Surround Sound: A Beginner’s Guide
How to Bring Magical Movie Sound to Your Home
When you go to the movie theater, you go for the big screen experience. And yes, maybe the popcorn too. All kidding aside, a great movie experience is not just about the big screen – it’s just as much about the big sound as well. Great sound makes you feel like you are in the scene - whether it’s bullets flying above you, car crashes with impact, or whispered dialog in a tense scene that draws you into the drama.
To get that kind of immersive audio experience, you need a surround sound system. Many options exist to bring movie surround sound into the home – from relatively inexpensive soundbars to full-blown twelve-speaker systems with high-end AV processors and amplifiers.
All the choices and terminology for surround sound might feel a little daunting. In this blog, we’re going to try to demystify it for you and get you on the track to figure out what might be the best surround sound system options for you in Nashville.
The Simplest Solution – The Soundbar
Soundbars have exploded in popularity over the past decade. With the advent of flat panel TVs, the quality of sound out of TV speakers has worsened. The reason is that TV sets continue to get sleeker and thinner, but that doesn’t leave a lot of room to build in decent audio speakers. The soundbar has been the easy way to upgrade TV sound. Soundbar models range from the inexpensive to some that support immersive Dolby Atmos surround sound. The soundbar is a one-box solution that can be mounted on a wall or fits neatly under a flat panel TV.
But soundbars are no match for a dedicated set of surround speakers. There is only so much that digital processing can do to simulate directional sound from multiple speakers housed in the same box. That said, there are some excellent quality soundbars that make fine surround solutions for smaller rooms or multipurpose media rooms. A great example of that is Sonos’ compact new Playbar. With the compatible Sonos wireless subwoofer and rear speakers, it can produce engaging surround sound in a smaller room. As part of the Sonos family, it also can participate in a whole home audio system and play audio from a vast array of sources.
Step Up Solution – 5.1 Speaker Surround
The traditional surround sound setup that involves separate speakers is a 5.1 setup. The 5 means three speakers in the front of the room – left, center and right channels – and two surround speakers in the back of the room. The front channels produce the most sound in a movie soundtrack, with dialog mostly directed through the center, and music and effects from the front left and right. The rear channels are used for ambient sound, effects, and other audio depending on the movie soundtrack mix. The “.1” refers to a subwoofer. A subwoofer is essential to produce the deep rumbling bass you can actually feel to get that cinematic level of sound.
There are several choices for 5.1 sound. There are matched sets of speakers that can be paired with a receiver to produce surround. Speakers can be stand-mounted or floor-standing, and some surround speakers can be wall mounted. Alternatively, for a sleek look that doesn’t interfere with room furnishings, built-in speakers can be used all the way around – including subwoofers.
We work with some of the top brands in home audio for surround systems, like Marantz AV receivers and processors and KEF speakers. Each of these companies has a long and rich history in audio and make a variety of products to fit everything from modest to very high-end budgets.
The Ultimate Surround System – Dolby Atmos
Dolby originated surround sound 25 years ago with the introduction of Dolby Surround, a basic five-speaker surround format. Dolby Atmos is the evolution of many years of further development, resulting in a format that can direct specific sounds to specific speakers in a movie soundtrack. It is the most immersive surround format and is increasingly being mastered into current movie releases. DTS:X is a competing format with similar capabilities, and many movies are releasing soundtracks in both formats.
To get this level of immersive sound, more speakers are needed. For the speaker layout, Dolby calls the system 7.1.4, which involves the typical front and rear speakers and subwoofer, side speakers, and four overhead speakers. The overhead speakers can either be ceiling-mounted speakers, or specific Dolby Atmos speakers which fire upwards from the front channel speakers. You also need a receiver or AV processor which has Dolby Atmos decoding built in, as well as the right number of amplifiers to drive all those speakers. Again, our partners Marantz and KEF have specific models capable of creating the perfect Dolby Atmos surround sound experience.
If this sounds confusing, we can assure you that it’s not. Simply tell us what you are looking for in surround sound and we can guide you through the options. While you’re thinking about surround sound, it’s also a great time to consider tying your installed speakers into a whole home audio system and even including speakers for your outdoor areas.
Call us at (256) 882-5081, contact us, or just click below to connect immediately to one of our audio experts. We look forward to working with you.