Updated: Dec 10, 2019
home theatre - more speakers or less?
You have a 5.1 home theatre setup. You’ve been very happy with it for a number of years, but now you want to take it to the next step. Improve it. Do you add more speakers and look to Atmos to provide what you are looking for? Or do you stick to 5.1 and improve sound quality? There are a number of factors at play here including the room itself and the type of films you are into, but it’s worth noting that Atmos is the same audio quality as the existing Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio sound formats.
More speakers above you and around you will help fill in gaps in the sound field. New home theatre sound formats like Atmos aim to place you squarely within the action. With up to 11 channels of audio, Atmos can place sound effects much more accurately, and into spaces where a normal 5.1 system can’t. The upside is that you are better immersed within the sound field. The downside of this is that more speakers and amplification are needed.
The alternative is to stick with 5.1 and improve sound quality. You can add a higher quality processor (source is still king) to improve quality of processing and digital to analogue conversion. This sort of improvement benefits the sound quality of the whole system, for both music and movies. Atmos will see you adding more speakers of the same quality, or possibly lesser quality. Increasing the quality of the 5.1 speaker system will give you better quality. It will also sound more transparent and all speakers will blend together better. This will see the speakers working together to produce a more seamless sound field rather than working individually. Resolving more detail will benefit music and movies, helping you hear nuances you’ve never noticed before. Another benefit is that it won’t necessarily cost you a fortune to upgrade five speakers. Once you have the basic 5.1 setup sounding stunning, you are in a good position to add Atmos at any time. This approach will see you will end up with a much better system in the long run, and not have to upgrade eleven speakers in the future when you want a better home theatre system. You may not even feel the need for more speakers…
The upside to this approach is a better quality system at source and throughout, and with less speakers. The downside is that less speakers can’t project sound outside of the basic 5 speakers.
So if you’re happy with the sound of your home theatre system, you can quite easily swap out your AV receiver and add more speakers to move into new sound formats like Atmos. Alternatively you could spend a similar amount of money improving the fundamental quality of your system.
davidf @ the little audio company