For true home cinema enthusiasts, surround sound is an absolute must. After all, high definition picture quality deserves equally detailed sound from as many directions as possible. Imagine the newest action movie without a startling hail of gunfire or a horror film without the whispering in the dark so real, it makes your skin crawl. The movie experience would be only half as fun.
Sound has the unique ability to communicate intense emotions. But this effect only works with highly realistic sound. While stereo is ideal for music, surround delivers the most immersive, authentic feeling of being in the action with movies and gaming.
Does this mean you’ll need big speakers in the back of your room and mounted to your ceiling? No, there are compact surround systems and soundbars that offer incredibly immersive sound. The system you pick ultimately depends on you, your room and your budget.
Soundbars for virtual surround sound
Soundbars are compact all-in-one TV speakers and can be set up in a matter of seconds. Simply connect the speaker to your television, plug it in to a power source, et voila: Vocals are clearer, effects more intense and the room is full of lively sound.
If we’re honest, this effect involves a lot of audio wizardry. Clever technology processes the audio signal for the impression of virtual speakers placed around the room. In addition, most soundbars come with a subwoofer for excellent bass. Those expecting to hear effects from behind the listening position, however, will be disappointed. For this, true surround with rear speakers is necessary.
The upgrade: Wireless surround speakers
The perfect compromise between the convenience of a soundbar and the realism of true surround is met by soundbar systems with wireless surround speakers, such as Teufel’s Cinesystem Trios. The already full sound produced by the soundbar is enhanced by two additional speakers for placement behind the listening position. The surround speakers receive their signals from the soundbar wirelessly. This makes them very easy to set up as each simply requires mains power. When it comes to true surround, there’s no easier setup than this.
The classic 5.1 or 7.1 surround system
A classic 5.1 surround set consists of a pair of front speakers, a pair of surround speakers in the back, a centre speaker for the dialogue and a subwoofer. In addition, an AV receiver is required to power the system and decode the signals. Each individual speaker plays back a distinct channel which expands the palette of sound beyond that of a soundbar. The use of individual speakers also has the advantage of allowing the user to position each in a way most likely to produce the best sound. Many AV receivers also offer programs that help calibrate the speakers to the room conditions.
The ultimate aim of a surround sound system is to create the perfect sweet spot. This is the area where the sound is perfectly blended and intense. If this can be achieved in the sitting area before the television, the viewer will experience a revolution in terms of realism and dynamics.
For those who really value an intense sound experience or who have a larger room, a 7.1 option is a good idea. Whereas the surround speakers in a 5.1 system play back both the surround and rear effects channels, a 7.1 system uses a separate pair of speakers for each. The effects are positioned to the left and right and directed towards the wall for a truly atmospheric effect.
Home cinema deluxe: 3-dimensional sound
As a general rule, the more speakers a system has, the more intense the experience. Distinct speakers playing back separate channels can create a level of realism and immersion that one otherwise only experiences in cinemas. Up to now, however, we’ve been talking about two dimensions in a three dimensional world. Filling in this gap are Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, two technologies that offer surround from above as well as all sides. Designated as 5.1.2, 5.1.4 or 7.1.4 sets, the last number stands for the number of ceiling speakers.
But Dolby Atmos and DTS:X offer more than just effects from above, the entire distribution of sound is different with these systems. Freed from a limited number of fixed channels, directors and sound engineers are able to determine sound objects on a system of coordinates along an X, Y and Z axis. The sound objects move across the sound stage according to these coordinates, no matter how many speakers are present. The effect is realistic 3D sound.
As amazing as object-based surround is, many would hesitate to buy a system that involves ceiling-mounted speakers. That’s where systems like Teufel’s LT 5 Dolby Atmos come in. The LT 5 Dolby Atmos employs specially developed up-firing speakers built into each sleek aluminium column to bounce sound off the ceiling.
Coda: When it comes to surround, there ain’t nothing like the real thing
For sound that draws you into the action, sound surround speakers situated behind the sitting position are necessary. The human ear is fairly easily tricked but there are limits to the effects virtual surround can achieve. For those who have smaller rooms or budgets, soundbars are great alternatives to the speakers that came with your television, instantly adding a dynamic, rich sound that fills the room. But if you want the feeling of being in the action, only surround will do; and for next-level realism, Dolby Atmos and DTS-X are where it’s at.