Surround sound systems add depth and make the audio in movies, video games, or music performances more realistic. This means that apart from a big screen, you need a quality sound system like 7.1 or 7.2 to enjoy a great listening experience. So how do you choose between a 7.1 and 7.2 setups?
7.1 and 7.2 surround sound in home theater are among the standard audio setups. These are an upgrade from 5.1 layouts and offer more dimension to sound. 7.1 brings out the character in sounds while 7.2 takes it up a notch higher by adding clearer bass effects through the additional subwoofer.
If you’re undecided about what system to pick for your home theatre, this article will be a great guide. We’ll explain what these numbers mean, the pros and cons of each system, and highlight their key features. Let’s dive right in.
7.1 vs. 7.2 Setup
Including a surround sound system in a home theater has become quite common. Most likely because the sound from plain stereo speakers that come with a TV set or any other display is incomparable to the energizing and engaging all-round audio produced by surround systems.
7.1 and 7.2 are at the very top of the stack when it comes to choosing a system for your home theater. They are neither the mere basic surrounds like 5.1, nor are they too over the top like 9.1, 10.2, 13.1, and beyond.
The 7.1 setup is well known for the two rear speaker channels it adds to a surround sound layout. These two speakers at the back add depth to music and realism to movies or films. 7.2 offers the same effects, but what is more, it also boasts of its ability to produce even LFEs (Low-Frequency Effects).
Also read: 5.1 vs 5.2 Surround Sound Comparison
What is 7.1?
According to the naming system used with home theaters, the first digit stands for the number of standard speaker channels included in the set. These speakers handle mid-frequency and high-frequency signals from the television.
In this case, 7.1 means there are seven speakers that make up the surround sound layout. These are:
- Front right
- Front left
- Surround left
- Surround right
- Rare left
- Rare right
For a better visual representation of these speakers, check out this short video:
The second digit, “.1,” refers to the number of subwoofers, which is simply one in this setup.
A good example of a 7.1 surround sound system is the Panasonic SC-BT203 7.1 Surround System (Amazon link).
So what about the 7.2?
What is 7.2?
“7” means there are seven basic speakers, while “.2” means the surround sound has two subwoofers instead of 1. The extra sub helps to even out the bass sounds and generally increase overall sound output.
One example of this system is the Acoustic Audio HD728 7.2 Surround System (Amazon link).
7.1 vs. 7.2 Receivers
A receiver acts as the hub of a home theater. Even if this device appears plain and non-attractive, it carries a lot of responsibilities that determine the final sound quality you get from your setup.
Audio/ visual (AV) receivers collect video and audio signals from the sources and direct them to the TV screen and speaker channels respectively so you can watch and listen to films, music, videos, and games seamlessly.
So how do the 7.1 and 7.2 receivers compare?
The fact is, few sources have soundtracks mixed for 7.1, and even fewer have true-7.2 soundtracks. But even though 7.1 and 7.2 home theater channels are less commonly supported, they are still better at producing great sound.
The great news, however, is that in several cases, AV receivers can expand a 5.1 mix to a 7.1 through a matrix process. This way, even without discrete information for the rare channels in a 7.1 setup, those speakers at the back still get used and create a surround sound effect.
Even better, if you have a 7.1 receiver that’s Dolby Atom-capable, the receiver is able to upscale 5.1-channel soundtracks for 7.1 output in your system.
The same is true for 7.2 receivers, which, on top of all these, have the added advantage of two subs outputs to cater to the two subwoofer channels in the layout.
Pros and Cons of 7.1 vs. 7.2 Receivers
|7.1 receiver||7.2 receiver|
|Advantages||-Multiple channels outputs|
-Great for large spaces
-More overall sound
|-Multiple speaker channels plus an extra subwoofer output
-Great for large spaces
-Even and smoother bass effects
-The subwoofers cannot be localized
|Disadvantages||-Few sources support this configuration|
-Uneven low-frequency responses
-Large space requirement
|-Fewer sources support the configuration
-Large space requirement
Similarities and Differences Between 7.1 and 7.2
The features that make up 7.1 and 7.2 surround sound systems are very similar. But there are also a few key differences that may place the 7.2 setup at an advantage over 7.1. Even so, all that depends on your needs, preferences, and available resources.
Before we get into the details and extensive description of all the features, here’s a quick table summary to give you a general perspective:
|7.1 Surround Sound||7.2 Surround Sound|
|Speakers||7 speakers||7 speakers|
|Subwoofers||1 subwoofer||2 subwoofers|
|Sound Quality||High-quality surround sound overall but with uneven bass response||More even and fuller bass sound quality|
|Room size requirement||Ideal for large spaces||Ideal for large spaces|
|Cost||High prices||High prices plus an extra cost for the additional subwoofer|
|Formats||Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD||Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD|
|Supported devices||PS3, PS4, Xbox One, HD DVDs, and some Blu-ray players||PS3, PS4, Xbox One, HD DVDs, and some Blu-ray players|
You probably get the drift by now when it comes to the number of channels. As per their names, both 7.1 and 7.2 surround sounds offer seven speaker channels. These are quite the number, especially for a home entertainment setting. Not many people would go for this upfront, but if you’re an audiophile, you’d probably be thinking of this as the bare minimum for your setup.
The multiple speakers mean more overall sound, and that can also mean better quality of sound due to the increased character of the audio signals. For example, if you’re watching a movie on a 7.1 or 7.2 system, there are many dimensions of the soundtracks that you can appreciate. All these captured details are meant to improve your sound quality.
But apart from improving your listening experience now, getting a 7.1 or 7.2 is pretty convenient for future upgrades even if you may currently have fewer speakers available in your home theater.
The thing is, an AV receiver will only playback sound through the speakers that have been connected to its output ports. Therefore, even with, say, five speakers, your 7.1 or 7.2 receivers will still function while giving you the flexibility of adding to your layout later on.
A 7.2 home theater system has two subwoofer channels, which means one subwoofer more than the 7.1 system. This is a crucial difference between these two setups because of the impact of room acoustics on bass frequencies.
The bass response from a subwoofer doesn’t normally spread smoothly through a listening room to the listeners. Its sound waves bounce off of objects and surfaces. When the different waves meet, they can either result in points of very loud bass or quiet bass audio. This is what is termed as peaks and dips in the low-frequency responses.
The effects of room acoustics on the low-frequency signals are what put the dual-subwoofer setup at an advantage over 7.1. Having two subwoofers can smooth out the high and low points within a home theater setting. The result is an even and more accurate bass sound quality.
That said, placing your subwoofer at the right spot is essential in achieving optimal bass response. We’ll be tackling the topic of subwoofer placement shortly in this article, so read on.
With seven speaker channels producing your audio, it’s obvious that you’ll be well immersed in surround sound. Basically, there’s great surround sound coverage, and that is as good as having quality sound, right? That’s what you get with a 7.1 home theater.
With that in mind, just imagine how much better your audio will sound with a 7.2 setup? You not only have immersive audio from the mid and high-frequency signals, but the low-frequency effects are also optimized through the dual subwoofers.
It’s important to note at this point that, in actual sense, 7.2 systems are supported by the very same formats that enable 7.1 surround sound. And why is that? Well, it’s because the main difference with 7.2 is found in the receiver, where there are two outputs for the low-frequency effects. And these outputs carry the same information.
So, here are the formats that enable 7.1 (and 7.2) surround sound systems:
- Unlike other audios, Dolby TrueHD is 100% lossless. This means that it’s completely identical to the master recording.
- It offers maximum audio fidelity possible on Blu-ray disks.
- Includes dynamic range control.
- Has created room for expansion as new channels may be added in the future.
- It’s a combined lossless/lossy audio codec created by DTS.
- Identical to the original movie’s master soundtrack.
- This format is able to up-mix Dolby Stereo Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 to 7.1 surround sound.
- It creates a more realistic audio experience.
- Able to customize the sound by adjusting audio playback to suit the selected listening mode, e.g., music, movie, or game.
- This format is the established standard for broadcast, cinema, and home theater surround sound.
- Supported on the latest Apple devices.
- Even if it’s not lossless like Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus offers more detailed sound effects than Dolby Digital 5.1.
- More detailed than 5.1 DTS, but unlike DTS-HD Master, it’s not lossless.
Both 7.1 and 7.2 surround sound home theaters support the same devices since they are enabled by the same formats.
The following are the supported devices:
- HD DVDs
- Some Blu-ray players
- Xbox One
Speaker Positioning for 7.1 and 7.2 Setup
Now that we’re clear on the various features that make up 7.1 and 7.2 setups, let’s look into positioning these devices. Starting with the speakers, their location is key to ensuring the best sounds are produced.
7.1 surround sounds have speakers at the front row (center, left, and right), two are positioned beside the listener, and two others are placed at the back. Here are specific measurements you can use when setting up:
- Front center: This speaker should be placed directly in front of the listener on the front row. It can either be placed under the TV set or above the screen.
- The front right and left: These are placed at an angle of 30° from the listener’s position to the right and to the left, respectively.
- Surround right and left: These are the speakers that differentiate a basic stereo setup and a surround sound system. They are positioned at an angle of 110° from the listening position on the right and left-hand side.
- Rare speakers: There are two speakers for the back position. They should be positioned directly behind the listener. So you should have enough space behind your couch in order to use these rare speakers.
An interesting benefit of setting up a 7.1 home theater is that the 7.1 receivers offer flexibility in creating additional zones.
By creating an additional zone, this means that you can “split” your 7.1 home theater into two listening areas. You can have a traditional 5.1 channel setup running in the main room and use the two extra channels in another room but still powered by the same 7.1 receiver.
In this 2-zones setup, one person can be watching a movie in the main room while another is enjoying stereo music in the other zone so long as there’s a separate CD player connected to the receiver.
Subwoofer Placement for 7.1 and 7.2 Setup
We’ve already established that the key difference between 7.1 and 7.2 is the number of subwoofers included. This is a crucial element in a home theater layout. While there are multiple speakers in a surround sound responsible for mid and high-frequency signals, only the subwoofer is in charge of the very low-frequency audio signals.
The sub, therefore, ought to be strategically placed in order for its effects to be uniformly felt across the room. In the case of a 7.1 setup with only one subwoofer, the stakes are even higher because bass sounds from the sub are affected by room acoustics, making it harder to get the “sweet spot.”
You can begin by trying out common positions for subwoofers, e.g., at the front stage near the center channel speaker or at a corner. If neither of these locations works and from the listening position, you still have bass null (no bass sound effects), then do the “subwoofer crawl.” Here are the steps:
Plug in the subwoofer and place it at the listening position. This can be directly on top of your couch. Get some help moving the subwoofer around, especially if it’s a huge and heavy model.
Play a familiar song with bass-heavy audios and increase the volume just to get the bass to be more distinct.
Get on your hands and knees, and literally crawl around the room, listening for the spot with the best low-frequency effect. It shouldn’t be too loud or too quiet, just the right amount of bass.
You have just discovered your subwoofer’s sweet spot. Go ahead and place the sub there.
Granted, this does not eliminate the bass peaks and nulls in the room, and that’s why the dual subwoofer of a 7.2 system is so convenient. By adding a second subwoofer, you get to fill in the uneven bass spots in your room. This results in a more uniform booming effect felt at multiple listening spots in a home theater.
If you are looking to purchase a home theatre and want a setup that can produce an impressive surround sound experience, then choosing between 7.1 and 7.2 is your best bet.
The main difference between these two setups is the number of subwoofers. 7.2 has dual subwoofers, while 7.1 offers the traditional single subwoofer. This brings out one of the differentiating qualities of the two. 7.2 enables a more even bass surround sound compared to 7.1. But there are also a few other features you will want to look at before you settle on one of these home theaters.
Once you’ve got your home entertainment system, ensure you position the components correctly, especially the speakers and subwoofers, in order to experience their optimal sound effects.
Also read: 2.1 vs. 5.1 vs. 7.1 Surround Sound
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.