What is the Difference Between 5.1 and 7.1 Speaker Systems?
5.1 and 7.1 channel surround sound speaker systems are popular home theater systems.
The 5.1 channel surround audio system is an industry-standard home theater, having made its debut three decades ago. Climbing up to the bigger and better 7.1 channel surround sound system guarantees the realest, juiciest sounds through its 7 loudspeakers and a subwoofer that ties it all together.
And depending on what kind of room you’re in, a noticeable difference in performance can be heard from both systems. Anyway, personal preferences aside. If you ask anyone what they’d prefer, my best guess is they’d pick a 7.1 channel system. More on that later. For now, here is the key takeaway:
A 5.1 speaker system has 5 loudspeakers and a single subwoofer. On the other hand, a 7.1 speaker system has 8 loudspeakers and one subwoofer. It’s the two additional loudspeakers in a 7.1 that makes the whole difference. But despite the number of loudspeakers, there is more to each system than meets the eye.
This article explores the main differences between 5.1 and 7.1 speaker systems and what each one brings to the table.
What is a 5.1 Speaker System?
The 5.1 surround audio system has come a long way from the 90s. Back then, people enjoyed cool music and rented movies on massive stereos until Dolby Laboratories figured out a way to recreate a “fuller” experience by manipulating and channeling a group of extra frequencies in the soundtrack to dedicated speakers (what we now know as surround speakers). That being said,
A 5.1 speaker system is a home theater surround system with 5 loudspeakers and a subwoofer. Three speakers are placed in front of the listening area: right, left, and center speakers. The two additional surround speakers go to the back.
5.1 surround speakers can turn any room into a life-like theater. Needless to say, you’ll have a better experience with a 5.1 channel home theater than a 2 or three-channel system. 5.1 channel speakers offer a great experience thanks to the additional surround sound speaker.
Think of every additional channel as an extra speaker – the more the speakers, the better the experience. But don’t expect your 5.1 system to stand up to a 7.1 unless if the conditions are just right.
What is a 7.1 Speaker System?
The 7.1 channel surround sound system is the holy grail of home theaters. Better build quality, better performance, and of course, more speakers are just some of the things we see in these higher-end systems.
A 7.1 speaker system is an 8-channel surround audio system. It consists of 7 multipurpose speakers and a dedicated subwoofer for the lower frequencies. 7.1 systems are a predecessor of the 5.1 channel surround sound system. They have a similar setup, except that a 7.1 has two additional surround speakers (surround back speakers) for a more immersive experience.
The two surround-back speakers are usually placed behind the listening area. Note that in the setup, there are technically four surround sound speakers, not just two.
5.1 or 7.1: Which One Should You Go For?
Finding the perfect blend of features for your home theater system can be time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. With a 5.1 and 7.1 and system, you can enjoy the full-range capabilities of a home theater. Reshape your home entertainment with high-end systems from manufacturers like Sony and see what they can do.
But not so fast! If you want a great system, you’re going to ask these questions:
- How much space do you have?
- What kind of receiver do you have?
- How much are you willing to pay for a home theater?
1. How Much Space Do You Have?
Space! Space! Space! The aspect of space is one of the most critical factors in audio.
The amount of space available could really have an impact on the performance of all your audio devices. Big rooms need big speakers to fill it with sound while small rooms only need small speakers to match. Subwoofers – and generally all sound systems – work best in rooms matched to their sizes.
If you have a room under 350sq ft., a 5.1 channel surround system is what you need. 7.1 systems are better for bigger rooms measuring above 350sq feet. Resist the urge to pack small rooms with many speakers. It will only lead to sloppy sounds in a crowded, accident-prone space.
Did I mention the shape of the room? Take that into account as well. The shape of the room has an effect on the sound waves, more so the echoes from your home theater system. A square room is generally “bad” for acoustics, but unfortunately, that’s what most rooms are like.
2. What Kind of Receiver Do You Have?
5.1 channel receivers can comfortably accommodate 5.1 channel surround sound systems, but not 7.1 systems. This can be a problem if you just bought a 7.1 channel home theater.
Always look at the kind of receiver you have before making a purchase. If you have a 7.1 channel receiver, you’re safe in the sense that it can support both 5.1 and 7.1 systems. If you have a 5.1 channel receiver, it would be best to buy a corresponding 5.1 surround sound speaker to avoid the cost of buying a new receiver.
3. How Much Are You Willing to Pay?
7.1 channel systems are always going to be more expensive because they have more speakers and more features than 5.1 systems. They cost more to manufacture with the additional drivers, cabinets, and circuits. Additionally, they consume more power to add to the cost. A 7.1 system will generally cost more than a 5.1 system.
Setting Up Your Home Theater
Now that you have made your decision, it’s time to set up your surround sound home theater.
All speakers have a “sweet spot.” Find it, and you’re halfway to an amazing experience. With home theaters, things aren’t much different. You just need to calculate the right distance between your front and back speakers for optimum performance. Doing so is a tedious trial and error, but some higher-end systems come with a calibration mic and app to find the best position.
- Put the front right, and front left speakers to the right and left side of the television.
- Find some space directly below the tv set for the center speaker.
- If you have a 5.1 system, place the surround speakers (left and right surround) slightly behind the listening area. For a 7.1 surround sound, the extra surround back speakers should be placed behind the listener.
- If your surround speakers are near a wall, keep them 2-3 feet away to prevent noisy sound reflections.
- Move the subwoofer to the front wall of the room, preferably beside the tv set. Keeping the sub close to other front speakers helps the ears pick out clearer sounds.
- Tilt your speakers in the direction of the listening area
Finally, consider adding other items in the room. As mentioned earlier, the shape of the room affects its acoustic properties. Sound bounces off the walls, tables, the floor, and other hard objects, creating reverb (echoes that can ruin your experience).
Although there is no way to completely prevent this altogether, there is a way to reduce it. Add furniture and find large curtains for your windows. You can also spread large fluffy carpets and other sound-absorbent materials to absorb the echoes and improve your overall performance.
You can never go wrong with a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system. The only major factors that you should be concerned about are the size of the room and the cost of purchasing a home theater. Otherwise, 5.1 systems are used for all kinds of rooms, but the 7.1 was designed for much larger rooms.