Most all-in-one surround sound systems will be either 5.1 or 2.1. It isn’t normally until you go the separate amplifier and speakers route that you’re likely to even have the option of a full 7.1 system.
Whilst the temptation to chuck another couple of speakers into your set up is hard to resist, there are a couple of questions to consider first.
Can you fit in another two speakers?
Generally, a 7.1 system suits a larger listening room. This is because the positioning of the four rear speakers is crucial to getting the benefits. You will need to position two of the speakers behind the listening position, and the other two to the side of the listening position. If you have your sofa slammed against the back wall of your room for example, this is going to be difficult to achieve. But if you can successfully site the speakers, 7.1 becomes an option.
Is 7.1 Surround Sound Worth It?
This is the second factor, and the old adage “Quality is better than quantity” comes in here. More speakers do not necessarily mean better sound! For example, you may need to decide if you would be better off spending the money on upgrading your existing rear speakers if you feel there is room for improvement. Otherwise given the right room environment, 7.1 can make the sound feel more immersive.
Matching the speakers
If you have decided to go the 7.1 route, you need to get yourself an additional two speakers. We are big believers that the speakers should match each other in quality and sound as closely as possible. This especially important in the front speakers where you want a coherent and seamless sweep of sound. Whilst it is not as crucial that the rear two speakers match the fronts, if you add an additional two speakers to the rear, it is important that all the rears match each other as closely as possible, otherwise you run the danger of not getting any benefit from your 7.1 system. The whole principle is that the sound is immersive, and that means all the speakers need to be similar, if not identical, otherwise you will be able to notice the difference in quality and sound as the effects sweeps around.
Stick with 5.1 and Bi-amp?
Many people reading this will have an amplifier capable of bi-amping (not to be confused with bi-wiring) such as the Onkyo 607. If you also have speakers with four input terminals you have the option of sticking with 5.1 or and using the spare two channels to bi-amp the front speakers i.e. power the high and low frequency inputs of the speakers separately. It is quite simple to achieve and will only require an additional two runs of speaker cable from the amp to your front speakers, removing the bridging plate on the speaker input terminals and changing a setting on the amp. It should give a noticeable improvement, with a more open sound as the high and low frequency signals get a better quality and dedicated supply.
Overall, if you can fit in the additional speakers, and your money would not be better off being spent on another part of your system, then 7.1 surround sound will definitely enhance the immersive home movie experience.