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What is the difference between 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound?

Are you shopping for a new surround sound system for your home theater? Well, we are here to help make the process a lot easier for you. With so many options, brands, styles, and other choices, it can indeed be very overwhelming. 

When it comes to your home theater, it all boils down to the 5.1 or 7.1 system. Now, you may be scratching your head thinking, what the heck are these numbers for. But fret not; we are here to help you see the differences between the two. Get started by reading our mini-guide below:

The Number of Speakers

The primary difference between the two is the number of speakers used. In a 5.1 system, you can expect to have 6 loudspeakers. Meanwhile, the 7.1 system uses 8 speakers. Clearly, the two additional speakers in the latter configuration will provide more depth of sound. But does it mean it’s better? Not, necessarily. Keep on reading for more insight.

The Presence of Sound Rear Speakers

In essence, the 7.1 is the 5.1 on “steroids” because it is the amplified version. In the latter setup, you get two more speakers behind the listening position. This means you can enjoy a more robust sound because of the surround rear speakers. Another term for this is surround-back speakers. Hence, you get to supplement the atmospheric sound that the usual 5.1 speakers create. 

The Price Factor

Clearly, the price of the 7.1 is more expensive than the 5.1, provided you are looking at the same brand. For example, the 5.1 of the legendary Bose will, of course, be much more expensive than a 7.1 coming from an unknown brand manufactured in China. But, again, pricing is very relative because it depends on the brand, style details, manufacturing, and the like. Of course, this factor also depends on what you are willing to shell out for your home theater experience. 

The Space Considerations

Since you will be dealing with more speakers, the 7.1 will work well with larger spaces. In addition, the sound will travel well, assuring you get a great listening and viewing experience. However, there may not be enough space for the 7.1 arrangement in some interiors, such as a small apartment or townhouse. In this regard, the 5.1 system is sufficient to get the job done. 

Remember, room acoustics are also influenced by many things. It can be impacted by:

  • Room shape
  • Size of room
  • Interior furnishings
  • Placement of gadgets

However, as a general rule, rooms larger than 323 square feet or 30 square meters will benefit from expanding to a 7.1. 

The Proper Placement

Whether you buy the 5.1 or 7.1, the positioning also plays a crucial role. You can have the most expensive speakers from either system, but you cannot achieve optimal sound quality without proper placement. Remember, mounting makes a big difference so pay close attention to this detail. 

Keep in mind, just like the speakers placed towards the side of the listening position, your 7.1’s back speakers must also be placed at the ear height when someone is sitting. Don’t make the usual mistake of placing it too high or too low because these speakers are responsible for the atmospheric sound. There must also be at least a 10 cm difference between the speakers and the wall. 

Meanwhile, mount the center and front speakers towards the listening position. Professionals strive hard to place your speakers symmetrically so that each one remains equidistant to listeners. If all these details sound confusing, call for professional home theater installation help.