Setting up the perfect home theatre system sometimes can feel like a daunting task. Aside from choosing furniture and a television, you also have to consider which audio/video receiver to pick to get the most from your home theatre speakers. Since you have a lot of choices when it comes down choosing a receiver, here are a few lessons to help demystify the world of home theatre audio.
Stereo Receivers and Surround Receivers
Receivers typically all have a similar form factor: black boxes complete with knobs, a screen on the front and audio/video inputs on the back. They serve many purposes, but the main purpose is to take separate audio and video sources (like a turntable, Blu-Ray player or cable box), amplify their signals, and send out the audio to your speakers. Receivers also act as a switcher for those same devices.
Smaller stereo receivers (like the Pioneer X-CM56B pictured below) weigh a few kilograms where surround receivers can weigh 15 kilograms or more. Typically, receivers with more amplification (or more power) tend to be heavier.
You may hear a receiver referred to by several different names like a stereo receiver or a surround receiver. A stereo receiver typically has two channels (left and right) and is used principally for audio devices. The resident audiophile in your life may have a stereo receiver hooked up in their office or home theatre. With it, they may listen to AM/FM radio or hook up their turntable, for instance. When referring to a surround receiver or audio/video (A/V) receiver, these devices can be used for the same purposes, but you can add more speakers (channels) and they’ll also handle video as well. Surround systems allow you to hear sounds coming from all around you: for example the sound can come from left, right, front and back. The newest Dolby Atmos systems even enable you to hear sounds from above (I’ll cover that in more detail below).
Before discussing receivers in depth, I should first mention that you may not even need a receiver for your particular situation. If you want to primarily stream music from your phone, wireless speakers may be a good option for your consideration. With wireless speakers like those from SONOS, you easily stream your favourite music, radio and podcasts throughout your home’s Wi-Fi network. Sliding across the floor to Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll like Tom Cruise in Risky Business has never been easier to pull off.
Receiver Channels: Understanding the Numbers
When selecting a receiver, you typically will have a choice of brands and also the number of channels to choose from. When shopping for receivers, you may see numbers like 2.0, 5.1 and 7.2. But what do they mean?
In a traditional system, the first number refers to the number of speakers that your receiver supports while the second number covers the number of subwoofers for low frequency noise. A 5.1 channel receiver will support five separate speakers and one subwoofer while a 7.2 channel receiver supports seven speakers and two subwoofers. With more speakers, you can get more quality in your sound.
Dolby Atmos: Home Theatre Game-Changer
For the most part, home audio hasn’t changed in a major way over the years. However, with the addition of Dolby Atmos to home theatre systems, the game has changed. You may have noticed the Dolby Atmos logo popping up more lately as more manufacturers are adding this technology to their receivers. With previous surround sound technologies, sounds could be programmed to individual channels (like the left or right speaker, for instance). If you were watching a movie in 5.1 surround sound, a medium pitch sound could only be isolated in one of your five individual channels.
With Dolby Atmos, however, sounds don’t have to rely on channels; they can be programmed as individual objects. Filmmakers can now program up to 128 sound objects that can be moved anywhere within your room instead obviously moving between a limited set of channels. A system with Dolby Atmos enabled speakers can even send sound above your viewing area.
Remember the numbering system from before? Dolby Atmos adds a third number to the mix. A 5.1.2 channel system has five speakers, one subwoofer and two Dolby Atmos speakers that support overhead sound (either in-ceiling or upward-firing speakers).
Upgrading from Your Television Speakers
If you are using your television’s built-in speakers, now is the time to take the next step in your home theatre journey. Sound bars can be another simple solution to provide a better sound than built-in speakers. Most sound bars have a built-in amplifier and have been designed to work well with television mounts.
A sound bar upgrades your “built-in” sound, a stereo receiver can boost your tunes, a surround receiver can add a sound that envelops you during your next movie night and Dolby Atmos can show you the future of sound technology. We may not have gotten the hoverboard, but the leaps we have made in audio technology would surely make Marty McFly proud.