5.1 vs 5.2 Surround Sound Comparison

5.1 vs. 5.2 Surround Sound Comparison
Surround sound has become the norm for anyone who wants a lively and enjoyable listening experience and home entertainment. With 5.1 surround sound as the most commonly used setup, how does it compare to the latest 5.2 configurations?

5.1 and 5.2 surround sounds in home theater have one main difference: the number of subwoofers. While 5.1 includes a single subwoofer, 5.2 surround sound setup offers two subs to boost the low-frequency audio signals creating a clear and even bass effect.

Seeing that most people may be used to having just one subwoofer, in this article, we’ll outline the perks of getting that extra sub. But what is more, we’ll also delve into a detailed description and comparison of the speakers and receivers that make up these two home theater layouts.

5.1 vs 5.2 Setup

We live in a sound technology era in which high-quality audio is highly sought for. You probably don’t want to simply play music or watch a movie. You want to create a theater-like experience and enjoy the immersive effects of surround sound arrangements. And because of that, the 5.1 and 5.2 surround sound home theater setups are among the options you’ll be looking at.

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5.1 setup is the standard of surround sound home theaters. Most soundtracks in movies and music files available currently have the 5.1 configurations. That and the fact that a 5.1 surround sound system is easy to purchase in an all-in-one package known as HTIB (Home Theater In a Box) makes it very convenient to upgrade from either TV speakers, a soundbar, or stereo speakers.

The 5.2 setup, on the other hand, can also be viewed as part of the standard home theatre setup since the only addition here is an extra subwoofer.

But before we go any further with comparing these two layouts, let’s first ensure we’re all on the same page concerning what the 5.1 and 5.2 surround sound home theatres are.

Also read: 2.1 vs 5.1 vs 7.1 surround sound

What is 5.1 Surround Sound?

5.1 channel system
5.1 channel system

The naming system may be intimidating if you’re new to all things concerning home theaters. But don’t worry, this nomenclature is pretty simple to understand.

The first digit, “5”, stands for the number of channels hence the number of speakers included in the home theater layout. And the second digit, “.1” represents the number of subwoofers in the layout. So, in this case, 5.1 means the home theater has five speakers and one subwoofer. One example of the 5.1 surround sound is the Yamaha Yht-4950U (see it on Amazon).

Subwoofers are responsible for the low-frequency signals in the soundtracks played. This is what produces the booming bass. On the other hand, the five speakers are responsible for all other audio signals.

For speakers in a surround set up to produce the desired audio effects, their room-positioning matters. 5.1 setup consists of the front left and front right speakers, a center speaker, and two sides surround speakers. These spots are in relation to the listening position, which is normally a few feet from the TV screen.

The subwoofer is then placed on ground level at a corner or near the front speakers. But to get the “sweet spot” for a subwoofer, you can determine its placement using the “subwoofer crawl” technique. This is where you place the subwoofer at the listening position, put on some bass-heavy music, and crawl on the floor to different positions until you locate the spot with the best and clearest bass tones. That is where you place the subwoofer.

Check out my recommended AV receivers.

What is 5.2 Surround Sound?

Based on the naming system we’ve just looked at, 5.2 means there are five speakers and two subwoofers included in the home theater setup. So far, the key difference expected between 5.1 and 5.2 is the bass sound.

The extra subwoofer in a 5.2 home theater beefs up the sound quality of the deep bass audio signals. Admittedly, this improvement may not be apparent in all listening rooms. It’s often more distinct if the home theater is set up in a big-sized room because the room acoustics of a smaller space may not be able to clearly affect the extra low-frequency signals.

So, if you’re considering purchasing a five-channel home theater and are undecided between 5.1 and 5.2, it’s important to consider your room size and other room factors to determine whether the extra bass will offer noticeable sound improvement for you or not.

5.1 vs 5.2 Receiver

Denon AVR-S540BT Receiver, 5.2 channel, 4K Ultra HD Audio and Video, Home Theater System, built-in Bluetooth and USB port, Compatible with HEOS Link for Wireless Music Streaming
Denon AVR-S540BT 5.2 channel AV Receiver

A 5.2 receiver, like the Denon AVR-S540BT 4K (Amazon link), can be termed as an advanced version of the 5.1 receiver. Both of them power five standard speaker channels, and while a 5.1 receiver has only one output for the subwoofer, 5.2 receivers have two outputs to cater to the dual subwoofers.

The signals sent to the two subwoofer outputs in a 5.2 receiver are the same, but the provision of an extra sub makes the setup capable of producing better low-frequency sounds.

So, between a 5.1 and 5.2 receiver, which one is better? Which one will work optimally for your listening area?

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Pros and Cons of 5.1 and 5.2 Receivers

 5.1 Receiver5.2 Receiver
Advantages-Simple setup
-Better for smaller spaces
-Has the basic channel configuration
-Smoother low-frequency responses at more listening positions
-Better for larger spaces
-Harder to localize subwoofer position
-Harder to localize subwoofer position
Disadvantages-Uneven bass audio at different spots in the listening room
-Less overall sound
-The subwoofer can be localized
-Additional components to assemble (the extra subwoofer)
-Requires more space
-Set up is not so simple

Also read: 7.1 vs. 7.2 in Home Theater

Similarities and Differences Between 5.1 and 5.2

Now that we understand these two surround sound systems and the respective receivers, the next step in determining which system is best for your home theatre is understanding the specific characteristics of the 5.1 and 5.2 surround sounds. What are their similarities and differences?

 5.1 Surround Sound5.2 Surround Sound
Speakers5 speakers5 speakers
Subwoofers1 subwoofer2 subwoofers
Sound QualityStandard surround sound qualityMore even and fuller bass sound quality
CostVaried pricesVaried prices but an extra cost for the additional subwoofer
FormatsDolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS Neo:6Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS Neo:6
Supported devicesAll HDTVs and video games, most DVDs and Blu-ray disksAll HDTVs and video games, most DVDs and Blu-ray disks

Setup

We’ve already mentioned that there are five standard speakers for both 5.1 and 5.2 surround sounds. The five speakers should be placed according to the channel positions as follows:

  • Center: The center speaker should be placed either under or above the TV set directly in front of the listener.
  • Front left and right: At about a 30° angle from the listener’s position, place the front right and left speakers on either side of the center.
  • Surround left and right: At about a 110° angle from the listener’s position, place the two surround speakers on the right and left side to the listener.

When it comes to the subwoofers, the positioning is not as simple. 5.1 setup has only one subwoofer, and 5.2 includes two. For optimal positioning, the subwoofer crawl is necessary. This is more like trying out different positions and finding where the bass sounds come off clearest.

You literally have to crawl on the floor after switching on your devices and listen to get the “sweet spot” where the subwoofer’s bass is best heard. Check out this video for a detailed description of the subwoofer crawl.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4o13mNmlaA

Sound Quality

The sound quality of a 5.1 is ideally the standard surround sound quality, which is great. But with the extra subwoofer in a 5.2 setup, bass sound quality improves. Even so, this is not a simple and automatic improvement. It depends on other factors but most especially room acoustics.

In most listening spaces, there are different objects, equipment, and surfaces in the room. These surfaces and objects cause bouncing of audio signals, and hence the sound waves from speakers don’t move smoothly.

There are areas of extreme resonating soundwaves and others of little or no soundwave movement. This means that the bass is often much louder in some areas of a room and light or totally absent in other spots.

The peaks and dips in the bass sound can be fixed by the extra subwoofer of a 5.2 surround sound. The dual subwoofers will offer bass sound originating from different locations, and this can fill up the areas of dipping and reduce sound resonance throughout the room.

As a result, two subwoofers create fuller and more even sounds.

Formats

The following are the formats that enable 5.1 surround sound systems:

Dolby Digital

  • This is the original discrete multi-channel format
  • Considered by many to be the surround sound standard
  • This format greatly improved on Dolby Pro-Logic creating better clarity and offering realism
  • Compresses full-length movie audios with discrete surround sound information to fit onto a disc
  • Facilitated the inclusion of low-frequency effects channels, which is handled by subwoofers.

DTS

  • Known as Dolby Digital’s main rival
  • Not as common as Dolby Digital
  • Uses less compression than Dolby Digital; some claim it’s more accurate

Dolby Pro Logic II

  • Uses the same matrixed four-channel sound as Pro Logic but decodes stereo recordings and converts them to 5.1-channel surround sound

DTS Neo:6

  • Like Dolby Pro Logic II; uses up-mixing to deliver 5.1-channel sound from two-channel sources

So, what about 5.2 formats?

Well, as previously explained, the major difference between 5.1 and 5.2 is the additional subwoofer. This is only evidenced in the receiver, where you’ll find two subwoofer outputs. But basically, both of this LFE (low-frequency effects) outputs carry the same information since, as per Dolby and DTS formattings, there is only one subwoofer track.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that both 5.1 and 5.2 setups use the exact same formats as outlined above.

Supported Devices

Since both 5.1 and 5.2 setups are decoded by the same formats, they support the same devices as well. These devices include:

  • HDTVs
  • Video games
  • Most DVDs
  • Most Blu-ray disks

Benefits of the Dual Subwoofer

5.2 surround sound
5.2 Surround System (two subwoofers)

Thus far, it’s undeniable that the defining distinction between 5.1 and 5.2 is pegged to the dual subwoofer setup of 5.2 surround sound systems. So let’s zero in on the benefits of having two subwoofers for your home entertainment layout.

Best Sound Quality at More Listening Spots

Subwoofer placement is one of the trickiest parts of setting up a home theatre. This bass-powering channel’s position can make or break your home theater setup. If well positioned, the rumbles and booming sounds produced can create an impressive complimentary bass to the higher-frequency surround sound speakers.

The most common recommendation is to place the subwoofer at a corner of the room, near a wall, or next to the front channel speakers. But no matter which of these spots you pick, there’s no guarantee of eliminating resonance from objects, walls, and hard surfaces in the room.

Bass sounds inevitably bounce off surfaces on opposite sides of a listening room. And when these reflected waveforms meet, they either produce standing waves or bass nulls. This means there are places in the room that will have excessively high booming effects, while other positions will be quieter with little low-frequency effects felt.

So why are we going into so much trouble to extensively explain this? Because the main benefit of having dual subwoofers lies in being able to counter these room effects experienced with one subwoofer.

So, if you strategically add a second subwoofer to your home theater, the sound patterns created by your room acoustics will overlap and increase sound wave density in the room. The result is fewer peaks and bass dips hence more ‘sweet spots’ where optimal sound quality is heard by listeners.

So more people seated at different positions can enjoy the optimal sound effects of subwoofers blended with surround sound speakers.

Harder to Localize

For the best low-frequency impact from subwoofers, the bass shouldn’t sound like it’s coming from one particular direction. The ideal situation is whereby listeners hear as if the bass is coming from each surround speaker placed in the room.

Unfortunately, with one subwoofer, this is hard to achieve. Even with a relatively deep speaker/subwoofer crossover frequency, most often than not, one will hear where a single sub has been placed in the listening room. More so, this directional sound effect is more pronounced if the subwoofer is not positioned in the front stage.

For a quick and easy solution, you can use two subwoofers in your layout. You’ll be amazed at the clear difference as a result. Multiple subwoofers are nearly impossible to localize.

They give the sensation of the bass signals coming from all directions and therefore create an optimal immersive experience of low-frequency effect with clear depth and impact.

Greater Overall Sound Output

Dual subwoofers can provide a greater sound dynamic range, reduce distortions, and reduce output compression. This means having a cleaner, more even and accurate bass. Simply put, your home entertainment audio is bound to sound much better and even louder with two subwoofers compared to having just one sub.

Better Aesthetics

Another benefit of using two subwoofers as opposed to one huge sub is for the sake of looks. Yes, room aesthetics is actually something to think about when it comes to setting up your home entertainment.

After all, you’re probably using your living room, or even if it’s a separate entertainment space, you do want it to look good as much as it will sound great.

So having two, probably smaller subwoofers, help with symmetry of the room’s decor. By placing them at the front stage, it also becomes easier to conceal them or have them blend in with the rest of the furniture. One huge subwoofer can be a bit tricky to position, and it also takes up significant floor space.

For more details on the benefits of dual subwoofers, check out the following video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXVpy5jaNsk

Conclusion

High-quality sound from a home theater depends on the components that make up your audio system, their quality, the positioning, room acoustics, among other factors.

The 5.1 and 5.2 surround sounds are some of the most common audio systems in the market. A clear comparison of the two systems can help you decide which one to purchase.

In terms of the components that make up these setups, the main difference is the number of subwoofers included. 5.1 offers a single sub, and 5.2 offers two. There are other similarities like having five speakers and differences like the bass sound quality produced, which distinguishes 5.1 and 5.2 surround sounds.

Also, looking into the benefits of having a dual subwoofer and finding out what works best for your situation and room setting is key for your purchasing decision.

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