7 Receiver Set Up Tips For Great Sound

I'm often asked for tips and advice around the scariest part of any home theater system: the AVR or the audio/video receiver. Why is it scary? Well, just look at the back of them. It causes people to break out in sweats if they don't know anything about audio or video equipment, seeing all these jacks and all these places that cables could be plugged in, speakers could be connected, worrying about, "Am I plugging it in the right place?"

 

It's so confusing. So, I'm going to try to give you a couple of setup hints if you already have one of these receivers, some upgrade suggestions if your receiver is 10 or 15 years old, and things to look for if you're just starting out and going to be buying your first home theater system and an AVR or audio/video receiver.

What can you do now if you have an existing system? Number one, if you've used the automatic calibration or speaker setup, you know, where some of these systems you place a microphone in the room or in different spots near your listening position, and you press a button in the menu on the remote, and it automatically sets everything up for you.

Now, these systems are easily fooled. There's too much variation in the types of loudspeakers in rooms and the room setup that you can easily confuse these auto setup algorithms and systems. So, one hint, if you use that, go through the manual, and learn how to do the manual setup, and then go and try it yourself.

Many of these receivers will allow you to switch between the manual setting that you created and the auto setup so that you can hear the difference. In many cases, you'll find that the performance of your system is way better just using the manual setup and your ears. You don't need a sound level meter, if you have one, great, but, you know, the basic things about manual setup also let you understand the system better.

The settings the receiver's actually making rather than blindly pressing a button, and letting it do it for you. So, now the second thing that you want to look at once you've done that is check the levels, check the level adjustment. If all of the levels are above or below the trim level in the speaker settings, just make sure that you don't have too much spread.

A dB or 2 from the 0 dB trim position is good, but if something looks out of whack and everything is set up like -6 or -5 dB, or +6 or +8 dB, you know, you want to correct that. Because you can overdrive or underdrive things, you want to be as close to that neutral 0 dB trim setting.

Now, a lot of you are going, "What the heck is he talking about trim setting?" Just look at your manual, go online if you don't have a paper copy, you'll see what I'm talking about when it comes to the manual speaker setup.

Now, another thing if you're using an auto EQ or correction system that comes along with some of these automatic speaker setups in these receivers, like Odyssey is a very popular one.Try if the option is available of only applying room correction or equalization at bass frequencies. Many of these systems will allow you to specify what range of frequencies that auto EQ or room correction will work in. You will find if you've got a good quality loudspeaker system that you don't want to apply EQ or correction above maybe 200 hertz, turn it off if you can.

Try it both ways and see which ones you prefer, but I guarantee you with a good set of speakers, with a good setup, you're not going to want to equalize, above a couple hundred hertz. So, now what if you've had your home theater receiver for a while?

You know, what should you look for in terms of, you know, an upgrade, and when's a good time to upgrade? Well, this receiver here is a weird hybrid because it came around the same time that HDMI was starting to be introduced, but it also has component video, an old S-video connections.

Now, if your receiver is old enough that it only has component and S-video and there's no HDMI, that's a red flag that you should look at upgrading your AVR. Seriously. It will cut down immensely on that stress of all those connections, and it turns it into one cable per component which is really, really fantastic.

If your receiver doesn't have HDMI connections, then don't hesitate to look at upgrading your receiver.

Another thing that you want to look at in an update is obviously make sure that your receiver, if you're going to upgrade it, has the latest format for decoding which right now is Dolby Atmos.

I wouldn't even consider buying a brand new receiver today if it didn't have Dolby Atmos capability. So, make sure that that's available. Now, almost every receiver on the market is going to have Dolby Atmos, so you don't really have to worry about that.

Another thing if you're planning an upgrade, even if you've got the features basically you want, but you want to upgrade the component, look at going with something that has higher built-in amplifier power, or make sure that the receiver has got what are called pre-outs, which are preamplifier outputs.

Even if you're not going to use an external amplifier today, it gives you an excellent upgrade path should you upgrade your main speakers and require more power than is built into the receiver. It builds in a certain level of not obsoleting the entire receiver because you now suddenly need more amp power.

You can always add an external amplifier if you've got those pre-outs. And I always recommend that you won't find preamps on the cheapest receivers out there. You have to go to sort of the mid and the higher end of any product line from a particular manufacturer, but it's well worth the investment. I've had people say, I would have had to essentially sell a receiver I paid $2,000 for a couple of years ago because I needed more power with my new speakers, and now I just had to add an amplifier and kept the receiver the way that it was.

That's another area where it's a good recommendation if you're going to upgrade and spend the money anyway, look at getting something with pre-outs.

Now, the final thing that I want to suggest, if you're just starting out and you've got a small loudspeaker setup, you know, it's all bookshelf speakers or smaller speakers, there's really no need to jump into, you know, a very, very expensive home theater receiver.

And I'll tell you why, even though it gives you some path to upgrade, the problem is that the electronic systems in these receivers is constantly evolving. And you can be caught, you know, buying an expensive receiver saying, well, I'll just keep that, and then upgrade my speakers in four or five years, and then find in four or five years, Dolby or whoever has a brand new format that, you know, your current receiver is not capable of.

So, you know, think about that a little bit. If it's a first system, an entry-level receiver from a decent brand is a good way to go. There's no need to go with the highest amplifier power if you've got small bookshelf speakers or smaller speakers for your home theater system.

And definitely think about the future, but also think about what's viable in terms of where your upgrade path is going to go. It doesn't make sense, like I said, to buy a $1,500 or $2,000 top-line receiver, and then use it forever with a small speaker system. It would be better to take some of that budget and go with bigger or better loudspeakers, and settle for a little while with a more mid-range receiver.

I hope those helps and tips are a few things you can check out and, you know, have taken a little bit of the fear out of all these connections. Like I said, in this day and age of HDMI, it's one cable per component, and then one pair of speaker cables for every speaker, and you're pretty much done.

Most of this mess goes away.

Andrew Welker

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