5.1 vs 7.1 Surround Sound: Which Is Better?

Have you saved up enough for a home theater surround sound system but are struggling to decide which is the best option? Rest assured as there are many in the same boat. New upgrades to features or superfluous extra?

The difference between the 5.1 vs 7.1 surround system is only two speakers, yet can these extra speakers justify the cost. Ask anyone whether the 5.1 vs 7.1 home cinema system is the one to go for and you’re likely to hear different opinions. Putting individual preferences to the side, the following is a critical look at each surround sound setup.

Differences Between 5.1 and 7.1 Surround Sound

The 5.1 system features five loudspeakers and one subwoofer while the 7.1 has seven loudspeakers and one subwoofer. The two extra speakers of the 7.1 are used behind the listening position and are called the surround back speakers or surround rear speakers.

With the two extra speakers in the right position, the main speakers boost the atmospheric sound created by the surround speakers places to the side of the listening position.

Surround back speakers fit perfectly in a large living room. However, some interiors may not have space for the surround back speakers. Setting the 7.1 surround system may make the sound muddled.

The best way to place the 5.1 system is to put the first three speakers in front of the room. Then the two surround speakers should be placed in the listening area. Sound is perfected with the 7.1 systems because of the two additional speakers placed at the back of the listening area.

The surround speakers shouldn’t be placed close to the listener because they’re responsible for the atmospheric sound. Ideally, there should be a 10cm space between the wall and speakers. The centre and front speakers should be enabled towards the sweet spot (listening position).

5.1 Surround System: Pros and Cons

There are several advantages and disadvantages to the 5.1 system. The setup is very easy as it comes in one box, there is no need to buy additional equipment. The whole sound system is found in a box and the arrangement process is straightforward.

They generally work out of the box and the placements of the speakers are straightforward. If you want to use them in a smaller room then the 5.1 surround system is something you would appreciate.

You can get the 5.1 surround system at an affordable price, and they differ based on the receiver they have. When you install it, you will see a significant change when compared to the TV from your audio.

There are some cons that this setup possesses as well. When you compare the strength of the 5.1 systems with other bigger sound systems, you will notice they’re not so powerful. The first thing they lack is setup precision. If you plan to install the 5.1 system in a larger room, you may notice that the set-up fails to fill the room with sound.

The 5.1 sound system in most cases consists of satellite speakers which can be placed anywhere you want due to its compactness/lightness. The downside to it is they may not be as encompassing or room-filling as larger setups. For common applications, the 5.1 sound system will fit perfectly. Switching to a 7.1 system is more suitable if you think of the several disadvantages of the 5.1 surround system.

5.1 vs 7.1
5.1 Surround Sound System (From Yamaha)

7.1 Surround system: Pros and Cons

Despite having two additional speakers, the 7.1 surround system may be bad for your listening experience. The 7.1 system is a good choice for a big room where sound can easily get lost in space. It provides a deeper sound listening experience. The 7.1 system comes with theatre quality media better than the 5.1 surround system.

There are still some cons to a 7.1 system. When used in smaller rooms, the additional surround system may produce sound domination of the surround sound channels over the front channels. This effect will make front-side sound effects and dialogue difficult to hear.

In most cases, 7.1 systems don’t come ready-made in a kit. You’ll be required to buy some components separately. Due to this issue, it might be difficult finding an online community to troubleshoot your system since the components are different.

The 7.1 sound system fits a large room perfectly, due to increased sound depth. The downside to using this is they’re more expensive to troubleshoot and set up. Choosing between the 5.1 and 7.1 systems depends ultimately on your situation and personal preferences.

7.1 Speaker System (From Marantz)

AV Receivers for the 5.1 or 7.1 Sound System

The AV receiver supports all channels in a surround system setup. The most logical point for buying a receiver is to ensure it has enough outputs for a 7.1 system. However, it is possible that a 7.1 receiver can be used to power a 5.1 system.

Some receivers have outputs that recognize when a 5.1 or 7.1 system is connected. When using other sound systems, this can be set in the menu. It’s more logical to get a 5.1 receiver for your sound systems due to the fact that they’re cheaper. But you can only achieve this if you will not be using your sound system for other speakers. The Marantz NR1711 is an excellent value for money AV receiver with immersive surround sound technology compatible with both 5.1 & 7.1 sound system set ups.

Marantz NR1711 8K Slim 7.2 Channel AV Receiver (From Amazon)

Can I get 3D sound with a 5.1 setup?

It’s unarguably true that the 7.1 produces immersive and realistic sounds. However, to get a true 3D experience, you might require a different speaker arrangement on a different audio technology.

There’s a new technology that uses ceiling-mounted speakers and Atmos reflection speakers to direct and bounce sound to and from the ceiling. With this effect, the sound produced can move freely between channels opening up a new dimension of sound.

Teufel’s LT 5 uses a Dolby Atmos receiver to produce the Dolby Atmos effect. The sound can be described as dynamic and rich all while maintaining high-quality.

Tuefel LT 5 Set (From Tuefel)

5.1 vs 7.1 Surround System Layout

As mentioned earlier, the difference between the 5.1 and 7.1 surround systems is two surround speakers. The extra surround speakers produce additional depth to fill the sound in a large room.

 The 5.1 system is set up in a fairly standard way. There are two front speakers that go on both sides of the TV, and a centre speaker that goes under the projector or TV. To cap it all, the system has two surround speakers that are placed on both sides of a listening area.

The 7.1 system has two additional speakers but there are set up in the same way. The way the five speakers are set in the 5.1 system, the 7.1 system is set like that. The two extra speakers are made to fit at the back of the listening area at an angle different from the first set of surround speakers.

Some audio experts advise that two extra surround speakers of the 7.1 system, can be mounted in the ceiling. This is to free the space behind the listening area to better the sound experience.

Sourcing Audio Mixed for 7.1 System

Most Blu-ray discs lack 7.1 soundtracks. This means that they have no unique soundtrack for when surround back speakers have been mixed. Most movies have been mixed for 5.1 sound. However, newer movies possess more than 7.1 channels in the following channels:

  • DTS-HD Master
  • Dolby Digital Plus
  • Dolby True HD

Movies mixed for 5.1 sound can playback 7.1 channels if possible. Audio technology companies like Dolby and DTS have developed codecs that use the information of the 5.1 soundtracks to produce a new channel for 7.1 sound. DTS-Neo 6 and Dolby Pro Logic IIx are two technologies used for up mixing that converts 5.1 to 7.1 sound.

Vizio Home Theater (From Techhive)

Which is the best for your room?

Different factors will affect if the 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system is the best for your room. Using the 7.1 speakers for any room because of the high, theatre-quality sound might not be the best idea.

Your love for theatre quality sound shouldn’t make you blind to the fact that you need to check your room before you get a speaker. To determine the right sound system for your room, there are three main factors to take note of. They are:

Room Size

The purpose of using a large speaker is to fill larger rooms. When you place loudspeakers in smaller rooms, they create a muddy mix of sounds making the audio sound louder than expected.

If your room is less than 350 square feet then you should be looking into buying a smaller speaker like the 5.1 surround system.

Furnishings

Features like cabinets, desks, tables, wood, tile flooring have an effect on the sound by reflecting it which may ruin the effect of additional speakers. Surfaces such as carpeting, couches or even bookshelves prevent sound reflection by keeping the sounds in the part of the room they are not supposed to be.

Position of the Listener

The 7.1 sound system uses two extra speakers to put sound behind the listener. Thereby, producing a great surround sound experience. If the space behind the listening area isn’t enough, putting speakers back there isn’t the best decision.

Features and Budget

When choosing an ideal surround sound system, there a lot of important features to look for. This will depend on your budget first against all other circumstances like a better setup.

By and large, the 5.1 system is less expensive than the 7.1 surround system. The 7.1 system has more components and it’s capable of producing a richer plus higher quality sound experience. Apart from the budget, there are also factors that affect how expensive your home theatre should be.

Receiver

Receivers are used in sound systems to convert line-level signals to speaker level signals. That is, signals from the TV are transmitted into signals that can make the speakers produce sound. Most 5.1 system comes with a receiver, but few 7.1 comes in an all-in-one package.

In order to reduce the cost of buying receivers, it’s advisable to buy a 5.1 receiver first before. So, when you upgrade your system from 5.1 to 7.1 system, you can use the 5.1 receivers for the new system.

Wires

This is another factor you might want to consider when looking into buying a new sound system. Most systems produced today come with wireless capability, making sitting up speakers a very easy task.

But you might get convenience with the wireless speakers, you’ll lose a bit of sound quality. Here’s why directly wired signals produce higher quality than what you get from a wireless speaker connection. Eventually, you will have to decide whether you want to get rid of the entanglement of wires or purchase higher sound quality with more wires.

Calibration

Most sound systems produce their internal calibration without any external aid. They work by optimizing sound by sending tones from speakers to the microphone placed in your listening area.

Getting a system with its own internal calibration enables theatre quality vibrations but the downside to this equipment is that they’re expensive. Internal calibrations are more common with the 7.1 systems.

5.1 and 7.1 Surround Sound Systems: Price Difference

In most cases, the biggest deciding factor between whether to get the 5.1 or 7.1 system is price. If you’re looking to buy a great sound system without breaking the bank, then the 5.1 surround system package sounds like a great gadget for a fair price.

To be frank, going for the lesser choice might not satisfy all your needs, but as the saying goes you get what you pay for. Top rated 5.1 sound systems from top of the line brands like Klipsch can cost over six thousand dollars ($6,000).

This system comes with a theatre-quality sound, high-definition vibrations and with an A/V receiver as a plus. If the 7.1 surround system is still your choice, the least amount you can pay for a decent system is $500.

Be sure to note that, that price can’t get you the sound system of your dreams. In order to get a good 7.1 surround sound system, your budget has to be in the range of $1,000 to $13,000.

If you’re looking into upgrading from both the 5.1 and 7.1 systems, there are a lot of in-ceiling or in-wall speaker systems that might suit your needs. These speaker systems look better aesthetically, but they might be very difficult to install. You might need professional help if it needs to be.

Another disadvantage to changing to a different sound system means you have to pull an already set up speaker in the wall out. In this case, you’ll have to make a hole to remove the speakers and patch the hole, which might be stressful and not aesthetically pleasing if not done by a professional.

From Lifewire

How to use 7.1 Sound System Without a Receiver

In order to understand this tip, you’ll need to understand the concept behind the soundbar. It’s very common to have seen modern, sleek soundbars featured in countless ads. The components however are more than just a sleek shining speaker. Soundbars comes with everything needed for a high-quality sound. This includes one or more speakers that are placed strategically in the right able to enhance audio.

Every one of the speakers works with an already built amplifier. The amplifier delivers high-quality sound without needing a receiver. Although receivers are very great for improving and getting high-quality sound, it is logical to forgo the receiver in this case.

Sometimes, buyers abandon a full home theatre system because they get the audio, they desire with the soundbar. There is a clause to the ‘no receiver required’ rule of soundbars. Most soundbars are active. That is, each speaker comes with an amplifier. The Sonos Arc is a highly rated soundbar with voice controlling technology and realistic sound.

A passive soundbar doesn’t include this feature, therefore, you’ll have to get an external amplifier or A/V receiver to get a high sound quality. Note that if you want to get a passive soundbar, you’ll have to specifically look for it as they aren’t produced in large numbers as their active counterparts.

Sonos Arc Soundbar (From Amazon)

The Verdict

Making the buying decision of the best sound system for you shouldn’t be a daunting task. To make your hunt easier, you may make a list of must-haves and nice to have a feature that suits your needs.

It’s also best if you can come up with your budget before you start browsing, so you can have your budget in mind while choosing your options. To choose the right surround sound system, be honest and choose what suits your needs.

A 7.1 Surround sound system might seem aesthetically appealing or might be a cool status symbol, but putting it in the wrong room can ruin the sound it produces. Be sure to keep in mind the feature of the space you want a sound system: wardrobes, tiles and other home furniture, so you can choose the best system that suits your space and our room as a whole.

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