The various kinds of multimedia speaker systems can be divided into categories based on how many channels are used and also the method by which the audio signals are transmitted. Common speaker systems come with anywhere from two to eight different channels. When this is represented by a number, such as 2.1, the ones digit represents the number of regular speaker channels and the tenths digit indicates the presence of a separate subwoofer. Speaker systems with between two and six channels can be used in home entertainment or personal computer settings, and eight channel systems are usually only found in home theaters. It is also possible for multimedia speakers to use physical wires or a wireless audio signal delivery system.
Monaural is the simplest type of speaker system because it uses a single audio channel. This type of setup is not typically found in multimedia systems, and even lower end personal computers and televisions usually have at least two audio channels. The two channel audio setup, or 2.0, is a basic stereo system. This type of speaker system has a left channel and a right channel that can each contain distinct audio tracks. A 2.1 system is very similar, but it adds a subwoofer to produce low sounds while the left and right channel speakers handle mid and high tones.
Simple two channel audio is commonly found in the built-in speakers of televisions and many laptops and other personal computers. A 2.1 setup is also commonly used for computers because these systems can be relatively small and still produce better highs and lows than regular stereo speakers. The simplest home entertainment setups also use three channel multimedia speaker systems, though this typically is not considered to be surround sound.
Six channel, or 5.1, multimedia speaker systems can offer surround sound in both home entertainment and personal computer setups. These systems have two left channels, two right channels, a center channel, and the subwoofer. The four left and right channels are intended to be split up in front of and behind the listener, and the center channel is usually placed in front. These speaker systems can create a more immersive effect, though a 7.1 system places an additional channel on both the left and right sides.
Multimedia speaker systems can be hard wired or wireless. Hard wired systems tend to offer better audio fidelity, though they require physical wiring to be passed underneath flooring or through walls. Wireless multimedia speaker systems can vary in quality depending on the transmission method, though they can be installed in any location without the need for additional wiring.