2-Channel or Surround: Some Thoughts
Making the Best Audio Choices for your Boston Area Home
When properly calibrated and dialed in, many high quality AV receiver brands can deliver the envelopment and excitement of home theater surround sound. But none of them make us want to listen to music the way a great stereo system can. 2-channel audio represents the more exacting challenge for music listening...it's up to the 2 speakers to create the soundstage image, with all the detail and dynamics present in the recording, without the potentially distracting influence of additional speakers' sound coming from multiple locations.
For those who want both an optimal stereo and surround experience from one system, there is a way to use many of our better 2-channel amplifiers with an AV receiver...it's called "AV Bypass" or "HT Passthrough". In this configuration, the input selector and volume control of the integrated amp or preamp is bypassed when the feature is engaged, allowing the AV receiver's preamp output to use the better quality power amp section in the integrated amp to drive your front stereo speakers. When the feature is disabled the integrated amp operates as usual for a stereo experience from vinyl, streamers, or CD players connected directly to the amp. As a listener you get the best of both worlds.
Some listeners may so fully embrace the concept of surround sound that they want a fully engaging music listening experience from a multichannel system. All surround receivers can take stereo recordings and process them to play with surround effects...the ubiquitous Dolby Pro-Logic and DTS are standard, and each has a Music setting. Some companies "roll their own" too...Yamaha has long incorporated a variety of DSP modes you might find interesting.
But the real aficionado doesn't want to settle for artificial or synthesized effects. These folks need to make sure their speakers are well matched and correctly deployed for maximum immersive effect, and that all their components are up to the task. Furthermore, they need to invest properly recorded material...either multi-channel SACDs or Blu-Ray Music discs. There are also download sites catering to multichannel. Stereophile magazine features a monthly column called "Sound in the Round" written by Kalman Rubinson, who reviews both equipment and recordings.