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5.1 Vs. 7.1: Battle of the Surround Sound Systems

5.1 Vs. 7.1: Battle of the Surround Sound Systems

There are a lot of options to choose from when setting up a home theater system. 5.1 and 7.1 are two of these available options. In the comparison of 5.1 vs. 7.1 surround sound system, a lot of points pop up that we need to consider when making a choice between these two configurations. Let's have a look...
Anup Patwardhan
Did You Know?
The '.1' in a configuration represents the subwoofer that reproduces various Low Frequency Effects (LFE).
How many times have we wondered and thought about having at our homes those enviable sound effects that we get to experience almost exclusively in a movie theater. That is where the home theater system comes into play, and helps achieve that much sought-after surround sound effect in the comfort of our living rooms.

Now, we are spoiled for choice when choosing the perfect sound system. There are various options available to treat and satisfy our hunger to have detailed and precise sound when watching movies or listening to our favorite music. The options available vary right from 2.1 to 11.1 systems. For now, we'll check out the differences between a 5.1 and a 7.1 surround sound system, which are the two most popular systems as we speak.
Comparison of 5.1 vs. 7.1
Auditory Effects
There are six speakers in a 5.1 system, and their general layout is as shown in the figure below. There are two speakers each on the right side and the left side. Among these two, one is at the front and one is at the rear. The fifth speaker, as the name suggests, is placed at the center along with the subwoofer.
Layout of a 5.1 Surround Sound System
Layout of a 5.1 Surround Sound System
On the other hand, there are two additional speakers in a 7.1 system when compared to a 5.1 system. These two speakers are responsible for providing the side-surround, and are placed in between the front and rear speakers on each side. A general layout of a 7.1 surround sound system is shown in the figure below.
Layout of a 7.1 Surround Sound System
Layout of a 7.1 Surround Sound System
In 5.1, the rear channel as well as surround channel are combined into rear speakers. While in case of a 7.1 system, the rear and surround channels are split by the introduction of the two additional speakers. This enables the system to provide sound effects with greater depth and precision.
Pricing
There is a significant difference when it comes to the pricing of these two systems. The 7.1 system, which provides a superior experience and sound quality, is obviously costlier than the 5.1 system, which provides a standard surround sound experience.
Room Size
While a 5.1 system is well suited for a small or medium-sized room, it can be insufficient for large rooms. For rooms that have a large area, a 7.1 system is a better suited option, which will not prove to be the perfect match for small or medium-sized rooms.
The Firsts
The 5.1 system, though invented in 1976, was used for the first time in theaters for the movie 'Batman Returns' in 1992. 'Toy Story 3' was the first movie to use the 7.1 system for the first time, in 2010.
Compression
The compression in 5.1 systems is achieved through Dolby Digital or DTS (formerly known as the Digital Theater System), where the compression is not completely lossless. This is opposed to 7.1 systems, that use Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio, where the compression is lossless, and quite similar to the audio quality of a music studio.
Gaming and Movies
When it comes to gaming, most of the video games support 5.1. The 7.1 sound system is supported by PS3, PS4, and Xbox One. As far as movies are concerned, 5.1 is an industry standard, and hence, sound effects for most of the movies and DVDs feature 5.1 surround sound. The demand for 7.1, however, is growing, and most of the movies are being re-released on Blu-ray after remixing them with 7.1 sound effects.
A surround sound effect is achieved through normal speakers by feeding sound to the human ears from different speakers. However, in case of a headset, each ear can hear only from one speaker. Various processing systems and algorithms are used in order to create the effects of surround sound through these two speakers of a headset, known as virtual surround.
It would be difficult to answer simply as to which system is better - 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system. The factors that have been mentioned above need to be taken into consideration before making a final choice for purchase. 7.1 systems are worth every penny that would be invested in them, along with giving bragging rights to the owner of this system. However, also remember to prefer quality over quantity, i.e., prefer a 5.1 system of better quality over a 7.1 system of inferior quality.