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Designing a Home Theater - Choosing an Amplifier and a Sub-Woofer Amp

Updated on November 4, 2017

Similar to the projector and projector screen, there are many, many choices for a surround sound amplifier. And just like the projector, the sky is the limit when it comes to pricing.

The first thing you'll need to do when looking for a surround sound amplifier is to figure out what features are important to you.

If you're like me you don't know what features you're looking for. :(

Hopefully, my research will help cut a few hours off your amplifier search.

The Amplifier will be the heart of the theater components, controlling all the inputs and sending out the video signal to the projector
The Amplifier will be the heart of the theater components, controlling all the inputs and sending out the video signal to the projector | Source

What I Was Looking For In A Surround Sound Amplifier

For the surround sound system my criteria list was pretty straight forward. I was looking for 5.1 surround sound, enough HDMI inputs (since the surround sound system was going to control the inputs), and a good enough wattage to get my attention. :)

Because the amplifier was going to be the video source controller, all the video signals were going to pass though it.

So the amplifier needed to have 4K pass-through and support for HDR, since the projector in my setup was both 4K and HDR capable.

Options For A Surround Sound System

Dolby Digital Options

Dolby, THX or DTS

There are three main standards for surround sound that amplifiers can be certified for - Dolby, THX and DTS.

The most common standard of the three is Dolby digital. The other two are sometimes mentioned but the only thing I understood is it was a different standard.

Since Dolby was the most common, and the other standards seemed to also command a higher price tag, the choice in the end was more about which flavor of Dolby to get.

Which flavor really depends a lot on the speaker budget - and how many speakers can fit into that budget.

What Flavor Of Dolby?

I had always heard of Dolby Digital 5.1 but never really knew what the numbers meant - all I knew was that 5.1 was a good surround sound system.

In my search for a surround sound system I finally understood the numbers.

A 5.1 system means there are 5 surround sound speakers and 1 subwoofer. The 5 surround sound speakers would be the center speaker, left and right front speakers and left and right rear speakers.

In our days there are a lot of systems that are Dolby Digital 7.1 surround sound. The difference in the 7 in 7.1 surround sound system and the 5 in 5.1 is an additional two back speakers.

When shopping for speaker systems you'll come across a third number, like 5.1.2 or 7.1.4. That third number is the number of in-ceiling speakers also called presence speakers.

The latest iteration of Dolby is Dolby Atmos. the way they describe it is that is object oriented sound. Which means Atmos does a better job of determining what sound should go pushed to what speaker.

Below is a table with the different speaker layouts.

The Different Dolby Speaker Layouts

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Speaker
5.1
5.1.2
5.2.2
7.1
7.2
7.1.2
Center Speaker
X
X
X
X
X
X
Left Front Speaker
X
X
X
X
X
X
Right Front Speaker
X
X
X
X
X
X
Left Rear Speaker
X
X
X
X
X
X
Right Rear Speaker
X
X
X
X
X
X
Second Left Rear Speaker
 
 
 
X
X
X
Second Right Rear Speaker
 
 
 
X
X
X
Ceiling Speaker Count
0
2
2
0
0
2
Subwoofer Count
1
1
2
1
2
1
The Different Dolby Layouts

If you want more details about the different Dolby speaker setups, below is a great link from Dolby. (Fair warning it gets pretty speaker geaky)

Other Features Available

There were a bunch of other features available on the surround sound systems but for the most part none of them really matter when you are looking for a dedicated home theater amplifier.

In my case, the surround sound system was really only for the movie theater and really only for the audio from TV, DVD, NetFlix, etc...

Options like multi-zone, bluetooth streaming, wifi streaming, network audio playback didn't really matter in my setup at all.


The back of the Yamaha TSR-7810 7.2-Channel surround sound amplifier
The back of the Yamaha TSR-7810 7.2-Channel surround sound amplifier
The front of the Yamaha TSR-7810 7.2-Channel surround sound amplifier
The front of the Yamaha TSR-7810 7.2-Channel surround sound amplifier

The Surround Sound Amplifier I Chose

Like I said earlier, your speaker budget will be the driving force behind your surround sound amplifier decision.

In the end, I found a great price on a set of 7.2 speakers so I knew I could start looking for a Dolby 7.2 surround sound system.

The amplifier I ended up going with is the Yamaha TSR-7810 7.2-Channel Network Receiver, which I purchased online.

It had great reviews and more than enough features for my setup at a reasonable price.

The amplifier has 7.2 channel surround sound, DTS:X, Dolby Atmos, the 4K HDR passthrough and support for 3D. Basically all the criteria from my list was being met and it was a good price.

Tips For This Surround Sound Amplifier

If you end up choosing the same amplifier or a similar Yamaha amplifier, here are a few tips that'll help your amplifier sound it's best.

The YPAO mic that is included with the Yamaha TSR-7810 7.2-Channel receiver
The YPAO mic that is included with the Yamaha TSR-7810 7.2-Channel receiver

Make Sure To Run The YPAO Test

One thing that I would emphasize above all else with this amplifier is to make sure you run the sound optimization (YPAO).

The amp comes with a microphone that you plug into the front of the amp. All you need to do is center the microphone in the listening space and start the test.

The manual mentions to make sure that you are not standing between one of the speakers and the microphone while the test is being run. That way you don't interfere with the microphone picking up the speaker sounds.

When I ran my test, I placed the mic on the center seat in the theater, started the test and stayed out of the room until the test was complete.

YPAO will do a few tests on the speakers and optimize the audio for the space.

I'd say the difference in the surround sound experience was substantial, even for a non-audiophile like myself.


Enable The Enhancer Option

Sound is a difficult thing to describe, but enabling the enhancer option on the amp gives the sound a nicer, deeper, fuller sound.

Something To Keep In Mind About Surround Sound

My past purchases for surround sound systems have always been with powered or active sub-woofers.

When you're dealing with receivers that have passive sub-woofers, you'll need a separate amplifier to power the sub-woofer.

That was a fact that escaped me when I was doing my research for the surround amp. I only discovered it once I installed the surround amplifier and speakers and sadly my sub-woofers had no sound coming out of them. :(

After a couple web searches on passive sub-woofers I found out I needed to buy a separate sub-woofer amplifier.


Searching For A Sub-Woofer Amplifier

The criteria for a sub-woofer amplifier is pretty simple. It needs to be strong enough to power the sub-woofers and something that could be triggered on and off from the surround sound amplifier - removing the need for yet another remote control.

And of course a sub-woofer amplifier that's not too expensive would be nice.

When doing the searches for a subwoofer amplifier many of the search results will be for 12 volt car stereo amplifiers - not exactly what you're looking for. lol

One good way to get search results to be more relevant is by searching for 8ohm sub-woofer amplifier. Typical house speakers are 8ohm and car speakers are 4ohm.

The Sub-Woofer Amplifier I Chose

My sub-woofer amplifier choice is the OSD Audio SMP250; 250-Watt Single Channel Subwoofer Power Amplifier.

I chose this amplifier mainly because of the wattage, the 12V trigger and the price.

Two of the three criteria ended up not being a factor, but they where what I was looking for when I first started my search.

Tips For The Sub-Woofer Amplifier

There are a couple things I learned with this sub-woofer, bottom line it works great - there are just a few things to keep in mind.


The Sub-Woofer Amplifier's 12 Volt Trigger

The idea with a 12V trigger is that the sub amp would automatically detect when sound was being pushed to it and it would automatically turn itself on. That way it would turn itself on/off without the need for a remote control.

The problem I had with the trigger is that when it would turn on it would make a really loud popping sound through the subwoofers. And the popping sound would happen when it turned on and off, needless to say that wasn't pleasant. :)

Even after going back and forth with their tech support and having the amp replaced the popping still occurred.

I instead changed the sub-woofer amp trigger to be on all the time, which turned out perfect.

The amp goes into stand-by mode when it doesn't receive an audio signal and when it does turn on or off there is no more popping sound! :)


250 Watts

This one is a good problem, in a way. lol

One of the reasons I chose this amplifier was because of the wattage, both my sub-woofers were rated as 300 watt speakers so I wanted something that had enough muscle to power them.

Honestly, I think I could have gone with a less powerful amplifier and the bass would have been fantastic.

This amplifier was more than enough to power my sub-woofers. There is a level volume control on the back of the amp which I set to about half way and the subs basically shake the house.

This is a Mono subwoofer and I have two subwoofers

The manual for the subwoofer mentions that you can connect your two sub-woofers in parallel and both speakers will get the power they need. so that's what I did.

Basically, I have the speaker wire for both sub-woofers squished into one banana plug.


Make Sure To Get The Banana Plugs

The banana plugs make it much easier to run the wires to the back of your amplifier. When there are a couple of wires going to the back of an amp it's definitely manageable, but with a 7.2 system, you'll have to run 9 sets of speaker wire along with all the HDMI cables to the back of your surround sound amplifier.

Banana plugs help make the wire management manageable.

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