PCM Audio vs. Dolby Digital: Understanding the Differences for Stereo and Home Theatre

PCM Audio vs. Dolby Digital: Understanding the Differences for Stereo and Home Theatre

PCM Audio and Dolby Digital are two of the most commonly used digital audio formats around. Both options can exist on any media, however, they have some big differences that will determine which you choose to use for your unique listening needs.

So what is PCM Audio and Dolby Digital? Well, these two entities refer to two different types of digital audio recordings. But let's take a look at each in more depth.

What is PCM Audio?

PCM stands for Pulse Code Modulation, which refers to the encoding method used to deliver digital sound. It is the conventional method for converting analogue audio signals into digital audio signals.

pcm audio

So, what is PCM Audio usually used for? Well, linear Pulse Code Modulation is the standard form of audio found in computers, compact discs and digital telephony. It has also been made a standard for Blu-ray players.

What is Dolby Digital?

Dolby Digital is a digital audio coding technique that reduces the amount of audio data needed to produce high-quality sound. So it is a compressed signal whereas PCM is uncompressed. Under Dolby Laboratories, it is the established standard for cinema, broadcast and home theatre surround sound. It was designed specifically for these types of multi-channel applications.

dolby digital audio

Dolby Digital technology uses a 5.1 or 6 channel format—this includes the stereo left and right front channels, stereo left and right surround channels, the central channel, and a Low Frequency Effects (LFE) channel for the subwoofer (which is counted as the 0.1 channel since it functions only when a deep base effect is needed). Further enhancements have been made over the years to increase Dolby Digitals channel count and also bit rate which come under different names, but in this article we’re just comparing PCM Audio vs base Dolby Digital.

Comparison: PCM Audio vs Dolby Digital

The two digital audio options have enough differences between them that they should be treated as separate entities for your audio setup.

The compressed Dolby Digital format means it requires less storage space, however, there is a commonly held view among audiophiles that uncompressed digital audio formats offer better, more detailed sound quality—PCM Audio is one such uncompressed format.

Dolby Digital’s compressed format usually supports 5.1 channels of audio. While PCM Audio is an uncompressed—or ‘raw audio’—format, it actually often supports fewer channels of audio.

Essentially, the main debate between the two audio entities comes down to the number of channels (Dolby Digital wins in this case) versus compressed/uncompressed audio quality (depending on your view, PCM Audio may take this one). To decide which is best for you, consider which of these elements is most relevant to your desired audio setup.

Pros and cons of PCM Audio and Dolby Digital for home theatre

Technically, both Dolby Digital and PCM Audio can be used for home theatre. However, there is a clear winner in this case.

Dolby Digital is generally considered to be the better choice for a surround sound system in a home theatre as it offers 5.1 audio channels, accommodating for a full 5 channel speaker set up, plus a subwoofer. This adds depth and realism to the listening experience in your home theatre.

However, if your audio needs mean the only speakers you’re using are the standard ones built into your television, PCM audio is the best option as it lacks compression. Whereas if you use the Dolby Digital format with your stock setup, you’ll hear muted tones and less audio clarity.

The importance of having a quality audio setup

With a good audio set up, you will be able to experience more detailed audio, ensuring you never miss a sound in your favourite movie, game or song.

For example, the sound in movies is designed to be tuned into a cinema-quality sound set up, so, in your home theatre, you’ll want to try to achieve a similar sound scape to get the most out of your film. With a poor audio system in your home theatre room, there is often great disparity in dynamics. And it can be frustrating to have to constantly adjust the volume to enjoy your movie.

Having high-quality speakers and amplifiers, greater bandwidth, and greater dynamic range will make for a much more immersive and enjoyable movie, gaming or music listening experience.


Knowing whether you're making the best choice and selecting the right equipment for your unique needs can be tricky, but CHT Solutions is here to help ensure that creating your dream home theatre is a breeze.

Ready to level up your listening experience?

At CHT Solutions, we stock only the highest-quality PCM Audio and Dolby Digital audio products. Not only that, but we also stock all the equipment you’ll ever need to create the perfect home theatre room—including top-of-the-range speakers, amplifiers, projectors, lighting, cables, and so much more.

We have the best solutions for all your listening needs, whether it be stereo or surround sound. Shop our wide range of products or reach out to our friendly team to answer any of your questions.