Topgun (we don’t make this up) wrote in to ask:
I own an AV reciever that came with 5 speakers and a subwoofer. It is a Sony receiver. It offers Dolby Digital and DTS. It is 80w x5. Would upgrading to a better receiver a 600watt with the HDMI connections offer better surround sound?
CE Pro‘s Robert Archer says:
Hi Topgun, stepping up from a home theater in a box (HTiB) type of system to some components that are more robust and flexible would in theory give you a better home theater experience.
Addressing the topic of watts (power)—-not everyone defines watts in the same way so this can be a deceiving way to approach the evaluation of an amplifier product. The best rules of thumb that you could go by before hearing an amp is to look at specifications that define how many watts it outputs continuously with all channels driven. Some companies will give you a large number that’s is a peak number, which doesn’t truly indicate how much power the amp produces in a normal (or continuous) listening situation.
The next part of that number you want to look at is how many channels are being driven when the measurement is taken. Amplifiers will produce higher power figures when driving a single channel when compared to driving multiple channels and this is one way that some companies will try to make their amps appear more powerful than they actually are.
Other rules of thumb to look at include check how heavy the amp is. If the amp feels substantial that’s a good sign it has a good-size transformer and/or power supply. These internal components are used in amps associated with strong power capabilities.
As for your question about HDMI, any receiver with HDMI (especially the newest version HDMI 1.4) should give you the latest performance options that include 3D compatibility, Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio processing, as well as the ability to switch between HDMI devices (these include products like Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, Apple TV, cable and satellite boxes) with the press of a button.
Look for a receiver that has at least four HDMI inputs and at least the HDMI 1.3 specification.
In addition to these features, some of the industry’s latest generation of receivers also offer options such as iPod/iPhone/iPad compatibility through Apple certification, Microsoft Windows 7 certification, DLNA certification (for network media streaming) and iPhone/iPod/iPad control apps.
Grant Clauser adds:
As Bob pointed out, a receiver’s performance isn’t all about the watts, and not all manufacturers will measure and report their specifications in exactly the same way. You’ll find an article explaining receivers in more detail here.
There are lots of things in a 2011 receiver that weren’t available even a year or two ago, so depending on the age of your system and what you expect to get out of it, upgrading may do a lot for you. But the first thing you need to do is ask yourself what more you want from your receiver. What about it isn’t satisfying you now? If it’s the functionality and features, then a newer one will probably solve those issues. If it’s the sound quality, then the problem may be your receiver or it may be your speakers or it may be your room (for an article on acoustic issues go here).
From your description, I’m going to assume what you’ve got is a Home Theater in a Box system (HTiB). If that’s the case, then both the speakers and the receiver may not meet high performance standards. Often HTiB systems use inexpensive components, digital amps, cheap speaker wire and bland speakers (not all do, but this is often the case). Just because a system lists a lot of watts, doesn’t mean it’s really powerful or accurate. One excellent audio company, NAD, is usually very conservative with it’s power ratings, but their products are extremely accurate and often more powerful sounding than products that list more watts.
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