Which Do You Prefer: 5.1 vs. 7.1 Surround Sound?

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The current poll over on the AVS Forum addresses surround sound, with these configurations virtually an even split among the home theater enthusiasts.


Jun. 24, 2010 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

With the rise of home theater, spurred by laserdisc, DVD players and multichannel A/V receivers, came the rise of surround sound for the home environment. For years a conventional 5.1 system did the job nicely—incorporating front left, center and right channels, two surround channels (placed behind or to the sides of the listener, depending on the seating arrangement) and the “.1” subwoofer.

Then came high-definition Blu-ray (and HD DVD), and the corresponding receiver upgrades, to bump the sound of lossless formats to an even fuller and more immersive 7.1 system—so you can add rear or side surround channels to the mix (some people simply go with a 6.1 that features a centered rear channel). Plus many theater owners add one, even three sometimes, more subwoofers for smoother and bigger bass response, especially with larger dedicated rooms.

Last year Dolby even took things a step further, adding “height channels” to the front sound stage to provide more spacial dynamics for the soundtrack, and receivers began accommodating those as well, whether using dedicated terminals or having you employ the second zone ports. Other 9.1 setups might incorporate extra surround channels.

So our friend David Bott posed the question to his AVS Forum members: How many speakers do you think are needed (or preferred) for home surround sound?

The choices:

  • 5.1 - L,C,R,LS,RS - SUB
  • 7.1 - L,C,R,LS,RS,LR,RR - SUB
  • 9.1 - L,C,R,LS1,RS1,LS2,RS2,LR,RR - SUB
  • 11.1 - L,C,R,LW,RW,LH,RH,LS,RS,LR,RR - SUB

There’s still some time left for you to vote if you haven’t already (poll closes Tuesday, June 29, 2010). As of this writing, however, it looks like a virtual dead heat between 5.1 and 7.1 fans. Not many are seeing the benefits of more channels than that.

The current breakdown of votes: 1,245 for 5.1; 1,300 for 7.1; 164 for 9.1; and 214 for 11.1.

Here’s a sampling of the 300-plus responses:
“7.1 offers me a benefit over 5.1, as I have a rectangle room with enough space in the rear. I enjoy the spacial effect. I could care less about front high and wide speakers. I would, however, think that a ceiling/above speaker at the seating position would give some nice effects.” —NismoZ

“Relatively few things are being mixed into even 7.1 vs. 5.1. Seems like overkill.” —DoctorO

“The 7.1 in HD Audio works great for us. Out of 300 BD [Blu-ray discs] we have watched the last two years, I think only about 20-25 or so far have been 7.1 – the rest were 5.1 – and yes we can tell a major difference.” —HoustonPerson

“5.1 or 5.2 (more bass!!) is enough for good surround. All you need are good speakers with good sound imaging. If you have enough room, 7.1 can be cool but that’s if you have the perfect space to really benefit from it.” —Dashboard

“I think 9.1 with front height speakers would be pretty much the most that will be needed (although I’d have to try height speaker before issuing a final verdict on them) assuming taller than standard 8-foot ceilings.” —Suntan

Where do you stand? Have you beefed up your own theater from 5.1 to 7.1 with the advent of Blu-ray? Go vote, and let us know in the comments below.



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