Setting Up a 5.1 vs. 7.1 Surround Sound System

Setting Up a 5.1 vs. 7.1 Surround Sound System

Gregory Han
Nov 17, 2008

Us old timers remember back in the day when 5.1 formats like Dolby Digital and DTS were the bee's knees when it came to the home theater experience. But now with 7.1 HD audio encoded into Blu-ray discs, the optimal setup/positioning of surround speakers has changed compared to their 5.1 cousin. Writer Tim LeFevre of Gizmag has a great post about how to optimize your home theater sound experience with either format

Tim writes:

When setting up speakers for a five or seven channel system, there's a few key things to remember. Firstly, sound, for the most part is directional, so keeping speakers at the same height is important. The general rule of thumb is to try and keep them at ear height, (when you're seated) which is about a meter (approximately 3 feet). It's no mistake that a lot of floor-standing speakers are designed at about that height. The problem is that many of us have our surround speakers wall mounted or installed in the ceiling, which is okay if they're angled down towards the listener, but your ear will still notice where the sound is coming from. You're better off if you can keep all your speakers on the same plane - reflection and cancellation of sound is less erratic and it helps them blend when trying to create an immersive surround sound environment.

As Tim notes, most current AV receivers and surround systems now have auto setup procedures, and these work quite well for the regular consumer (our Yamaha uni-speaker setup revealed noticeable improvement after setting directional positioning using the calibration tool, beating our manual positioning and "hmm...this sounds pretty good" technique).

Some other important notes quoted:

  • As high definition sound is now available and here to stay, I would suggest a HD audio capable 7.1 channel receiver, should your budget permit.
  • A 7.1 channel receiver compatible with standard Dolby Digital and DTS formats is the next best step. Most of these receivers will be able to simulate surround sound information for the 6th and 7th speakers from the original 5.1 soundtrack.
  • Still, a 5.1 channel AV receiver and speaker setup is a cost effective, and more than adequate solution, if you aren't planning on going down the route of Blu-Ray or HD DVD (any time soon.)

Read the full article and check out larger diagrams here.

[CC Photo: William Hook]

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