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Words of Wisdom

David Frangioni

5.1, 7.1.2—What Do Surround Sound Numbers Mean?


Add High-Quality Surround Sound to Your Luxury Home Theater Room

If you’re just getting started with surround sound for home theaters, you’ll notice numbers like 5.1.2, 7.1, 2.1, and 9.2. What do they mean? Are speaker companies just trying to be complicated and confuse end users?

The numbers actually represent the amount of speaker channels in your home cinema. In a configuration from 7.2 down, the first number defines how many standard speakers are at ear level. The second number represents subwoofers for low bass notes. In configurations for Atmos or 3D systems, there’s a third number which is the sum of overhead or ‘height’ speaker channels.  

But what does each setup mean, and which is right for your home? We’ll break down what different formats will offer your Fort Lauderdale, FL luxury home theater room.

SEE ALSO: 6 Movies You Must Try in Your New Home Theater


This is a standard stereo system with two speakers and one subwoofer. A 2.1 system is a popular choice for high-end music rooms, pairing floor-standing speakers with a subwoofer. In a home theater, you’ll only have left and right front speakers, which may limit the experience and won’t ‘surround’ you. 


A 3.1 system expands upon your 2.1 speakers by adding a dedicated center channel speaker between the front left and right speakers. The center channel reproduces clear film dialogue so you can enjoy movies without missing a word.


5.1 is the most common format for surround sound systems. The number five represents two speakers at the front, two at ear level in the back, and the center channel speaker. The one symbolizes the one subwoofer delivering deep, rumbling bass frequencies.


A 7.1 system takes your 5.1 setup and adds two left and right speakers to the sides of the theater. Now you’re completely surrounded by seven channels where sound can spread across the room, bringing brilliant immersion to your movie experience. We typically recommend at least a 7.1 system for the most world-class theaters.


What’s this number two we’ve added here? A 5.1.2 surround sound network is the same as a standard surround sound setup that adds two upward-firing speakers, like Dolby Atmos models. These ‘height’ speakers generate sound above the audience, letting sound objects bounce and move around the room more freely.


Home theater owners are free to expand their speaker system to any amount they desire. Some professional theaters go above and beyond—up to 64.4.32! Those looking for the best possible sound treatment should use a 7.2.4 system, which includes seven ear-level speakers, two subwoofers, and four upward-firing speakers. Your room will be completely bathed in audio that delivers the daintiest sounds alongside booming low notes. It’s something you have to hear to believe!

What About Soundbars?

Many manufacturers like LG and Samsung sell new TV soundbars that promise a “5.1.2” surround sound experience. The bars are designed to bounce sound frequencies off the walls and ceilings to replicate a multi-speaker system. These soundbars are better than nothing and can be quite proficient at generating a sound field in a small space. But for the best audio, a receiver or processor with amps using upward-firing speakers is incomparable.

If you’re looking for a surround sound installation, let Frangioni Media be your expert guide. We design and install high-end home theaters in Fort Lauderdale and cities worldwide.

You can learn more about home theaters in our free monthly newsletter or contact us here to discuss your project. We look forward to speaking with you!

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