The Good and Bad Sides of 5.1 and 7.1 Home Theater Systems

Updated on June 20, 2020
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Hi, My name is Benjamin Ross from California. I`m a life lover! My passion are traveling and movies :)

If you are just stepping into the world of home theater systems you must have already heard of 5.1 and 7.1 home theater systems. For a beginner they may be a bit confusing, but the truth is that at one point you will have to decide which one to choose.

So, if you are still interested, please keep reading and you will find some useful information. So, let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of two systems.

5.1 and 7.1: The Good and Bad Sides

When we start looking for some information about home theatre systems, we most frequently see that 5.1 and 7.1 are being mentioned. Both these numbers indicate the total number of speakers in the setup. For example, a 5.1 system consists of five speakers and one subwoofer. The subwoofer’s role is to handle the bass, while the other speakers deal with all the other sounds.

Most frequently these speakers are positioned as follows – the center speaker is usually placed under the screen and on both sides of the screen we have two speakers. They can be either smaller speakers or floor standing ones. And the remaining two are usually positioned on opposite sides of the listener. The subwoofer in most cases goes in the corner or next to the screen. Perhaps the greatest advantage of the 5.1 system is that you don’t have to buy any additional equipment.

And here comes the 7.1 system. You may think now, OK, the difference is in the two extra speakers, right? Well, yes and no. Here comes the confusing part. These two extra speakers can be identical to the side speakers but are usually placed behind the listener. They can also be height speakers which are mounted on the walls and angled a little to point downward. This adds up to the overall surround sound experience and also makes some sound systems sound more immersive than others.

Of course, there are more complex systems like 9.2 or even 11.2 and since you understand the numbers behind the 5.1 and 7.1 systems you know what it means. Things can get even more complex with 9.2.4 systems. They include nine speakers, two subwoofers and four speakers to be installed in the ceiling.

For now, we are going to stick to the 5.1 and 7.1 home theater systems and it is good to know their positive and negative sides.

5.1 Advantages and Disadvantages

There are several advantages of the 5.1 system. Everything comes in one box and there is no need to invest in additional equipment. However, if you want to invest, you can. But they generally work out of the box. The setup is quite easy and the placement of the speakers is simple and straightforward. If you want to install them in a smaller room you will definitely appreciate the 5.1 home theater system.

They are also very affordable and, based on the receiver they have, very customizable. When you install a 5.1 home theater system, even if you go with the most affordable option, you will see a significant difference when compared to the audio coming from your TV. It will be especially noticeable whenever you play anything made for surround sound systems.

If you are more into wireless systems it is more likely you will find a very good wireless system. Believe us, after spending some time dealing with the speaker wires, you will definitely appreciate the wireless option.

As we have mentioned above there are also some disadvantages as well. When you compare the power of the 5.1 and 7.1 systems with bigger systems you will notice they are not so powerful. They lack the setup precision in the first place. Also, if you plan to install these systems into a larger room, you may notice that it simply isn’t enough and that they lack the power needed to fill the room with sound.

In most cases these systems consist of satellite speakers. The advantage of satellite speakers is that they can be placed anywhere we want because they are light and compact. Although this is more than desirable, the bad thing is that they are simply not that powerful. On top of that, although wireless systems are more appropriate and you don’t have to deal with wires, they may lack the sound quality of their wired brothers. While wired speakers have better sound quality, the wires make them less desirable and it is almost a rule that you will have to buy the wires separately.

7.1 Advantages and Disadvantages

You will notice the advantages of a 7.1 system the moment you connect them. The listening experience is much better mainly because the build quality and the audio performance are much better than in 5.1 systems. The bad thing is that, you will usually have to buy a receiver because in most cases it doesn’t come with the package. However, investing in a receiver will make space for a later upgrade of the system if necessary.

Ok, we have gone through the advantages of 7.1 systems, but are there any disadvantages? Actually, there are. They can often be expensive and over our budget. The only way to have a 7.1 system without breaking the bank is to get a 5.1 system, replace the receiver for a more powerful one and add some satellite speakers. However, although this will be a 7.1 system it won’t perform the same as a genuine one.

At the same time installing a 7.1 system in a smaller room will affect the sound quality. It will lose the focus and precision since this setup requires some distance between the speakers. Only then it will perform the way it was meant to be.

To Sum Things Up

When you have to decide whether to buy a 5.1 or 7.1 home theater system keep the following things in mind.

The size of the room plays a significant role in deciding which system to choose. If your room is smaller than 350 square feet then you should get a 5.1 system. If your room is bigger than this, you know what you have to choose.

If you have lots of space behind the listening position then a 7.1 setup would be a better choice.

If you are planning to upgrade your system later and add some height speakers for example, then we would recommend getting a 7.1 system and investing in a quality receiver.

If wires don’t bother you and you want better sound, then the wired option is much better. However, if you are too bothered by wires and you are willing to sacrifice a little audio quality then the wireless home theater system s the best option for you.


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