5.1 vs 7.1 Surround Sound: Which one is perfect for your home theater setup?

5.1 vs 7.1 Surround Sound: Confused about which to pick for your home theater setup? Dive in to discover the best fit for an immersive audio experience!


Updated on: August 19, 2023

So, you want to surprise your friend by setting up a home theater, but you still don’t know which surround sound system you should go for: 5.1 or 7.1?

Don’t fret! We are here to help you resolve the enigma. 

You cannot just randomly pick one. Several factors affect your choice of surround sound for the home theater. You can’t choose a sound system just because it has more speakers compared to others, or because it is more costly; these factors don’t necessarily make it special or suitable for your home theater. You must know which one could be the appropriate choice for the best immersive sound experience. 

Now, all you have to do is sit tight and continue reading for the next ten minutes to inform yourself about the 5.1 and 7.1 Surround sound systems, to learn which one is better, and decide which one to choose for your home theater.

The first piece in the jigsaw: 5.1 Surround Sound

A 5.1 surround system comprises six channels: five speakers, and one subwoofer, which provide a truly immersive 3D sound experience in a small room. To fully use the 5.1 surround sound system, all the speakers must be arranged and placed precisely where things are panned. Otherwise, you’ll listen to sounds out of place when they are happening somewhere in front of the screen.

5.1 Surround Sound

Furthermore, as the 5.1 surround sound system is widely in use, it’s easy to troubleshoot this system in case of any problem because a vast online community is using the same and can provide valuable suggestions for troubleshooting. 

You might want to know how to set up your speakers in the 5.1 setup. So, here’s the answer.

Interested in comparing 5.1 surround sound with other setups? Explore the differences between 2.1 and 5.1 soundbars.

Speakers arrangement:

The speaker arrangement for a 5.1 surround system is not very complicated. You don’t need to look for experts to set up 5.1 surround sound in your home theater. Most of the time, you can easily find the 5.1 surround sound kit, which includes the compatible in-line receiver with a manual explaining the speaker setting.

Still, if you’re looking for a 5.1 surround sound speaker layout, your call is heard!

There’s a central speaker at the front, with a subwoofer; front-left and front-right speakers at about 30 degrees from the seating position; two left, and right rear speakers, also known as left and right surround speakers.

Simple enough, isn’t it?

Now, let’s find out about the second piece of this sound puzzle, 7.1 surround sound.

For more detailed guidance on surround sound speaker placement, check out our comprehensive guide.

Fitting the final piece: 7.1 Surround Sound.

First, there’s no massive difference between the 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound systems. It has two additional speakers, which means eight channels, including seven speakers and one subwoofer. Two additional speakers, placed at the back of the room, provide more depth to the listening experience.

7.1 Surround Sound

Which means a better 3D listening experience! Learn more about advanced audio technologies like DTS:X vs Dolby Atmos to enhance your home theater.

As it is not widely used, it is sometimes hard to troubleshoot problems, as there is not much community online using this system to guide you. Furthermore, there are few chances to find an all-in-one kit for a 7.1 surround system that includes a compatible receiver for the setup.

However, if you have a 5.1 surround sound system installed in your home theater, you can easily upgrade it to a 7.1 by adding the two speakers at the back. 

Let’s look at the speaker setting for a 7.1 surround sound system to save you the trouble of searching.

7.1 Speaker setting:

The speaker setting for 7.1 is the same as the 5.1 surround system, with two additional speakers at the back for producing depth in the system. As this system has more speakers than the lateral one, it costs more. Furthermore, with more speakers, the 7.1 surround sound setup is ideal for bigger rooms.

Which one is better for you, 5.1 or 7.1?

After knowing the difference between the two surround sound systems, you want to know which one you should set up in your home theater. You cannot blindly choose one without consideration. Several factors affect your choice of surround sound; here’s a complete list. 

Room size:

Room size is essential to consider before picking up the perfect surround sound system. 

The 5.1 surround sound system is more suitable for smaller rooms as additional speakers can create an unwanted sound mix, detrimental to immersive sound. 

On the other hand, the 7.1 surround sound system has two more speakers. The back speakers are to provide more depth in sound; it’s suitable for larger rooms, sizes above 350 sq ft. 

Furniture:

Now, you might not know how one extra table or any furniture you placed in your home theater could become a factor in the surround sound system choice. 

Well,  furnishing in your home theater significantly affects the listening experience. Hard surface furnishings, including tables, cabinets, and wooden floors, are more likely to reflect the sound and ruin the concept of 7.1 surround sound.

For this reason, you must have soft furnishings like a sofa, carpet, and couch to prevent sound reflection if you have those additional speakers at the back. 

Listening position: 

Another essential factor in choosing surround sound is where you sit in the home theater. So, if you have a small room with limited space at the backside of your seating position, don’t go for 7.1 surround sound. In this case, a 5.1 surround sound setup is best for you. 

Full Kit Availability:

As mentioned earlier, a 5.1 surround sound system is easier to find in an all-in-one kit than a 7.1 system. To completely set up your sound system, you need a receiver to convert the TV signals into speaker-level signals, which is not readily available in the case of a 7.1 surround sound system.

For this reason, you may want to look at your choice of surround sound one more time. Furthermore, you may also start up with a 5.1 and build on a 7.1 setup on the existing one later. 

Pocket Pinching:

Budget is one thing you can’t ignore while choosing a surround sound setup for your homie. No one wants to go completely broke after a surround sound system installation. 

Now, a 7.1 surround sound system has more speakers and requires a compatible receiver for the number of channels. It can be quite expensive to get one.

However, a 5.1 surround system is readily available and is not pocket-pinching, and you can always upgrade it to a 7.1 according to the requirement. 

Wire clutter:

More speakers mean more wires, which means that with a 7.1 surround sound system, you’ll have to take care of the extra wire tangles. This wire mess is a bit under control in the case of the 5.1 setups. 

You can also opt for a wireless speaker system; however, audio signal transmission, in this case, won’t be very efficient. Signals sent over wired transmission lines are of higher quality than wireless transmission. 

Now you know the factors to consider when choosing between 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound systems. However, there’s still a question that might cloud your thoughts; which one wins the war, 5.1 vs. 7.1?

Let’s find out. 

The End game: 5.1 VS 7.1

Ready for a jaw-dropping answer?

None is better in a 5.1 VS 7.1 surround sound system choice. The better one will step out depending on your home theater specifications. 

However, some ways exist to put one in a winning status. 

5.1 7.1
6 audio channels eight audio channels
Suitable for small rooms (widely used because not everyone has a mansion to live in) Suitable for large rooms only (can be disastrous for smaller rooms)
Available in all-in-one kits, with a receiver There are very few all-in-one kits for 7.1 surround sound setup
Is budget friendly Quite expensive because of the extra speakers, and compatible receiver
Can be upgraded into a 5.1 system without much expense Buying a 7.1 system and then converting it into a 5.1 would just be a waste of money as you can easily get a 5.1 system which is pocket friendly.

So, all in all, when comparing 5.1 vs. 7.1, the 5.1 surround sound system comes out on top. However, depending on your home theater specifications and preferences, you must choose one, as mentioned in “Which one’s better for you, 5.1 VS 7.1?”

To sum up! 

You can’t just select any surround sound system to surprise your homie with a new sound setup in the home theater. It’s just like throwing your money into a stream, meaning there are few chances of getting the right system for yourself.

So, take your time, and follow all the steps mentioned above to determine the right one for your home theater. And if you have skipped it, you are most likely to get in sound trouble in the home theater, which means your surprise will turn into a disaster. 

So, go back. Take your time. Trust the process to get the best surround sound system for your home theater. Need more help selecting your home theater speakers? Check out our home theater speakers selection guide.

I’m Shaun Conroy, an audiophile & founder of HiFi Audios. Holding a Bachelor’s in Sound Engineering, I bring deep expertise in audio devices and offer insights & recommendations to fellow enthusiasts.

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