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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Speakers

How many speakers are in your home theater?

AV receiver owners rarely use all of their speaker outputs -- do you?

It's starting to feel like the bulk of home-theater buyers have determined the optimum number of speakers is one: a single sound bar.

The classic, five-speaker home-theater setup, with three front speakers -- left, center, and right, plus two surround speakers, and a subwoofer -- is fading fast. Yet most of the AV receivers on the market are 7.1-channel designs.

So my question of the day for AV receiver owners is, how many speaker channels do you use?

I have a hunch some owners of 5.1-channel receivers are perfectly happy using them as stereo receivers. I also reckon few owners of 7.1-channel receivers actually bother to use them with seven speakers, possibly because AV receivers have become too freakin' complicated!

The Denon AVR-X6300H AV receiver's rear panel, not too intimidating?

Denon

The latest Dolby Atmos-, DTS-X- and Auro 3D-equipped AV receivers typically sport 9 or 10 channels. If that's not enough and you crave 11 channels, check out the Denon AVR-X6300H AV receiver!

Home-theater divergence

On one hand, some home-theater buyers want to keep their systems as simple and uncluttered as possible with a sound bar, while other folks are going for AV receivers and deploy a speaker array! Sure, some buyers in the second group avoid the clutter and install in-wall and/or in-ceiling speakers, but that always involves running wires through walls and ceilings -- not a job for amateurs. Others use standard speakers and run wires as discreetly as possible.

I'm amazed by the steady improvements in sound-bar performance over the last few years, but even with the best of them, sound compromises are significant compared with even modest 5.1-channel AV systems. It's not even close; multichannel audio systems easily produce a more-spacious, room-filling sound; superior dynamic punch; and clearer, more natural-sounding dialogue. If you're tempted by the even more three-dimensional sound provided by Dolby Atmos, DTS-X and Auro 3D sound processing, stick with AV receivers and multichannel speaker systems. Dolby Atmos/DTS:X-equipped sounds bars like the Yamaha YSP-5600's performance falls far short of what you hear from AV receiver based systems.

Stereo home theater, with a stereo receiver and two speakers are a step up from sound bars, and far easier to setup and use than an AV-receiver-based system. Stereo systems still can't touch multichannel systems for immersive sound, but they can go toe-to-toe with them on dynamics and natural-sounding dialogue.

So if you own an AV receiver, how many speakers do you use with it? If you're not using all of its speaker outputs, are you tempted to add more speakers in the future? If you have a stereo home theater, how's that working out for you? Share your experience with sound bars, stereo and AV receivers in the Comments section below.