For most people, when it comes to choosing a sound system for a home theater, five-, six- or seven-channel surround is the only option. If you are a real movie lover, then this is likely the way you will go. However, it is also a question of space, purpose, and quality preferences. Surround works well for some purposes, while stereo is more appropriate for others. Let’s take a look at the facts in the stereo vs. surround debate.

What’s the difference?

Stereo sound consists of two speakers, allowing mixes to vary across the left, right and center channels. Surround sound has more than two speakers and is designed to create an immersive audio experience. Early surround systems included three speakers – two in front and one at the back, while the current standard is six: three in the front, two in the rear, and one subwoofer for low-frequency sounds. Stereo is preferred for music – although many sound designers have taken advantage of surround to create some impressive mixes on albums and concert films. Surround was developed for movies, and really does enhance the experience of watching a film, thanks to the immersive audio it creates.

Surround sound vs. stereo in a home theater system

If you are getting a home theater system in order to watch your favorite films, and you are a true cinephile who wants to recreate the effects you get in a movie theater, then surround is really the only way to go. A well set-up surround system gives you a fully immersive, cinematic experience that will make old-fashioned stereo home entertainment mixes seem thoroughly unsatisfactory in comparison. 

On the other hand, not everyone buys home theater systems with movies in mind. You might be an audiophile who wants to listen to capture every nuance of the mixes on your favorite recordings. If this is the case, stereo is the best option. This is because, aside from the early period of recording when mono mixes were the standard, most great albums were recorded in stereo. By using a stereo playback system, you are thus hearing your favorite music as the artists and producers intended it to be heard. There are exceptions, of course: as mentioned earlier, some artists have created surround mixes of their albums – but, even today, this is not the norm for the music industry.

Tips for choosing the best speaker set-up

Many people approach home theater vendors with the assumption that they are looking for surround sound systems. After exploring their options, many come to realize that this is not what they want at all. People who want the cinematic experience would undoubtedly prefer surround, but this does not describe everyone who is in the market for a home theater system. To decide what you want, think carefully about what you are planning to use your home theater system for. Do you want to create the best possible reproduction of your favorite music, or do you want enjoy the immersive experience – complete with explosions and spatial dynamics – that you would get in a movie theater? If your focus is on the former, then you will probably want stereo. Another thing to consider is your budget. You can get decent surround systems on a modest budget, but remember that you will be spreading your money across more components, which will have an effect on the end product. Stereo systems, being simpler in design and construction, are usually more cost-effective. Ultimately, the choice is yours, based on what kind of home theater experience you are looking to create.

Home theater systems provide unparalleled, personalized home entertainment while offering all the immersive benefits of public movie theaters. For more information on home theater components and home theater design, contact On the Wall today.