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How Many Speakers Are Too Many?

At CES this year, there was a lot of talk about 3D audio and expanding the speaker array beyond 5.1 or 7.1 with extra width and height channels. Of course, Dolby Pro Logic IIz does this already by synthesizing two height channels, and Audyssey DSX can synthesize two height and/or two width channels. DTS demonstrated its Neo:X algorithm in Las Vegas last month with native 11.1 mixes as well as 5.1 soundtracks expanded to 11.1 with width and height channels.

Such an system sounds remarkable, with smoother pans to the sides and a much more hemispherical soundstage that gives new meaning to the term "surround sound." But during the show, I heard one question asked over and over—will consumers be willing to expand their home theaters to include 11 main speakers? Obviously, this requires a greater financial investment, and very few non-enthusiast spouses would be willing to accept a room crammed with speakers.

Of course, one could even go beyond 11.1—I've heard systems with as many as 45 speakers in the walls and ceiling, and the Iosono system (profiled here) places literally hundreds of speakers around the periphery of a theater. So at what point does this game go too far? How many speakers are too many for a home surround system?

Vote to see the results and leave a comment about your choice.

How Many Speakers Are Too Many?
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uavtmsorosk's picture

I would rather have two good ones then a lot of fair ones . The more there is , the more problems you will have .

JustinGN's picture

Realistically, 5.1 is enough for 85% of consumers out there, and 7.1 can take care of the rest who have dedicated showing rooms that are exceptionally large. That being said, I did choose 22 as being too many, and I think that, in certain circumstances, 11 speakers is acceptable. The problem is more with the size and dimensions of the room when determining how many speakers you need. For most rooms, 5.1 is fine. For larger rooms or dedicated screening rooms, 7.1 works. But more and more people like the big ceilings in living rooms, especially cathedral ceilings, and they don't want to hang acoustic dampening material and obscure the look just for the sake of sound. In that instance, a 9 or 11 speaker setup could be helpful in creating an artificial "ceiling" in the room that lets sound expand outwards without bouncing off extended ceilings and losing it's punch or dynamics.

That's an incredibly rare circumstance, however. If you're speaking in terms of soundtrack mixes though, I do believe 7.1 mixes can cover 95% of content offerings out there today and well into the future. Only some video games and action films could make great use of height or width speaker channels, and while those games/films do prove to be quite popular more often than not, their audience has no desire to put more than a basic HTiB in their living room anyway.

Jarod's picture

I think that it depends on the situation and the size of the room but for most home theater applications 7 speakers can even be too much. A well setup 5.1 or 5.2 system will give you excellent results, without having to add extra speakers. I believe that if HT enthusiasts would stick to a 5.1 setup and concentrate on proper speaker placement,(lots of trail and error), correct AVR adjustments in the EQ as well as proper distance and levels, and also making the room sound better with acoustic material you can find audio nirvana without adding extra speakers. If your home theater sound system is not correctly setup in the first place adding more speakers probably won't give you the results desired. Once you do have your setup perfected and you are still wanting more performance don't get more speakers, get better speakers or upgrade your amp. I have a 9-channel Pioneer Elite receiver and I use it for a 5.1 setup. I did lots of trail and error experimenting with 5.1 and 7.1 setups, both in my current home theater and in older ones i've had. I found no reason to use the extra channels for more surrounds after much listening. I instead use them to bi-amp my fronts to great results, giving my fronts added girth and impact, especially with 2-channel listening. Now with commercial cinema or even a large home theater with lots of seats that's a different story. Those types of rooms and venues can be huge and there is a lot of air to move. Extra speakers can fill in the dead-spots and cover the audience with a larger soundfield. So whatever it takes in the Cinema is ok by me.

David Vaughn's picture

I think 7 is plenty, but I'm making an uninformed opinion. I currently have 7 with 2 rear speakers (a total of 4 surrounds) and I haven't tested height or width speakers for one reason--my safety. If I tried to squeeze another two speakers into the room my wife would literally kill me. So to keep her out of prison and me out of a box, I'll stick with 7 speakers.

uavK.Reid's picture


This is a fascinating poll to me. I had been pondering this question and discussed it with a friend who has a theater room with plently of space for an 11.2 rig. He commented that all the speakers and what each is supposed to do is becoming too confusing for him to keep up... and forget about the SAF (Spousal Acceptance Factor). What significant other will want 13 boxes staring back at you while watching a film. Inwalls? I don't think so. Not everyone can afford the really spectacular models from Wisdom Audio. Most affordable models I've heard just cannot match the sound of a freestanding speaker.

What is the real benefit when there are no BluRay Discs coded in a 9.2 or 11.2 surround format? There are not even that many recorded in 7.1 surround. Are more channels what the director and sound engineer intended for consumers to hear?

While I appreciate the work of Audyssey and Dolby for pushing the state-of-the-art, they still are not standalone lossless formats (correct me if I am wrong) like True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio. They are just extrapolating from information already present in a 5.1 sound track.

I watched the movie Knight and Day last week on a pair of well cared for B&W Matrix 802 Series 3 on Sound Anchor stands. After the movie, I realized I forgot to engage my surround and had been enjoying the stereo downmix and it was spectacular. The dialogue was well focused, action scenes sounded dynamic...and you know what? I didn't miss surround sound at all. Not a bit.

Eventually, the market will say "Enough is enough". Many of my friends are settling on 2.1 and 3.1 systems if that's any indication.

uavKenny Kraly Jr.'s picture

Scott , A 5.1 speaker set up is good enough for me. I think once you get past 9 speakers then it becomes way too much. I have a new 5.1 onkyo tx-sr308 receiver and good small speakers and it does the job very good.

WazNeeni's picture

...9 was more than enough, but then I saw that Iosono system and wanted to touch them all.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
Yeah, that Iosono system is really cool!
uavK.Reid's picture

Does anyone have any updates on the open-source 3DAA multidimensional-audio standard? Is it supposed to use as many channels as current surround systems? I haven't found any articles that are in depth about the proposed standard.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

I did an in-depth interview with Alan Kraemer, CTO of SRS Labs and spokesperson for the 3DAA, about this very subject on my podcast here:

I also did a shorter interview with him at CES; watch the video here:

And I wrote about it in my CES audio wrap-up here:

Basically, the proposed 3DAA standard can use as many or as few channels as are available, from two up to hundreds. It encodes information about the location and movement of each object in the soundfield, not the number of channels that will be used during playback. Then, it's up to each sound system to render that info as best it can with the number of channels and processing it has available. The 3DAA hopes to have the standard finalized by the end of the year.

uavK.Reid's picture

Thanks, Scott:

Great podcast. I can't wait to see if this really catches on. I see it becoming very relevant if 3-D continues to proliferate in films. Object-oriented audio is a unique concept. Your point about achieving depth in audio is well taken with 3-D films. How will SRS achieve that effect is the question. In a 3D film that has potential to have objects traveling at an individual from the center of the screen could be a really great effect if it could be rendered as if the object were traveling in free space toward the listener and not traveling along the walls. The 2 channel demo you heard must have been incredible. It will be interesting to see how the manufacturers/sound engineers deal with the channel issue.

One question that I would like to see explored further is whether different types of speakers will be needed to achieve these effects. There was mention of horn speakers being used but what types of drivers/technology will be necessary to control distance, horizontal/vertical dispersion, etc. Another issue could be controlling deep bass response. True subwoofers are omnidirectional. With object-oriented audio, how does one control bass dispersion given a woofers long wave travel distance? I could foresee a 3D film including a scene with explosions occurring in sequence in different locations (foreground/background/left/right). The more I think about this, the more questions arise.

footrivacom's picture

Реально новая мысль проскачила. Респект!

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