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A 5.1 or 7.1 channel home cinema receiver: Which is the best choice?

Are you going for a 5.1-channel home cinema receiver, a 7.1-channel receiver or an even larger system? This article explains all.

Home cinema systems can be set up in different ways. If you go for a flexible system with separate high-quality components, you have to make a decision about the setup of your home cinema system. Are you going for a 5.1-channel home cinema receiver, a 7.1-channel receiver or an even larger system?


For those who are not yet familiar with the different set-up options of a home cinema system, a brief introduction: If you choose a separate component system, chances are you will purchase a receiver. Simply put, this is the center of your system to which all devices and speakers are connected. With receivers nowadays you can choose from 5.1, 7.1, 9.1-channel models and some other models with different connections. In principle, this means that you can place seven speakers and one subwoofer on a 7.1-channel receiver. You can store five speakers and one subwoofer on a 5.1-channel receiver.

Read more about the role of an AV receiver .

5.1-channel and 7.1-channel receivers / systems are most commonly used and are probably also the most suitable for the room in which you want to place your home cinema system. But what is the best choice now?

A 5.1 channel receiver / system

A 5.1-channel home cinema system with a 5.1-channel receiver is the most common home cinema setup. In this setup you have two speakers on the front (left and right) that reproduce most of a soundtrack for a movie or reproduce stereo music. You also have a center speaker in the middle at the front that provides dialogue reproduction. Behind the listening / viewing position are left and right speakers that reproduce the surround effects during a movie. Of course, the subwoofer for low-frequency reproduction cannot be missed.

A 5.1 or 7.1 channel home cinema receiver: Which is the best choice?

A 7.1-channel receiver / system

A 7.1-channel home cinema system with a 7.1-channel receiver has the same speakers (and positions) at the front, only the speakers at the rear change. Four instead of two speakers are used to reproduce the surround effects. Two speakers are used as left and right surround channels and are located diagonally behind or next to the viewing / listening position, and two speakers are placed as ‘back’ channels behind the viewing / listening position. Especially the surround experience should improve as a result.

A 5.1 or 7.1 channel home cinema receiver: Which is the best choice?

Although 5.1-channel audio is almost always present on Blu-ray and DVDs, a 7.1-channel audio track is emerging. More and more (new) films have a native 7.1-channel audio track in PCM, Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio format. If you have a 7.1-channel receiver with a 7.1-channel setup, you can take advantage of these optimized audio tracks. In addition, many 7.1-channel receivers have a surround mode with which 7.1-channel sound can be extracted from a 2.0 or 5.1-channel audio track.

More possibilities with a 7.1-channel receiver

However, there is another setup option if you have a 7.1-channel receiver. Instead of the two speakers at the back, you can add two speakers at the front, also called height or wide speakers. Dolby Pro Logic IIz and Audyssey DSX are two formats / settings that allow for this setup. These settings, which can be found on receivers and not on sources such as DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, ensure that the receiver sends extra surround information to the two speakers placed above the two front speakers.The reproduction of the sound comes even closer. the reality.

If you do not want a 7.1-channel setup but prefer a 5.1-channel system, then there is still a reason to choose a 7.1-channel receiver. Many 7.1-channel models offer the possibility to use the two extra speakers (which you do not use in a 5.1-channel setup) for audio playback in another room. You can watch a movie in the living room and listen to a CD in the kitchen. 

A final option is to use your 7.1-channel receiver for bi-amping. This is the separate transmission of low and mid / high tones to a speaker that also has separate connections for this. The receiver must have the bi-amping function and then uses the two extra channels (which you do not use in a 5.1-channel setup) to send low and mid / high tones to your speakers. Read more about the bi-amp feature on receivers .

A 9.1-channel (and more) receiver / system

Although 5.1-channel and 7.1-channel systems are most commonly used, manufacturers continue to push the boundaries of a home cinema system. For example, you can already buy receivers that offer the possibility for a 9.1, 9.2, 11.1 or 11.2 channel setup. This requires even special audio formats into life groups, including DTS Neo: X . In addition, a 9.1-channel or an 11.1-channel receiver can be used just like a 7.1-channel receiver for adding height or wide speakers, bi-amping speakers or listening to audio in other rooms. In the main room you can still choose a 5.1-channel or a 7.1-channel setup.

What is the best?

One receiver / setup is, as you can tell from the above story, no better than the other. The choice for a particular setup and therefore a particular receiver is completely dependent on what you want to achieve with the home cinema system, how much space you have in the room where the system will be placed, what your budget is for the complete system and whether you want to do other things with the extra connections that 7.1, 9.1 and 11.1-channel receivers offer. In most cases, a 5.1-channel home cinema system with a 5.1-channel receiver is more than sufficient for an impressive home cinema experience. However, you can separate the setup and receiver, as discussed above. This is the case when you choose a 7.1-channel receiver but it sticks to a 5. 1-channel setup and the other two channels used for audio playback in another room. If you invest in a somewhat more expensive receiver, it can never hurt to take a model that is suitable for 7.1-channel or 9.1-channel systems. After all, you are then ready for when you move to a larger space or want to do other things with the extra connections.

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