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6 Must-Know Facts Before Investing in a Surround Sound System

soundbars vs. surround sound: which is better?

6 Must-Know Facts Before Investing in a Surround Sound System

If you have encountered an advertisement for a home audio system in the past few years, you have probably heard the term “surround sound.” However, what does it mean? The simplest way to explain the concept of surround sound is by comparing it to the air around us. You cannot tell the direction from which the air is flowing unless there’s a breeze.

Similarly, surround sound systems produce immersive sound. You cannot tell the position of the speakers around the room just from listening to the sound output. They provide an immersive experience when watching movies or gaming.

Some first-time buyers do not know what to consider when shopping for a surround sound system. Others know what they want but cannot settle for a specific system. If so, this article is for you. Below are the must-know facts before investing in a surround sound system.

The More Channels, the Better

home entertainment system in a room
A surround sound system’s channel number denotes its speaker arrangement.

The number of speaker channels influences the quality of the surround sound. Most speaker channels vary from 2.0 to 13.1. However, not all arrangements can deliver surround sound. For example, you cannot get a surround sound experience from a 2.0 speaker channel arrangement.

Usually, a 5.1 speaker channel is the standard for a surround sound system. The speakers can be grouped, as in the case of a soundbar, or separately like traditional home theater systems. The latter includes five separate speakers and one subwoofer for bass. The best way to arrange a 5.1-channel system is by positioning three speakers in front of the room and two at the back.

Alternatively, you can get a 7.1 or 7.1.2 speaker channel system. The 7.1 channel system has two additional speakers to the 5.1 set-up. Meanwhile, the 7.1.2 channel system also includes two up-firing speakers. Other surround sound speaker channels include 9.1, 9.1.2, 12.2., and 13.1.

Wired Speakers Are not Superior to Wireless Speaker Systems

Buy the Definitive Technology Pro Cinema 800 System
Wireless surround sound speakers keep your space neat.

When discussing surround sound systems, one endless debate is whether to go for a wired or wireless set-up. In the end, buyers have specific reasons for choosing one over the other.

On the one hand, audiophiles associate wired systems with superior sound quality. Moreover, wired systems are less susceptible to signal interference, which often translates to lower latency than wireless systems. Whereas these claims are somewhat true, the disparity is often negligible. The average person will not notice any difference in audio quality or surround sound when comparing a wired and wireless system with similar specs.

Wireless speakers also have their advantages. You need not worry about cluttering your space with cables. Most wireless speakers support Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. So, you only need to sync the system components, and you are good to go.

The Size of the Room Matters

Best Surround Sound Movies
The surround sound system should match the size of the room for immersive sound.

The surround sound system you buy should match the size of your living room or lounge. Using a lower speaker channel system in a large room may result in sections of the room without immersive sound when watching movies or gaming.

A 5.1 speaker channel system is the best set-up for a standard room of up to 350 square feet. Assuming the room has a regular shape, you can place one speaker in each corner and one at the front center. For larger rooms, you may need a bigger speaker channel system, such as 7.1 or 9.1.

Compatibility with Other Technologies Matters

Alexa vs. Google Home
Modern surround sound systems are compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant devices.

Compatibility has become a huge decision point when buying surround sound systems. In the past, most sound systems connected seamlessly with audio and video sources. This has changed in the last few years as manufacturers look to differentiate their products.

Take the example of a premium surround sound system from Sony. The system is compatible with most TVs. However, the user experience slightly differs when using a Sony TV vs. TVs from other manufacturers. 

Additionally, check whether the speaker system supports Apple Airplay 2, Chromecast built-in, and Spotify Connect. These features allow you to play content wirelessly from streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music.

Finally, some surround sound speakers support Alexa and Google Assistant. These technologies do not influence sound quality but may improve yo

Dolby Atmos and DTS:X Boost the Surround Sound Experience

Avoid Q50a Dolby Atmos speaker
Dolby Atmos creates a spatial sound atmosphere, placing you in the center of the action.

“This speaker system supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.” This is a common phrase audio equipment manufacturers use when marketing their products. However, what does it mean?

Dolby Atmos is an audio technology that makes the surround sound more immersive. Traditionally, the term “surround sound” meant perceiving sound from the front, back, and sides. However, Dolby Atmos technology added a height factor to create a full audio atmosphere. It makes it possible to place an “audio object” almost anywhere within a room. Take the example of a movie scene where a plane flies just above the ground. Dolby Atmos delivers the audio object as intended by the movie director so that you perceive the sound as if the plane just flew above you through the living room.

DTS:X technology uses the same principle as Dolby Atmos. It places audio objects in specific positions in a room as intended by the movie director. We recommend buying a surround sound system with either one or both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. However, it will cost you more than buying a system without these technologies.

Price Does Not Always Equate to Quality

Value and price symbol. Businessman turns wooden cubes and changes the word price to value or vice versa. Beautiful grey table, grey background, copy space. Business value and price concept.
Do not judge a surround sound system’s quality purely based on its price tag.

It is normal consumer behavior to equate price with quality. This is a reasonable metric, considering manufacturers price their products based on the production cost. However, price is not always an objective indicator of the expected audio quality and overall user experience. 

Other factors like brand popularity often influence price. As such, we recommend comparing surround sound systems using their specs and speaker channels. Usually, surround sound systems with premium features and technologies cost more, regardless of the brand. However, we cannot ignore how much a speaker system costs. We recommend setting a budget to avoid overspending. Choose a surround sound system that offers the best value at a given price point.

Summary Table of the 6 Must-Know Facts Before Investing in a Surround Sound System:

RankMust-Know Fact
#1The 5.1 speaker channel is the standard configuration for a surround sound system.
#2There is very little difference in performance between wired and wireless systems.
#3The surround sound system you buy should match the size of your living room.
#4Voice assistants and streaming capabilities influence user experience.
#5Dolby Atmos and DTS:X boost the surround sound output.
#6Price is not the main indicator of a surround sound system’s quality.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a surround sound system?

A surround sound system is a speaker arrangement that produces immersive sound. It puts the user at the center of the sound. This is different from traditional speaker systems, where you can tell the position of the speakers.

How much does a surround sound system cost?

A mid-range surround sound system costs between $250 and $500. However, you may find a system costing below $200 or above $1,000. The price depends on several factors, including the speaker channel, audio technologies like Dolby Atmos, and compatibility with voice assistant devices.

Do surround sound systems come with Alexa?

No. Most surround sound systems do not have built-in Alexa, at least not yet. However, they are compatible with Alexa devices like the Amazon Echo Dot. Most manufacturers do not include an Alexa device as part of the package. This means you must buy it separately.

Which speaker channel system is better, 5.1 or 7.1?

A 7.1 speaker channel is better than a 5.1 speaker arrangement. The most straightforward reason is that a 7.1 speaker arrangement has two additional speakers, which improves the sound output. Homeowners with large lounges should get a system with a 7.1 speaker channel for proper sound coverage. However, a 5.1 speaker system should suffice if your living room is less than 350 square feet.

Should I buy a wired or wireless speaker system?

There is no clear favorite between a wired and wireless surround sound system. Each option has its advantages over the other. For example, wireless surround sound systems keep your space neat. In contrast, wired systems are less susceptible to signal interference.

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