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How Many Channels Do You Need in a High-End AV Receiver?

A high-end AV receiver is an essential component in any home theater. Whether you want to enjoy the dynamic sounds of the latest action movies or immerse yourself in lush musical landscapes, you need the audio-visual muscle that only an expertly designed and crafted AV receiver can provide.

Denon Staff

That said, enjoying the improved audio/visual quality an AVR provides, and being able to understand the nuances that make one AVR superior to another, bring on a new set of matters to consider. Often, people looking to upgrade their AV receiver get hung up on the number of channels each model offers: Are more channels inherently better? Do more channels equate better quality? How many channels do you actually need in an AV receiver?

Breaking down each channel setup

Home theater receivers can feature anywhere from five to upwards of 13 distinct channels (your baseline stereo setup will only feature two speaker channels, three if there's a subwoofer included). As you research different products, you'll likely come across figures like 5.1, 7.1, 9.1, etc. The first number in each figure represents horizontal speaker connections available — these are your center, left, right and surround channels. The number following the decimal denotes the available subwoofer connections. Adding the two numbers in the sequence tells you the total audio connections available. For instance, a 5.1 system is really a six-channel setup.

Now, let's take a look at the arrangements available with today's high-end AV receivers.

5.1 channel

This is a pretty standard format for surround sound systems. 5.1 setups include two front speakers (left/right), two surround/rear speakers (left/right), one center unit and the subwoofer. For smaller spaces, a 5.1 surround sound system can adequately recreate a cinematic experience for your home theater. If you have a larger viewing area, you may have to set your sights a little higher.

7.2 channel

Each step up in AV receivers builds upon the previous iteration. So, a 7.2-channel system includes the same speakers as a 5.1 setup, and adds two additional rear surround speakers for more immersion plus another subwoofer output for even greater sound quality with low frequency effects.

9.2 channel

Now things are really heating up. A 9.1 or 9.2-channel arrangement adds a vertical dimension to the audio experience, injecting even more depth of sound. These setups include two elevated front speakers to give surround sound a sense of height. If you have a large room as your main viewing area, a 9.1 or 9.2 configuration is a good option to match the acoustics of the space.

11.2/13.2 channel

Thanks to sophisticated encoding formats like Auro-3D, many high-end AV receivers now support 11.2 and 13.2-channel configurations. These speaker arrangements provide better width and depth for three-dimensional audio, rivaling the cinematic experience of a traditional movie theater. An 11.2 or 13.2-channel configuration is ideal for spacious rooms that can support each channel without unwanted interference.

Not everyone requires an ambitious 13.2-channel home theater setup — it really depends on the dimensions of your viewing area and how nuanced you want your surround sound to be. Whatever configuration you're looking for, Denon has the high-end AV receivers and audio equipment you need to create your perfect home theater experience.