Build Your Own Media Center PC - Part 5 - Speakers
A lesser sound card can occasionally be enhanced with some quality speakers, but the best sound card in the world won't make up for cheap speakers. My own personal configuration routes the sound card output to a traditional home theater amplifier. A blended configuration like mine isn't always convenient, so having good computer speakers is a must. To achieve 5.1 or 7.1 Surround Sound, having the requisite speaker configuration is a must. For listeners on a budget, it's possible to get great sound out of a 2.1 configuration, without breaking the bank.
What does the .1 actually mean anyway?
Without going into the entire history of surround sound configuration, I'll briefly reference the history of perceptual sound.
Dolby Laboratories began studying the way human hearing interacted with recorded sound back in the sixties, producing the first noise reduction system for audio tape, drastically improving the playback audio quality. Through further study, Dolby Labs
isolated the way human hearing reacts to various audible frequencies and created an algorithm for routing those frequencies to speakers positioned at various points in space designed to reproduce something closer to real world sounds.
At the most basic level, Dolby Digital Surround Sound systems route very low end sounds to a subwoofer positioned below any other speakers in the configuration. Instead of referring to Dolby Digital configurations as three speaker systems(2.1), six speaker systems (5.1) or eight speaker systems (7.1), the standard has been to refer to the main 2, 5, or 7 speakers before the dot, with the subwoofer listed as the .1.
Starting with 4.1, Dolby Digital configurations began placing speakers behind the listener, allowing sound to seemingly approach and then passby the listener from front-to-back or vice versa. As technology has progressed, further gaps in spatial listening were closed, first in 5.1 when an additional center speaker was introduced, with an additional center rear speaker in 6.1 and yet another speaker in 7.1, with a shift to achieve even more precise sound around the listener.
Alternative technologies like DTS and THX are debated as being better at producing some types of sound positioning, but Dolby has remained the standard by which everything in the movie and recording industries is based.
Recommended speaker configurations
Dolby Digital 2.1 Surround Sound
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound