Difference Between Surround And Surround Back?

The world of home theater systems can be quite intricate with numerous elements and configurations to consider. One of such ...

By Dewayne

The world of home theater systems can be quite intricate with numerous elements and configurations to consider. One of such element that often sends home theatre enthusiasts into the state of inquiry is the difference between the surround and surround back speakers. This article explores various aspects of these two speaker systems, from definitions to how they function, equipment required, cost differences, and how to make the right choice for the ultimate home theater experience.

In our focus on how these two types of speakers vary, we will examine what entails surround sound and how it differs from other systems. We will also delve into the nitty-gritty of what ‘surround back’ means, and how it compares to conventional surrounds. Are you eager to understand if and how surround and surround back can co-exist in your home theatre? We will clarify this prospect as well.

Moreover, the contentious debate of which speaker configuration offers the superior audio experience will be addressed in this comprehensive piece. Given the relative price points, it’s crucial for home theater owners and aficionados to know the cost differential between both speaker systems. Lastly, we shall provide guidelines on choosing the right option tailored to your audio needs and expectations.

What’s Surround Sound?

Surround sound is a method of enhancing audio reproduction quality in a home theater by situating additional speakers around the viewing area. The goal is to generate a multidimensional sphere of sound, greatly increasing the viewer’s immersion in the film or show. The typical setup includes a 5.1-channel configuration, with one pair of surrounds.

In the 5.1 setup, the ‘5’ signifies five channels or speakers around the room, and the ‘.1’ stands for a standalone subwoofer for powerful bass reproduction. In this setup, the surround speakers can be located at the side of, slightly behind or directly behind the listening position, depending on the user preference.

The skillful placement of speakers within the listening room is an art dubbed ‘speaker choreography.’ THX, an audio company renowned for sound products, recommends positioning these surround speakers “between 90° to 110° to each side and 2 feet or higher above the listener.” Nevertheless, life, with its spatial constraints and stylistic preferences, often calls for compromise.

How is Surround Sound Different?

Surround sound differs from traditional stereo sound in both design and function. While stereo sound typically comes from two sources playing in sync, surround sound emanates from multiple speakers strategically located around the room. This results in a rich, immersive audio ambiance that heightens the overall experience.

While stereo systems limit the soundstage between two speakers, surround sound takes this a step further by enveloping the listener with sound from various directions. The noteworthy difference is not just the number of speakers, but how they’re employed to shape your home theater experience, creating depth and dimension to the reproduced sounds.

The surround sound’s distinct immersive feel is born out of each speaker’s role within the system. Different parts of the audio track are sent to different speakers, allowing for sound effects to move around the room, mimicking real-life experiences. Indeed, the key differentiator for surround sound is the compelling audio-visual synchronicity it affords.

The beauty of surround sound comes alive in its versatility. Besides being an essential aspect of home theater systems, it is also widely used in cinemas, gaming, and even immersive music experiences.

What Does Surround Back Mean?

The term “surround back” is used to denote the pair of rear surround speakers in a 7.1-channel configuration. Unlike the regular surround speakers in a 5.1 setup, these are specifically designed to heighten the immersive audio experience by playing distinct sound effects from behind the listener.

While surround speakers can be placed to the sides or slightly behind the listener, surround back speakers are specifically designed to be positioned directly behind. Their main role is to add depth and three-dimensionality to the sound effects, making action sequences in movies seem more realistic and engaging.

The addition of surround back speakers broadens the sound field, enhancing the sense of envelopment and spaciousness. They are crucial in providing a full 360-degree sound experience, making the listener feel at the center of the action, whether watching a movie, playing a video game, or experiencing a concert-like music session.

The key to understanding the essence of surround back speakers can be found in the specifics of a 7.1 surround system. In such a setup, the ‘7’ stands for seven channels or speakers placed around the room, with the ‘.1’ still representing the standalone subwoofer. The surround back, as the term implies, represents the pair of speakers placed at the back to provide rear localized sound.

How are Surround and Surround Back Different?

Perhaps one of the glaring differences between surround and surround back speakers lies in their configuration within a home theater setup. With surround, you have a 5.1 configuration, while the surround back forms part of the 7.1 setup. This extra pair of speakers, found in the 7.1 setup, is designed to be positioned directly behind you further enhancing the immersive experience.

Surround speakers work to create an ambient soundstage, providing off-screen effects and spaciousness. They add depth and a sense of directionality to the sound. Surround back speakers, on the other hand, are predominantly employed to deliver direct sound effects from behind, further enriching the audio-visual landscape by adding a cinema-like feel to home viewing and listening experiences.

In a nutshell, while both surround and surround back speakers contribute towards an immersive audio experience, they do so in varied capacities and fulfill different roles within a home theater setup. The decision to opt for either surround or surround back speakers, or both, often depends on a range of factors such as the room’s size, the viewer’s preferences, and the primary use of the home theater system.

Another difference comes in their placement. The common rule is that surround speakers are typically placed to the sides or slightly behind the listener, whereas surround back speakers are positioned directly behind. This placement plays a critical role in the way sounds are perceived, reproduced, and how they interact in the room.

What Equipment is Needed for Surround Sound?

Setting up a surround sound system requires a specific set of equipment. Key among these is a set of speakers, with a typical 5.1 surround sound configuration comprising three front speakers (left, center, right), two rear or side surround speakers, and a subwoofer. The front speakers handle most of the soundtracks and on-screen dialogue, while the surround speakers produce ambient sounds and off-screen effects.

The next crucial component is an AV (Audio/Video) receiver. The receiver works as the brain of the home theater system, driving audio to the speakers, and providing a hub for all your video sources like Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, or streaming devices. Most modern AV receivers support Digital Theater Systems (DTS) and Dolby Digital formats, which are essential for deciphering and distributing surround sound signals.

Other pertinent equipment includes a sound source, such as a Blu-ray player, DVD player, or a streaming device, a television, and the right cables to connect all these elements. HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) or optical audio cables are preferred due to their ability to carry high-quality digital audio signals.

Lastly, one cannot overlook the importance of getting appropriate mounting hardware and speaker stands. The precise placement of speakers is vital in achieving the perfect surround sound experience, and these tools can allow you the flexibility to experiment with different positions for optimal sound quality.

What Equipment is Needed for Surround Back?

Setting up a home theater with surround back speakers requires additional equipment beyond the standard 5.1 surround sound setup. The 7.1 configuration calls for an extra pair of speakers strategically placed behind the main listening area. These surround back speakers demand a corresponding receiver capable of handling seven channels plus a subwoofer.

While the front speakers take care of most of the soundtracks, dialogue, and on-screen music, the surround and surround back speakers handle off-screen effects, rear ambience, and musical depth. With seven channels at work and a separate subwoofer, the resulting sound is significantly impactful, dimensional, and significantly arena-like.

Apart from the extra speakers and a suitable AV receiver, the other requirements for a surround back system remain similar to those for surround sound. You’ll still need a sound source, which could be a Blu-ray player, DVD, or streaming device, a TV, and links such as HDMI or optical audio cables to connect all these components.

Again, speaker placement and arrangement still hold sway in the surround back setup. You may need suitable mounting brackets or stands for strategic positioning. It’s also worth investing in room correction software or devices that can optimize the sound quality in accordance with the room’s acoustics and layout.

Can Surround and Surround Back co-exist?

Indeed, surround and surround back speakers can co-exist in a home theater system. This harmonious co-existence is evident in the 7.1 surround sound setup, accommodating both sets of speakers, serving their unique roles, and adding depth to the audio experience. With surround speakers providing lateral sound effects and surround back ones delivering rear localized sounds, they create an immersive 360-degree sound field.

Moreover, some newer formats like Dolby Atmos even support configurations extending up to 11.2 channels, making room for more speakers, including additional surround and/or surround back speakers. However, such setups require compatible receivers and encompass a broader range of equipment.

It’s also worth noting that while surround and surround back can co-exist, you may want to consider whether your room setup can handle this configuration. Factors like room size, acoustics, and even the type of content you generally consume play a significant role in determining whether this setup would be beneficial for you.

Remember, increasing the number of speakers in a room doesn’t necessarily equate to better sound quality. The ideal setup is often a case of ‘less is more,’ and is largely contingent on your specific needs, preferences, and how your space interacts acoustically with the selected sound system.

Which Offers a Better Audio Experience?

Both surround sound and surround back promise a rich, immersive audio experience, but in varied ways. Surround sound with its 5.1 channel configuration provides an enveloping audio ambiance that vastly improves the viewer’s experience, especially when compared to traditional two-channel stereo setups.

The advantage of surround sound is its spatial delivery of sound, linking the audio experience to the visuals on the screen, hence establishing greater depth and dimensionality. Movie watching, gaming, or even just listening to music takes on an all-new dynamic with a well-installed 5.1 surround sound system.

Surround back systems, on the other hand, boast a more effortless 360-degree sound environment, courtesy of their 7.1 channel setup. More channels translate to a more expansive sound field, which in turn, offers a more engaging and lifelike experience. If effectively utilized, the surround back arrangement can take your movie marathons or gaming nights to a level akin to the cinema or the game world itself.

In conclusion, the “better” experience boils down to personal preference, room size, and how much emphasis you put on immersion. If space and budget permit, a well-calibrated 7.1 system with surround back could indeed provide the ultimate audio experience. However, a 5.1 surround sound setup is a formidable option for rooms with spatial constraints or for those who prefer a simpler, yet effective setup.

What is the Cost Difference Between Both?

When it comes to cost, a surround sound system with a 5.1 channel setup typically comes cheaper than a 7.1 surround back system. Naturally, this makes sense considering the additional pair of speakers in the 7.1 arrangement, which adds to the overall cost. Furthermore, you’d need a more sophisticated AV receiver capable of managing more channels, thus also contributing to a higher overall price.

Besides the initial cost of purchasing the equipment, there may also be added expenses for the installation process. More speakers require more cabling, and potentially more work in terms of installation, which might mean additional costs if you’re hiring professional help.

However, just like any purchase, you have an array of options when it comes to pricing. There are entry-level systems as well as high-end models available for both the 5.1 and 7.1 setups. An upper-end 5.1 may very well end up costing more than an entry-level 7.1 system. Hence, the cost will inevitably be steered by your budget, needs, and preferences.

How to Choose the Right option: Surround or Surround Back?

Choosing between surround and surround back primarily depends on several factors such as the size of the room, budget, and the type of audio experience you desire. A well-calibrated 5.1 setup provides solid performance and is generally sufficient for small to medium-sized rooms. If you’re working on a relatively tight budget or are new to home theaters, a 5.1 surround sound would be a sensible pick.

However, if your room is larger and you yearn for a cinematic audio experience at home, a 7.1 surround back system can fulfill this desire, enhancing the sound field by adding depth, realism, and envelopment. Moreover, those who want to expand their current system or plan for potential upgrades might want to consider the surround back option for its future-proofing advantage.

Ultimately, the kind of content you plan to consume also matters. If you watch a lot of action and adventure genres or play games with surround sound formats, having a 7.1 setup may offer a superior experience. Beyond the technical factors, your personal preference also carries weight in determining the ideal choice between surround and surround back configurations.


To wrap it up, the decision between surround sound and surround back boils down to your unique requirements and preferences. While both offer immersive audio experiences, they do so in subtly diverse ways. A surround sound setup is appropriate for small to medium-sized rooms and budget-conscious users. In contrast, a 7.1 surround back system caters to those who prioritize a cinematic, concert-like audio experience at home, have larger rooms, and don’t mind spending a bit more for an impressive soundscape.

Ultimately, the goal of a home theater setup is to enhance your viewing and listening experiences. Whether you select surround or surround back speakers, the key is to style and tailor the system to match your preferences, room characteristics, and most importantly, the type of content you enjoy.

Invest some time understanding the capacities of each system and how they align with your needs. Focus on sound quality over quantity, and remember that personal preference often prevails over general advice. Happy audio journeying!

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