Multi-Channel Home Theaters – The Ultimate Guide (2023)
Buying a multi-channel home theater system is a great all-in-one solution for having a movie theater-like experience at home. Multichannel home theater systems can create surround sound effects transforming your room into a mini-theatre and enhancing your movie-watching experience.
Sound quality is as important as video quality for a home entertainment system, and building up a good home theater system can be tricky and can take some time to set up.
From choosing the right display device to deciding how many speakers to have and how to position them with the room acoustics in mind, there are many things to consider and decide, which can be overwhelming and confusing for many people.
As there are many types and components of home theater systems, I will give you an in-depth guide, explaining what you need to know about building up a home theater system while recommending some of the best home-theater systems for you to consider.
- The Essentials Parts of a Multi-Channel Home Theater System
- Types of Multi-Channel Home Theater Systems
- The Best Multi-Channel Home Theaters
- What is the difference between 3.1 vs 5.1 vs 7.1 systems?
- What is the best setup/position of the components from Multi-Channel Home Theaters?
- What to look for in a Multi-Channel Home Theater when buying?
- What are the benefits of a Multi-Channel Home Theater?
- What are the drawbacks of a Multi-Channel Home Theater?
- Alternatives to Multi-Channel Home Theatres
The Essentials Parts of a Multi-Channel Home Theater System
There are many parts to a multi-channel home theater system. The essential ones are the speakers and the AV receiver. To complete and use your system, you also need an appropriate source; the interconnects and speaker wires, as well as a display device.
You can build the system by buying the parts separately to get more control over your system, which most audiophiles prefer. But, to keep things simple, you can go for an HTiB (Home Theater in a Box), which provides you with everything you need in a package. This is the way most people prefer as it is more affordable and easier to set up.
Speakers are the main part of a multi-channel home theater system. A modern multi-channel speaker set consists of 5 speakers; the left, right, center, and surround speakers. Most people also add a subwoofer to the 5-speaker set up to increase sound quality with better bass reproduction.
Some systems come with a soundbar instead of several speakers. Soundbars are located next to the display and feature multiple channels delivering stereo, multi-channel audio.
This is why they are called 5.1 ( 5 speakers and 1 subwoofer) systems. 3.1 and 7.1 systems are also popular among users. The 3.1 systems do not have the surround speakers and come with left, right, and center speakers. On the other hand, the 7.1 systems feature an extra pair of surround speakers, which are usually positioned at the back of the audience.
While 3.1, 5.1, and 7.1 systems are the most common, the layout can be customized as you like. There are many different layouts, such as 6.1, 9.1, 5.2, and 7.2, to name a few.
Along with the speakers, the home theater systems feature an AVR (audio-video receiver), which is the system’s central unit. The unit is also called AV preamp or AV power amp, as it is responsible for processing the audio tracks and powering all the speaker units.
The type of AVR you need depends on the home theater system you are building. The things you have to consider are the speaker wattages and required amplification power, along with some other extra features.
The cost of an AVR can significantly go up if you want to build an extensive home theater system.
In order to use a multi-channel home theater system, you will need a source that supports an appropriate surround sound format that matches your sound system. Specifically, I mean the source on which the movie is played, like a Blu-ray disc or an online streaming platform.
Today, many online streaming platforms like Netflix, Apple TV, Disney, and Amazon Prime support multi-channel audio recordings. While almost all blu-ray discs support 5.1 surround sound, most also support multiple multi-channel audio formats nowadays.
You can check if a source supports multi-channel audio with these labels: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Plus signify 5.1 surround sound, while Dolby Atmos and DTS:X mean the source supports multiple multi-channel sound formats.
You need a display device to use your home theater system to watch movies, series, or any video. The display device does not necessarily have to be a TV, as it can also be a projector.
Interconnects And Speaker Wires
Well, to complete your system, you will need the necessary interconnects and speaker wires. Depending on the type of your multi-channel system and the amount and position of the speakers, you will need wires of different lengths. Most importantly, a good power manager to support your home theater system.
Types of Multi-Channel Home Theater Systems
Multi-channel sound systems can be categorized according to different characteristics, but the most common is classification by the number of speakers in the system. The number before the decimal shows the number of satellite units in the system, while the number after the decimal is about the amount of subwoofer for bass response.
True Surround Sound Systems and Virtual Surround Sound Systems
The home theater systems are surround sound systems, which can be examined in two categories; True surround sound systems and virtual surround sound systems.
The true surround sound systems have at least one dedicated speaker for each channel, and large home theater systems like 5.1 multi-channel sound systems and larger ones fall into this category.
The virtual surround sound systems do not have dedicated speakers for each channel and replicate the effect of a 5.1 multi-channel surround system with digital sound projection. These systems often feature 2.1 or 3.1 configurations.
2.0 Stereo System
The most basic multi-channel home theater system is the 2.0 stereo system which comes with two sound channels provided by a right and a left speaker or a soundbar. They are placed next to the display screen and are powered up by a receiver or an amplifier.
These types of systems provide stereo sound and do not support subwoofers. They are mainly used to improve the audio slightly and are a better and easy-to-setup alternative to the default speakers of televisions.
2.1 Stereo System
An upgraded version to 2.0 stereo systems is the 2.1 stereo system which features an extra subwoofer for increased bass reproduction. While these systems cannot deliver surround sound due to the lack of surround speakers, they deliver good sound with deeper frequencies for movies.
But, as mentioned before, with digital sound projection technology, these systems can replicate the 5.1 sound systems as virtual surround sound systems.
3.1 Multi-Channel Home Theater System
3.1 multi-channel surround sound systems feature a right, a left, and a center channel along with a subwoofer for deeper frequencies. With 3 channels, the audio from music or movies starts to come to life. The speakers are placed on the right and left sides, while the center speaker is placed in front of the display screen.
The right and left channels provide a sense of direction, while the center channel is responsible for vocals and dialogue. The side speakers should be positioned at a 30-degree angle from the center speaker. These systems often come with virtual surround sound system technology to replicate the 5.1 surround sound systems.
5.1 Multi-Channel Home Theater System
5.1 Multi-Channel Home Theater System is the most common setup, featuring five channels and a subwoofer. In addition to the right, left, and center channels present in the 3.1 home theater systems, 5.1 systems also feature a pair of surround speakers placed on the rear side of the audience.
Again, the positions of the right and left speakers should have around a 30-degree angle from the center speaker. The surround speakers should be right on the backside of the audience and should have around a 120-degree angle from the center speaker. The subwoofer can be placed anywhere next to the display screen. This way, you can get a balanced sound in your room.
The rear speakers add more directionality to the sound and provide great sound effects giving you the sense that you are in the movie. With the addition of these surround speakers to the 3 channels and the subwoofer, you get a terrific all-around sound in your room.
5.1 multi-channel home theater systems are highly popular and are supported by many sources like online streaming services, video game consoles, Blu-rays, or even a DVD player. It is considered the minimum number of channels necessary to give a sense of spaciousness.
6.1 Multi-Channel Home Theater System
6.1 multi-channel home theater systems are upgraded versions of 5.1 sound system configurations. They come with an extra surround back speaker placed on the rear center. 6.1 home theater systems provide excellent sound imaging with more detailed and defined sound effects compared to 5.1 systems.
The placement of the speakers is pretty similar to the 5.1 home theater system’s speaker placement with a slight difference. The right and left speakers have around a 30-degree angle to the center speaker, while the surrounding left and right speakers have a 90-degree angle to the center this time.
The surround back speaker is located just at the center of the backside in between the surround left and right speakers.
7.1 Multi-Channel Home Theater System
Another highly popular sound system configuration is the 7.1 multi-channel sound system. In addition to the 5.1 system layout, there are two additional surround-back speakers for more sense of direction and more precise sound effects.
The placement is similar to the 6.1 layouts; the front left and right speakers have a 30-degree angle to the center speaker, the surround left and right speakers next to the audience with a 90-degree angle to the center speaker, and the surround back speaker pair having around 150 degrees to the center speakers.
7.1 home theater systems are supported by most sources, just like 5.1 home theater systems. They are the most popular layout after the 5.1 systems and provide a fantastic all-around sound with excellent sound imaging and a sense of directionality.
10.2 Multi-Channel Home Theater System
Some of the most advanced configurations are the 10.2 multi-channel home theater systems. Along with double subwoofers, it features seven front channels, including left-right side, left-right ceiling speakers, and left-right center speakers, three surround channels including left, right, and back surround speakers, and two LFE channels for bass reproduction.
The LS (left surround) and RS (right surround) channels can be added to have a 12.2 configuration by two-point surround channels, allowing a distinct 360° circle sound around the audience.
10.2 is not a common configuration but, naturally, it is considered twice as good as 5.1 systems. It was created by THX engineers and is used in top-quality movie theaters.
The Best Multi-Channel Home Theaters
3.1 Multi-Channel Home Theaters
Polk Audio T Series 3.1 is easy to setup and a great-sounding entry-level home theater system with 3 speakers and a subwoofer. The configuration consists of two T50 tower speakers, a T30 speaker, and a 100-watt powered subwoofer.
- T50 tower speakers provide great quality sound on all frequencies
- 10” subwoofer offers great bass reproduction
- Great value for price entry-level home theater system
- An easy-to-setup upgradable system, compatible with most AVRs
- Does not include cables
The star of the game here is the T50 tower speakers, which are the flagship product of the T Series line. These tower speakers feature a 1″ tweeter, a 6.5″ Driver, and two 6.5″ Bass Radiators, so they work well even without a subwoofer. The center channel is also decent and works well, adding clarity with great mids.
The 10” subwoofer also performs well with enough punch and thump, allowing you to live the explosions, crashes, and screeches in movies or video games. The sound is a bit mushy, and it may not have enough power for large rooms, but it gets the job done for medium to small-sized rooms.
As there are fewer components in the system, setting it up using some cables is straightforward. But the package does not include any cable, so you will have to buy them separately.
|Components||Dual T50 Tower Speakers, T30 Center Channel, PSW10 Subwoofer|
In short, Polk Audio T Series 3.1 is a great way to make the sound from movies, music, and games come alive with an easy to set up and relatively affordable system. Plus, you can upgrade it with more speakers whenever you want.
TCL Alto 9+ 3.1 features a simple design with a wireless 3-channel soundbar and a subwoofer. The system shines with its excellent value-for-price ratio, as it is one of the most affordable home theater systems, yet the performance is great.
- Great soundstage with Ray Danz and Dolby
- Atmos technology
- Good value for the price
- Wireless system
- Comes with a pack of extra accessories
- Easy to install
- No way to tweak the sub
- Not for large rooms
The soundbar and the subwoofer are entirely wireless and have decent audio quality. The bass and treble sometimes overpower the mids, making the dialogues less clear, but it is not a dealbreaker. Furthermore, the overall volume is not meant for large rooms as it doesn’t have enough output.
The soundstage of the soundbar is truly great thanks to Ray Danz technology which uses tilted speakers on the side for a wider soundstage and delivers Dolby Atmos audio. The room-filling surround sound makes the unit a great purchase for the price.
The unit suffers from occasional audio lags in the signal, which is a drawback. The lack of adjustments for the dedicated subwoofer is a shame as you can’t tweak it to balance the sound depending on the movie or the music.
|Components||Soundbar and wireless subwoofer|
Overall, with its wireless system, innovative tech, and easy-to-setup design. The TCL Alto 9+ 3.1 is ideal as an affordable solution to fill the room with good quality sound.
5.1 Multi-Channel Home Theaters
Klipsch Reference Cinema Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 is an impressive-sounding multi-channel sound system designed for small rooms with its compact design. The system features 4 two-way satellite speakers with a 3.5″ woofer and a 0.75″ tweeter, a center channel with two 3.5″ woofers and a 0.75″ tweeter, and a wireless sub with an 8″ woofer and a down-firing bass-reflex port.
- Great audio quality
- Dolby Atmos support
- Good build quality
- Versatile, works well with movies, gaming, and music
- Not great for large rooms
- A little too bright in very high volumes
The speakers sound highly natural and clean with balanced and precise mids, incredible highs, and punchy lows. The frequency response of the speakers is pretty wide and covers all the ranges greatly with a balanced sound for movies, gaming, and music.
The system supports Dolby Atmos, which is excellent for having 3D sound. Its build quality is also pretty good, and the components are highly compact. However, the system is not meant for larger rooms as it does not have enough output volume. The sound gets a bit bright in high volumes but is not something to worry about.
|Components||4 Satellite Two-Way Speakers, Center Channel, Wireless Subwoofer|
Overall, if you are looking for an introductory home theater system for your small room, Klipsch Reference Cinema Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 is a hard-to-beat system for the price range.
Logitech Z906 5.1 shines with its cost-effective design with five compact satellite speakers and a compact subwoofer, as well as its attractive price. The system is designed for small rooms. With THX-certified wall-mountable speakers, Dolby Digital Ex, and DTS surround sound technology, the system performs much bigger than its price.
- THX-certified home theater speakers
- Great sound quality for the price
- Compact control console and wireless remote
- Easy setup
- Good looking, well-built design
- No HDMI port
- Designed for small rooms
- No WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity
Although the system’s overall sound is not spectacular and is designed for small rooms, it is pretty great for the price point, and the system can be stretched for bigger rooms. The sound is great with crisp and clear highs and mids, but it slightly lacks some bass ranges.
The unit has a great control console and wireless remote for easier adjustments. Although it does not have a wireless connection, the setup is easy with the cables in the package. The overall build quality is good, and the design looks aesthetically pleasing with a black finish.
The connectivity options include a headphone jack (3.5 millimeters), RCA, six-channel direct, digital coaxial input, or optical inputs. The lack of an HDMI port is probably the system’s biggest drawback. Read up on the difference between a coaxial and speaker cable.
|Components||Five 67 Watt satellite speakers and a 165 Watt subwoofer|
If you are looking for an affordable 5.1 system for your computer, TV, or any device, Logitech Z906 5.1 might be the best choice in the price range. Although it can not compete with higher-end models, the performance you get for the price is impressive.
7.1 Multi-Channel Home Theaters
Klipsch Reference R-26FA 7.1 is a top-rated 7.1 multi-channel home theater system, thanks to its impressive sound quality and relatively affordable price. The unit features 2 Dolby Atmos R-26FA floor-standing speakers, 2 bookshelf R-14M 4” surround speakers, an R-52C 4002 two-way center channel speaker, and an R12SW 12” 400w all-digital powered subwoofer.
- Dynamic, powerful, and detailed sound
- Relatively affordable
- Great looking design
- Great soundstage with built-in Elevation Channel for Dolby Atmos
- Requires space
- Can take time to install
With all these high-quality components, the system delivers a dynamic, powerful, and detailed sound with a wide frequency range and terrific sound quality even at lower volumes. Thanks to built-in elevation channels for Dolby Atmos, the soundstage is also great. This way, the sound gets reflected off from the ceiling to deliver the 3D Dolby Atmos sound experience.
The design of the speakers looks excellent with a black woody finish and black front and top grills. With the relatively affordable price for a 7.1 system added to all these features, you get a great system that gets you close enough to the cinema without breaking the bank.
The only drawback here is that the system requires space to get to its full potential quality, and it may take some time to adjust the placement of the speakers for optimum performance.
|Components||2 x R-26FA Dolby Atmos Floorstanding Speaker, 2 x R-14M 4″ Reference Bookshelf Speakers, 1 x R-52C 400W Two-Way Center Channel Speaker, 1 x R-12SW 12″ 400W All-Digital Powered Subwoofer|
In short, Klipsch Reference R-26FA 7.1 is a great multi-channel system for watching movies, playing video games, or listening to music with a great soundstage and impressive sound quality.
Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1.4 is one of the most affordable 7.1 home theater systems on the market, which shines with its outstanding performance thanks to the award-winning Shockwafe Ultra soundbar. The 45” soundbar provides impressive sonic performance with 5 channels and 7 individually powered speakers.
- Impressive 45” soundbar with 5 channels
- 3 4K-compatible HDMI ports
- Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio support
- Powerful home theater sound for an affordable price
- Easy setup
- Not the greatest looking design
- Not the best Atmos performance
- Slight cabinet resonance in speakers
Along with the soundbar, dual two-way rear speakers provide the rear surround effects and an 8” wi-fi subwoofer for lower frequencies. The speakers support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio and provide a powerful home theater sound altogether with a great soundstage.
Due to the small number of components in the system, installation is pretty straightforward. The input options are plenty, with three 4K-compatible HDMI ports rarely seen on home theater systems without AVR.
There are also extra features like room optimization for selecting the room size, video pass-through, and support for many advanced audio technologies like Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X, and DTS-HD Master Audio. But, the performance of advanced sound technologies like Atmos is not great as it is hard to achieve high-performance sound with a soundbar.
|Components||2 two-way rear speakers, Shockwafe Ultra Soundbar, 8″ wireless subwoofer|
There are other drawbacks like slight resonance in the speaker cabinets and the aesthetically unpleasant design of rear speakers. But, for the price range, these are acceptable and are not dealbreakers. If you want an affordable 7.1 home theater system with a good performance, Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro 7.1.4 is the way to go.
What is the difference between 3.1 vs 5.1 vs 7.1 systems?
The difference between 3.1, 5.1, and 7.1 speakers is the number of channels in the system. The numbers before the decimals show how many channels are in the sound system. More channels mean better potential soundstage and better potential reproduction of audio.
3.1 Home Theater System
3.1 home theater systems feature 3 channels and a subwoofer. The 3 channels are either provided by three different front speakers or a soundbar with 3 different channels. 3.1 audio systems are some of the most basic multi-channel systems.
5.1 Home Theater System
5.1 home theater systems have 5 channels and a subwoofer. This is the most common configuration among home theater systems and is considered the minimum number of channels necessary to give a genuinely spacious sound.
Often 5.1 home theater systems come in 5 different speakers surrounding the audience and a subwoofer. As this is the most common configuration, 5.1 home theater sound is supported by many sources like online streaming services, Blu-ray and DVDs, as well as video game consoles.
7.1 Home Theater System
Another popular configuration is the 7.1 home theater system layout. This configuration features 7 different channels and a subwoofer for a truly spacious sound and wide soundstage. The system often features two front speakers, two surround speakers, and two rear surround speakers, along with a center channel and a subwoofer.
What is the best setup/position of the components from Multi-Channel Home Theaters?
The positions of each speaker unit are vital for the spaciousness of the sound and soundstage, which are crucial for the sonic performance of home theater systems.
For 3.1 home theater systems, the center channel should be located in front of the screen in the middle, and the front speakers should be located next to the screen at a 30-degree angle from the center channel.
The best setup for a 5.1 multi-channel system is similar to a 3.1 system with the addition of the surround speakers next or slightly behind the audience with around 120 degrees to the center channel.
With 7.1 home theater systems, the rear surround speakers come into play which should be located behind the audience with around 150 degrees to the center speakers. But, for 7.1 systems, it is better to have the surround speaker units just next to the audience with the speakers facing the audience.
This means surround speakers should have around 90 degrees to the center channel. The front speakers remain in the same position next to the screen with a 30-degree angle to the center channel.
What to look for in a Multi-Channel Home Theater when buying?
When buying a multi-channel home theater system, things to consider are the type you actually need depending on your room size, the ease of installation, sound quality, and the price.
The Type And Size Of The System
The most important thing to consider is the type of system you need. The number of channels you need depends on the room size and what you will use the system for. For most cases, 5.1 multi-channel systems will be enough.
Ease Of Installation
Another consideration point is the ease of installation. Larger systems are harder to set up and may require some drilling for better positioning. So, plan well before buying the system and try to find a suitable system for your room and furniture.
Your goal is, ultimately, to improve your room’s audio. So, the sound quality is key when choosing the ideal system. Check the frequency response ranges and speakers’ sensitivity ratings to choose the best one. You can also go to a store to review and hear the system yourself if possible (best advice).
The final point is the price, as with any purchase. Larger systems cost significantly more as there are more components in the system. Check your needs well if you are on a budget and try to go for cost-effective audio devices instead of paying for features and extra components if you don’t need them.
What are the benefits of a Multi-Channel Home Theater?
The main advantage of a multi-channel home theater is having better sound quality and soundstage when watching a movie, playing video games, or listening to music. Home theater systems deliver the movie theaters to your home with unique sound effects and a more entertaining overall experience.
The home theater systems also have other benefits like making your home look more attractive and enriching any kind of entertainment like watching a sports event or casual TV.
What are the drawbacks of a Multi-Channel Home Theater?
The main disadvantages of having a multi-channel home theater system are the time-consuming installation process and the price, as these systems are quite costly. Also, watching TV or a movie regularly with too-loud sound and poor settings can hurt your ears and be dangerous for your hearing.
Alternatives to Multi-Channel Home Theatres
There are simpler alternatives for people who do not want to spend much money on one or struggle with complex installation processes. Regular stereo speakers and soundbars are great alternatives with more affordable price tags and simpler setup processes.
Regular Stereo Systems
Regular stereo systems feature two speaker channels located on the sides of the TV or display screen. You can also use a subwoofer to enrich the sound quality. They can be active or passive, wired or wireless speakers. If you’re experiencing popping or cracking sounds from your subwoofer, be sure to check for a fix.
Wireless speakers are mainly active speakers and do not need an amp or AVR to power them. Wired speakers can be passive or active, which means they may require an amp or an AVR to work. Of course, home theater systems feature a much richer sound compared to regular stereo systems.
Soundbars are easy-to-setup thin and long speaker systems mainly placed under the display screen in the center. They have multiple built-in speakers and channels delivering multi-channel sound. They replace the TV speakers and provide a much better sound.
Soundbars are more affordable and easier to install than dedicated surround sound systems, but their sonic performance is not even close to multi-channel sound systems. However, they can be a good component in dedicated home theater systems.
To enrich the sound quality of your TV in your room, multi-channel home theater systems are the ideal choices. They are costly devices and can be challenging to choose and install, but the rewards are pretty high with amazing spacious sound, expansive soundstage, and excellent sound quality that makes the movies come alive.
Depending on your room, budget, and needs, you can choose the ideal home theater system for you with a little research and learning about the features and the terminology of multi-channel home theater systems. This guide has all you need to know about them to help you choose the most suitable one.