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Rate your AV receiver's autosetup program

Take the Audiophiliac challenge and see if you can get better sound with a DIY, manual setup.

I've had a run of bad luck with some of the latest AV receivers' autosetup programs; they set the subwoofer volume way too loud, or misidentified the "sizes" of the speakers (one receiver tagged our small Aperion 4B satellites as large speakers). These reviews have yet to post, but that boo-boo played havoc with the sound. Rerunning autosetup sometimes fixes the problem, but not always. When I'm testing speakers I always do a totally manual setup. In this man versus machine contest, I always win.

Automatic calibration programs started to appear on Pioneer's higher-end receivers about 10 years ago, but nowadays most receivers feature them. Denon, Marantz, and Onkyo use the Audyssey system, and other brands feature proprietary systems. Pioneer has MCACC (Multichannel Acoustic Calibration), Sony has DCAC (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration), and Yamaha's goes by the name YPAO (Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer). All of the systems handle the basics like determining the sizes of the speakers, setting speaker and subwoofer volume levels, the speaker-subwoofer crossover point, measuring the distances from the speakers to the prime listening position, and checking that all of the speaker cables are correctly hooked up. Most autosetup systems also employ equalization to balance the frequency response of all the speakers, and they try to minimize room acoustic problems. When it works well, autosetup can really improve the sound of a system.

To accomplish these goals the systems send test tones through all of the speakers and the subwoofer, and use a microphone to capture the sounds. Equalization is used to improve the sound of the system, and while that's nice in theory, the autosetup sometimes sounds worse than no setup at all.

If you have any doubts about your receiver's sound, try doing a manual speaker setup and turn off the equalization. If it doesn't end up sounding better, you can always rerun the autosetup program. One caution: you must use the calibration microphone that came with the receiver. If you've misplaced it, don't take a chance with the manual setup and risk winding up less happy with the sound than when you started. And if you're intimidated by the process of running tones through the speakers, don't attempt the manual setup. It might also be a good idea to read the receiver's owner manual to learn about the manual setup routine.

For the manual setup, I recommend using a sound pressure level (SPL) meter. Or use an SPL app on your phone. SPL meters are only useful for setting speaker levels; set the subwoofer volume by ear (the autosetup systems don't always get the sub volume correct, either). Even if you don't have a meter or the app, do the setup by ear; you might still do a better job than the autosetup.

Have you ever set up a system manually? Or do you use the autosetup? Leave a comment below.