Few devices are as complex as an AV receiver. A modern receiver has an incredible number of settings, so you can easily do something wrong or forget an important option. Hence this checklist, with which you can go over your surround setup.
Checklist: How do I better set up my AV receiver?
If you are talking about a modern AV receiver, you are talking about a device with a high complexity. It may have 7.2 to 11.2 channels (or more!), Support for numerous surround formats (including height channels), streaming and multiroom functions, and much more. This complexity often translates into an interface that consists of many menus and options that are deeply buried. What we want to do in this article is to give you a checklist with which you can check whether your AV receiver and surround setup are set optimally. The big difficulty, of course, is that each brand uses its own logic and its own terminology. The approach of a Denon, for example, is radically different from that of Yamaha. Anyway you always have to interpret something and do some searching yourself. If you have brand-specific tips yourself, do not forget to give them via the comments below.
1. Check your setup
In this article we do not want to expand on the placement of your surround speakers . That would take us too far, especially if we were talking about setups for Dolby Atmos, DTS: X and Auro3D. But even with a basic setup like 5.1 there are extensive rules concerning the placement of your speakers, for example from Dolby. On our speaker tips page you will find various articles about placing loudspeakers in various setups.
We recommend to approach the prescribed setups as well as possible, especially the placement of the rear channels according to the booklet in a living room are often difficult. For example, the distance to the rear channels would be the same as the distance to the front speakers – and that is only feasible in a large room. Your AV receiver can fortunately compensate for less optimal speaker setups, such as rear speakers that are too close. But the greater the deviation, the more difficult a receiver gets it. For example, it is very difficult to balance a pair of surround speakers that are a few dozen centimeters from your ears with front speakers at three meters distance.
2. Measuring but also checking
The quality of measurement systems in receivers varies somewhat. But in all cases the use of automatic calibration is still advisable. Perform that calibration as it should be: at the right positions and – very important – at ear height. Yes, that can be difficult at times, but in the absence of a tripod you can improvise something. Do not go to work hastily and remember that you will really reap the benefits of the half-hour you invest for measuring. Incidentally, re-measuring is really a must if you move speakers.
Calibration systems are not infallible, however. We notice, for example, that the distance measurements are often not entirely correct when it comes to height speakers. Also so-called Dolby speakers (which allow sound to reflect from the ceiling) are often less well set. It is advisable to enter the distance from the speaker to the ceiling, if this setting is present.
So check the values that the measuring system has set. A laser meter is an indispensable helper. Dare to adjust the distances measured by the receiver. This information has a very strong impact on the tightness and positioning of the surround sound.
Read more about the measuring systems of Dirac and Audyssey .
3. Adapting levels
Calibration systems often intervene via the volume levels or levels of individual speakers. Here, too, the result is not always optimal. But before you intervene here, it is good to a) realize that even a change of up to 0.5 dB can mean an audible difference and b) that you should listen first. On most receivers there is a level test, in which channel per channel a test noise (white noise) is played. An alternative is the test tones you play from a Dolby or DTS test disc. If you search online, you will quickly find links to download these discs. Testing the levels with a film is very difficult.
The best way to get volume levels equal to your listening position is to work with a decibel meter. The test tones that your receiver sends are usually set to 75 dB. In theory, you can also use a decibel meter app on your phone, but most smartphone microphones are fairly directional and not full-range. So there can be a nice mistake.
4. The correct speaker settings
Also check whether the calibration system correctly identifies your speakers . With most brands, a speaker labeled as large or ‘large’ will also be offered the full layer. A ‘small’ speaker is provided with a limited frequency range. That is not bad, because you have a subwoofer. However, you must verify that the crossover is good. In principle, it should never be higher than 80 Hz, but for example with small bookshelf speakers the crossover will be set higher by the receiver. It is not ideal, but in that case try to lower the crossover as an experiment. It can make your rear channels in particular more accurate and tighter.
5. Do you need those extra audio settings?
Measuring systems often come with extra functions that smooth out dynamic peaks and troughs. For example, at Audyssey this is called Dynamic Volume. This can be an interesting function in a smaller space or if you do not like sudden volume differences. But you will lose a lot of experience with it. Options such as Dynamic Range Compression can also be avoided.
Do not confuse Dynamic Volume with Dynamic EQ, because despite the similar names they do very different things. Dynamic EQ (at Audyssey, but other systems you have something similar) compensates for the fact that you sometimes listen more quietly to a movie soundtrack than the volume level at which it was mixed. It just increases the surround feeling by maintaining the dynamic differences, yet at lower volumes.
6. Bitstream please
When you watch a movie, you want to hear the soundtrack as it is intended. A first step to getting that is to ensure that the receiver receives audio in the right format. Check that your Blu-ray player or console is definitely sending out audio in bitstream format. With some devices, such as an Xbox One console, you can also decide in which format you are sending the audio (for example Dolby Surround). Also check on your television that the audio is not output in stereo mode via HDMI-ARC, especially if you regularly watch something like Netflix via an app on the TV. Of course, when you watch a movie, you must also select the correct surround mode. A mode such as “Direct” will display the soundtrack as it should.
7. Attention to image
It is not only about sound with an AV receiver. Image also deserves attention, especially in this 4K and HDR era. The tricky thing is that for a full HDR display the chroma subsampling – (4: 4: 4, 4: 2: 2, 4: 2: 0) and bit depth settings (8, 10 or 12 bit) ) must be on your source device, receiver and TV. You start with the latter: check that the used HDMI input is activated for HDR (Enhanced HDMI with Sony for example, Ultra HD Deep Color with LG, HDMI UHD Color with Samsung). This should also be set for receivers (4K Signal Format on ‘Enhanced’ with Denon and Marantz, for example). Finally, you may need to enable this on Ultra HD Blu-ray players and consoles. Auto mode is the best option. In our experience, consoles are always tough guys when it comes to showing HDR content. Some receivers also have image modes (such as Gaming). Do not use it, just like upscaling functions, and leave this aspect of image processing to your television. In a projector these functions may be interesting.
8. Better streaming
Most receivers offer you many ways to stream audio. But not every method is the same when it comes to sound quality. Since Bluetooth always works lossy (ie with loss of audio data), this is the least good option. Receivers rarely support the better Bluetooth codecs (such as LDAC or aptX), so the quality can be even more disappointing than you might think. Bluetooth does have a high level of user convenience.
Use a high-quality way to stream, such as Chromecast or Airplay. Both are lossless at cd quality level, Chromecast can in principle also send lossless hi-resaudio. DLNA is often the better choice for hi-resstreaming, although the DLNA server (for example on your NAS) must be able to handle this. MinimServer (available free for QNAP and Synology, among other things) is the best choice when it comes to supporting audio formats. The built-in streaming platforms, such as MusicCast or HEOS, also offer good sound quality.
9. Bi-amping and stereo
Do you also use an AV receiver to listen to music in stereo? Then check whether your receiver has specific settings for when you listen to 2-channel (ie stereo) audio. Certain devices allow you to set the front speakers differently, for example on ‘Large’ instead of ‘Small’ or with another crossover. Another interesting option is to double-connect your left and right channel at the front. Your receiver must have enough channels and support this option and it’s really worthwhile if you use exceptionally good and demanding stereo speakers that allow bi-amps . So they have four loudspeaker terminals, not two. What you do is not connect each of your front speakers with one 2-wire cable, but with two cables. As a result, you set up two amplifier modules per stereo speaker, so that music is played in a more controlled way.
10. Dare upmixing
Stereo recordings often sound best on stereo speakers, possibly with the subwoofer switched on for 2.1. Still, you should try how stereo music sounds when you play it on all speakers. Not with the ‘all stereo’ setting, but with upmixing codecs such as Auro-Matic or DTS: Neo X. Some genres, such as orchestral classical or electronic music, come across very cleverly. If you have a surround setup with height channels, you should also try DTS Neo: X or Dolby Prologic IIz with old 5.1 content, such as DVDs.
In our receiver-section of the home cinema information guide you will find many more tips and advice on, among other things, AV receivers. Please also review our receiver reviews for our experiences with the latest models.