What is a 7.1 Surround Sound System? Everything You Need To Know

Your home theatre is almost ready for you to play your favourite movie. You bought an awesome TV, and you’ve got a comfy couch. All that’s left is to get a surround sound system to complete the experience. Picking the right sound system can be tricky, and the offer has gotten even richer now that you can get a 7.1 surround sound system. Are they any good at all? That’s what we’ll try to answer today.

What Is 7.1 Surround Sound?

A 7.1 surround system uses an eight-channel audio system to provide a superior audio experience by recreating sounds at different angles and distances. This technology gives the listener an immersive experience and the ability to visualize the sound source. Thanks to this, the listener can become fully engrossed in a movie or video game.

But if it’s using an eight-channel audio system, why is it called a 7.1 surround system? It all has to do with the naming standard for the surround system. In our example, seven represents the number of speakers, and one stands for the number of subwoofers. That’s eight audio channels in total.

What Is the Difference Between 5.1 and 7.1 Surround Sound?

The first and most obvious difference between the 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound systems is the number of speakers. The latter boasts two additional surround speakers, leading us to our second difference between the 5.1 and 7.1 system – the room size they’re intended for.

Whereas a 5.1 surround sound system is better suited for small to medium-sized rooms, a 7.1 surround sound system is better for larger rooms. By larger, we mean indoor spaces that surpass 350 square feet or 32.5 square meters. If you place a 7.1 surround system in a small or medium room, the sound can become muddy as too many sources are masking each other.

5.1 vs. 7.1 Surround Sound: Which Is Better for a Home Theatre?

When opting for a home theatre setup, picking the right surround system is crucial, but there aren’t any easy answers here. Several factors have to be taken into account: the room itself, the system features, and the budget you have at your disposal.

Room

As we already outlined in the section titled “What Is the Difference Between 5.1 and 7.1 Surround Sound?” first we need to consider the size of the room.

Next, we should take into account the space that’s available for speakers. You need to be able to arrange them all around you, and since the 7.1 home theatre has two additional speakers, they can prove tricky to place. If you’re struggling with space, you can use a soundbar instead of speakers, but be sure to check out their differences first.

We shouldn’t disregard the audio system’s interaction with room furnishings either. Soft surfaces such as carpets and couches will diffuse sound and prevent sound reflection. On the other hand, hard materials, objects made of wood, or floor tiles will reflect sound and potentially ruin the immersion. Reflecting sound may seem like a good idea when you’re playing 3D audio, but it has to be taken into account if you don’t want your sound to start coming from the wrong direction.

Features

Several other things should be on your checklist when comparing 5.1 vs. 7.1 surround sound, one of them being the receiver.

A receiver is needed to convert line-level signals from the TV to a speaker-level signal for the speakers. Whereas most 5.1 surround systems come with a receiver included, just a few 7.1 surround systems have everything you need in one package, which means they often exclude the receiver. In case you decide to go for a soundbar, you won’t even need a receiver.

Having so many speakers around can lead to a wiring problem, and that’s another factor you want to consider. There are two options: to get either a wireless set or a soundbar. Of course, a trade-off is unavoidable: You’ll lose on the sound quality. Nothing beats a direct-wired signal but sometimes comfort beats quality.

Budget

In most cases, one of the deciding factors is the budget. It won’t come as a surprise when we tell you that a 7.1 home theatre will cost you more. For starters, it has two additional speakers and you usually need to buy a receiver separately. You can always start with a 5.1 surround system and then work your way up to a 7.1 surround system.

What Is Better Than 7.1 Surround Sound?

There are surround sound systems that add even more speakers, for example, a 9.1 surround system and beyond. Since these are much more complex systems, they are even harder to find as an all-inclusive package. The other problem is there aren’t even that many movies that have been made for all of those speakers.

A better option would be to upgrade your 7.1 to a 7.1.2 surround system. You won’t be seeing the third number that often because these systems have been launched recently. It represents the number of overhead speakers, which are crucial components when you’re looking to create a 3D sound experience. Simply put, when you arrange all the speakers, the sound always comes out on the same level (2D). But when you add overhead speakers, the chopper flying above the movie characters will be heard from above, too, creating a 3D immersive experience.

Bottom Line

Every system needs to serve its purpose, and the 7.1 surround sound system is no different in that respect. That’s why you should take everything we talked about into account and see if it’s the right product for you.

For example, if you plan to watch movies in a small room, it would be better to pick a 5.1 surround sound system. But if you intend to use the room for gaming, you can get 7.1 surround sound headphones, and they’ll work without any issues. With the headphones, you don’t have the hassle of setting it all up, but the quality won’t be the same. As always, you sacrifice quality for comfort.

FAQ

Should I use a 7.1 surround system for gaming?

It depends on what your aim is. Just like a home theatre, it will provide better game immersion, but it won’t help you be better at gaming, as some ads have claimed.

Is 7.1 or Dolby Atmos better?

A 7.1 surround system plays sound on an even level or, simply put, on a 2D plane. On the other hand, Dolby Atmos provides overhead speakers and technology that create a more sophisticated theatre experience, thus enabling a full 3D sound immersion.

Does 7.1 surround sound do anything?

Let’s take a step back and answer: “What is 7.1 surround sound?” It’s an eight-channel audio system which provides a top-notch audio experience by recreating sounds at different angles and distances. So yes, as you can see, the 7.1 surround sound does a lot. If used properly, it’s better than stereo, a 2.1, or a 5.1 surround system.

Milica Milenkovic
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