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Home Theater Surround Sound Terminology Explained

Nov 8th 2012 at 7:32 PM

If you are a movie lover, you'll probably appreciate the importance of a good quality soundtrack. Whilst film is primarily a visual medium, the use of sound tracks including dialog, sound effects and music can elevate a film from mundane into an exciting multi-sensory experience.

Surround sound describes the use of multiple speakers placed around the theater or home to give the impression that the soundtrack is coming from many different directions. When you go to the movies you will see several banks of speakers lining the side and back walls.

At home, however, one rarely has this luxury and fewer speakers must be used in order to create a surround experience. There is lots of technical jargon in the field of surround sound. Here are some of the terms you'll need to know to make an informed decision about building your own home theater system.

Dolby Digital

Dolby Digital is a brand name that covers several different formats for reproducing surround sound. It is currently the most popular format that you will come across. Most movies, DVD's and TV broadcasts use surround sound in the Dolby Digital format.


DTS stands for Digital Theater Systems and is a rival to Dolby Digital. DTS is much less popular but the sound quality is much better that Dolby. Whereas Dolby uses a compressed audio format for each channel ( much like MP3s), DTS audio channels are uncompressed. This makes soundtracks with epic music and big sound effects much more vivid and dynamic. Often DVD's menus will give you the choice of whether you want to listen in Dolby or DTS.


This simply means the ratio of speakers in you surround system. The vast majority of surround sound DVD's and music are designed to be listened on a 5.1 system.

The 5 refers to an arrangement of 5 speakers, two at the front (L,R), two at the back (rear L, rear R), and one speaker in the center. The center speaker is used for dialog mainly and the rear speakers are for sound effects and atmosphere.

The.1 refers to the 6th speaker which carries the low frequencies. Also called the subwoofer or LFE (low frequency effect), this can be placed anywhere in the room as low frequencies are not directional.

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