Engineers and Their Naming Things
When surround sound was first introduced, it came out as “quadraphonic“, which was essentially just double stereo: four speakers, one in each corner of the room, to immerse yourself in sound.
Then along came Dolby.
Dolby (who pioneer just about everything in the audio world) decided, in 1982, that the speakers should have more than just left and right, they should have a difference from front to back as well. They called it Dolby Surround.
Having the limited capacity for sound signals on the media and hardware of the time, they split the usual stereo signal, by using what they termed “matrix encoding” (basically two signals, one wire).
Fast forward to LaserDisc and DVD, and the birth of Dolby ProLogic.
With new media came enough space for five speakers (front left, front right, center, surround left, surround right) to have their own information, and, more importantly, the addition of the “.1“, making 5.1.
What is the “.1”?
To find out the difference between 7.1 vs 7.2 surround sound, you need to know what that “.1” means.
The “.1” in 5.1, 7.1, and 9.1 is the LFE, or Low-Frequency Effects, channel. This is where the internal crossover of the device powering the speakers splits off frequencies lower than which most speakers can respond and sends them to the subwoofer.
Subwoofers give you the frequencies that you would otherwise be missing with just front, surround and center speakers.
Even some of the most incredible floor-standing speakers only operate as low as 24 Hz, where some of the cheapest subwoofers will respond to 22 Hz.
You should aim at using a subwoofer between 20 and 80 Hz if your speakers can pick up the rest.
Click Here to read our review of an excellent subwoofer.
The Jump From 5.1 to 7.1
When 7.1 arrived (after a short-lived 6.1), it was possible to have the usual 5.1, plus two added “rear surround” speakers. The initial surround speakers in 5.1 are meant to be placed to the sides of the listening position and slightly behind. The rear surrounds are meant to be the mirrors of the front speakers, behind the listening position and to the left and right.
Digital Plus includes compression to make the information take less space on the media, where TrueHD is the full, lossless information, and meant to be exactly as it was recorded.
So, Why is “.2” Better?
After reaching 7.1, technology continued on to 9.1 and 7.2. The “.2” stands for 2 LFE outputs (they are the same track, just an added output). This means two subwoofers.
The reason for the upgrade from the previously universal 5.1, 7.1, and 9.1 is that with a single subwoofer, it is possible to “localize” the subwoofer, or figure out where it is in the room. This also means that there is one very good quality bass zone, or “sweet spot“, while other areas of the room are of degraded quality.
With two LFE channels and two subwoofers, placed strategically in the room (we recommend diagonal front and rear corners), the modal waves of bass frequencies converge and blanket much more of the room, and make it near impossible to locate the subwoofer by sound alone.
You get the feeling you are meant to get, anywhere in the room, with two subwoofers.