Getting truly immersive sound is a battle between the 5. 1 and 7. 1 systems for serious home theater enthusiasts. But the question is, which one is better? Both cost a considerable amount of money, and you don’t want that going to waste.
To help you out, our experts have made this 5. 1 vs 7. 1 comparison to settle the debate.
5. 1 or 7. 1?
Features of 5. 1 and 7. 1 Surround Sound System
Setup and Room Calibration
Before we go into the technical details, the primary thing to know is that there’s only one difference between a 5. 1 and 7. 1 surround sound system — the number of speakers.
A 5.1 system has six channels in total —- five speakers and one subwoofer. On the other hand, 7.1 has eight channels — seven speakers and one subwoofer.
There are just two additional surround speakers on the 7.1 to make it more immersive. The question is, are these two speakers necessary? We’ll get to that later.
The components you have to set up include the center speaker, subwoofer, left and right front speakers, and left and right rear speakers. If it’s a 7. 1 surround sound system, you have two more side speakers to incorporate.
When setting up, remember to place the main speakers away from the walls. Otherwise, the sound will be ‘absorbed’ instead of having a dynamic sound stage.
The room matters as well, as there are factors you should consider such as space and decor. It might sound gimmicky, but determining how much sound bounces back lets you get full advantage of the audio quality.
Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the setup. You should position the front center channel above or below your TV screen. The subwoofer goes to the side of the center speaker, but can be placed anywhere in 360 degrees (7. 1 or 5. 1 surround setup).
It’s easy to set up the front left and front right speakers as well. Just place them at equal distances from the center channel at a 30-degree angle. As for the surround speakers, they’re positioned at a 90-degree angle from the center channel on the left and right sides.
If you have a 7. 1 surround sound system, follow the same setup for the speakers. There are two additional rear surround speakers for this, which should be placed at about 140 degrees from the front center channel.
From our experts’ experience, it’s ideal to elevate the surround speakers at a height above the listening position. Or, you can just put the speakers to the sides.
We also recommend going through the room calibration process to optimize the performance of your home theater. We have differently-sized and decorated rooms, so the calibration process fine-tunes the sound to your space.
However, not all home theaters might have this function. Comparing the history of 5. 1 surround sound vs 7. 1, 5. 1 was invented by Dolby Labs in 1976 and first used in Batman Returns, while the 7. 1 was only introduced 10 years ago in Toy Story 3 in 2010. Disney will also use it in future 3D releases.
Calibration is done with a receiver and an external microphone where the mic is put in various listening positions in the room. The receiver then plays a series of test tones that bounce around and goes into the microphone.
When the sound is captured, the receiver’s processors then ‘get an idea’ of your listening environment. It then utilizes its equalizers to make the settings fit your space like a glove.
Going back to our comparison, the 7. 1 system wins this round since room calibration is more common in these high-end home theater setups.
5. 1 and 7. 1 A/V Receivers
Your setup may or may not come with an A/V receiver, but receivers must support all the channels. So if you have a 7. 1 system, there must be enough inputs for it.
In terms of price, a 7. 1 receiver is more expensive. We recommend this even with a 5. 1 setup in case you upgrade to a 7. 1 in the future.
However, if you’re positive that you won’t upgrade your system, then 5. 1 receivers are more practical vs 7. 1.
5.1 surround systems are more common in the market and commercial theaters. It supports HDTV, DVDs, and Blu-ray.
In comparison, 7. 1 systems support Blu-ray players, PS3, PS4, and XBOX One. However, it may downplay Blu-ray disks since most of them still come with 5. 1 sound. Fortunately, more Blu-ray disks and games today are supporting 7. 1 audio.
Still, 5. 1 systems win this round since it’s practically industry standard.
Surround Sound Layout for 5. 1 & 7. 1 Systems
Whether you choose a 5. 1 or 7. 1 system, the layout is almost the same. There’s a center speaker, subwoofer, left and right front speakers, and two satellite speakers on both sides of your listening area.
In comparison, a 7. 1 system has additional two sound channels. The speaker set-up is similar, and the two surround speakers are placed behind the listening position. For better sound, they’re also positioned at a different angle compared to the first pair of surround sound speakers.
If you want a more lavish surround sound setup, you can also mount the speakers on the ceiling. We tried this in our listening room and it produced a superb sound profile on our audio quality comparison chart. It also keeps things convenient since there would be no obstructions behind the listening area.
It’s been mentioned that in certain situations, the two additional channels in a 7. 1 surround sound system may not be necessary. If your space is smaller than 350 square feet, 5. 1 surround sound systems are more suitable. A 7. 1 system will just be loud, sacrificing clarity.
You should also consider the space behind your listening position, which is your couch if the home theater system is in the living room. If you don’t have space back there, 7. 1 surround sound systems would be impractical.
In the end, the better home theater system depends on your needs. The advantages of a 5. 1 surround sound vs 7. 1 system are numerous, mainly because it’s the more common setup. 5. 1 models are out-of-the-box, making it easy to find troubleshooting instructions  online since many people use it.
Comparing 5. 1 vs 7. 1 systems, the former would also be enough for most living rooms. It’s only for larger rooms where it may not provide enough coverage.
That said, a 7. 1 system would be the better choice if you have a bigger space. Comparing 5. 1 sound vs 7. 1 sound, you can enjoy Blu-ray movies and video games designed for a 7. 1 setup.
However, it’s important to consider the disadvantages, too. When you use 7. 1 surround sound in a small room size, the surround sound experience could be bit dull instead of clear. Plus, since they’re not that common, you might have to buy independent components with 7. 1 models.
Since we see more disadvantages with the 7. 1 in our comparison chart, 5. 1 surround sound wins this bout.
It’s easy to know the difference between the formats of 5. 1 or 7. 1 surround sound systems. Dolby Digital and DTS are supported in a 5. 1 system, although the latter is less common than Dolby. On the other hand, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, and other HD formats are supported by 7. 1 sound.
Still, since 5. 1 surround sound remains the industry standard, most Blu-ray players work with it. So in this aspect, you wouldn’t really hear that much of a difference even if you have a 7. 1 surround sound system.
However, since HD isn’t supported in a 5. 1 system vs 7. 1 surround sound, 7. 1 surround is the winner.
Price Difference between 7. 1 and 5. 1 Surround Sound Systems
Of course, budget is a main factor when deciding between 5. 1 vs 7. 1 surround sound. They’re both expensive rigs, but when it comes to different manufacturers, 5. 1 surround sound setups can range from under $100 to more than $5000.
On the other hand, prices for 7. 1 surround sound systems may be higher depending on the ratings and model. You can get something below $1000, but the sound quality might not have high ratings. Generally, prices for 7. 1 systems are from $1000 to $13,000, sometimes more.
Does Having More Speakers Mean Better Sound?
No, having more speakers doesn’t mean better sound. The quality depends on a few other factors, including room size, listening position, and the furnishings inside the room. For example, 5. 1 systems are suitable for small rooms, while 7. 1 sound is better for larger rooms.
Can a 5.1 setup produce 3D sound?
Yes, a 5. 1 setup can produce 3D sound but it’s fairly limited. You would need Dolby Atmos surround sound technology for a true 3D sound experience. This entails ceiling-mounted speakers or Atmos reflection speakers for bouncing the sound off the ceiling.