How to: 7.1 sound

If you’re trying to decide whether a 5.1 or 7.1 channel home theater receiver is best for you, there are several advantages to 7.1 that you may not have considered. The 7.1 configuration—left and right front speakers, a center channel, a subwoofer, left and right surround speakers and left and right rear ones—adds more depth to the surround sound experience by spreading the sound across four speakers (the left and right surrounds and rears), rather than two, resulting in more directed, immersive sound. The two additional speakers also help to fill larger rooms more completely. Plus, more and more films are being released or home viewing in 7.1 format, adding to its appeal.

Setup is roughly similar to that of a 5.1 system—with the obvious addition of the left and right rear speakers. If you’ve not set up a home theater audio system before, here are some tips:

Place the center channel speaker immediately above or below the screen, directly facing the listening area. If the speaker is being set on a shelf or stand, be sure that the leading edge of the speaker is flush with the edge of the stand, to maintain dialogue clarity.

The left and right front speakers should be placed at an equal distance from the screen and at least six feet apart; the left, right and center front speakers should be an equal distance from the ideal viewing position. To enhance the experience, some toe-in might be desirable. If so, be sure to identically angle each speaker and maintain equal distance from the viewing position.

The left and right surround speakers must be placed equally to each side and slightly above and behind the viewing position. Left and right rear surround speakers should also be about three feet above (and behind) the seated listeners’ heads.

The three most common subwoofer locations include corners, placement along a wall, away from the corner, or beside a front speaker (which can create a better blend with the front speaker, at the cost of sacrificing overall volume). Experimentation with subwoofer placement is highly encouraged; slight adjustments can create big differences in bass reproduction.