When you see speakers somewhere, you might notice that these are almost always in pairs. As we explained in an earlier article about wireless surround sound, this has to do with the fact that we have two ears. Our ears are able to identify the direction and distance to a music source. If you listen to music through just one speaker, you will notice that the distance to one ear is different from the other. This means that you will hear some form of delay. Digital development is now so far that we can add many more dimensions to our audio. Ideal for a nice surround sound setup. But how do you choose from the different setups? In this article we explain which surround sound setups there are and which best suits your listening or viewing space.
WHAT IS SURROUND SOUND AGAIN?
When we talk about surround sound, we are actually talking about adding extra channels. In this way, film makers can only reproduce a certain sound on the side or back. By placing your speakers around your listening position you get the real cinema feeling. Your films or series really comes to life because you are in the middle of the sound.
TYPES OF SPEAKERS
Center channel speaker / soundbar
As the name suggests, this speaker is in the middle, often under your TV in the form of a soundbar. Some people see the center speaker as optional, because the speakers on the front can handle this well. If you want a lifelike experience, we recommend adding it to your setup. Conversations in particular sound a lot better through a central speaker. In addition, it also ensures a seamless transition between your two front speakers.
Front left and right main speakers
The left and right speakers provide a more lateral, but still very localized and focused sound. These speakers are often column speakers or bookshelf speakers on a stand. For best results, we recommend that you place these speakers so that the tweeters are at ear height.
Rear surround speakers
As the name suggests, the rear speakers are in the back of the listening room and provide the sound coming from behind. Rear speakers are often a bit smaller because the main sound comes from the front. The rear speakers can be seen as an addition to this.
A subwoofer may be a bit of a strange duckling. Where the aforementioned speakers must be in balance, this is not necessary with a subwoofer. Since subwoofers are quite complex devices, we recently devoted a whole article to this. Subwoofers ensure the very lowest tones of your audio and you basically only need one of these. As a listener, you have two options when using a subwoofer:
- The subwoofer can complement the front speakers, which ensures even fuller bass.
- The subwoofer is responsible for all bass, allowing the front speakers to focus on the middle and higher tones.
If you use active speakers, such as the Origin speaker, the subwoofers are already built into the speakers. In this case, you use two subwoofers instead of one. For you as a listener, this has the advantage that you do not have to place a large subwoofer next to all your speakers. In addition, this gives your bass a little more dimension, although it is not directly audible.
Side surround speakers
Just like the speakers on the back, the side speakers are not necessary. Often this is the difference between a 5.1 and 7.1 setup, more on this later. The side speakers ensure a smooth transition from your front to your rear speakers and vice versa.
THE MORE CHANNELS THE BETTER?
In a beautiful large room, adding extra speakers will have a positive influence. However, in most cases this is not the case. If you have a smaller listening room, it is perhaps good to consider a smaller setup. Many people place their bench against the back wall. In this scenario, using more than two surround speakers (rear and front) is simply not practical. Using too many speakers ensures that the sound is no longer in balance. For example, the sound from the sides becomes too dominant in this, which would reduce the focus of the overall surround sound experience.
DIFFERENT SURROUND SOUND SETUPS
If you have ever immersed yourself in surround sound setups, you will probably be familiar with the fact that the different types are indicated by two (or three) numbers. The first number represents the number of speakers used and the second number represents the number of subwoofers, in most cases this is 0 or 1. In the overview below, we assume that you use at least one subwoofer. The third number is about the number of channels in height in the latest surround sound setups, more about this later.
If you want to go for a surround sound setup, you better not consider a 2.1 setup. A 2.1-channel setup consists of two front speakers and a subwoofer. This setup is in fact nothing more than a “normal” stereo setup and is not seen by many as “surround sound”.
However, there are 2.1 channel sound bars that mimic a surround sound experience. These soundbars contain a technique that has been built to ensure that the sound is reflected in the room in such a way that it looks like you have a 5.1- channel setup. Of course, such a soundbar cannot be compared to the quality of a real 5.1 setup. In this case, the two front speakers are replaced by the soundbar. This often contains several speakers that distribute the sound. For people who don’t want to spend a lot of money and still want some sort of surround sound, this is an ideal solution.
With a 3.1 setup we still talk about stereo sound, but with an extra center speaker. Adding this speaker to the center of the sound field provides more detail. Think of a dialogue or the transition between the different front speakers. Often a soundbar is used in a 3.1 setup. You often encounter the number 3.1 at sound bars. This means that the device divides the sound between left, center and right, as you can see on the image right below.
Where a 3.1 setup is still seen as stereo sound, a 5.1 setup is already a full-fledged surround sound setup. With a 5.1 setup, there are two speakers at the back, so you’re really in the middle of the sound. The rear speakers add extra detail to the sound. It seems as if that super fast racing car really catches up to you at full speed.
The 6.1 setup is actually a further development of the 5.1. This has been extended with an extra speaker at the rear, in the middle. Just like the center speaker at the front, this extension ensures that the transition between the other two speakers at the back runs more smoothly. The main variants of 6.1 are Dolby Digital EX 6.1 and DTS ES 6.1.
The extra addition to the rear from the 6.1 setup has already been omitted in the 7.1. The 5.1 (and smaller) setup mainly focused on the speakers on the front and back. In a 7.1 setup, attention has finally been paid to the holes on the side. These speakers are also intended to add extra details to the sound.
Larger setups and heights
Between all the different surround sound setups you may have ever encountered a 7.1.2 setup. You can imagine that the difference between 9 and 7 speakers is a lot smaller than between 3 or 5. After the sound is good all around, improvements have been made in the heights. By hanging two speakers, of course well balanced, on the ceiling you create even more dimensions. Imagine that you are following a conversation and then a superhero flies over you. That sounds good huh?
Upgrading your surround sound setup is actually nothing more than filling “holes”. It is usual in cinemas with Dolby Atmos that there are 64 speakers. If your house allows it, you can expand considerably.
SURROUND SOUND SPEAKER PLACEMENT
It is good to know that surround sound setups do not have a fixed setup. This is because things like the size of your room, the furniture and the use of materials affect the results of your speakers. Nevertheless, there are certain basic principles that we would like to explain to you.
Let’s start with the easiest: the central speaker. This should really be in the middle, preferably above the TV.
The front speakers are placed at the sides of the TV. Dolby recommends placing it at an angle of 22 to 30 degrees. We advise you not to place these speakers too tight against the wall.
The most suitable place for the rear speakers depends on your setup. If you have a 5.1 setup, Dolby recommends placing the rear speakers at an angle of 110 to 120 degrees. In a 7.1 setup, this angle is increased to 135 to 150 degrees.
Finally, the side speakers, the correct position of which is also quite easy to determine. These speakers come into their own when placed at the same height as your sofa. This comes down to an angle of 90 to 110 degrees. Many listeners find a larger angle, about 135 degrees, a lot more pleasant. In this angle you will get in the area of the back speakers pretty soon, which is not our preference. In the end, there are many factors that influence your listening experience and you can best determine what you like and what you don’t.
To make the above numbers more transparent, we have created the overviews below.
GOOD TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT
Placing speakers correctly in a surround sound setup can be quite a difficult job. It is important to remember that this is for everyone and every room is different. Ultimately, the point is that you as a listener are satisfied with the result. Do you have a surround sound setup that you are not completely satisfied with or that can do even better? Then we recommend that you always make small adjustments and then listen to the result.
Finally, a tip for lovers of surround sound music. The most ideal setup is different than when you watch more movies. As shown in the image below, an equilateral triangle setup is recommended. This means that the distance between the two front speakers is equal to the distance from the listening position to the front speakers.
A lot of rules and things that you have to take into account. In addition, there is also the quality of the various devices. If you are not so well known in the audio world, we recommend that you hire an expert. These can work out a tailor-made plan that you will enjoy for a long time.