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How Many Speakers Should You Have In Your Home Theater?

Speakers are the heart of a home theater system, and their quality can make or break your experience. When finding the answer to how many speakers you’ll need for a home theater system, you’ll likely be bombarded with confusing terms like channels, subwoofers, or surrounds… or you may have noticed number sequences such as or “7.1” or “9.2.4” that make little sense… especially those new to home audio.

While you may have heard of 5.1 Home Theater Systems, things have gotten slightly more complicated in recent years. What does a 7.2 system mean? Or a 7.1.4?

By the end of this blog, you will have a thorough understanding of how many speakers you need to build your system. We’d like to give you the tools to create the home theater of your dreams. So, keep reading to know how to choose the right speakers and how many you should get.

What Do the Numbers (Channels) Mean?

You can think of channels as your speakers. Most music formats only require two, but the sky’s the limit when building a home theater surround sound system. The more speakers you have, the more immersive the sound.

Each number in this case represents a number of speakers: the first number represents the number of Standard Channels. The second number represents the number of Subwoofer Channels. And the third number (which has been added recently to this format) represents the number of “height” channels (these are compatible with Atmos decoding).

Here are the most common speaker setups you can consider:

2.1 Audio

If you only listen to music, a 2.1 setup is generally all that is needed (left, right, and subwoofer). While you can get “Surround Mixes” of certain albums, they are not widely available.

The “two” represents the Standard Channels (left and right speakers). A subwoofer is considered the “.1” in the “2.1” setups. If you had 2 Standard Channels and 2 Subwoofers, it would be a “2.2” system.

3.1 Audio

Movies and TV rely heavily on dialogue and speech, which is why if you want to build a home theater it’s often desirable to add at least a 3rd Speaker Channel, the Center Speaker.

Center Channels specialize in speech, and along with right, left, and a subwoofer make a 3.1 Audio System.

5.1 Audio

A five-speaker setup is the most prevalent system used in most home theaters. It comprises three front speakers—left, center, and right—plus two surround channels at the side or rear of the listening position.

The 5.1 sound system is the minimum for an authentic home theater surround sound experience, and is a great starting point for those interested in building a basic home theater system. A large portion of movies and video games in the past couple decades were mixed in 5.1—so this will be enough to cover a lot of ground.

7.1 Audio

If you’re looking for a bit more detail and immersion, 7.1 setups are the next step up and they’re becoming increasingly popular. It features the same components as the 5.1 but with two additional surround speakers. Their placement should be to the sides of the seating area, with the other surrounds positioned at the back. This will give viewers a truly immersive experience since it stimulates the speakers’ effect along the theater’s side.

9.1 Audio

The 9.1 system has two additional speakers to the surround sound setup. If 7.1 added side speakers and rear surround speakers, you now have two additional diagonal speakers. These are to add precision to the sound mix by allowing viewers to hear things move across the television screen and around them.

X.1 or X.2 Sound

Now that we have a solid understanding of what the first number means, let’s explore the second number in the sequence, that refers to the number of Subwoofer Channels.

Since subwoofers can be somewhat finicky with their placement, many Home Theater enthusiasts will opt for an additional subwoofer. Oftentimes, bass can be louder in certain areas of the room compared to others.

Adding an additional subwoofer isn’t necessarily for more volume/power (although it will increase your volume slightly); an additional subwoofer has the benefit of creating a more uniform sound throughout the room.

X.X.2 or X.X.4 Sound

Only certain systems will use this terminology, but whenever you see the third number, it means that there are height channels included in the system. Rather than just hearing audio move around you with surround speakers, height speakers allow you to hear vertical movement as well.

You’ll see these speakers often placed on top of left/right speaker channels, pointed upwards (designed to bounce off the roof before they hit your ears. Or they can be mounted directly on/in the ceiling.

With Dolby Atmos becoming more common, you’ll see these setups more and more frequently. While 2 height channels are quite common these days (X.X.2), we’re seeing more and more systems using 4 total height channels (X.X.4). This includes two height channels at the front, and two additional surround height channels.

Quiz Time! What does 7.2.4 mean?

Let’s see what you’ve learned! Do you know how many speakers are in a 7.2.4 system?

This system would include:

  • 7 Standard Speakers:
    • 2 Front L/R Speakers
    • 1 Front Center Speaker
    • 2 Side Surround Speakers
    • 2 Rear Surround Speakers
  • 2 Subwoofers
  • 4 Height (Atmos) Speakers

That gives us 7 Standard Channels, 2 Subwoofers, and 4 Height Channels (Most commonly 2 in the front and 2 in back or side). Hence 7.2.4!

How To Choose the Right Speakers for Your Home Theater

You don’t need the most expensive home theater speakers on the market to make your ideal home theater; several affordable options produce a sound that rivals those from leading brands. Instead, you should base your purchase decisions around your needs and budget. 

The first thing to access is the size of the room. Floor-standing speakers are ideal for wide and open spaces, while on-wall or in-wall speakers are better suited for smaller areas. The next thing to consider is what else you’ll use the room for. For example, if it’s a family room where your children play, it’s better to have mounted speakers, so they’re out of the way. On the other hand, you can use the floor-standing variety if the space is a dedicated theater since it isn’t likely to pose hazards to kids and pets. 

Finally, consider the layout of the room. If the TV and sound system aren’t the room’s focal point, it’s best to opt for compact speakers that blend effortlessly into the decor. Conversely, the floor-standing option is better if you plan on making the TV the stand-out piece of the space.

Let Us Help if You Still Don’t Know What To Get

The answer to how many speakers for home theater depends mainly on your needs. It is essential to consider all of these factors before buying a set to create the ideal theater space for you and your family.

The most critical aspect is their ability to produce crisp and clear, high-quality sound. Many types of speakers are available on the market today, each with different features and price points that fit various budgets. But with seemingly endless options, picking the best one becomes all the more challenging. There are many factors at play, and knowing which product will provide the best sound quality and volume will require a bit of research.

ELAC’s range of affordable speakers produces a sound that is second to none. So you will indeed find the perfect speakers for your home theater among our offerings.