Guide To Home Theater Receivers and Surround Sound

Sorting out the confusion about surround sound and home theater receivers

Onkyo TX-SR353 Home Theater Receiver and Speaker Setup Diagram
Onkyo TX-SR353 Home Theater Receiver and Speaker Setup Diagram. Images provided by Onkyo and Harman Kardon

The core of the home theater experience is surround sound, and the most effective way to deliver it is with a home theater receiver. However, with the abundance of surround sound formats, varied capabilities of home theater receivers, and all that "techie" jargon many consumers find home theater intimidating. In reality, a home theater setup can be modest or complex, depending on your needs.

We have assembled key article articles that will arm you with all the information you need in order make your way through the surround sound and home theater receiver maze.

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Dolby Atmos Soundfield Illustration. Image provided by Onkyo USA and Dolby Labs

Today's surround sound experience is the result of decades of evolution. Since the early days of stereo, the race has been on to create the ultimate home listening experience for television, music, and movies. To provide context, take an enlightening journey back to the beginnings of surround sound, its evolution over the years, and how it fits into today's home entertainment landscape. More »

Surround Sound Format Logos
Surround Sound Format Logos. Logos provided by Dolby, DTS, and Auro Technologies

What is Dolby Digital? What is Auro 3D Audio? To dig deeper into each of the major surround sound formats that are available on home theater receivers, our surround sound formats guide provides easy-to-understand explanations on how they work and how you can use them to enhance your home theater experience. More »

Yamaha RX-V483 5.1 Channel Network Home Theater Receiver
Yamaha RX-V483 5.1 Channel Network Home Theater Receiver. Images provided by Yamaha

The home theater receiver also referred to as an AV receiver or surround sound receiver, is the heart of a home theater system and provides most, if not all, the inputs and outputs that you connect everything, including your TV, into.

Depending on the receiver, it may seem quite complex, but, in reality, provides an efficient way of centralizing your home theater system. However, not all home theater receivers have the same capabilities, which means that the one you purchase has to have what you need. Before you separate with your case to purchase a home theater receiver, you need to know what to look for.

However, not all home theater receivers have the same capabilities, which means that the one you purchase has to have what you need. Before you separate with your case to purchase a home theater receiver, you need to know what to look for. More »

Denon AVR-X4300H Home Theater Receiver - Inside View
Denon AVR-X4300H Home Theater Receiver - Inside View. Image provided by D&M Holdings

When considering the purchase of a home theater, one the first things you get hit with are amplifier power ratings, which is expressed in Watts-per-channel. It is easy to get sucked in when the salesperson tells you that a particular home theater receiver can output twice as many watts and another. More is better right? Not necessarily. Although power output is important, there is more that Watts-per-channel number than the salesperson or AD is telling you. Also, power output isn't the only thing that tells you how good that receiver is. More »

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Image of Jamo J 112 Subwoofer. Image provided by the Klipsch Group, Inc.

One of the concepts that confuse consumers is what the terms 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 mean with regards to surround sound and home theater receiver specifications. The terms 5,6, and 7 refer to the number of channels and speakers there is in a home theater setup. Also, unlike power output specifications, the use of the term .1 isn't just an additional piece of jargon that is there to confuse you - it actually indicates something important for your home theater setup that makes sense - it refers to the subwoofer channel. More »

Onkyo TX-SR343 (5.1) vs TX-SR444 (7.1) Channel Receivers
Onkyo TX-SR343 (5.1) vs TX-SR444 (7.1) Channel Receivers. Images provided by Onkyo

Which is better, a 5.1 channel or a 7.1 channel home theater receiver? In turns out that both options have advantages and disadvantages, depending on what source components you are using and what your personal preferences are. Both types of surround sound setups provide an acceptable audio listening environment, but there are other factors to consider. Check out the details. More »

Multi-Zone Analog Powered, Preamp, and HDMI Output Example
Multi-Zone Analog Powered, Preamp, and HDMI Output Example. Images provided by Onkyo/D&M Holdings/Marantz

The Home Theater receiver is being called on to do more and more, from a simple connection to audio and video sources, to accessing satellite and internet radio, and to connecting iPods. However, as the sophistication of Home Theater Receivers increases, another feature that is being incorporated into many of them is what is referred to as "Multi-Zone" capability. Find out what you need to know about the Multi-zone feature available on many home theater receivers. More »

Home Theater Receiver AV Connection Example
Home Theater Receiver AV Connection Example. Image provided by Yamaha

Home Theater Receivers are playing an increasing role as both a centralized audio/video connection hub and both an audio and video processor. However, is it really that important to route video signals through your home theater receiver? Check out some useful tips on when routing video signals through your home theater receiver might be a good idea, and when it might not. More »

Onkyo TX-8140 Stereo Receiver vs Yamaha RX-V681 Home Theater Receiver
Onkyo TX-8140 Stereo Receiver vs Yamaha RX-V681 Home Theater Receiver. Images provided by Onkyo and Yamaha

What is your primary goal - a great home theater movie experience, or a dedicated music listening experience? For movies, a home theater receiver definitely provides the most flexibility. However, if all you need is something that will serve as the centerpiece of a music-only listening experience, then a Stereo Receiver might be the better option for you. Find out what you need to know about the differences between a Home Theater Receiver and a Stereo Receiver. More »

Yamaha RX-V683 7.2 Channel Network Home Theater Receiver
Yamaha RX-V683 7.2 Channel Network Home Theater Receiver. Images provided by Yamaha

You made your decision, you dug into your wallet, you got it home, and are now ready to unpack and set-up your home theater receiver. However, before you get started, check out some great tips that will make sure the installation and setup process for your home theater receiver goes smoothly. More »

Yamaha AVENTAGE RX-A3070 Home Theater Receiver
Yamaha AVENTAGE RX-A3070 Home Theater Receiver. Images provided by Yamaha Electronics Corporation

If you have a large room, and demand uncompromising power, connection flexibility, and quality. Then a high-end home theater receiver might be for you - if you have the cash. Check out the possibilities! More »

Marantz SR5012 Network Home Theater Receiver
Marantz SR5012 Network Home Theater Receiver. Image provided by D&M Holdings

Although there are some that have the cash for the cream-of-crop, most of what you can often find in a high-end home theater receiver can also be found in the midrange home theater receiver price sweet spot. At the $400-$600 price point you can find solid basics, with some added frills such as internet streaming, while the home theater receivers from the $700 to $1,299 price range offer much of what you might find on many high-end home theater receivers, minus some added perks, such as extremely high power output and lots more connections. However, this is where most consumers will find what they need. More »

The Denon AVR-S530BT Entry-Level 5.1 Channel Receiver
The Denon AVR-S530BT Entry-Level 5.1 Channel Receiver. Image provided by Amazon

For those on a budget, or just want the basics, most home theater receivers in the $399 or less price range may be just the ticket. Most of the time, the receivers in this price range only offer up to 5.1 channels - but there are some that actually give you up to 7.1 channels. Bluetooth is usually included in addition to physical connectivity, but most do not offer built-in internet streaming.

However, even theater receivers in this price category provide features and quality that just a couple of years ago would have only been available in prices $400 and upWaht is. More »