5.1 vs 7.1 Surround Sound (Pros, Cons & Placement Options)

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  • What is the role of each surround sound speaker?
  • Find out the difference between surround sound speakers setups 
  • Discover which surround setup is best for you

When it comes to Hi-Fi audio, the amount of information one needs to factor into their choices for purchases can be somewhat overwhelming.

This is especially true when it comes to surround sound and which setup is best for you and your listening environment. 

Whether you’re a professional looking for the ideal audio setup or a film buff looking for the most immersive experience possible, we’re here to help you learn all there is to know about surround sound. 

What’s The Difference Between 5.1 and 7.1 Surround

In short, the difference between 5.1 and 7.1 is the number of speakers in the setup. 5.1 surround has six speakers, whereas 7.1 uses two additional rear speakers.

This may not seem like a big difference; however, the 7.1 speaker positioning will help to produce a more immersive listening experience.

Your next question may be, which is best? Read on to find out which setup is best for you. 

5.1 Positioning and Placement

The first thing you need to know is the purpose of each speaker and why it is important where they are placed.

With a true surround setup, you can hear exactly where things have been panned to when listening to a surround mix.

If this isn’t done correctly, you may become confused when you start hearing elements from a film behind when they’re happening in front of you on the center screen.

 

Diagram of recommended 5.1 speakers set up

Centre Speaker Placement

The center speaker is arguably the most vital part of your surround setup.

This is where the majority of the dialog, foley effects, and most of what you see on the screen will be sent to.

As a professional dubbing mixer, this speaker MUST be placed directly in front of you so that you can form a correct mix.

Having this in the same place as a listener for your home cinema setup is no less essential.

Watching the film may feel disjointed if you don’t have the center speaker directly in front of the viewer.

Front Left and Right Speaker Placement

Next, are the front left and right speakers. These two speakers will send out almost everything you will hear on screen.

This includes sound effects, ambiance, music, and sometimes the dialog if a character moves off center.

Unlike the center speaker, these two speakers must be of good quality as they have to cover the whole frequency spectrum.

It is also essential where these speakers are placed. In an ideal scenario, the left and right speakers should be aligned at an equal distance.

They must also be pointed towards the listener with a 20-30 degree angle.

This will depend on how far away you are from the speakers, but the key takeaway is to aim the speakers at the center of your chair or sofa.

Left and Right Surround Speaker Placement

The surround speakers generally have ambiance and music accompaniment sent to them.

If you aren’t buying a surround sound set and are using independent speakers, these speakers are as important as the front L and R speakers.

Therefore, if you’re looking at saving money on your setup, this will be the place.

Regarding ideal placement, these speakers will be placed behind the audience, approximately at a 110-degree angle.

However, if you lack the space to support this, you can place these speakers at 90 degrees to the listener.

Subwoofer Placement

The role of the subwoofer is in the name, it is used for the subfrequencies.

This is used to add weight and warmth to certain aspects of the audio.

The sub is predominantly used in music but will also use for sound effects and ambiance in certain scenes.

Regarding positioning, it doesn’t matter all that much for the subwoofer due to the non-directionality of subfrequencies.

Subs can range in size; therefore, getting something that fits in your space is very important.

7.1 Positioning and Setup

The only addition to the 7.1 setup is the two rear speakers.

They serve a very similar role to the left and right surround speakers as their main use is for ambiance and musical accompaniment.

As you might expect, the benefit of having the two additional speakers is increased emersion when watching and listening as you cover more of the 360-degree circumference.

Regarding positioning, the speakers should be placed between a 135-150 degree angle toward the listener.

Another change to the positioning, however, is the left and right surround speakers.

Now that you have two additional rear speakers, you will want to place these at a 90-degree angle toward the audience (See diagram below).

Diagram of recommended 7.1 speakers set up

What’s Best for Me, 5.1 or 7.1?

Pros & Cons of the 5.1 System

You may assume that more speakers automatically means better quality; however, that isn’t the case.

A small room with too many speakers can start to generate problems. The additional speakers can create a disjointed, muddy mix and ruin the listening experience.

The general rule of thumb is if your room is smaller than 350 square feet, then a 5.1 system is more than enough to produce an excellent listening experience.

Generally speaking, 5.1 systems are far more accessible on a budget. You can purchase a home theatre system from most retail stores and websites.

This is the most simple & affordable option. You won’t need to worry about purchasing a receiver, and it’ll be a plug-and-play experience.

A good example of this is the LG Electronics LOUDR Home Theatre Speaker System.

LG Electronics LOUDR
Why We Love It:
  • Multi-room Connectivity
  • Aramid Fiber Speaker
  • Bluetooth Connectivity
View Price On Amazon

However, keep in mind with this amplifier only has five channels. Therefore if you want to add additional speakers, you will need a new receiver.

Pros & Cons of the 7.1 System

Most notably, if you can accommodate the space, a 7.1 system will give you a truer listening experience and is the best way of emulating a trip to the cinema.

Rather than having two speakers besides the listener, the two additional rear speakers add further depth and increase the emersion.

One drawback of a 7.1 system is a lack of technical support.

As you will have to purchase your components independently and not as a set, it can become more challenging to set up.

This is also an excellent reason to purchase speakers from the same brand. This will help eliminate the number of steps you may need to take when troubleshooting.

On the topic of using the same brand, this is also a suggested setup method as you will get a more coherent sound.

Speakers have different weighting on specific frequency bands, so keeping this consistent throughout will help aid your surround sound speakers’ sound.

If the budget isn’t a concern and you are looking for the ultimate listening experience, Klipsch speakers are incredible in terms of quality and sound.

Klipsch has over 70 years’ experience producing premium audio gear, and these speakers are no exception.

Klipsch RP-8060FA
$621.88
Why We Love It:
  • Aesthetically beautiful
  • Hybrid Tractrix Horn technology
  • Brand new vented tweeter installed
View Price On Amazon
09/30/2022 02:41 am GMT

They also have the capability of Dolby Atmos audio, which is well on its way to becoming a mainstream audio codec format.

This is undoubtedly one of the best 5.1 speaker systems money can buy today.

If you’re after a 7.1 surround setup, you will be required to add two additional surround speakers to the set.

Unlike the budget, the surround system suggested the Klipsch system doesn’t include an amplifier.

Therefore, we would also suggest the Sony STRDH790.CEK 7.2 Channel Dolby Atmos Reciever.

Sony STR-DH790.CEK
$448.00
Why We Love It:
  • Dolby Atmos 360º surround sound
  • Smarter Bluetooth connectivity
  • High dynamic range
View Price On Amazon
09/30/2022 02:46 am GMT

Wrapping Up

In terms of answering the question of which is best, the answer depends upon your room size.

If your room is under 350 square feet, you should only be looking at getting a 5.1 system.

If you’re conscientious about budget and have a larger room, you still need to be cautious about getting a 5.1 system.

The more room you have, the further your sound has to travel. Therefore this is where you will benefit from a 7.1 surround system.

You can get a 7.1 speaker setup for around $500 USD. However, the big jump in cost comes with the receiver.

While you can get a 5.1 receiver in most surround sound system bundles, adding the two additional speakers will require another $400-$500 to your budget to upgrade to a 7.1 receiver.

This is a lot considering you can spend just as much on a set of speakers.

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