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October 26, 2010

Reader Question: What is 5.1?

Filed under: AV question — Alan @ 11:29 am

Q. What does the “.1″ stand for in Dolby Digital and dts multichannel surround sound?

A. The “.1″ channel—and it is a separate, discreet sixth channel—handles only the lowest frequencies present in movie soundtracks or multichannel music recordings. Technically, it’s “bandwidth-limited,” which means it carries bass frequencies of 100 Hz and lower, hence the “.1″ designation. The remaining five channels of Dolby Digital or dts are full-bandwidth channels, carrying the full frequency range from 20 Hz to 20 kHz if no subwoofer is used. When you set the speaker designations in your A/V receiver’s setup menu to “Small,” the receiver’s bass management system (a crossover) routes the frequencies below 100 Hz to the subwoofer (LFE) output jack. Most receivers let you choose the crossover frequency for the deep bass.

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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