Having a surround sound setup is one of the best things you can do for your entertainment center, next to having a cutting-edge display. A receiver can take your experience to the next level, especially if it supports many speakers at once—but what if you don’t need a ton of speakers but have a 7.1 surround sound receiver? Can you do 5.1 on a 7.1 receiver?

You can do 5.1 surround sound on a 7.1 receiver. You can also do 7.1 surround sound on a 9.2 receiver. The higher the number, the more speakers with the decimal indicating how many subwoofers you can use. For example, 7.1 means you can use seven speakers and one subwoofer.

This is great for those who want to purchase a capable AV receiver now and worry about building out the rest of their home theater later.

We will be going more into detail on the differences between different surround setups and what is compatible with different receivers. Read further if you’d like to learn more.

5.1 vs. 7.1: What Is the Difference?

When shopping for a receiver, you will get hit with many different numbers, with one of them indicating the level of surround sound you can obtain—or rather the number of speakers and subwoofers that are compatible with it.

Pretty much any receiver will tell you upfront whether it is 5.1, 7.1, or 9.2 with slight variations in the decimal, but what does this all mean? The explanation is quite simple.

If your receiver says it is capable of 7.1 surround sound, it means it can power up to 7 speakers and one subwoofer. The same logic applies to a 5.1 receiver—up to 5 speakers and one subwoofer are what is compatible. If you want to use fewer speakers on your 7.1 receivers, you can do that. The will simply operate on 5.1 surround sound if you use five speakers and one subwoofer.

Is 7.1 Better Than 5.1?

This question may seem obvious at first—of course, more speakers are better! While in theory and the right conditions, this is indeed true. However, not everyone will benefit from this, and in some cases, it can make your listening experience worse.

When to Use 7.1 Surround Sound

The size of your room will determine which setup will be better for your entertainment setup. Larger rooms are an excellent choice for 7.1 surround sound because they can be spread out, which provides an even amount of sound from all sides.

Those extra two speakers over 5.1 provide a more realistic listening experience, which is what surround sound aims to achieve at the end of the day. The speakers will quite literally surround you at all sides, which is pure bliss if you set it up correctly.

If your room is larger than 350 square feet (32.5 square meters), consider going with 7.1 surround sound to get the most out of your receiver. The chances are, you spent good money on it due to it having this capability, and we would encourage you to experience it if you can swing the cash for the extra speakers.

When to Use 5.1 Surround Sound

When working with a smaller area of less than 350 square feet (32.5 square meters), 7.1 surround sound starts to make less sense.

In theory, more speakers should offer a better listening experience, but in this case, it may not make a difference or even have a negative impact. Because you have less space to work with, the speakers can’t have the breathing room they need, which results in them tripping over each other.

On the flipside, 5.1 setups have less room for error and can work in more spaces. You have three speakers in front of you and two on opposing sides. Fewer speakers also mean that you don’t have as many sound sources potentially fighting over each other.

In summary, 7.1 is better if you can set it up properly, but 5.1 has less room for error, and you may get an even better experience if your entertainment center is in a small area.

How to Properly Set Up 5.1 Surround Sound

To get the most out of a 5.1 surround sound setup, you’ll need to know where to place the speakers. It’s quite simple, but this is a good tip to know, regardless.

Many people place their front surround speakers to where they are facing straight ahead from where the TV is facing. It works, but this isn’t the ideal positioning. Speakers should always face the listener for the best sound experience, so you’ll want to position them to where the sound can come at you.

As for the other two surround speakers, the ideal positioning is to the listener’s left and right sides, directly facing them. If you cannot do this, you can also place the speakers slightly behind you at an angle to allow the emitted sound to come towards you.

Furthermore, all surround speakers should be 1-2 feet (30.5-61 cm) above ear level for the most immersive experience.

As for the subwoofer, you’ll get the best experience by placing it in a corner because you’ll generally get more bass. However, most people just put it in front of the room because it is easier to connect it to the receiver—this is also fine. So, don’t sweat about subwoofer placement too much; just do what works best for you.

If you’d like a visual representation of how your setup should look, we linked a video below that should help:

YouTube video

Our Picks for 5.1 Speaker Setups for Beginners

If you are looking for new speakers and don’t know where to start, we’ll help you out. Since we can’t directly ask you what your budget is, we will share some setups that strike a good balance between sound quality and affordability.

JBL Cinema 610

JBL makes some of the most popular speakers in general, and for a good reason. They offer a pretty solid bang for your buck compared to some other brands and are dependable for offering quality hardware.

If you are looking for a 5.1 surround sound setup, then you can’t go wrong with the JBL Cinema 610. At under $350, it might be pushing the boundaries in pricing for some, but this is a great mid-tier option that won’t leave you disappointed.

The speakers themselves aren’t too large, making this a great setup for people who need to conserve space. Simultaneously, the powered subwoofer offers flexibility in where you can place it (you can position it in a corner as we recommended above).

Sony 5.1-Channel Surround Sound Bundle

Sony’s sound hardware also comes up a lot when suggesting various audio equipment. They make speakers and receivers in a wide range of price ranges, and sometimes they are arguably the best value you can buy despite being a mega-brand.

The Sony 5.1-Channel Surround Sound Bundle includes everything you need (provided you already have a receiver) for an excellent 5.1 surround sound experience. You’ll get:

  • Sony SSCS8 center speaker
  • Sony 10-inch active subwoofer
  • Sony SSCS5 bookshelf speaker system

This setup will work well for movie watchers and gamers alike and with 145 watts of peak power, feel free to crank the sound up, but not all the way of course. In addition to pestering your neighbors, you also have to worry about blowing out your speakers.


You can make 5.1 surround sound on a 7.1 receiver. The receiver will simply operate as a 5.1 receiver when using five speakers and one subwoofer. This is handy if you are saving up money to incorporate those extra two speakers for a 7.1 surround sound setup or if you’ve discovered that 5.1 works best in your entertainment center.