Our guide explains the differences between common surround sound systems, such as the 5.1, 7.1 and 9.1 sound systems.

Buying a sound system sounds like something that is probably pretty easy, doesn't it? Even if you are an aficionado, the process can be long and tiresome based on the number of specifications that can entail finding a quality sound system.

After all, not all sound systems are created equal. One cannot simply lump all sound systems together because not all sound systems are created for the same purpose. Maybe you are looking for a new sound system for your car. Then again, maybe you are looking to create a home theater experience.     

Whatever it is you are hoping to achieve with your next sound system, this is the buying guide for you. Never go through the process without the proper knowledge again. Here is the ultimate sound system guide for buyers.

About 40% of households in the United States purchased a surround sound system

What is surround sound?

The best sound systems will usually be surround sound systems, but what does that mean, exactly? A surround sound system is just that: it surrounds you with sound from the front, back, and both sides. This is to ensure that you get a complete 360-degree listening experience that will make you feel like you are apart of the action.

When you watch television, generally speaking, you are only getting the sound from the television itself. This means that you are getting all of these vibrant, lively sounds from one source. Being in the action, you know that sound won't come at you from just one direction.

While soundbars can definitely improve your overall sound experience, it does not quite match the level of quality that comes in a surround sound system. Immersing yourself in the action like never before requires you to be literally surrounded by the sound.  

Disney studio's were the first to use surround sound in 1940!

Know your formats

All sound is not created equal and there are different formats for surround sound setups. Generally speaking, there are three different formats that you would need to be aware of.     

As a general rule of thumb, your 5.1 surround sound system will include right and left speakers that sit near the front of the screen, a center channel that is meant for vocals, as well as the right and left speakers to the side of your viewing area and the subwoofer.     

For a 7.1 surround sound system, the setup is generally the same. The one key difference between a 5.1 and 7.1 setup is that the latter will come with left and right back speakers to give you the truly immersive 360- degree sound experience.

Finally, there is a 9.1 surround sound experience. The main difference between 7.1 and 9.1 is that there are two additional speakers mounted a few feet above the right and left front speakers. This gives height to the audio effects and music, creating an overall deeper experience.

Knowing the best setup for you depends on the overall amount of space that you have to dedicate to your setup as well as the kind of sound that you are hoping to achieve. A 5.1 setup will be a substantial leap over your regular setup, but for the fully immersive experience, nothing beats the 9.1 setup.

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Home Theater Sound Systems

Home theaters are becoming more and more popular these days and for several good reasons. Going to the movies, while it can still be fun, has turned into an endeavor. The rising costs associated with both tickets and refreshments are certainly part of the problem. The other is that your fellow movie-goers can ruin the experience by being loud or rude.     

But why deal with those hassles when you can bring the movie theater experience to your own home? After taking great measures to ensure that your viewing experience is as good as it can be visually, the next step is to ensure that you are hearing everything in the crystal clear quality that you deserve and need.     

What most don't realize when attempting to create a home theater experience is that choosing the sound system first can actually help you to narrow down your selection on televisions or projectors. Knowing what your receiver choices are can help save you the hassle of finding out that a speaker system you love does not work with your receiver

Generally speaking, you will need in the area of 4-6 speakers for the complete surround setup. You need to ensure that sound is coming from all directions (left, right, center) so that you get the even, clear sound that makes a theater experience what it is.

It is also helpful to get a system that is simpler to use. If you are an expert, you can tweak things like channels to get the performance that you are looking for. But for those of us who are not experts, it can be a confusing experience. Make sure that you get a setup that is not only great in quality but user-friendly as well.

A subwoofer is also a huge key to a home theater system. When you have a subwoofer in place, you get that deep, rich sound that makes a theater experience unique. A subwoofer can help you feel like you are actually in the moving, living and experiencing the sounds as the characters do.

When you get your home theater setup down, you will never want to venture to an actual movie theater again.

Go Wireless

As technology advances, wireless is becoming all the rage and for quite a good reason. Those of us who have had a stereo system before remembering all of the wires that would be scattered across the floor. Trying to hide those wires wound up being a huge pain the behind and would make the entire setup feel like a complicated mess.

This scenario can be especially true when you get into setups of the home theater variety. Not only is it visually unappealing to have that tangled mess of a setup, but it can be potentially dangerous as well. Taking that tangle out of the scenario should be the first thing that needs to be done.

But thanks to wireless technology, you no longer have to worry about that accompanying mess. Your standard wireless stereo system will have a main receiver as the focal point. This is where all of the other components connect to and it lets the signal travel throughout the speakers in the room. Some of these receivers even have an option for a built-in DVD/CD drive with the capability of holding anywhere from 1 movie to 40 movies or CDs.

There are generally six speakers involved with your standard wireless setup. The center channel, as well as the left and right speakers, are not actually wireless. These and the subwoofers are connected by a single connection since they all reside right near your television.

Where the wireless aspect will come into play is in the left and right surround speakers. These will generally go behind your seating area to give you that surround sound feel. There is a small receiver box that allows those rear speakers to connect with the main center channel, eliminating the need for wiring from the center box to the rear surround speakers.

Home Surround Sound

If you aren't going for the full theater experience -- relaxed leather chairs, huge projector system, etc -- at least make sure to implement surround sound in your home viewing setup. Because of the leaps that have been made in production when it comes to sounds (think of THX-certified standards), the attention to sound quality on the production end has never been greater. Film-makers are working diligently to ensure that the viewer is getting the right audio quality each and every time that they view the film or show.

What you would want in a quality home surround sound setup is something that emulates the real world and has a three-dimensional sound experience. You want the sound to bounce around the room, giving you coverage from every single direction. This will usually provide you with the kind of experience where you won't miss a single whisper and will feel like you are viewing it live and in the action itself.     

Which is the right system for you?

As stated above, there are three different formats for "surround sound" and it is important to know which of those would suit your needs best. If you are going for the truly immersive, in-theater experience, then there is nothing that tops the 9.1 setups. The sound comes at you not only from 360 degrees, but it comes from an elevated position as well to give your sound depth and height to it.

The 5.1 setup is a massive upgrade from simply getting your sound from your television speakers and is generally a pretty good option over something like a soundbar. The 5.1 will not provide the complete 360- degree experience, but it will bring the sound to you from several directions so as to make it feel deeper and more rich than ever before.

Ultimately, the right sound system depends on a couple of things: What are you looking to spend? How much space do you have? What kind of experience are you looking for?

If you are simply looking to improve upon your current setup, a 5.1 setup might be the best option for you. But if you want the total home theater experience, going for the 7.1 or 9.1 setup will be the way to immerse yourself in the action and sound like never before. 

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