Sound advice: Configure surround sound yourself

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 11, 2012 - 2:45 PM

Q I have a Yamaha RX-V1900 receiver that replaced a Sony unit that lacked HDMI. My problem is that I don't seem to be hearing surround sound. I used the supplied setup microphone and have been getting poor results. I've been over the manual three times. What am I doing wrong?

A You have a fine receiver and will be able to get excellent results once everything is set properly.

The first thing to remember is that not all TV broadcasts are in surround sound. If you get surround sound occasionally, it could be that many of the programs you are watching are in stereo, not surround.

Since you changed to HDMI from another kind of digital connection, the first thing to do is to check the settings of your components. Make sure your cable/satellite box and DVD/Blu-ray player have HDMI audio set to transmit in surround, not stereo. This would be Dolby/PCM (not just PCM) on satellite and cable boxes. With Blu-ray players, it can differ depending on the player's capabilities, but selecting bitstream will always yield a surround-sound signal.

Many receivers have automated setup programs now. At the lower end of the pricing scale, the only two systems I have found to work consistently well are Pioneer's MCACC and Anthem's ARC. With every other system, I have preferred the results I get tuning the surround sound myself.

To do this, enter the audio menus, set the proper configuration for your speakers and activate the test tones. If you have a sound pressure level meter, adjust each channel to 75 dB. If you don't have a meter, set each speaker so it seems to have the same loudness when you switch the test tone from speaker to speaker. Once you have done this you can bump the center channel up a tad if you have trouble hearing dialogue, and turn up the surround speakers a bit if you prefer stronger surround effects.

When everything is set properly, the receiver will choose the proper surround format on its own. Your Yamaha has additional Cinema DSP modes that might be adding to your confusion. Leave those turned off.

Celebrating 10: July 4 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Sound Advice column. To celebrate and to thank readers, I'm giving away a home-theater sound system -- a Definitive Technology ProCinema 400 speaker system and a Marantz NR1402 receiver. Both products produce fantastic results together. Visit my website (www. soundadviceblog.com) to enter.

Clarification: I recently wrote that Eneloop rechargeable batteries require a specific charger. They can be used with any charger, but the warranty applies only if you use a Sanyo or GE/Sanyo charger.

Get other audio-video recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadvice blog.com. Send questions to donlindich@gmail.com.

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