5.1 Surround Sound. Is it really important?

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by ironjaw, Oct 30, 2008.

  1. ironjaw macrumors 6502

    May 23, 2006
    Cold Copenhagen
    So I've been seeing here that alot of you are talking about 5.1 surround sound when it comes to the Apple tv. I don't have a 5.1 surround sound system so my question is it is really that important?

    I'm just fine with stereo:D
  2. spice weasel macrumors 65816

    Jul 25, 2003
    It all depends on the viewer/listener. Watching a movie in 5.1 definitely adds to the experience, provided you have your speakers placed properly. In addition, having the channels separated makes it much easier to hear dialogue. Is it necessary though? No more than choosing DVD over VHS, or Blu-Ray over DVD.

    I end up watching a lot of movies in plain stereo on my TV speakers because my downstairs neighbor is a cranky PITA who throws fits as soon as I put my subwoofer on. But when he's not home, I crank that sucker up!
  3. darkwing macrumors 65816

    Jan 6, 2004
    I bought a 7.1 HTIB (home theater in a box) and like to enjoy a blu-ray movie here and there that actually has that audio format. (Most seem to have 5.1) It does add to the experience but it really isn't that necessary. The only thing I could probably not live without is the subwoofer.

    If I were you I'd spend my money on a nicer tv than a nicer sound system, but I'm probably in the minority. There are a lot of audiophiles out there and I hope they will not flame me for what I just said. :)
  4. Killyp macrumors 68040


    Jun 14, 2006
    *puts on audiophile hat*

    Not at all. I'm always surprised at the number of 'audiophiles' who sit their $150,000 Wilson Watts either side of an $800 un-branded TV.

    Either way, it's better to be running a good stereo setup than a mediocre or poor 5.1/7.1 setup. Remember, surround sound is not better sound, it's just more sound.

    On top of that, I would never want to go for a surround sound setup if it's compromising the stereo performance...
  5. kolax macrumors G3

    Mar 20, 2007
    It really does add to the experience.

    I have a 4.1 surround sound system (DYI in a sense, I bought the receiver, then front speakers and rears then the sub. Just need to invest in a decent centre and some point) and I love the whole cinema experience.

    Depends if you'd ever see yourself with 5 speakers positioned around your room.
  6. 98707 macrumors regular

    Feb 15, 2007
    Yes absolutely

    it is quite important. You may be satisfied with stereo but you can get Polk R50s for 60 dollars a piece from Frys; an amazing deal for low end floor standing speakers.

    I'm running two book shelves in front, a center channel, R50 floorstandings in back and a sub.

    The whole system paired with a receiver that you've played with will yield amazing music and movie experiences.

    I use my surround sound mostly for music and while some people swear that stereo is the way to go for music.. I find that the right surround sound freqs coming out of the rears add hugely to the overall result.

    However, I also know people who swear that a satellite surround system with a subwoofer works real well.. and that can be very very very cheap.
  7. dynaflash macrumors 68020

    Mar 27, 2003
    Who can tell you ? It's your call, no one else's. Its like anamorphic, is it important to you ? Depends. Personally I like it. But it depends from person to person. Try it. If you like it cool . If not, then cool as well.

    Okay, just kidding, everyone likes anamorphic, right ? ;)
  8. DYER macrumors 6502

    Oct 4, 2008
    London, UK
    To be honest I prefer my quality stereo set up rather than my parents 5.1 system...
    I have 2 Missions attached to a wonderfull Sony Amp (whcih is amusingly also able to drive up to 6.1) and it just sounds so much nicer
    however if you have the money for a ful proper 5.1 fair enough...
    HOWEVER it depends on you really I am a bit of an audiophile so id rather have 2 great speakers than 5 good ones...
  9. camomac macrumors 6502a


    Jan 26, 2005
    Left Coast
    i completely agree. also you can always build as you go.
    (stereo -> 2.1 -> 4.1 -> 5.1...)
  10. DYER macrumors 6502

    Oct 4, 2008
    London, UK
    indeed in fact its what im planning to do... just need to find a couple of hundred quid for a nice sub....
  11. Killyp macrumors 68040


    Jun 14, 2006
  12. ironjaw thread starter macrumors 6502

    May 23, 2006
    Cold Copenhagen
    At the moment nothing

    But I do listen to music alot, so I guess I will invest in a good amp and 2 speakers. I've never been interested in 5.1 surround sound but I do see the advantages.

    I remember I bought a plasma tv that came with a cheap surround system, unimpressed, whilst watching a film I really got scared and jump out of my sofa after I heard a wasp whizzing around in my living room at 1am at night only to realise that it was the back speakers behind me and the sound was coming from the film.:eek:

    But I do still encode with Handbrake with surround sound:D

    I guess I will be sticking with stereo. Any recommendations for an amp and speakers
  13. JonHimself macrumors 68000


    Nov 3, 2004
    Toronto, Ontario
    For me it's not important, but if I had to choose I would certainly take a 5.1 set-up. I live in an apartment so I don't need a stereo system with a ton of bass and sound but when I go over to my friends place who has the 5.1 system it a nice thing to have (even if you're not turning up the volume).
    As other people have said, a high quality stereo system might be better then a HTIB 5.1 set-up.
    What I would do (and will do) is buy a nice receiver and just use stereo speakers, then bit by bit purchase a sub and a good set of speakers.
  14. Killyp macrumors 68040


    Jun 14, 2006
    How much are you looking to spend?
    How large is the room?
    What kind of music do you tend to listen to?
  15. nathanjbrown macrumors 6502

    Apr 9, 2008
    Boston, MA
    Sure, it's all subjective...But - to me - it sounds a lot like the following question: Compared to mono, is stereo really important?


    Sound designers...Video game designers...Musicians...They're all creating content for multi-speaker setups. In order to recreate the sonic experience as they intended, it becomes necessary to "upgrade" your sound system.

    With that said, don't waste your money on junk. I prefer quality over quantity. Start with a fantastic pair of speakers from a company that you anticipate will be around for a while. Then, when the time is right, purchase a center channel speaker from that same company (and, of course, a well made surround sound receiver or pre/pro setup). Then, again from the same company, purchase speakers that will function well as surrounds.

    Don't be fooled into thinking that a $199 HTiB surround sound system will give you anything more than multi-channel noise...Invest the money and you'll experience multi-channel audio the way it was intended. It'll blow your mind as stereo did back in the day!

    A few of my favorite audio companies...
    Rotel (beautiful to look at and some excellent systems)
    Cambridge Audio (bang for the buck, one of the best there is)
    B&W (beautiful to look at and excellent sound)
    Definitive Technology - Mythos Series (highly rated mainstream speaker)
    Paradigm (been around for years and great quality)
    Martin Logan (just thought I'd throw it out there...I love electrostatic sound)

    Have fun!

  16. ironjaw thread starter macrumors 6502

    May 23, 2006
    Cold Copenhagen
    Wow Nathan: Thank you so much!

    I've been looking at B&W especially the CM1 see image below. They look nice and are expensive.

    But I have also been eying the Podspeakers the Minipod but I don't know good they are?

    Kyllip: My room is about 5 by 3 m2, so its not that large but fairly okay. I listen mostly to classical but also electronic music but I have a diverse taste. I listen to more music than watching movies, but I do like the occasional sitcom. I'm a student so money is an option but I am intending to save up for a good system that will last years

    Attached Files:

  17. Killyp macrumors 68040


    Jun 14, 2006
    The CM1 is a nice little speaker, although probably way out of your price bracket.

    I'd look at the 68x series. The 686 is the baby, and then it moves up to the 685, 684 and 683 (the last two being floorstanders). They punch way above their weight in terms of price.

    The 686s

    Match them with some Rotel electronics and you'll have yourself a superb hifi.
  18. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I can't help but think of my father years ago with his small crt screen for his AT computer. He was very happy with it until I got him a newer computer and a larger screen. Within a couple of days, there was no way he was going back to the smaller screen or lower end PC. <G>

    When watching movies, on your TV, its hard to go back to TV speaker once you have it hooked to a stereo system. Same applies for Stereo to surround sound set up when watching DVDs.

    I would say (subjectively) that if you have a small TV then surround sound isn't all that great (stereo is nice here). If you have a fair size TV or large screen then surround really does add a great deal to the experience.

    There are many low end "package" type setups that include a receiver and speakers. Panasonic seems to do very well in the low end offerings as do a few others.

    If you have a few dollars for a set up and limited space - you might want to go to "Soundmatters" website and see their "Mainstage HD" product. It is a great setup for smaller and midsize TV's. Additionally their Slimstage "soundbar" is good for larger TV with limited space. It isn't a true surround system but adds depth and texture to sound (emulates a 5.1 speaker setup).

    The Mainstage HD I believe is an ideal compromise. You get the "amp" section built into a 2 speaker system and one subwolfer that is very small in footprint but nice in sound. Mind you, this is not for blasting your ears but reasonable volumes.

    In the past I had a 5.1 setup with great speakers and a Sony receiver. To play music, I used both right channels to play the same, left also, and the sub. No middle speaker output (my choice). For movies, went to 5.1 surround. This worked well in my last place. In my present location, I have a large TV and probably will be looking into either setting up a right and left channel, center channel and sub only. Alternatively a soundbar as I can't really wire all around nor found (from friends) great luck in wireless rear speakers.

    - Phrehdd
  19. mark34 macrumors 6502a

    May 18, 2006
    It's not only about "surround". The immersive effect of having surround speakers in 5.1 or 7.1 set-ups is indeed a big part of what many find enjoyable about home theater. The most monumental improvement versus a stereo set-up, in my opinion, is the addition of a true center channel. You will be amazed how much more clearly you can articulate dialog (with a properly set-up system). If done very carefully with the right equipment, you can create a satisfying phantom center without a center channel, but a true center channel is going to be better and is more likely to stay sounding good.

    Put me in the category of sound is at least as important as video. I am a home theater geek so I value both and a lot of more obscure elements of home theater nirvana. But I help many people who don't want to get that involved.
  20. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    Feb 12, 2007
    Neander Valley, Germany; just outside Duesseldorf
    It's not that important on my puny 40" Samsung LCD, but essential on my 160" home theater. ;)
  21. cazlar macrumors 6502

    Oct 2, 2003
    Sydney, Australia
    I think surround is fairly important, and unless you are an audiophile, a decent surround setup is better than a great stereo one, if you are more into movies than music. You can either go for a cheap 5.1 HT-in-a-box, or a more substantial setup. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

    I'm currently running a US$90 HTIB (total!) and for the small room it is in, it is fairly good. I deliberately didn't invest in more because I know it is only for a few years, and I have a better setup back in Australia for when I move back there. So if you just want to try it out, you can get a cheap set like this - just be careful it has the right inputs that you want (some have no optical or others no spdif). Some of these allow you to use other speakers than the ones they came with, some don't, but be aware the receiver part is likely underpowered and might not be able to drive "good" speakers.

    The "better" option is to go buy a nice receiver (can be a few hundred to a few thousand $). I have a nice Denon one in Australia. This should last you many years. Then you can get a cheapish set of 5.1 speakers to go with it, and over time, you can upgrade them to higher quality ones (fronts first!). Or buy all high quality speakers at the start if you have the money of course!
  22. Killyp macrumors 68040


    Jun 14, 2006
    RE not being able to go back from surround sound to stereo, I in fact did this (and I'm a very demanding person when it comes to sound quality).

    My setup before was a Rotel RSX 1055 and a complete B&W speaker package. Sure, it sounded stunning, but a good stereo setup outperformed it. Remember, surround sound isn't better sound, it's just more sound.

    The basis of good surround sound is good stereo. If your system can't perform well in stereo, then there's no way it'll be able to perform well in surround sound.
  23. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    You sure do like to open up a can of worms with that statement <G>.

    I guess that I agree that a good system, well recorded sound source will give you a better experience. However, I tend to listen to music more often than watch movies with surround sound.

    Without offending audiophile movie enthusiasts, I would argue that a fair surround system is better than an good stereo system for a movie experience. It is not always about "pure" sound/music but the sense of texture and depth of the audio experience when watching a movie. In a sense it provides the 3D part of the experience. If you surround system can play a decent hrtz range and without too much distortion its a good start. Naturally, those into surround systems prefer not a fair system but a good system. Good then becomes either a measure of "spec" or what sounds good to one's ears.

    For me, my Energy speaker system with Klipch sub was ideal. My system however was 5.1 surround. I found I wasn't fond of 6.1 or 7.1. In fact it was a bit annoying but that is what it's about - a subjective call.

    At present, I am resetting up my "media center" and I am more concerned about left, right and center channels. - Akin to "stereo" with a center speaker for dialogue separation. This fits my tastes. Others would feel very cheated without rear channels and that is a legit concern for them.

    On a side note - I have found with most people I know that if they get a "fair to excellent" surround system, their ears adapt and they are happy. At times, people do upgrade and then "realize" what they were missing and enjoy re-experiencing all of their music and movie collections.

    - Phrehdd
  24. rhett7660 macrumors G4


    Jan 9, 2008
    Sunny, Southern California
    I think it is. I have invested a nice little chunk of change so that I can enjoy it. I love it and in movies or concerts where the surrounds are pretty active it makes the experience that much more enjoyable.

    There have been numerous times me and the wife look at each other and go, was that from the movie? Good times.

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