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Comparing Movie Sound Quality when Played as Stereo vs Multichannel


Nov 3, 2022
I want to ask a specific question about the mixing and mastering of different types of recordings. But it's a difficult question to ask without getting super sidetracked!

If a movie has both stereo and multichannel audio, is there going to be noticeable audio quality difference between the two? If the stereo version is played on a 2.1 system, and the multichannel recording is being decoded and played on a 2.1 or 3.1 system? Both are being played on the same equipment, the capability of equipment is not a variable.

Generally speaking:

Is the stereo mix more compressed, or the same?
Is LFE baked into the stereo mix, or is LFE going to be missing from the stereo mix?

I was watching a few movies recently, and I noticed that the audio on many movies seems lacking. Admittedly most of these were streaming, but it was true of my The Matrix Blueray as well. But occasionally a streaming movie seems to have very good sound quality in stereo.

Would I get different results if I had an AVR/processor that is decoding the multichannel audio these movies were created with? Or am I just observing the variation in the quality of movie audio?


Major Contributor
Feb 5, 2019
Pacific Northwest
It depends on the movie. Not all movies have a 2-channel mix. But when they do, often it is dynamically compressed or otherwise processed to make it easier to listen to in compromised situations - whether sub-optimal environments or equipment. That's not the mix I want to listen to on my optimal equipment in my optimized listening room. I like wide uncompressed dynamics and natural lifelike sound without the mid-presence lift often applied to make dialog easier to hear.

With streaming, transmission protocols and formats vary, but it is always significantly compressed because the bandwidth is limited. They optimize for picture quality rather than audio, as that what most people will notice (big screens & small speakers). DVD and BluRay are also compressed, but relatively speaking they are less compressed than streaming. And they have better sound quality than streaming.

All that said, I have old fashioned 2 channel stereo. The standard audio track made for multichannel is not optimized for this, but I find it usually sounds better than the alternatives (relatively speaking).

Just my experience & opinion, FWIW.
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