For audiophiles like you and me, having good sound on the go is essential. Not only does it help to set the mood for the ride, but it also blocks out the annoying external ambient noise of the road and helps you concentrate while driving.
Plus, if you’re driving alone, good music with good sound quality can be the best company you could ask for. But to get that good sound, you need to have a good sound system in your car.
And an inseparable part of that sound system is your amp. Now comes the confusing part. When it comes to amps, you’ll notice that they come with various numbers of channels.
What are these channels? What do they do? More importantly, how many channels do you need on your car’s amp to get the most out of it? Let’s find out.
What Are Channels?
Before we dig any deeper, let’s give you a basic idea of what a channel is and what it does first. That way, the rest of the write-up will start making more sense if you are completely new to this. If you already know these, it’d refresh your memory.
So, what are channels, you ask? Simply put, channels are sources of power.
They deliver the power from your car’s electronic system to the speakers. The number of channels you’ll need depends on two factors:
1) the number of speakers you’d want to connect to stereo.
2) whether you want your speakers to have stereo or mono channels.
Still confused? Let me break it down a bit. You probably know what the word ‘mono’ means, right? That’s right! It means one or single. So, the amp that has only one channel is called a mono amp.
Naturally, an amplifier that has more than one channel (usually two) is going to be a stereo amp. Simply put, a two-channel amp can power up to two speakers, while a single-channeled amp can only power one.
This 1:1 speaker-to-amp ratio is known as the standard guideline worldwide.
Once you’ve got this ratio right, you can go on to get yourself a more advanced setup consisting of four or even eight channels for your two speakers. The more channels you have, the more sophisticated your multi-channel speakers are going to be.
The real question is, what are the benefits of having multiple channels? In short, it enables you to connect more speakers to your amp. But that’s not all. Here’s what more it can do.
Why You Should Get a Multi-Channel Amp
A multi-channel amp allows you to not only connect with but total control over multiple channels.
This means you’ll have one audio source in several channels with an equal amount of power distributed at the same volume over multiple speakers. A multi-channel amp can therefore control, patch, and set up each channel individually.
Surround sound, or multi-channel audio creates the audio effect that makes the listener feel like they’re sitting right in the middle of the recording room and all the artists are playing/singing surrounding them.
This makes the audio sound more realistic by creating the audio illusion that you’re being surrounded by the sound. Also, it preserves the quality of each audio frequency by reproducing it just the way it was recorded.
How Many Surround Sound Formats Are There?
The most widely used surround sound configurations out there are 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 channel sound. To decide which one is right for you, first, you need to know their qualities and the differences between them. Here they are:
5.1 Channel Sound
The 5.1 surround sound is considered to be the industry-standard format for sound systems where the five main channels of sound are compensated with a sixth subwoofer channel (aka the point-one channel) that delivers the special sound effects for videos and the added depth to the bass in music.
Structurally, the 5.1 system consists of two stereo speakers at the front, a center channel speaker placed in between them, and a pair of surround sound speakers located behind the listener. Two of the most common 5.1 channel formats are Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Digital Surround.
6.1 Channel Sound
The 6.1 surround sound configuration is basically an upgrade of the 5.1 surround sound format. It comes with an added center surround sound speaker located between the other two surround sound speakers right behind the listener.
A 6.1 surround sound system produces a more enveloping surround sound effect. Usually, it’s designed for DTS-ES, Dolby Digital EX, and THX Surround EX.
7.1 Channel Sound
7.1 is the most elaborate enhancement to the 5.1 surround sound system. It has two more side surrounding speakers located on two sides of the listener. It’s used for a more prominent sound envelopment and a more accurate sound positioning.
7.1 audio formats are adored by enthusiasts and audiophiles as the most detailed surround sound format. Equipped with DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD, the sound delivered by these formats is not compressed. They can reproduce the sound as identical to the original studio recording.
The format also delivers excellent quality with DTS-HD and Dolby Digital Plus. But in that case, the sound isn’t entirely lossless.
Circling Back to the Topic: How Many Channels Do I Need?
If money isn’t an issue, you can easily go for a 7.1, and that would be the best option given the fact that you have adequate space inside your car for 8 speakers. But in most of our cases, even those who can afford a 7.1 channel setup probably don’t have that much space inside their car’s interior.
In this case, the best way is to go for a 5.1 sound system. Not only does it save space (and money), but it’s also comparatively easier to set up as opposed to the 6.1 and the 7.1 formats, and is compatible with a vast range of audio and other kinds of technology.
Some Final Words
Remember, the number of channels is important, but there’s no set standard of sound quality that you should be getting with a certain number of channels. All of these setups deliver excellent sound quality within their capacity. The number of channels you need corresponds to the space inside your car.
For a Toyota Corolla, you might need 3.1 surround sound. However, if you own a Limo, you should go for 7.1 in my opinion. An SUV should do the same. However, a Lamborghini or a sedan should be fine with 5.1 surround sound after we consider everything.
Depending on your choice, the cost for speakers will vary as well but that’s a discussion for another day.
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