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What is 5.2 and 7.2 Surround Sound?

One of the most satisfying upgrades you can make to your home entertainment system is better sound. Whether it is music, movies, even TV or streaming, improving the quality of your speakers is one of your best choices. If you are in the market for new speakers, make sure you consider the benefits of 5.2 or 7.2 surround sound systems.


stack of speakers



Why Do Speakers Use the Decimal System?

The decimal system is just industry jargon–or shorthand–to describe the number of speaker channels and sub-woofers that a surround sound entertainment system contains.

A  7.2 surround sound system refers to 7 channels of surround sound made up of a left speaker, a center speaker, a right speaker, 2 rear speakers–one left, and one right, along with 2 extra speakers usually installed on the box ends. The number 2 designates two sub-woofers.

A 5.2 surround sound system does not have the 2 extra speakers mounted in the box ends, but the system does have two sub-woofers. 5.1 and 7.1 systems are identical to 5.2 and 7.2 systems but with only one sub-woofer.


Why Buy Extra Surround Sound Speaker Systems?

The new TV or stereo you just took out of the box has all kinds of sound equipment–sometimes built right in. So why would you need to add more? Because, to use a highly technical term, internal TV sound is gack compared to an external sound system. 

The next step up is to purchase a sound bar which will be a big improvement to TV sound with an average cost of around $400. Sound bars can imitate surround sound to some extent, but there is no comparison when talking overall sound quality.

Realistically surround sound systems have been the “Go to” home theater or entertainment set up since the late 1990’s. As the name implies, surround sound systems are designed to fill the room with sound to enhance not only listening, but viewing experiences. 

Both a 5 and 7 channel system will give you true surround sound. The sound signals are divided into 5 or 7 channels making sure that each zone is well represented. 

Complete surround sound systems ‘in a box’ are available in wide price ranges–from under $400 for inexpensive systems, under $1000 for mid-range systems, and into the multiple thousands for top end systems.

Note: I do not often use the term cheap, but a 5.2 surround sound system for $250 might qualify. It may be better to spend a little extra to avoid some major disappointment. 


Build Your Own Surround Sound System

Many audiophiles will not be satisfied with ‘in a box’ surround sound systems. They prefer to buy a receiver, then add speakers and sub-woofers of their own choice. This allows building the sound system exactly the way you want it.

It also has the added benefit of not having to lay our a whack of cash at one time. If you are patient, you can have the system you want–built over time, and paid for.

Note: There is an advantage to buying everything at once. Generally receivers and speakers bought together are designed to match each other’s sound qualities. 


Is 7.2 Surround Sound Better Than 5.2 Surround Sound?

5.1 surround sound has been the standard system for years. The addition of the extra sub-woofer makes the bass sound just that much better. For small rooms a 5.2 system is all you need. Moving up to a 7.2 surround sound system will not improve the sound noticeably. If your home entertainment room, or TV room encompasses half your basement, then the 7.2 is a better option, because the extra channels are more capable of filling the entire space with sound.

Another thing to keep in mind when purchasing surround sound systems is what you watch and listen to. If most of your entertainment is derived from cable TV or streaming content, 5.2 is the perfect choice. They do not broadcast in anything more than 5.1–making the expense of more speakers and channels a waste of money.

If you watch a lot of Blu-Ray or plan to have a system that is compatible with something like Dolby Atmos, go right to the 7.2 system to get the full effects of the technology.


Why Have 2 Sub-Woofers?

Until fairly recently 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound systems were the norm. But having only one sub-woofer to power base ended up having bass too loud–maybe overpowering–in part of the room, and underrepresented in other parts of the room. Sound waves do not move around in rooms like we want them to. They run into each other creating echoes and bass waves will gather in certain spots–like corners.

Although you can move a single sub-woofer around the room looking for the sweet spot, it is much easier and satisfying to have 2 sub-woofers to remove sound resonance and create a fuller sound experience.


Benefits of 5.2 and 7.2 Surround Sound Systems

Regardless of what you use your home theater for–music, movies, TV, or gaming–investing in a quality 5.2 or 7.2 surround sound system will improve the quality of your entertainment experience. Knowing that the sounds will blend seamlessly with the pictures on the screen will only enhance and complete your enjoyment.

Our article How to Sound Treat a Room could help with your overall sound enjoyment.


Terry Schutz

I have worked as a contractor, sales person, and business owner in the construction industry for over three decades--mostly in home renovations and also as a home builder. I have been married to the same wife for 46 years. We have 3 children and 4 granddaughters. I have also been writing semi-professionally for about 20 years--construction articles, personal stories, and politically incorrect social commentary.

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