More on Surround Sound
More on Surround Sound
In our first article (found here), we touched on the basics of Home Theatre. This article is here to help expand your knowledge on Surround Sound.
What is 5.1, 7.1, 5.1.2 etc?
Commonly you will see speakers described as 5.1 or 7.1, or even 5.1.2. But what does this all mean. Let’s break down 5.1.2.
The first number is the amount of ‘surround’ speakers (or channels) which are at or around ear level. These speakers are designed to create sound around you. 5 being the number of speakers and the generally the entry point to surround sound. Typically, this contains 3 speakers at the front, known as Front Left, Centre and Front Right followed by 2 speakers towards the rear known as Surround Left and Surround right. Jump up to 7.1 and you have 7 speakers, where your Surround Left and Surround Right speakers are moved slightly forward and an additional 2 back speakers are added, known as Surround Back Left and Surround Back Right. In most Home Theatre applications, people do not go above 7 channels, however, it can be done with expensive equipment.
The next number is the amount of Subwoofers. Commonly, you will have just 1. Subwoofers are not ‘directional’, meaning they aren’t designed to direct sound at you. Because of this, they can be placed anywhere in the room. Keep in mind, the placement of the Subwoofer can have a huge impact on its performance, but we will touch on this in future articles. Most people simply set it up next to you Front Left or Front Right speakers. The subwoofer creates the ‘doof’ we all know and love and often happens during explosions during movies. Sometimes you will see Receivers/AVR’s advertised as 5.2 or 7.2. This generally means they have 2 subwoofer outputs, meaning you can run 2 subwoofers! But don’t be fooled, they commonly put on the exact same signal, only higher end receivers tend to give you the option of sending a different signal to different subs, but again, more on that in other articles.
This brings us to the third number, height channels or more commonly known as ‘Atmos’. Atmos for the home is a recent development is a game changer. Audio Technicians are no longer restricted to sound going around you, they can now edit the audio tracks to create sound overhead! The minimum number is generally 2, meaning 2 speakers will be overhead. We generally recommend 4, if it’s within your budget as the step up is rather significant. Some companies have released ‘Atmos Add On Speakers’, sit on top of your front (and/or back) speakers which fire sound towards your ceiling and bounce it back to the viewer, giving the illusion of overhead sounds. While this does work, it is a compromise on having speakers directly in your ceiling.
It should also be noted that some height channels aren’t directly overhead, some sit high up your front wall facing downward. Again, we believe this to be a compromise but does create the experience of ‘height’ in audio.
Why is surround sound important?
Quite simply, it creates a more immersive experience. Watching a movie with only front speakers means no matter what happens, sound will only be sent to you from the front. With surround sound and now with addition of Atmos, sound can be heard from all around! Whether that be a bullet whizzing past your face or a helicopter flying overhead, the more channels you add, the more immersive the experience.
What is the best option?
The more the merrier, but like everything in life, this will come down to budget. We strongly encourage the use of Atmos as the step up from regular surround sound is very noticeable. The entry point to this is known as 5.1.2. Meaning 5 surround speakers, 1 subwoofer and 2 overhead speakers. Higher end ‘consumer’ receivers, notably the Denon 8500H support up to 13 speakers plus 2 subwoofers, meaning either 9.2.4 or 7.2.6 set ups!
Entry level Atmos receivers are coming down in price and can be had for $500-$800 with the higher end models such as the 8500H costing closer to $6,000!
Tips when picking an AVR/Receiver for Surround Sound
The first being the amount of channels it supports. AVR’s/Receivers are advertised as 5.1 or 7.2 or 9.2 etc. As we learned early, this is the amount of speakers they support. 5.1 being 5 surround speakers and 1 subwoofer. 9.2 being 9 surround speakers and 2 subwoofers.
BUT, there’s a catch! There are some 9.2 receivers that support Atmos and there are some that don’t, but both will be advertised as 9.2! A 9.2 receiver may only support 9.2 surround sound and not 5.2.4 surround sound with Atmos. What you need to look out for is the terms ‘Atmos Support’ and ‘DTS:X Support’ (FYI DTS:X is a rival companies’ version of Atmos). Newer receivers will likely support Atmos and DTS:X, but make sure you double check.
Some receivers will process up to 9 channels, but only power 5-7 of them. We want to keep this article simple, so will delve into this another time.
Tips when picking speakers
Speaker choice is a can of worms. A speaker loved by one person is hated by the next. When it comes to speaker choices, whether it be for surround sound or not, your best bet is going into a store and having a listen. We always recommend ‘component’ systems, meaning you pick your own AVR/Receiver and individual speakers separately. Some of the bigger, more commercial companies sell what’s called a ‘HTiB’ (Home Theatre in a Box), which is a system that has everything in the one from the receiver to the speakers and even a built in blu ray/dvd player. These systems are often cheap and considered ‘entry level’, but for some, they will do the job. As usual, we will delve into component vs HTiBs another time.
That’s it for today folks. We are barely scratching the surface of surround sound and its capabilities, but with every article, you’re learning a little more!
Stay tuned for more articles!