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August 17, 2022  |  Electronics

Best 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound: Which is better?

A good surround sound system can transform your movie night into an immersive experience. Still, there are countless options to consider when choosing one. One of the first things you’ll want to think about is whether you want 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound, but many don’t know the difference.

5.1 surround sound vs. 7.1 surround sound

What is 5.1 surround sound?

5.1 is often considered the baseline configuration for those adding surround sound to their homes. It is a significant step up from your TV's speakers and offers impressive theatrical sound. 

5.1 systems include six channels that connect to six loudspeakers. These systems typically use a subwoofer, a center speaker, two left-and-right front speakers and two left-and-right rear speakers.

What is 7.1 surround sound?

7.1 systems have eight sound channels that feed into eight speakers. This configuration typically includes a subwoofer, a center speaker, two left-and-right front speakers, two left-and-right side speakers and two left-and-right rear speakers.

The two additional speakers help supplement and enhance the sound created by the other six speakers. Many 7.1 systems can be upgraded to include overhead speakers for Dolby Atmos.

Which is better?

7.1 systems tend to provide a more robust sound. Still, they may not be ideal for smaller rooms, as the configuration takes up more space. The 5.1 configuration is a perfect choice for most people, and the systems are often cheaper. On the other hand, if you want the best overall audio quality, you may want to opt for a 7.1 system.

Support

5.1 is the standard for most Blu-Ray discs, HDTV programs and video games. Some Bluray discs and gaming consoles now support 7.1, but 5.1 is still more common. In most cases, 7.1 systems can “up-mix” content to utilize the two additional speakers. Over time, we’ll likely see more devices and content begin to support the 7.1 configuration.

What to consider when buying a surround sound system

Surround sound system cost

You can buy surround sound system bundles that include everything you need. These bundles are often less expensive than purchasing individual speakers. You’ll have fewer options, and the sound quality may not be as impressive, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Various brands offer high-end systems that satisfy most people’s needs.

You can always buy individual speakers and assemble a surround sound system from scratch. In most cases, this is the best way to get top-of-the-line sound, but you’ll pay a lot more.

To assemble your own system, you’ll need to buy a receiver. When buying a receiver, it’s essential to consider whether you want a 5.1 or 7.1 configuration. Seven-channel receivers can usually support a 5.1 configuration, but receivers built for 5.1 will not be able to support 7.1.

Space

The amount of space you have is one of the most important considerations when buying a surround sound system. Smaller rooms aren’t likely to have enough space for eight speakers. 5.1 configurations are usually the best choice for smaller rooms, but many may prefer a soundbar over a surround sound system.

Surround sound system FAQ

Can you use a soundbar as the center speaker for a surround sound system?

A. In many cases, you can technically use a soundbar as a center speaker, although it may not be the best idea. Center speakers have one audio channel, whereas soundbars often have two or three. This difference can lead to the audio sounding different than it would with a traditional center speaker. Additionally, soundbars usually have built-in amplifiers, meaning they will try to amplify the sound from your receiver. In some cases, this could lead to equipment damage.

Can you use your phone with a surround sound system?

A. Yes, many systems have Bluetooth capabilities. Some have USB or AUX ports that are compatible with certain phones.

What’s the difference between a soundbar and a surround sound system?

A. Surround sound systems utilize multiple speakers to surround you with sound literally. Alternatively, soundbars seek to replicate a surround sound system by bouncing sound off your walls and ceiling. Many soundbars do an adequate job of replicating surround sound, although most agree it isn’t quite the same. Still, soundbars can be excellent devices for those looking to save space.

Best surround sound systems

Klipsch Black Reference Theater Pack 5.1 Surround Sound System

This system is compact compared to most others, and the sound quality is impressive. The subwoofer connects wirelessly. It features a sleek design that looks great in most rooms.

Sold by Amazon

Logitech Z906 5.1 Surround Sound Speaker System

This system has an impressive subwoofer. It delivers a consistent 500 watts of power and up to 1,000 watts at times. Although there are some longevity concerns, most were impressed with the sound quality and reasonable price.

Sold by Amazon

Yamaha 4K Ultra HD 5.1-Channel Home Theater System

This system has full Dolby Digital Plus Support and Bluetooth capabilities. The subwoofer sounds great, and the receiver is easy to use. It includes a microphone that can be used to help balance the sound of your speakers automatically.

Sold by Amazon

Fluance Elite High Definition Surround Sound Home Theater 7.1 Speaker System

This 7.1 surround sound system produces a top-notch sound that may be too powerful for smaller rooms. The speakers feature a stylish wood-grain design.

Sold by Amazon

Best surround sound receivers

Denon AVR-S960H 8K Ultra HD 7.2-Channel AV Receiver

This 7-channel receiver is ideal for those looking to build their own surround sound system. It is Wi-Fi, Airplay 2 and Bluetooth capable. It’s surprisingly easy to set up.

Sold by Amazon

Denon AVR-S540BT 5.2-Channel Receiver

This is an excellent choice if you’re sure you won’t want to upgrade to a 7.1 system. It’s easy to set up and affordable.

Sold by Amazon


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Cody Stewart writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.