7.1 vs. 7.2 Surround Sound in Home Theater

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Which is Better?

If you’re an audiophile, you already know that you can add an extra subwoofer speaker to your surround sound system, which will give you extra depth to play with and produce a richer sound experience.

7.1 vs. 7.2 Setup

Surround sound has evolved further to the 7.1 & 7.2 standards as upgrades to the traditional 5.1 & 5.2 standards. With 5.1, you have 5 full-range speakers plus 1 subwoofer. We can extend this to 7.1 by placing two additional speakers behind us, which deliver a surround back channel. Many systems also have a separate back left & right speaker which is dedicated to give a full 360 degree experience.

7.2 adds a second subwoofer to the equation, which allows you to enjoy more of that surround sound presence. A 7.2 setup is ideal for a full home theater set up with a larger room. If you own a smaller or a confined space like an apartment or a condo, you can get away with a 7.1 surround sound system.

When you want to use all 7 speakers, you need to connect all the speakers to the A/V receiver.

What is 7.1?

With the popularity of "Home Theater in a box" systems, more people are enjoying movies and music in their homes, with a true surround sound feeling. While the front and side surround speakers are easy to understand, the two back speakers, which are an important piece of a 7.1 & 7.2 system and distinguish it from the 5.1 & 5.2 standard, is not always clearly explained. This question is most often asked by those not familiar with home theater.

First, there are two sound formats for cinema: Dolby Digital and DTS. Both are compatible with most digital home theater receivers, and come in 7-channel (7.1 & 7.2) and lower channel versions.

The 7 in the 7.1 stands for the seven speakers that are part of the setup:

  • 1x center
  • 2x front (left & right)
  • 2x surround (left & right)
  • 2x rear (left & right)

What is 7.2?

In the grand scheme of things, 7.2 isn’t anything new. It’s the latest incarnation of surround sound, and it just so happens to be gaining in popularity a few years after making its debut. Since all things audio and visual are subject to fads, it’s no surprise that Home Cinema enthusiasts are now starting to favor this variant of the already extremely popular 7.1.

More and more companies are now offering home theater equipment in 7.2. The reason why companies are making popular and affordable 7.2 home theater systems is because these days, customers are demanding more home theater headsets, speakers, and 7.2 surround sound receivers. And if the market demands it, companies will open their ears and listen.

7.2 Surround Sound was developed to provide a better sound experience at home. The 2 in 7.2 stands for the second subwoofer which guarantees a fuller sound. Thankfully, now more people than ever can enjoy it, as home theater equipment manufacturers are creating and selling more products for it.

7.1 vs. 7.2 Receivers

The surround sound receiver which is the hub for your whole home entertainment system and that you use to watch movies and play video games at home should be able to deliver the best possible audio and visual experience. The main difference between the 7.2 surround sound receiver and the 7.1 surround sound receiver is the number of subwoofers.

A 7.1 surround sound setup has a total of eight speakers: 2 fronts, 2 at the rear, 1 center, 2 surround, and one base channel. If you add a subwoofer, then you have a 7.2 surround sound system.

There are other ways to determine whether your surround sound receiver is a 7.1 or 7.2.

As a consumer, you get more gain out of the extra rear channels than from the extra subwoofer, so making a decision on the first number (7) is more important than the second number (1 or 2) when deciding between the two formats.

So how do the 7.1 and 7.2 receivers compare?

I have had both 7.1 and 7.2 receivers in my theater.

As far as I can tell, the biggest advantage of 7.2 is when there are stereo surround channels from the Web or when using the built-in decoder (Dolby Digital or DTS). In this case, it becomes easier to keep the soundtracks consistent across multiple playback systems.

On the other hand, I feel like I don’t use the additional subwoofer channels much in most cases, when the movie was encoded with 5.1 sound. Just to check I once played Toy Story in 5.1 to the 7.2 receiver. It worked perfectly and it was super easy to switch when I wanted to by just stopping and starting the machine. It made me feel it wasn’t so important to have the extra channels and I could live without sound from surround back channels. That said, I still would like to have them, so I do have the 7.2 receiver too, because when movies or games are made for the 7.1 and 7.2 standard, then it's amazing and the 7.2 surround sound might be worth it for you if you are a true audiophile.

Pros and Cons of 7.1 vs. 7.2 Receivers

7.1 or 7.2 surround sound receiver is a much-debated topic among owners of home theaters. Opinions and preferences differ based on factors like room size, hearing capability, genre of movies etc.

However, it is said that the difference between 7.1 and 7.2 receivers is purely based on small designations and not the actual output performance as perceived by consumers.

Even so, the difference is very subtle. It is so subtle that we had many people in our audience try to identify the difference and many of them weren’t able to. Even if you’re a hard core home theater owner, brandishing the ability to differentiate between 7.1 and 7.2 might not be worth spending big bucks for it.

So you can use 7.2 either because you want to feel good about a more sophisticated entertainment system or because you just want to verify that it exists. Both would be equally fine.

Similarities and Differences Between 7.1 and 7.2

Different home theater equipment setup will have a different number of speaker setups. Since applicable output depends on speaker count, it is necessary to understand the basic distinction between 7.1 and 7.2 surround sound in order to achieve the best surround sound possible.

7.1 surround sound systems are those set up with eight speakers including a subwoofer for surround sound playback. It is the best standard home theater or audio system for playback of Blu-ray set up. The soundtracks on many (but still not all) the movie discs are matched with the sound system, which is also called Dolby Digital or DTS compatible 7.1 surround sound.

Speaker Channels

The 7.1 and 7.2 surround sound speaker channels are different and will give viewers and listeners a different experience every time.

7.1 surround sound is considered a more traditional setting for home theaters. Eight speakers and one surround sound receiver are all you need to experience the latest movies, television shows, and video games in three-dimensional, surround sound.

Most of today’s movies and soundtracks are wrapped around a 5.1 channel design. Your 7.1 sound will be limited to the same sound field as the original soundtrack, so make sure you know what you're going to be using your speaker system for.

A 7.2 surround sound speaker set up is a step up from 7.1 surround sound. Although the name might not make sense to a lot of first time home theater viewers, 7.2 surround sound is essentially a 7.1 channel surround sound with 2 separate base channel speakers. There are a couple of important benefits to a 7.2 surround sound speaker arrangement when compared to 7.1 surround sound, but most of them only apply to audiophiles with a very particular taste.

Subwoofers

Modern movie theaters boast huge subwoofers (bass speakers) that are specially designed to powerfully produce the low-frequency effects. However, they only produce the "booms" and "thuds" but not the subtle effects. The best home theatre systems are created by using smaller, but strategically placed subwoofers. That's where 7.2 comes into play.

The frequency or vibrations that each subwoofer is capable of producing is measured in Hertz (Hz).

Sound Quality

7.1 vs. 7.2

A lot of people think that 7.1 and 7.2 are the same and don’t give it much thought. They assume 7.2 just means you have a little better surround sound than 7.1.

But when it comes to home theater, surround sound, and music, those decimal points make a lot of difference for the lower frequencies!

Formats

When it comes to home theater, there are two main surround sound formats that are used today – 5.1 and 7.1. Both of these formats consist of a set of speakers trying to create a surround sound experience and one subwoofer, but that’s where the similarities end. As the amount of channels in each systems increase, so do the differences.

So what’s the difference between 5.1 vs 7.1, as well as 7.1 vs 7.2 and why should you even care?

Every inch of real estate in your living room is precious, and that’s why surround sound formats are engineered to take up as little room as possible. This is especially true when it comes to home theater, where the goal is to get the system(s) into your living room and connect it to your television. This means the system must be able to produce the sound experience you’re looking for while not taking up any more space than is necessary.

So the two rear speakers of the 7.1 system use up precious space, so they must be worth it. And they indeed improve the 360 degree sound experience. They don't need to simulate sounds coming from the back, but can actually play them.

The most obvious difference between the 7.1 vs 7.2 surround sound format is that the 7.1 is missing one speaker. So, you might ask, “what could possibly be the reason for this oddity?”. The answer is efficiency and price. The second subwoofer shouldn't be a big difference for most people.

Supported Devices

Each surround sound standard has its own set of supported devices that can play back the sound. While a 5.1 system can give you great sound from DVD, Blu-Ray, Netflix and even TV shows, keep in mind that the receiver will need to support 5.1 channels and all of your devices will need to have separate video and audio connections.

To play back 7.1 channels of sound, you’ll need a receiver that supports 7.1 channels, and your video player, cable box, and every other device in your entertainment center will need to have 7.1 audio-out connectors. However, you do have some options available.

For instance, if you have a 5.1 or 7.1 receiver, you can use bass management software to “clone” the other channels and send them to the same speakers as the main channels.

Also, keep in mind that the material available for 7.1 is still limited. It's the new standard, but some big players like Netflix are still supporting 5.1 as of now.

Speaker Positioning for 7.1 and 7.2 Setup

The classic 7.1 surround sound setup comprises of 7 speakers and a subwoofer. A 7.1 speaker setup is conventional with left and right front speakers (L/R), left and right rear speakers (L/R), a center speaker, a left side surround speaker and a right side surround speaker.Here, we are comparing the 7.1 and 7.2 surround sound speaker setups. What exactly is the difference between 7.1 and 7.2 surround sound setup? Here is a quick summary.

7.1 surround sound setup has the following dimensions:

  • left and right front speakers (L/R),
  • left and right side surround speakers,
  • left and right rear speakers (L/R),
  • a center speaker, and
  • a subwoofer.

7.2 surround sound setup has the following dimensions:

  • left and right front speakers (L/R),
  • left and right side surround speakers,
  • left and right rear speakers (L/R),
  • a center speaker, and
  • two subwoofers.

Subwoofer Placement for 7.1 and 7.2 Setup

7.1 and 7.2 surround sound does not significantly differ from one another. The biggest difference between 7.1 and 7.2 surround sound is that if you are using 7.2 surround sound, you are able to use two low frequency speakers instead of one.

Many people think that using 7.2 surround sound gives them a better experience. However, it really is a matter of personal preference. You can use either 7.1 surround sound or 7.2 surround sound and get great results.

To get the most out of 7.2 surround sound, it is recommended that you use a subwoofer with a subwoofer amplifier, rather than combining the power of your receiver with that of your subwoofer. Many people do not have a subwoofer amplifier or a subwoofer they are happy with.

Although you don’t have to use a subwoofer amplifier, you will get the best results with 7.2 surround sound by using a subwoofer amplifier to power your subwoofer. When you have your own separate subwoofer amplifier, you will be able to adjust the bass volume on it and get the perfect balance with your main speakers.

It's hard to generally recommend the optimal subwoofer placement, because it heavily depends on your actual space. However, a more central location for 7.1 and a symmetrical positioning for 7.2 are usually your best bet.

Conclusion

Most newer movies are mixed in 7.1 surround but many legacy movies with older sound formats as well as several popular streaming services are only able to be played back in 5.1 and need simulation work like through Dolby Atmos to get the 7.1 experience.

If you’re not picky about sound formats here are some of the best choices for 7.1 surround sound in a home theater.

We've all seen and heard the difference between 5.1 and 7.1 sound systems. But did you know there is also a difference between 7.1 surround sound and 7.2 surround sound? I hope now you know. Folks have been asking me about this for a while now and this article hopefully lifts any cloud on the topic.