2.1, 5.1, 7.5.8 audio systems. Which multi channel system relavent in 2024?
Yes, yes, and yes. It's my firm belief audio is not about channel count; it's about the enjoyment you can get from it. Can you get maximum fidelity with a low channel count? Probably not. Can you get maximum satisfaction? Yes.
In modern-day standards of home audio, it's a fact that we are moving towards multi-channel content both in films and in music. In my opinion, yes, it is a progression of formats leading to an increase in fidelity. Does this make all content produced before this new age poorer by comparison? No. Stereo recordings exist, which are just as spatial and transformative, with the right kit, gear, setup, power, and processing. Similarly, we can look at the film industry and pinpoint 5.X mixes which better most Atmos mixes (Interstellar, Dunkirk, The Batman trilogy).
In modern-day standards of home audio, it's a fact that we are moving towards multi-channel content both in films and in music.
There are effects you can achieve by moving up channel count that you can't even get close to in a reduced channel system, because the codec and channel mix quality in the studio will determine this. Anyone who states they can produce the same height speaker performance without height speakers is being silly. And yes, channel count counts. 2 produces a bird flying left to right above your head, and with good stereo imaging, right above your head. 4 produces a bird flying around your room, left, right, in front of you, and behind. 6 produces a bird with a more focused center image when required. Auro3D with a center height channel and a VOG channel creates a more seamless auditory stage with anchoring similar to a center channel. A 5.1 setup is still going to be extraordinary and something beyond the scope of what most people deal with. Quality of speakers and kit needs to come into the discussion too. Would I take 2x Perlisten S5Ms over a 9-channel bed layer of Arendal 1723 speakers? Yes, but this is a personal choice people need to decide upon.
There are effects you can achieve by moving up channel count that you can't even get close to in a reduced channel system, because the codec and channel mix quality in the studio will determine this.
We probably need to talk about the '1' in a 5.1 cinema too as I've focused on channel count. Yes, a 1 is great. It can be placed well, we can room-sim, we can try PEQ to adjust for nulls, and we can set an appropriate crossover. Can we promise a perfect flat bass response? No, probably not and especially not over multiple seats. Can we EQ and control it to sound good? Yes, in 99% of use cases unless you give me a big null position for the sub and an awful seating position where you must sit. I think subs work best in pairs, and more the better, but this isn't something new to the world. It's something we've known for ages. But is a single subwoofer relevant? Of course they are. It lowers the expectations on the main speaker, it allows for handling of deep bass that no normal-sized speaker can be reasonably expected to handle, and in home cinema terms, bass is very important. From musical drums, explosions, and low-frequency sound effects that produce an element of unease in a thriller film, bass is the element of reality that gives our sound sensory context. However, I wouldn't discriminate against 5.1 or have any type of multi-channel snobbery.
We all work within the confines of our budget, space, and preference. Lets not forget or get distracted from the fact that home audio is about working with what we can to produce a phenomenal experience we're happy with. It's not about increasing a channel count for the sake of increasing channel count. It's about providing fidelity and immersion, and a good quality setup that is competent and favors your room can do this. So the awnser to which multi channel audio systems are realavent in 2024 is, all of them, and from a techoligy standpoint they are becoming even more so.
By: Dr A Sokhal, audio enthusaist