The most essential piece in your home theater setup is your AV receiver. It links the sources, screen, and speakers to deliver the full cinematic experience of a superhero fight or horrific jump scare. However, many first-time buyers find the array of sockets and acronyms on the back of the receiver to be overwhelming. Luckily, our team at Origin Hi-Fi has compiled a guide to help walk you through the process of selecting, installing, and calibrating the best AV receiver for your home theater.
Before you purchase an AV receiver, you should answer three questions: how many speakers do you have, how many HDMI inputs do you need, and what's your budget? You likely plan to have a surround-sound system for your theater, but will you select the 5.1 channel setup or will you maximize your audio with 11 channels? If you happen to only have space for the minimum setup of five speakers and a subwoofer, then a five-channel receiver is your best bet. However, if you think you might want to add more speakers in the future, then it would be worth investing in a 9 or 11-channel amplifier now. Next, you'll need to make sure you have enough HDMI inputs for the number of sources you want to use, including gaming consoles and a Blu-Ray player. Certain amps come with legacy analog connections for classic tech like VHS players. Finally, consider your budget limits. An AV receiver around or lower than $450 will grant you basic 5.1 surround sound, a few HDMI inputs, and no internet. If you'd like modern features like Wi-Fi capabilities, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, 4K HDR passthrough, additional HDMI inputs, and music streaming, then you're looking at an amp around $800. A receiver exceeding $1,000 gives you everything listed above but with more fine-tuned power. If you haven't settled on a budget, you can estimate the upper range by halving the amount you spent (or intend to spend) on your total speaker package.
If you take your time properly setting up the amp, you won't have to worry about dealing with the number of amp connections ever again. First, ensure the amp is powered off when plugging in your speakers, subwoofers, and sources so you don't short-circuit the system. Most amps have clearly labeled connections, while others have color-coded speaker terminals. If you plan on watching 4k HDR content, plug in your Blu-Ray player to the HDMI input labeled "HDCP2.2". Each input has a specific source: Blu-Ray, DVD, CD, Game, CBL/SAT, and more, because the manufacturer has carefully optimized each input for the best performance. Using a wired ethernet connection is more reliable than Wi-Fi. Lastly, the USB port in the front of the AV receiver plays media files from a USB drive or charges your smartphone.
Most AV receivers come with a microphone for auto-calibration setup; it measures the speakers, room, and sets the speakers' distances and levels. For nicer calibration systems, optimize the speaker performance to pair with its surroundings. When the mic is plugged in, instructions on-screen will walk you through the process, which may last a few seconds up to a few minutes. If the audio sounds a bit off, don't hesitate to dive into the manual speaker settings to double-check and adjust the levels and distances by hand. You’ll need to run the entire calibration again if you decide to rearrange your speakers or furniture, so don't lose the setup mic! Lastly, we suggest you do the neighborly thing by turning off dynamic range compression (DRC) in your settings, so anyone near your home won't be worried by cinematic explosions from your late-night movie marathon.
Before you kick off your first movie night, there are some audio and visual settings worth exploring, such as surround sound modes and digital sound processing (DSP). Opt between Dolby or DTS modes that boost the sound aspects specific to Sci-Fi/Drama/Adventure/Game settings. You can even experiment with effects that simulate the acoustics of concert halls, cathedrals, or jazz clubs. In this case, less is more, and we recommend using the simplest filters, like ‘straight,’ ‘direct,’ or ‘pure direct’ to produce a clean signal from source to output. Finally, it's best to set up shortcuts with customized settings through your receiver if you plan to watch or listen to a variety of content, such as music, movies, video games, or sporting events. This way, you won't have to constantly adjust your sound settings based on media.
It's time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show! When you first test out your AV receiver, you can warm it up by allowing it to "run in" (play continuously) for a day or two, so you optimize the audio quality before any serious listening. The more you make use of your amp, the better it will sound, so make some popcorn, grab a classic movie, and enjoy a perfectly calibrated home theater system. Are you ready to invest in a new AV receiver for your home cinema? Give our team at Origin HiFi a call today to help you get started.