Multimedia Speaker Systems

By Heath McKnight
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There are a variety of different types of multimedia speaker systems, including computer speakers and those for home entertainment centers. The speaker types include 2.0, 2.1, 5.1 and 7.1. Users may recognize at least two of them: 2.1 and 5.1. Both are associated as speakers for computers and home entertainment centers. In this article, we hope to better explain what each of these multimedia speaker systems are.

2.0 Speaker Systems

We covered 2.0 computer speakers, reviewing nine contenders for your workstation or desk, allowing your favorite music, videos and games to sound much better than a tinny set of built-in speakers.

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2.0 refers to two stereo speakers, usually with built-in subwoofers (bass) or one to two various drivers (the loudspeakers that produce the sound you hear) to adequately replicate the lows, mids and highs. Some of the speakers use additional technology to further enhance the bass. 2.0 speakers are very commonly found paired up with a desktop computer or laptop. It is possible to connect the speakers either directly or with an RCA adapter to a home entertainment center or gaming console. The only problem would be the “throw,” i.e., how well the sound travels at a distance. Many of the speakers we looked at tended to lose their luster the further back we sat from them.

The advantage of a 2.0 speaker system is that the lows, mids and highs are all built into the two speakers, thus saving room by having a separate subwoofer. They really work best with computer set-ups.

2.1 Speaker Systems

A pair of stereo speakers and a subwoofer make up a 2.1 speaker system. The twin speakers cover the mids and highs, while the subwoofer (which tends to be much larger than the others) pumps out the lows/bass.

Like the 2.0 speaker systems, these are commonly found alongside a desktop computer or laptop, though there is one distinct disadvantage: the placement of the subwoofer. Most people will put it on the floor, below their desk or workstation, which means the bass is getting blasted at one’s shins. Another place is behind the monitor or laptop, which can block much of the sound coming out.

The 2.1 units can be broken down into two segments. Those built for computers (i.e., they are a little smaller and don’t put out quite as powerful sound) are ideal for sitting at a computer. The other segment is home entertainment where the speakers are a bit larger and produce more sound, so when one sits on the couch, everything sounds nice and clear.

The advantage of a 2.1 speaker system is the independent subwoofer, which really produces an overall better-sounding bass.

5.1 Speaker Systems

Many are familiar with 5.1 multimedia speaker systems, which are commonly used as a key part of a home entertainment center. Smaller versions can be utilized for computer uses, such as gaming, watching videos and professionals working in the fields of music and video production.

If you look on the back of most any recent Hollywood film on DVD or Blu-ray Disc, you’ll notice the sound is most likely 5.1 surround-sound, with the occasional disc containing a 2.0 track for televisions.

A 5.1 set-up is made up of six channel surround-sound speakers, including five, full-bandwidth channels (front left and right, usually near the TV; center; and surround left and right that usually sit behind the user) and a subwoofer.

The advantage of a 5.1 speaker system is the surround-sound experience: you’ll be hearing sound from all over your room while watching a movie, playing video games or listening to music mastered in the format. One disadvantage would be how much sound is produced, if you live in an apartment, you could get complaints for the noise.

7.1 Speaker Systems

7.1 speaker systems are more or less for home entertainment centers. Some movies are remastered as 7.1 surround-sound when they arrive on DVD or Blu-ray. The first official movie natively mastered as 7.1 for theatrical and eventual home release is “Toy Story 3.” The line-up includes 8 channel speakers, six of which are found in 5.1 set-ups (front left and right, center and surround left and right), plus an additional pair of side-surround speakers.

The advantage of a 7.1 speaker system over a 5.1 is the extra set of surround left and right speakers that sit to the side of a user. A properly mastered 7.1 film playing back on the speaker set-up adds a whole new dimension of sound.

Summary

The different types of multimedia speaker systems we’ve explored here have many uses, advantages and disadvantages. When making a decision on what type of speakers you’d like to buy, whether for computer or home entertainment use, keep in mind what you’d most likely be enjoying with the speakers.

For example, if you’re buying computer speakers, are you just working and listening to music? Do you plan on watching videos and playing a lot of games? Those preferences go a long way in deciding what the best multimedia speaker system set-up is for you.

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