5.1 Surround Sound on the Cheap

Introduction, Continued

The sonic ranges will never move behind your ears unless you physically position speakers there. And that's where the problems arise. Many enthusiasts don't have the room or can't have all the requisite wires snaking around the room. Unfortunately, there's no solution to that problem and you won't be seeing one anytime soon in this price range. So there's a choice: Stereo, with enhancements, or 5.1 with the added clutter disadvantages.

An example of a 5.1 installation according to Dolby. Numerous variants are possible.

Anyway, we shouldn't exaggerate the problem. The rear speakers of a 5.1 system don't absolutely have to be located at the other end of the room. Since they're used for effects and reproducing ambient sounds, it's possible to hang them on walls or to employ sound reflection techniques by using the acoustic effects walls or ceilings offer. There are many workable solutions. And in all cases they produce better results than software simulation using only two speakers.

Examples of installation of your rear speakers as proposed by Dolby. In practice, the solution you use depends on your room and your constraints.

All the systems we tested are of reduced size, with a relatively small subwoofer. These characteristics are often associated with reduced power too, and the result is limitations both in volume level and in reproduction of the lowest bass frequencies. It's a matter of simple physics. But it is possible to enjoy listening without having a top-of-the-line system. And aside from practical or financial problems, the choice of a small system can be justified by a need or preference for limiting volume levels. In this case, a powerful, expensive system won't make a huge difference.

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