Are you planning to buy a home theater system? What should you look forward to as regards the surround sound system? You must look for a powerful and durable sound system with the introduction of the home theater system. The surround system can be digital or analog. There are options to satiate your needs whether listening to music or watching movies at home. The two most viable and popular options available are 5.1 and 7.1. Does it seem overwhelming? It won’t be once you are through the article describing 5.1 vs. 7.1 surround sound.
But, first just understand the surround sound.
(Surround sound is different from stereo sound. Read more here)
So, what is surround system?
Surround sound is the audio output of the sound that ‘surrounds the listener” by 360 degrees. The system utilizes more than three channels as well as speakers behind and in front of the listener to create an envelope of directional audio sources and sound.
What Do The Numbers Denote?
Home theaters systems are available in a variety of configurations depending on the number of speakers you wish to work with. The two most commonly used surround sound systems are 5.1 and 7.1. There is still another 9.1. But we will discuss only two in this article – 5.1 and 7.1. The numbers indicate the sum total of the number of speakers including the subwoofers. For example, 5.1 sound system implies five different speakers and a single subwoofer channel.
Now, let’s understand the two sound systems with a comparison of the two.
5.1 vs 7.1 Surround sound
For more than two decades, 5.1 channels have been the norm. They are perfect for a small to average sized rooms. 7.1 with its additional speakers make them apt for bigger rooms.
5.1 surround sound was developed in 1976 by Dolby Labs. It was used in 1992 for the first time for the theatrical release of Batman Returns.
Toy Story 3 in 2010 was the first theatrical release to use 7.1. It might be the choice for most of the future 3D releases.
5.1 surround sound comes with 6 sound channels and hence you will have 6 speakers. These include a central speaker, subwoofer (for a low-frequency effect, e.g. explosion), right and left front speakers and right and left channels. The number of speakers isn’t too big which also happens to be the industry standard. One can set it up easily. It is inexpensive and suits all small and medium-sized rooms.
7.1 comes with 8 sound channels. It has 6 speakers just like the 5.1 and additional two side speakers. These extra speakers add a punch to the surround sound experience. Since the total number of speakers is more, it is costlier. It suits big rooms only.
In 5.1, the surround channel and the rear channel are merged to form rear speakers. In 7.1, the surround and the rear channels are divided by two additional speakers. This ensures sound effect with more depth and accuracy.
5.1 has been the industry standard for use in most of the Blu-ray disks and DVDs and also video games and HDTV. It is a common sound system for commercial theaters.
PS3 and a lot of Blu ray players are in favor of 7.1 surround sounds. A lot of DVDs, games and Blu-ray disks are manufactured under 5.1 audio. Of late, Blu-ray disks are manufactured with 7.1 surround sound.
There is a remarkable difference in the prices of the two systems. 7.1 with its good sound quality and premium experience is expensive than the 5.1 system that offers surround sound quality.
Also, the cost of 7.1 surround sound system is more than the 5.1 manufactured by the same brand in the same class. But there is a variation in prices from different brands. For instance, the price of 7.1 surround sound speakers can range from $265 to in thousands. 5.1 surround sound systems range from $80 for Logitech speakers to $1700 for KEF T305 home theater system.
Movies and Games
When it comes to movies, undoubtedly 5.1 is the industry norm and therefore the sound effect of almost all the movies and DVDs showcase 5.1 surround sound. But people are now looking forward to 7.1. A lot of movies are released on Blu-ray after being re-mixed with sound effects of 7.1.
You can use the best headphones for games but there is nothing like the feel of the surround sound.
The 5.1 surround sound is accomplished via Dolby Digital or DTS. DTS utilizes lesser compression and isn’t as popular as the Dolby Digital.
Whereas the 7.1 surround sound can be achieved by using DTS-HD Master or Dolby True HD audio. These are regarded as the ‘lossless audio’. This is similar to the movie studio’s original.
In 5.1, compression is accomplished by Dolby Digital or DTS, the compression in it is not lossless.
This is the difference for 7.1 system. It uses Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio. The compression is lossless. It is similar to the audio quality of a music studio.
After reading the good and the not-so-good points of the two, it is now time to decide which one to buy before making the final buyout.
How To Choose The Right Size System?
One of the prime factors that must be considered while deciding the correct size of the home theater system is the room size you want to install the surround system in. In 5.1 surround sound system, there are two-in-wall speakers behind and three speakers in front. On the other hand, 7.1 offer two additional in-wall speakers on the sides thus developing an immersive experience. For a movie lover who wants to hear all the discrete audio channels on your most loved favorite Blu-ray disc, the best option is 7.1 but of course you must have room for it.
If the above information indicates that 5.1 is bad, then you are wrong. It isn’t. 5.1 Surround sound system was the audio format on DVDs for more than a decade. Ask anyone – it seems like you are in the middle of the action at all times.
To wrap up
To say which one is better is difficult. Do consider all the options mentioned above under 5.1 surround sound vs. 7.1 before making the final choice. 7.1 are really good and worth the money spent on them. But don’t forget to pick quality over the quantity. Always choose 5.1 of better quality over 7.1 of inferior quality.