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Surround Sound Vs Stereo. Best Way Explained In 2021

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No matter how much we invest in a sound system, at the end of the day, all we desire is a soothing and exceptional music experience. Often when we plan to buy a new music system for our house, or even for a party, and other such activities, we consider factors like sound quality, bass effect, etc.

But we also come across other sound terms like surround sound and stereo sound. While understanding these terms, people sometimes think that they have the same meaning. Hence, our today’s article is dedicated to a brief comparison of Surround sound vs Stereo.

Before jumping right into it, how about we take things slow, and discuss everything step by step? Sounds fair? First, we’ll see what does surround sound and stereo sound actually means, and later on, we’ll spot the differences.

What Is Surround Sound?

When it comes to the home theatre system, we go through a term called a channel or audio channels. This channel refers to the number of speakers or sound output a system holds.

For instance, a 7.1 channel speaker consists of 7 separate speakers along with a subwoofer. So 7 means the number of speakers and .1 means a subwoofer.

The speakers of this kind are used to get a surround sound feel. Surround sound means a listener will get to experience the sound output of speakers from 360 degrees i.e. from the front, center, left, right, rear.

The term channel is used in surround sound systems as an indication of the number of speakers that play role in the music system.

Surround sound literally takes your music experience to a whole new level. Be it an action movie, or any wildlife TV channel, you will feel like you are actually in the place where all of this is happening.

To create surround sound, additional audio channels are used and placed in such a position where the output from each channel performs on their best level. Hence, the placement of speakers is a significant factor to consider as well.

There are various ways of achieving surround sound effects. The most employed and in-budget way is to use 5.1 surround speakers. In this, there are 5 channels and 1 subwoofer.

Out of 5, 3 speakers are placed in the front of the listener, against the wall where TV is located. One is the center, and the other two in the left and right side of the center speaker respectively. The remaining 2 speakers are adjusted at the rear side of the listener, both at each end.

The subwoofer is in front of the listener, not too far, on either side (right or left) placed asymmetrically to the wall between the front speaker and the listener.

This arrangement lets the sound waves flow around the room fluently, without any interruptions, covering a wide area which leads to clear and exceptional audio quality with a realistic touch to it.

Surround sound system don’t just enhance and reproduce the original sound, but it also tunes and improves the music quality even at low-frequency volume levels.

Hence, it works really great for TV and gaming purposes, especially for thriller, horror, and adventure genres.

5.1 Surround Sound vs Stereo
5.1 Surround Sound System Arrangement

What Is Stereo Sound?

This comparison between Surround sound vs Stereo is going to be a short one yet comprehending. In the previous section, we saw what surround sound means. Now, let’s find out what stereo sound is.

While listening to music, movies, or playing games on headphones, you must have observed that sometimes the sound is just coming from your right/left ear cup while the other ear cup goes silent. And a moment later, it goes back to normal.

When this happens, people think that their earpiece is at the fault. But that’s where stereo sound effect takes place.

To define shortly, in stereo sound, multiple audio channels are used to record separately on each channel, and then the recorded sounds are mixed to create a stereo effect in the respective application.

If we discussed a topic like this too deeply, you will get lost, and everything will just bounce off your head, for sure. Because it is overwhelming. So, we are trying to explain to you simply and understandably.

Let’s put it in a more comprehending way, okay? We have two ears, both on right and left side of our head. So the stereo sound effect is offered to either one of the ears first and then towards the second ear after a delay.

Stereo sound has vast applications in music and film theaters for generating horror movie effects like squeaky door sounds, and various other audio effects like lion’s roar, you get the idea, right?

Stereo sound arrangement
Stereo Sound Speaker Arrangement

Surround Sound Vs Stereo

Now that we know what is surround sound and stereo sound, we’ll take a step forward and take a look at their comparison.

Though we have seen a basic thing about both the sound effects, their differentiation will be done on three main factors that you should know regarding them.

  1. History
  2. Speaker’s Placement
  3. Application

1. History

History of Surround sound takes us back to the 1940s’ when Disney Studio first introduced surround sound in the animated film called ‘Fantasia’. Initially while testing, three audio channels were used and the output was dispersed into a cinema hall, which was controlled by an engineer.

After this experimental test, the use of surround sound rested because few modifications were required. And finally, in 1952, it was reintroduced successfully in a film named ‘This Is Cinerama’. And what we see and hear today in a movie theatre, Dolby Atmos, is a part of surround sound as well.

As stereo sound is a work of two different audio channels, so the concept of two audio channels was first presented by Clément Ader in Paris in 1881.

But the modern stereophonic technology invention was done by a British engineer Alan Blumlein in the 1930s’. He patented stereo sound records, stereo films, and he is also the man behind surround sound.

There’s a nice story that played a huge role in this invention which motivated and changed Alan’s perception of sound production. Click here to read the full story on Wikipedia.

2. Speaker’s Placement

For the surround sound system, as we mentioned above, if you are using a 5.1 system, three speakers are supposed to be placed before the front wall of the listener, one in the center, and the other two in the left and right position respectively.

Two speakers at the back (both at each end of adjacent walls) of the listener and a subwoofer situated at the optimal distance from the listener and front left speaker.

For stereo sound, two audio channels should be placed at equidistance to each other, and at an optimal distance and degrees from the position of the listener. You will get a good idea after looking at the pictures below.

3. Application

When we distinguish Surround sound vs stereo, the applications are not much different. Because both of the techniques are used to enhance the music experience. Hence, they are used in the movie theatre, new product launching events, for music productions, and also for special audio effects.

However, surround sound helps you listen to sounds in a 3-D experience like sounds of wildlife birds chirping, or the music tune of Pop songs.

Whereas in a stereo system, you get to hear the audio from just one direction at a time. For example, beat drops in DJ songs, or footsteps of a ghost running or passing from one place to the other in horror movies.

Final Words

Even though this wasn’t a lengthy article, we still appreciate you for sticking with us.

This differentiation of Surround sound vs Stereo was fun. Both of the topics are vast and we didn’t go in deep as it will prove overwhelming. So we did our best and we hope that you grasped some of the basic knowledge about the topic.

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