Difference between Surround Sound and Stereo Sound

Difference between Surround Sound and Stereo Sound

Do you know the difference between surround sound and stereo sound? Fear not, most people don’t. The ability to accurately judge between the two depends entirely on what you know.

When listening to music through your computer or iPod, it is okay to say that you are listening in stereo. When listening to 5.1 channel home theater, it is safe to say you’re listening in surround sound.

If you are listening to movies and TV shows with your TV speakers, then you are certainly dealing with stereo. And if you are watching movies on your laptop, you are still listening to the stereo. 

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Summary Table Between Surround Sound Vs Stereo Sound


Surround sound or multichannel sound is a method for improving the sound reproduction of audio along with extra audio channels from high-quality speakers that surround the listener. Surround sound is engineered to offer a sound-field behind you, to your side, in front of you, and even above you.

Usually, a multichannel sound system features a subwoofer and five speakers, but a long room may feature a subwoofer and up to seven speakers. The aim of multichannel sound is to plunge you with a sonic surrounding that is suggested by what you’re watching on your TV.

There are three configurations of surround sound you should be aware of 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 channel sound.

  • 5.1 Channel Sound

This is a standard sound format for music and movies with five major sound channels plus a point-one channel. You can use 5.1 surround sound in two places: audio on a DVD or Blu-ray Disc or an audio file for playback on a computer with 5.1 surround sound speakers. The two popular 5.1 channel formats are DTS Digital Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1.

  • 6.1 Channel Sound

This is a sound improvement to 5.1 channel format. This system adds a rear center channel speaker to the existing 5.1 mixes. Just as the front center channel in a 5.1 system fills gaps in your soundscape, a sixth satellite directly behind your head helps audio dance in stack realism.

  • 7.1 Channel Sound

This is a further sound improvement to 5.1 channel format, but it has two extra side-surround speakers positioned to the sides of the listener. This surround sound format is used for more accurate sound positioning and greater sound envelopment.

Stereo sound requires a front right and a front left speaker. This kind of system develops a soundtrack that appears like a performance stage located in front of you. When listening to a DVD player, MP3 player or TV, you are basically enjoying stereo sound.

The front right and front left speakers are complemented with a subwoofer so as to reproduce sound or music from the low bass range. Stereo has been an industrial norm for nearly all the music recorded as well as a great number of movies released before 2000. 

Surround Sound vs. Stereo Sound

Stereo sound features two speakers, right and left, and allows sound mixers to vary between right, center and left. Surround sound has more than two channels designed to surround you, in order to make the sound more realistic since it is coming from multiple directions.

Stereo sound is more popular with recorded music; almost all modern-day music is recorded in stereo. Surround sound is more popular with movies and some music mixes. When listening to a movie in surround, a sound-field is created to immerse you in the sound.

Instead of right and left channel, a surround system offers you six channels (new digital 5.1 surround sound). The 5.1 formats can be enhanced to 7.1, increasing the number of channels to the rear.

In Conclusion

Now that you know the difference between surround sound and stereo sound, you can comfortably choose one. If you are not a big fan of movies, but you love music, you should settle for a stereo system. After all, all modern music is recorded in stereo.

If music is not your thing, but you like an electrifying cinema experience, then surround sound is your only bet. A surround system will create a sound-field that completely immerses you in a 3D sound environment.

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