask if you can try out and listen to the equipment you’re considering before you make a decision. Go online and do a little research into what other people are saying about choosing the best sound system for a small apartment, and customer reviews of speakers. And don’t be afraid to ask questions in the shop, or shoot us a message with what you are looking for and we can help find the right system for your cozy nest.


  1. Is it possible to do a full surround sound system if you have inwall speakers for the rears?

    1. Hey David, Yes that’s definitely possible. If your living room setup is similar to the photo in this post, with your couch right up against the wall, in-ceiling speakers would likely be the best option as there would be some space between the speaker and your ears, and would likely be more friendly to your neighbours!

      Audio Video Unlimited
  2. I am going to be moving in a newer townhouse that has a small living room with a carpet, and I’ll have neighbors on both sides, but not below or above. I’m interested in getting a surround sound system but don’t want to disturb the neighbors. Would a 2 or 3 channel system work for me?

    1. Hi Corey,

      You have a few options. Depending on the size of your room you could do 3 channels (left center right) up front, either with bookshelf speakers on on-wall speakers to save on space. As you have no one above or below you, I’d recommend doing in-ceiling speakers for your rears that will fire downwards, reducing the amount of sound transfer to neighbouring units.

      For an even more compact option, you could do something like the Denon Heos Soundbar upfront, which is a true LCR soundbar, and then wirelessly connect two rear Denon Heos Wifi Speakers, or in-ceiling speakers using the Heos amp!

      Audio Video Unlimited

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