What Is Encompass Sound? 5.1, 7.1, Dolby Atmos, and Extra Defined


Watching motion pictures and TV exhibits is simply as a lot about audio as it’s about visuals. Sound provides depth and directionality to the expertise {that a} display merely can’t present.

Encompass sound is the time period for audio that gives the look that it is not merely coming from in entrance of you by way of one or two channels, however from throughout you. It is a complicated expertise, with many alternative codecs and configurations for having fun with the impact to its fullest. Right here, we clarify every little thing you must find out about {surround} sound because it pertains to your own home theater setup.

The Fundamentals: Stereo Sound

Stereo sound isn’t {surround} sound, nevertheless it’s a basic idea for house theater methods. Like all mammals, people have two ears positioned on reverse sides of our heads. They allow us to listen to sound sources from totally different instructions, however in a way more complicated approach than simply from the left or proper. Every eardrum captures a variety of frequencies, and the form of the ear additional refines how these frequencies hit it from totally different instructions. Our brains course of these frequencies and the tiny delays between every ear capturing them, enabling us to acknowledge the course of the supply (in entrance of, behind, to the facet, above, or under us). Within the easiest sense, our ears are primarily a pair of microphones, simply enhanced with some unimaginable filters and audio processors.

Klipsch The Fives

Stereo sound: Klipsch The Fives

Like ears, stereo sound methods do greater than merely current sound from two instructions. When frequencies from the the left and proper channels combine in house, they create a way of directionality. Stereo methods nonetheless solely use two sources (that means two audio system), and subsequently can’t produce sound that appears to emanate from all instructions. However the idea of blending channels of audio nonetheless applies as you add extra audio system to the setup.

Standard Encompass Sound: 5.1 and seven.1

The oldest and most established sort of {surround} sound relies on channels. Encompass methods usually fall into the 5.1- or 7.1-channel classes. For this sort of {surround}, the film or present is combined into six or eight channels: left, proper, heart, surround-left, surround-right, and subwoofer for five.1 audio, and left, proper, heart, side-left, side-right, rear-left, rear-right, and subwoofer for 7.1 audio.

For media that helps this sort of {surround} sound, the primary quantity signifies what number of directional audio sources it encodes and that may be individually performed by driver teams. The second quantity is for the subwoofer channel, which handles the bottom frequencies and produces vibrations you’re simply as prone to really feel as hear. Very low frequencies supply minimal directional info due to how they unfold and the way you hear them—they sometimes cowl your entire house (which is why you solely want one subwoofer).

5.1- and seven.1-channel methods sometimes depend on a mixture of major audio system, satellite tv for pc audio system, and a separate subwoofer. The first audio system—typically a part of a soundbar you may place in entrance of the display—cowl the left, proper, and heart channels. These are crucial channels for any combine as a result of they deal with nearly all of the audio, together with dialogue.

Sonos Arc

5.1-channel {surround}: Sonos Arc (soundbar), Sub (subwoofer), and Ones (rear satellites)

The satellite tv for pc audio system allow extra sound to come back in from the facet and behind you, for the “{surround}” a part of {surround} sound. With a 5.1-channel system, you place a pair of satellites barely behind and each to the left and proper of the listener. 7.1-channel methods break up these satellites into two pairs to individually cowl the left and proper sides and the left and proper rear.

Earlier than spatial audio (defined under), most {surround} sound in motion pictures and exhibits combined six or eight particular person audio channels to match the variety of audio system in a typical system. These channels can then be down-mixed to fewer channels for stereo audio system, 3.1-channel soundbars, and different sound methods that don’t have the required variety of speaker driver units. The 2 largest and most traditional codecs for this sort of {surround} sound are Dolby Digital 5.1 or 7.1, and DTS 5.1 or 7.1.

Top Channels: 5.1.2, 9.2.4, and Different Numbers

Within the early oughts, the idea of top channels difficult the {surround} sound nomenclature. The third quantity signifies sound sources which might be positioned above the audio system, both by way of separate satellites or upward-firing drivers that bounce pontificate of the ceiling. This turns the circle of {surround} sound right into a dome, and creates an much more immersive expertise.

When procuring, these numbers are helpful for indicating what number of driver teams are in a soundbar or different speaker and whether or not any drivers are able to including a vertical dimension to the combo. As a format, although, it was solely a stepping stone to spatial audio. Individually mixing greater than eight channels into the Dolby Professional Logic IIz and DTS Neo:X codecs could be very uncommon.

Spatial Audio: Dolby Atmos and DTS:X

Spatial audio processing applied sciences from Dolby and DTS are one of many newest (and simplest) developments to the {surround} sound house. Spatial audio individually maps every sound supply in a bit of media to a location in a 360-degree sphere, together with top. As a substitute of blending a handful of channels to ship by particular person units of drivers, a film’s audio can place hundreds of sound results throughout the listener. As a result of every object that makes a sound is mapped to a place, spatial audio is usually referred to as object-based audio. 

Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos visualizer

Clearly, you may’t have hundreds of satellites round your sofa, which is why spatial audio is designed to work with house theaters of any scope. Whether or not it’s a soundbar or a multi-satellite {surround} system, any {hardware} that helps the spatial audio format can correctly combine all of these totally different sound sources accurately to suit the obtainable drivers. Extra driver teams means extra mapping choices, so you continue to ought to purpose for greater numbers when purchasing for a system. To get one of the best impact from spatial audio content material, purpose for at the least a 5.1 system.

The most important spatial audio format for video content material is Dolby Atmos, with DTS:X coming in at an in depth second. Each are widespread in soundbars and different house theater methods, and infrequently audio system assist each requirements. Apple TV, Netflix, and Disney+ all use Dolby Atmos for a lot of their new content material. DTS:X seems on Blu-rays and Extremely HD Blu-rays (as can Dolby Atmos), however for streaming, solely a handful of films on Disney+ can be found in DTS:X; they carry an IMAX Enhanced label.

Sony 360 Reality Audio

Sony 360 Actuality Audio dramatization

Sony additionally affords its personal spatial audio format, 360 Actuality Audio. Nonetheless, it’s primarily designed for listening to music, notably with headphones. Apple’s spatial audio function can be headphone-specific, and is actually Apple’s time period for supporting {surround} sound codecs together with 5.1 and Dolby Atmos. Neither verison issues for watching motion pictures or TV exhibits.

Purchase a Encompass Sound System

Most TVs supply solely stereo sound in two channels from small, built-in drivers which might be sometimes too shut collectively to create any substantial directional impact. You want extra speaker drivers and extra channels to take pleasure in {surround} sound. Precisely what number of extra of every will depend on your house and price range.

Should you’re procuring on your personal {surround} sound system, our information to one of the best soundbars will provide help to choose the proper one on your house. Particularly, search for one with a wi-fi subwoofer and separate {surround} satellites. When you have the price range, maintain an eye fixed out for a system with upward-firing drivers for top. And until you wish to go stereo-only, guarantee that no matter system you select helps Dolby Atmos for one of the best {surround} expertise with the most recent motion pictures and exhibits.

For extra, see our story on learn how to construct one of the best house theater system for below $1,000.

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