When looking at new surround sound speakers or a home theater purchase you are immediately faced with one looming question…
How many channels (speakers) do I need?
That can be a complex question. Many in the industry will say that you need 7.1 channels.
Or, 7 surround speakers and 1 subwoofer. But I don't think this is accurate.
The easy answer to this is simple… 5.1 channels are more than enough to do the job for home theater.
Five channels are also a basic industry standard for the mastering studios.
Not all DVD and Blue-Ray discs are recorded in 6.1 or 7.1 surround. But they are almost always at least recorded as 5.1. So for those consumers who do have 7.1 channels- on many discs the extra 2 channels are often wasted.
5 channels (speakers) for home theater:
Left, center, and right; Two channels for the rear: left rear and right rear.
Plus the .1 is for the sub-woofer. For nearly ALL home theater surround sound speaker setups- this is more than you will ever need.
Why, because it makes no sense when looking at a display or TV in front, to have more speakers behind than in front. I have not seen many theaters with 4 speakers in front, have you?
Also, with any quality speaker system you will experience what is called “imaging”. Imaging fools you into thinking that there is a speaker where none exists.
Stereo can work very well too
Have you ever noticed that on a nice stereo system there are only two speakers, but a very solid sensation that the voice singing is coming from the middle- between the speakers?
Stereo has no center channel, yet with the lights off you could be sure that a center channel was playing.
I have had guests at my house looking on my stereo equipment rack for the center channel that they were sure was hidden somewhere. All we were playing at the time was two channel music.
Five channels for great surround sound
In the same way surround speakers, if doing their job fairly well -will throw images away from the speakers. So, at the very most, 6.1 surround makes sense. But really 5.1 is a better option.
Because it would be beneficial to spend more money on a set of surround sound speakers and get higher quality than to have 3 or 4 lesser quality speakers behind you.
Go with 5.1 surround spend the extra money you saved on higher quality speakers or a receiver and move on knowing you did the right thing. If you also need help setting up the components for your surround speakers see this page.