Think about this logically for a second. How many ears do you have? Hopefully you counted two. Now if you haven't damaged these ears, you can likely hear clearly out of each of them. Notice that there are not five ears like these immense muli-million dollar systems insist that you use. The 5.1 system is only a way for large Zaibatsus to take your money.

The first argument of the other half is that you can obviously hear things that are behind you and therefore you need a speaker to re-create this effect. Oh how wrong you are. Yes you can hear things coming from behind you, but this is not because of the positioning of a speaker, it is because of the way your brain interprets certain sound signals coming in from the outside. A normal speaker if powered by the correct amplifier can easily reproduce this setup. NAD Electronics produces fabulous products that can easily do this.

The second argument usually comes from companies like Bose. It's the same deal, they say you get a more realistic representation of the sound. Well here's something for you, perhaps you've heard of it, it's called physics. Destructive interference occurs quite often when two speakers are pointed at eachother which actually cancells out the sound altogether.

Sure, the price may lead you believe their equipment is superior, however the top theater products cost way more than they do, and they are all designed around digital stereo sound. Next time you are at a movie theater look around a bit. You will only not see rear-channel or center-channel speakers. You may see speakers lining the walls, but those are designed to reproduce the imaging from the front two. Plus those speakers only really transmit high-frequency sounds since the bass and lowends are easily transmitted across the theater from the front. When you are in a big theater and you hear a sound come from behind you, it is not from a certain speaker. All the speakers are playing it, but it is the sound processor that the theater has stored away somewhere that recreates that effect.

At the time I'm writing this, there's another writeup just above, which states that using more than two speakers in any sound system makes no sense, because humans don't have more than two ears. It goes on that digital signal processors are able to process sound in certain ways to make it sound like it comes from any arbitrary direction. In the final paragraph, it wants to make you believe that 5.1 systems at movie theatres are actually playing stereo sound and only pretend to have 5.1 channels.

Since this opinion doesn't originate from an appropriately qualified noder, I would like to put this straight. Please note that I'll explain nothing more than why it is incorrect to believe that using more speakers than you have ears would make no sense. I won't talk about the extra cost of installing hardware for more channels, problems with interfering sound waves, lack of media that take advantage of 5.1 channels, or anything else.

Firstly, digital signal processing can't truly emulate the way your ears alter sound coming from various angles, because every individual has slightly differently formed ears and thus would require a signal processor tailored especially to her to make the algorithm work perfectly. Secondly, you would need to wear headphones, because when the sound comes from a speaker, which is placed at a certain location, your actual ears alter the actual sound waves in addition to the signal processing, and your brain would still try to find out where it actually comes from (and it would succeed at doing so because of the point I'll mention next). Lastly, even if you had your personal signal processor and headphones, the illusion would be far from perfect, because when you locate the source of a sound, you turn and tilt your head around a little, observing the changes of the timbre caused by the filtering your auricles do.

Of course, there are good reasons why there are center speakers and other speakers lining the walls, but explaining that would be beyond the scope of this writeup -- just locate the appropriate entries. They'll also tell you what the digital signal processors in the signal line of, say, a THX set-up are good for. It has nothing to do with emulating 5.1 sound on stereo speakers. Or you can just turn around your head while watching a movie and you'll be able to verify that those sounds from off-screen sound sources are definitely coming from the surround speakers and not programmed to be perceived as coming from behind you.

As a lifelong audiophile who has owned more different stereo equipment in my time than your average three noders, I am qualified to comment on the writups above. There is a bit of truth in both, but neither is correct.

St3o is quite incorrect when he says a good two channel system is better than a 5.1 system of equivalent quality. More speakers and a subwoofer offer significant theoretical advantages, that with the right software can really come alive. Please notice the two qualifications listed above, equivalent quality and proper software. In them lies the rub.

The first issue is one of budget. I invested around $5000 dollars into the system that was recently stolen. It was a two channel system. I will spend more on its eventual replacement. You can hear the difference. But that's also a lot of money. In order to maintain similar quality in a 5.1 system expect that my bill would rise to around $10K. That's a lot more money. It's easily possible to spend more. My father and I spent one evening auditioning a system that retailed for $160K. It didn't even have an FM tuner. The sound . .. . Wow. However, my house didn't cost that much. I indulge myself on a budget.

Linda! is correct in stating that five point one systems offer improvements in presenting spatial relationships in sound. Audiophiles call that imaging. But those improvements come at a price. In order to gain the imaging advantages of 5.1 on a fixed budget I would have to sacrifice sound quality in a number of areas: clarity, frequency response, and most particularly bass extension. A good two-channel system is better at imaging than most people know. For example, with my old system if you listened to the Weather Report album Sweetnighter you could count the rocks in Dom um Ramao's chucalho and hear them change direction as he shook it. Folks, that's imaging. If a good system can do that, the advantages of 5.1 are too small to sacrifice the other qualities of an equally priced two channel system.

Particularly when the software to take full advantage of 5.1 is rare. Most recorded music today was recorded and mixed down in stereo. After all, when was the last time anyone asked you to sit with the orchestra? Recordings would have to be remixed for 5.1, and that takes real skill. If anyone remembers the quadraphonic era you will recall that most disks mixed in quadraphonic used the extra channels for goofy ping-pong effects. They sounded cool when you were stoned, but added nothing, and often subtracted from the real musical experience. So new 5.1 recordings may offer no advantage over 192Khz audio only or analog stereo tracks.

The software problem is the second reason Linda!s observations do not apply in the real world of music listening. If the software doesn't take advantage of the medium properly, all technological advantages are nullified. As of today, there is little 5.1 music coming out, and new titles are being released at a trickle. Sure, the first Pearl Jam album will get a good remix. It sold millions. So will much Miles Davis. But if you're a fan of Red Rodney, Toy Matinee or Miranda Sex Garden you're probably out of luck.

The real reason 5.1 was created had nothing to do with music. It was about watching movies. If you're watching Jurassic Park you get more benefit from hearing the t-rex from a rear speaker than a Dave Brubeck piano solo. The industry discovered that ordinary foiks were willing to spend big bucks on their home theater systems. Home theater has a higher wife acceptance factor-- [ almost all audiophiles are men ] than an expensive stereo because film is seen by many as a more legitimate money sink than pure sound.

Personally, I use my two channel system for both. True, I don't have ultimate spatial presentation. But I can't afford two systems. My stereo sounds cleaner and I can buy more bass extension for the same money {Most 5.1 "subwoofers" are not true subwoofers}. The disadvantages disappear when I play the Cowboy Junkies, Patricia Barber or the Cleveland Orchestra. If the movie is music oriented-- say Amadeus or Fantasia-- then my two channels will kick 5.1 butt any day.

Please note that bass extension is NOT "more bass", which many mistake for 'boom"--- the upper midbass hump preferred in dance clubs. True subwoofers should be dead flat at 20Hz or below. Most "subwoofers" sold on the consumer market are merely woofer modules for satellite speakers with little or no bass of their own. To add to Mordax's legitimate observations, I will move toward 5.1 eventually, using smaller satellite speakers and amps as money appears. It's like this, if you can afford to do 5.1 right go for it. But it's better to do 2 channel right than half-ass 5.1. Doing 5.1 right starts at about $5K. Less than that and you're probably better off going 2 channel.

Wendy Carlos has an excellent, and long, essay of the surround sound issue posted on her website at:

Further to the excellent information provided by Transitional Man...

Harvey Fletcher once said "Stereophonic systems do not consist of two, three, or any other fixed number of channels. There must be sufficient of these to give a good illusion of an infinite number." Believe me, I think he knew what he was talking about.

In fact, During the 1930s, Fletcher, Blumlein and others filed a series of patents or invented equipment for the storage and reproduction of multi channel sound. Blumlein registered a patent for stereo recording on phonographs within the same year that Fletcher demonstrated using three channel sound. Three channel optical recordings on film strips predated stereo ones.

Since that time, Cinemascope, Perspecta, Cinerama and a host of other mulitchannel recording / encoding schemes were invented for theater applications, all the way up to modern SDDS, DTS and Dolby Digital. While (most) theaters could keep up, cost and technological limitations kept the older technology out of the home. Since consumer equipment was at most in stereo, there was never a need for more elaborate recordings.

Even as the technology became more available and affordable, the saturation of stereo equipment further alienated multichannel sound. TVs, walkmans and car audio were all stereo at most. There were no advantages to producing multichannel music recordings since the average customer would not be willing to upgrade all of their equipment and their software (tapes and cds) to newer formats simply to gain additional audio tracks. For most people, stereo was "good enough." For some people, mono, linear VHS audio recorded in EP and played through a TV speaker is good enough. There is no God

As Transitional Man pointed out, the big hurdle for 5.1 is cost. I can attest to the fact that once you invest enough money in a good 5.1 system, there is no turning back. The first time that I heard the guy whistle towards the end of Home on Cheryl Crow's Rockin the Globe DVD in DTS I was startled. Especially since it felt like he was behind me in row G and a little to the left! That is imaging and a very impressive sound stage. This is by no means on a spectacular system either: roughly $5,000 ($5500 counting cables, TV not included) of equipment carefully placed and calibrated, playing some very fine source software. All it needed was a little love.

Now that DTS and Dolby Digital are becoming more commonplace, and more and more consumers upgrade to enjoy these formats for movies, it becomes worthwhile for the music industry to record in more than 2 channels. The number of music DVDs, either concert or otherwise, have increased exponentially in the past couple of years. As this happens, the quality and quantity of 5.1 recordings will increase.

In the meantime, you'll have to pry my DTS copy of Diana Krall's Love Scenes from my cold, dead fingers.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.