It’s Stereo by Default

The audio/video industry has generated a catalog of cryptic acronyms. DTS is an example. Formerly known as Digital Theater Systems, DTS presently stands for ‘Dedicated To Sound’. You may recall the DTS logo at the lead-in to a movie as its accompanying sound track swooped thru the theater and ended with a concussive low frequency blast.

DTS audio formats are comparable to the Dolby Digital surround sound formats. Both offer many versions that encircle the viewer/listener with slews of speakers. Curiously a new DTS format Virtual:X does not. Virtual:X proposes to create an immersive audio experience via a two speaker stereo step-up instead of a surrounding arrangement of five, six, seven, or more speakers.

“Say what – only two speakers?” ‘More-speakers, more-fun’ has been the hallmark of the surround sound formats for decades. So I have to ask; “Why?”

(What is stereo? – Are you sure? Select this Link)

DTS discovered fewer than 30% of DTS-X/Dolby Atmos home theater receivers sold have height speakers connected. Oddly, fewer than 48% have connected rear speakers. This is the data that led DTS Virtual:X to default to stereo. Which leads to this question, “How did this happen”?

(Note: Select Link supporting 30% – 48% statement.)

Many consumers were simply overwhelmed by the dizzying maze of choices in a surround sound receiver’s on-screen menu and its headache inducing rear panel zoo of input/output jacks; so, they just ‘threw in the towel’. Some ‘moth-balled’ dealing with the multi-speaker wiring. Others would not allocate space or cash for rear speakers, above speakers, or a sub-woofer. Many honestly do not understand the concept of stereo let alone surround sound. Which leads to this question; “How did they end up with that bloody surround sound receiver in the first place?”

Lacking competent qualification, many just bought a box someone persuaded them to buy. They – many unknowingly – abandoned the potential ‘goose-bump-producing’ sound they had handsomely paid for.

But Virtual:X doesn’t fundamentally solve the problem. It’s only available via that multi-channel receiver or a low fidelity soundbar. Which begs this question. “Should customers settle for a low-fidelity soundbar or should they still pay for the additional amplified channels of a home theater receiver they won’t use?”

My answer is neither. Instead, they should consider an option that avoids the surround sound receiver, the low-fidelity soundbar, or worse – the TV speaker. That option is a stereo home theater system.

Stereo Home Theater
Consider two stereo options. The first is a modest ‘low cost’ stereo home theater system. The second reallocates a presumably higher surround sound budget for the purchase of a yet higher performance stereo high fidelity home theater system. The ensuing text explains.

The Low Cost Option
This option employs a new ‘low-cost’ stereo AV receiver or an old vintage stereo receiver partnered with a TV and a pair of speakers; this assumes the television is a High Definition or Ultra-HD TV.

The vintage path ‘beats the bushes’ seeking a classic stereo receiver or integrated amplifier. A Craig-type list website is good place to search. If you’re younger than “the classics”, check out your Dad’s or Grandfather’s garage. The fidelity of many classics continues to surprise folks.

Yikes! – another acronym is about to appear – HDMI. The ‘High Definition Multimedia Interface’ is required for most current consumer video sources. It includes a plug, jack, and interconnecting audio/video cable.

However, “the classics” lack HDMI digital video switching. Therefore use your TV as the HDMI switcher. Connect HDMI video sources to the television. Add a ‘cheap’ less than $40 digital to analog converter to the television’s digital audio output. Connect the converter’s analog output to an input of the stereo receiver or integrated amp. Connect analog audio only sources directly to the receiver/integrated amp. If you use a digital only audio source; employ an additional digital to analog converter.

On the other hand, if you want to avoid the used re-purposed route, purchase the new Onkyo TX-8270 @ $429 or the Pioneer Elite SX-S30 @ $449 stereo receiver. Both include HDMI switching, digital and analog audio inputs, plus a phono input.

The Onkyo also offers a second zone preamp output which MAY cleverly and smoothly serve as a pre-out for a more powerful stereo power amplifier. Although I have not confirmed the ‘cleverly and smoothly’ element – this could allow the Onkyo to double as a very low cost stereo AV preamp.

Complete the new or re-purposed choice with a pair of bookshelf or floor standing speakers. This system will blow away the soundbars; for more ‘punch’ add a powered sub-woofer.

The Budget Reallocation Option
This choice reallocates a more affluent surround sound budget into a stereo audio/video system that includes a more robust stereo integrated amplifier with two dynamic floor standing speakers or a pair of bookshelf speakers paired with a rattle-your-DNA powered sub-woofer.

Initiate the reallocation into a higher fidelity stereo integrated amplifier such as the NAD C368 or C388 plus a NAD MDC HDMI switching module. The MDC module is a key detail. It provides the HDMI switching lacking in almost all stereo components.

The C368 @ $700 employs class D amplification; the MDC module adds $300 to the price. The C388 @ $1600 offers class AB amplification; again add the module. Both include analog and digital audio inputs, plus a phono input.

Class AB generally yields a smoother high fidelity result. Class D amplification can be a bit ‘brittle’ at the edges. But this Class D amplifier is still a better sonic option than the new stereo receivers mentioned above.

Complete the system with an appropriate goose-bump-generating floor standing or bookshelf speaker system and at least a 10 inch powered sub-woofer.

A Consideration
If you are an audiophile who transcends these sonic levels of performance; consider these options for non-audiophile friends. But proceed with caution. Your audio enthusiasm may lead to their first step into the HiFi abyss. If you’re an AV professional in the streets, attics, and crawl spaces of custom audio and video installations; consider these recommendations for clients. Implementing the stereo option can reinforce your reputation as their AV hero.

Default to Stereo
A default to stereo minimizes the catalog of acronyms, confusing digital formats, dizzying menus, cluttered back panels, yards of cabling, and a plethora of holes in your ceilings and walls.  More significantly stereo can deliver an easy to operate dynamic high fidelity music and home theater experience.

One Response to “It’s Stereo by Default”

  1. RAY AVALOS says:

    Wow, What a concept, High Fidelity Stereo Music Reproduction, Deja Vu all over again, Yes.

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