The question of whether 5.1 or 2.1 surround sound is better has been a long debated one, but with recent advancements in digital technology, it’s easier to find the answer to this question than ever before.
To start off with, how do you know what your room can handle? Some rooms are built for speakers and some aren’t. In order to figure out which type of speaker system would work best for you, there are two factors that need to be considered:
1) What size is your room?
2) What types of sound will be played through them?
If your room isn’t very large and doesn’t have a lot going on in it acoustically (ie: if there’s not a lot of furniture), then you can probably get away with speakers that are better quality.
If your room is large, has a lot of furniture, or you’re planning on playing certain types of music through them (ie: classical), then you need to consider the type of speaker system that would work best for your room.
Today however, most people use home theater systems rather than simple stereos, and in this case, 5.1 home theater (surround sound) is the way to go unless you don’t have the additional loudspeakers.
A home theater system consists of a powered subwoofer, two front speakers (and sometimes rear speakers), and a center channel speaker. The most common surround sound format for movies is Dolby Digital 5.1, which means that there is one center channel, two front stereo channels (left and right), and one subwoofer for the low frequencies (bass).
2.1 sound has existed as long as surround sound systems have been around. It’s a basic concept: 2 speakers and 1 subwoofer. The reason it isn’t commonly used is because of the mismatched levels between the speakers and lack of low frequency content from just one large driver in a box placed in a corner of your room.
However, with the recent development of digital technology such as Dolby Pro Logic IIz , along with advancements in multi-channel speaker designs such as those by Hsu Research , this most likely won’t be an issue for much longer.
Until recently, almost all digital surround processors have been 5.1 compatible. This means you need a minimum of five speakers and one subwoofer to decode the discrete multi-channel signal from DVD or Blu-ray discs, along with a center channel speaker for dialog.
However, this is changing very quickly due to more manufacturers being up to speed on digital processing and offering products such as the Onkyo HT-S5100 , A/V receivers with Dolby Pro Logic IIz (height channels), and floor-standing loudspeakers with built in powered subwoofers (such as Axiom’s M3v3 ) that also feature height channels.
While we’re not going to say that 2.1 sound is better than 5.1 sound, we will say that there are very few circumstances where 2.1 is preferred to 5.1 with today’s digital surround processing and speaker technologies.
If you’re looking to upgrade your sound system, especially if you need speakers for video gaming or streaming music from online sources such as Pandora, then go with one of the new A/V receivers with Pro Logic IIz height channels (most likely in 5.1) with Dolby TrueHD compatibility so the signal can travel bitstream over HDMI instead of analog over RCA cables (which degrade the quality).
It’ll be worth it in the long run by saving time and money on having to upgrade again in a few years due to lack of features technology advances offer now.
Some people prefer 2.1 systems because the two front speakers and one subwoofer take up less space than five, and if you don’t have a lot of space to devote to sound, then it makes sense to buy a speaker system that takes up less square footage.
Another reason people may prefer 2.1 over 5.1 is that they can purchase wall-mountable left and right channel surround loudspeakers for their rear channel speakers instead of having to deal with rear channel speakers taking up floor or bookshelf space in addition to the front channel pair (this might not be an issue depending on the type of room your home theater is located in).
The primary drawback we see here is that most 2.1 systems use smaller satellites for surround sound instead of full-sized floorstanding speakers.
This makes it difficult to get decent bass response from a 2.1 system because the low frequency information is being reproduced by one driver in a relatively small enclosure, so you won’t be able to feel and hear those deep, subtle sounds that make movie soundtracks come alive.
The other thing we should mention is that most 2.1 systems don’t have center channel speakers for dialog, which means you’ll need to purchase either a pair of wall mountable surround speakers with built-in powered subwoofers or a separate center channel speaker such as Axiom’s M3v3 (or the QS8 ), and then connect them all together through your A/V receiver using an included cable (so it’s not as clean and clutter-free as a 5.1 system unless you buy Hsu Research VTF-1 MK2 to use as your center channel speaker instead of Axiom’s M3v3).
2.1 sound could be the way to go for people who are on a budget or don’t have much room to work with in their room acoustically, but otherwise, 5.1 is the way to go if you want great surround sound in your living room. There are still companies that make 2.0 systems though, so it won’t fade out of existence completely anytime soon.
5.1 sound is better than 2.1 sound in almost every way, and it’s very rare to find a situation where 2.1 surround is preferred over 5.1 surround (unless you’re on a tight budget or don’t have much space acoustically).
The only exception may be if your room can’t accommodate five full-sized speakers (rear channels), but in that case you can always purchase wall-mountable speakers for your rear channels instead of using smaller satellite speakers.
Thank you for reading! We hope you found our answer helpful.