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October 11, 2011

7.1 Surround Speakers: How Many Channels Are Necessary for Faithful Recreation?

Filed under: Audio Knowledge — Tags: , — Alan @ 1:51 pm

In the multi-channel world of Dolby Digital 7.1 surround speakers and surround sound, we don’t often stop to question what is it exactly that we’re looking for (or more accurately, listening for) when we judge how good a surround sound speaker system sounds as it plays back our favorite movies and music.

Are we looking for a “faithful re-creation” of a musical event by our home stereo or surround systems, as if we were hearing it in the very concert hall or club or studio where it was recorded? Or are we looking for a plausible illusion of musicians in our living room?

Most of us would agree we’re after a believable representation of a musical event, not a literal re-creation necessarily, with the appropriate directional and spatial cues and natural musical sounds that let us believe we might be hearing it live.  We don’t actually want to hear the sounds of vibrating cell phones next to us, or the air conditioning coming on during a quiet passage – but we do want to get that right-there-in-the-audience feeling of being there.

Getting realistic reproduction involves being literally enveloped in sound, and more and more people are adding a two extra surround speakers to get that center-of-the-action feeling they crave.

What was the evolution of this hunt for the ultimate in realistic playback?  How did engineers decide that surround sound was more realistic than two-channel playback, and what made them continue on to 5.1-channel surround sound and eventually 7.1 surround speaker systems?

Continue reading: 7.1 Surround Speakers: How Many Channels Are Necessary for Faithful Recreation?


Alan Lofft was, for 13 years, Editor in Chief of Sound & Vision, Canada’s largest and most respected audio/video magazine. He edited Sound & Vision (Canada) until 1996, when he moved from Toronto to New York to become Senior Editor at Audio magazine.
Lofft has been writing about hi-fi and video professionally for over 20 years, ever since his first syndicated newspaper column, “Sound Advice”, began appearing weekly in The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest-circulation daily newspaper. In the late 1970s, he became a contributing editor, columnist, and equipment reviewer at AudioScene Canada, the leading national consumer electronics magazine at the time. Find out more about Alan in his bio.

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  • ski
    October 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    very nice article. lot of history of how they built up their way to 5.1 and now 7.1

  • J. Bellemare
    October 18, 2011 at 10:52 am

    i read a long time ago what experts in the music industry said – when 78 RPM records arrived on the market – that the sound was so good that they could not see how it ever could be improved.

    so, i go by what the experts say and my system consists of a horn graphophone that plays 78 RPM discs.
    the sound is so much better than with those cylinders of old; and i love how little space
    my complete operas take on the shelves.

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