The quandary: do I move on from my superb sounding 5.1 setup to be able to enjoy the latest surround technology? Thoughts/experiences welcome.

QuadraphonicQuad

Help Support QuadraphonicQuad:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.

scottm18

Senior Member
QQ Supporter
Joined
Aug 12, 2012
Messages
205
So I've literally had the same speaker system for 20 years now, only the driving components have been upgraded. It consists of Innovative Audio cabinet speakers if you remember those which have some fantastic Scandinavian drivers: 10" custom woofer, Seas 5" mid-range and Peerless 1" tweeter--used for LCR. For the surrounds, another classic is in use which would be Acoustic Research Phantom 8.3 with its ultra slick outer magnet to keep the thin profile. Finally, things are topped off with the same dual 10s" that are in my cabinet speakers for a massive sub. The main rig consists of the state-of-the-art (for analog) Audio Research multi-channel preamp and McCormack/Conrad Johnson amp...with a modified Oppo 205 for the only digital component. This all runs into an Audience AR6 conditioner to offset the power woes in my state.

Bottom line, with what the system was designed for (meaning 5.1), it sounds absolutely sublime. It's been interesting to watch the audio increase between the Denon I started with and the superb separates I have now--which is now absolutely top-tier SQ. In my personal opinion, DVD-Audio and SACD are the best audio format ever invented. The sound on the top-notch ones was superb and and most importantly, keeping it to 5.1 channels means the engineer could concentrate on fewer channels and better sound per channel--as opposed to dealing with 47 different channels like now.. Just sampling Beck's Sea Change or ELP Brain Salad Surgery, or Aaron Neville Devotion--when I put these on my "regular music listening" friends are completely blown away with the audio quality But then some cracks in the armor: I first noticed a problem when I tried to convert my system to 7.1 (extra set of Phantoms), because now my primary use DVD-Audio (5.1) rear channels move to the side and completely throw off the balance. Rather amusingly, twenty years later I was surprised to see this very phenomenon humorously documented on the Pink Floyd DSOM Atmos disc. Probably the best on-disc explanation of this setup nonsense I've ever read :)

So up until now, I've had no problem with my 5.1 setup... with both preamp and amp only being 5 channels. Even the advent of Blu-ray audio with such great titles as Bob Marley Legend or Beck's masterful Sea Change now sound even better with a greater (up to double) bitrate than the already great DVD Audio/SACD... at first keeping to a choice between 5.1 and 7.1 usually. But then things changed...for the worse in my case.

Dolby Atmos wasn't content just taking over movies, it had to make its presence known in music as well and rear it's ugly head. In borrowing two of the top selling discs very recently--meaning DOSM and Who's Next Atmos--unfortunately I now see the limitation of my system because it cannot handle the Atmos encoding properly. And of course the newest and greatest mixes are usually Atmos-only (such as with DSOM). With Oppo my 205 in 7.1 speaker configuration (with no SB speakers), parts of the now song just disappear as it moves to just those channels. Even a "downmix" to 5.1 is still noticeably not as good as true 5.1 because the anchoring is gone and vocals are just too "floaty". On streaming services like Apple Music in Atmos/surround, with the Oppo 5.1 mix set everything is too front-mixed but with the 7.1 set it's too rear-mixed. I can't win. It's obviously my "discreet" analog channels are causing problems with the newest technology.

Therein lies my dilemma. Do I kill the terrific analog 5.1 sound that is basically unmatched people who hear it say...and take a chance and upgrade where I have to start over with a receiver (maybe Marantz 8015) vs a preamp/amp. I doubt I would add any surround back speakers to keep my living room from looking like an electronic store... but I could add some ceiling bounce height drivers on top of my front speakers--of course the only possible if I digitally driven. And there's always that Nak Dragon beast of a sound bar that would probably take over every square inch of space in my living room :)

So I'm curious, for the people who can run Atmos here...how do you do it? Do you run like a simple Samsung 990 soundbar that my friend swears by...but I don't believe would sound nearly as good as true speakers. Or have you actually taken the time to literally add an Atmos system complete with the expensive and time-consuming ceiling speaker mounts like another friend has done (cost him about two grand for installation alone to do two rooms). In one of his rooms he actually has two sets of components and speakers to keep the original 5.1 configuration intact--but I don't have the space for that. Is anyone in the same predicament as me and regrets configuring for the Atmos madness? Chasing the dragon's tail analogy comes to mind. I think it ran across at least one post here of somebody who is....

Curse you technology! :)
 
Last edited:
I am using a Denon AVR X6700H which can drive all the speakers in my 7.1.4 and while I could not do it sooner than I did, I wish it were otherwise. I love the additional sound field provided by the speakers overhead.

I had some friends come by and we ceiling mounted 4 Klipsch CDT-3650-C II at the cost of beer and pizza. It took about four hours but better prep would have made it 2.
I realize not everyone has that luxury.

Once of them is completely in love with surround now but is not able to ceiling mount at his house so is looking into the bounce method.
 
I switched to a Denon AVC-X8500HA (as it has 7.1 analogue inputs so I can hook up my Involve SM2) and added 4x B&W M-1 speakers in the corners of the room just below the ceiling, my mains are 4x Monitor Audio Silver RS8s and a matching centre, no Sub. So a 5.0.4 ATMOS set-up. Gives me a good immersive sound field - a practical solution to my wanting Atmos not a perfect one though but I'm happy with it.
 
So I've literally had the same speaker system for 20 years now...:)
Get more of the same then! That's what I did. There's no "moving on", only moving up! (Yes, pun intended.)

If you are curious what ricocheting sound off your walls and ceiling sounds like sans speakers, turn your speakers facing the wall and listen. Those soundbars are crafty for movie soundtrack mixes but would be mutilating for full music mixes. (Sure you didn't mean to say "swears at"?)

The decoder is the issue. And they very much want to force you into a hardware purchase to get access to it that way. That means buying new amps all over again if it's a new AVR. Dolby still isn't selling their reference player commercially. They must want people to get it another way or something. Don't read too much into that. Or do.

Short version:
Don't compromise fidelity just to get more channels! Turns into a gimmick quickly if you were used to hi fidelity. Get more speakers at your current standard at minimum. Figure out how to grab a copy of the new decoder.
 
@jimfisheye covered exactly what I would say. No reason to compromise. Do my surrounds need to be as good of quality as they are? Maybe not, but damn do I enjoy the sound that having matched speakers of good quality can deliver.

As far as your dilemma on the surrounds, where Dolby wants channels 4/5 is not a divine law. You won't be sent to a war crime tribunal if you set them up where they work better for you. My surround channels out of necessity are located a bit behind the listening area and angled appropriately. Having been on multiple theater crawls and demos at various expos, I don't feel like I'm losing anything with movies and 5.1 music continues to sound great (I had 5.1 for years and years).

I think you'll love the expansion. It should just add to the things you can enjoy.
 
I wouldn't go with any bounce type speakers. They tend to be underwhelming. If you can't go with on or in ceiling Atmos I'd stick with the 5.1. I wouldn't go with any sound bars either.

I ran Atmos down mixed to 5.1 for quite a while before I was Atmos capable. I felt it all down mixed quite well. Nothing should "disappear". I did not use a disc player for the downmix. I haven't played actual disks for nearly 10 years now.

I don't understand 7.1 as being done with "an extra set of phantoms". Either run a 5.1 bed or a 7.1 bed. Whatever is best for your room. It seems like you are trying to Frankenstein stuff together.

No matter what, it's time to move on from that analog front end. The incompatibilities involved with an analog front end are only going to get worse.

I guess I don't understand why you feel you are going to lose fidelity by going Atmos. Except for the Analog preamp, everything else you use now to reproduce 5.1 can stay the same and whatever you add to reproduce Atmos isn't used for 5.1. the biggest change is that you will be using different DACs from those in your Oppo. Today's high quality DACs are pretty transparent.

The first move id make is a switch to an Atmos capable AVP. Not a receiver. Keep your high quality power amps. There are several high quality AVPs on the market
 
It's easier to kind of give you guys my scenario via pictures. Here's my room design and as you can see I don't have a whole lot of room for extra speakers in an 11x14" setup... anywhere. The ones I have are super high quality (even 20 years removed) and I don't want to give them up, just expand on them. The sound in this nearly symmetrical reflective room is just unbelievable with 5.1 material. I really can only go "up" as already have tried the 7.1 route (another ohantom pair) and it's just too crowded in the room.

This shows the room in all its "glory" --kind of stuck in time 20 years(!) complete with a cabinet/stand that has a hidden compartment for the center channel. Pics show close-up of the beautiful cabinet speakers (now wired with Audio Art rhodium cables) plus stock-pic subwoofer... and how the back wall is situated with the AR phantoms. The two pair beautifully with driver timber but it also shows how little "side" room I would have. Also shown is the current components (amp/preamp), including the unbelievable build quality of the Audio Research preamp--including the "analog playground" connections on the back panel. But it may have finally met it's maker...Father Time. Amusingly, there's someone on this board that used to own the main analog equipment (preamp) and we've have analog versus digital discussions prior. He's no doubt thinking to himself now...I told you so :)

I'll have to look into the AVP route cause I didn't think/realize I could keep the amplifier (which of course gives the main sonic signature)...and I also have a Cary Cinema 5 (5 ch) amp which is no slouch either that maybe could be incorporated into extra feeds. Definitely something to research. If I looking at this picture, someone could tell me a particular AVP to look based on my arrangement, please link it.

So what I would have to run a completely separate DAC system and then feed those into Atmos speakers? Do they make powered Atmos speakers so I wouldn't have to drive them with an amp.

Really my only option is putting Arnos "bounce" speakers on the top of the cabinet speakers... My ceiling is way too solid to for me to DIY cut into.
livingroom.jpglr-sideshot-2.jpgspk-term-lores.jpgspk-front-lores.jpgSSW_NC_newc.jpgrear_spk_long_lores.jpg

Screenshot_20231111_095037_Gallery.jpgARC_MP1_top.jpg649646021_thumb_3d0303c4b1d66cc3bdc1af3822e4e83f.jpg
 
Last edited:
I don't know how sensitive the decor of the room is, but you can always mount the speaker enclosures to the ceiling rather than cutting into it. I attached these premade boxes to the joist and mounted the in-wall speakers in them. Works great. You could easily build boxes that fit your room rather than going the premade route if that works better for the room.

I did the "topper" or bounce type speakers for part of my original Atmos setup. They're better than nothing, but not nearly as good as ceiling speakers.

As far as processors go, I've been very happy with Lyngdorf. Room Perfect in direct comparison with other correction methods at the last 2 Mwaves has consistently been one of the favorites (and my pick in blind testing). It doesn't do any upmixing of any source unless you tell it. The custom voicing/eq controls are intuitive and very customizable. They are expensive, but you can get a good deal on them used if you keep an eye open (I scored mine used). A really great processor, especially where music is an emphasis.
 

Attachments

  • ceiling.jpg
    ceiling.jpg
    173.4 KB · Views: 0
IMO 11x14 is pretty small for 7.1. my room is larger and mine is too small for 7.1. without being crowded. That being said, having speakers that can be mounted on the wall would help a lot.

Where are the surround side speakers? In a near field like yours, they are much more important than true rears. But if you have 2 sets of those wall mounts, you can probably do both , no? With a 5.1 bed, all rear info goes to the sides.

So those wall mounts located behind you is what you are currently using for 5.1 rears?

What @DrKlahn said above it true. If you can go with surface mounts of some kind on the ceiling or high on the wall, that's a better compromise than any bounce stuff. If your ceiling joists run from your TV to your MPL it wouldn't be too hard to run wires where they need to go. And you should be able to run them inside, up the walls You want 2 heights or 4?

@Kal Rubinson used one of those ARC preamps. He put it up for sale years ago. Nice gear, but too outdated. No digital inputs is why he sold it IIRC.

The Lingdorf is an excellent choice, and is more than up to the task given your existing equipment. I can't help but wonder if it wouldn't do a better job on mixdown to 5.1 for you.
 
The decoder is the challenge here. Dolby will not license it to 3rd party software media players. So you have to choose between acquiring a copy of Dolby reference player app or buying some AV receiver with a decoder built in.

Having to buy new hardware and actually replace what you have when you have a high end system and have used a computer for music for 20 years now is damn unreasonable. Absurd even. Finding a copy of the reference player ... It's an awkward call out and it's been written about.

If you get the decoding reference player, everything is old school again like it's been. You can mix and match components as you like. Speakers are speakers. Amps are amps. Might have to grab an audio interface with more outputs. You can avoid HDMI altogether. No handshakes. No defaulting to shutting off from copy protection failsafe.
 
He put it up for sale years ago. Nice gear, but too outdated. No digital inputs is why he sold it IIRC.

I'll give you one guess who he sold it to :)

It's been awesome for years (still is) but it's locked into discrete channels and when you leave the 5.1 world, things get a little tricky. And I'm sure you've noticed more and more media is leaving the 5.1 world behind...

Yes those ARs on the back wall are my surround left and right speakers...and they are true gems and able to handle the full range of whatever I give it. Acoustic Research wasn't just audio accessories back in the day :)

I experimented with putting the same AR Phantoms on their stands in approx the area denoted in the latest picture (running off an older Denon 7ch receiver)... but I really don't have enough room and they're just too close to each other. In addition, as mentioned with 5.1 now the back channels as it knows become the side channels--which of course is not correct and a real problem. Again, if you have the Pink Floyd Atmos disc, read their commentary on this very subject.

It has crossed my mind to use the two extra ARs up on the ceiling because they're damn good speakers and nice and slim (although I had to borrow a midrange for one blown driver on existing ones). Probably would look less bizarre than crammed into the side as a 7.1 setup. But...then not sure how I would incorporate them into the equation to signal and power them. It gets really confusing really quickly.

I was contemplating replacing everything with Sony's HT-A9 or their new one... But no cheapie satellite speakers going to match the quality I have now.

I'm also in trouble with my Oppo dies because I have no way to put a digital input in. So in fact, that is preventing me from replacing it with something like the Magnetar 900, really it's only equivalent. In M's infinite wisdom, even though they copied 99% of the Oppo they forgot to add the critical HDMI in.

Even my cars (only ones I can fit).play the physical DVD-Audio discs (and high res in the case of the Infinitii)...so I am stuck in the past for sure :)

I simply never should have borrowed those at most discs to realize what I'm unable to do now..


Screenshot_20240516_170539_Gallery.jpg
 
Last edited:
Why not keep your existing 5.0 amplifier and speakers as the main 5.0 and add something like a Denon 8500 AVR as the Atmos decoder and amplifier for new Atmos speakers. This has 7.1 analog in and preamp outs to drive your analog amplifier.

I did something similar in my Atmos upgrade and used my existing B&W 800 series 5.1 speakers as fronts and sides to get same quad/5.1 sound using high end monolithic amplifiers. My AVR is used as the preamp, decoder and drives my rears and 4 x ceiling speakers for a 7.1.4 configuration.

Best both both worlds. You get to keep your existing 5.1 system inside a new 7.1.4 Atmos system
 
My Meridian 861 v.8 pre/pro only allows for a 7.1 set~up so my solution was to add two Meridian self amped DSP3200 speakers [100 watts each] which are elevated and angled toward the sweet spot and I am more than thrilled since ATMOS does allow 7.1 True HD through my OPPO 205. I have two matching pairs of Meridian's self powered speakers with built in phase aligned subs front and rear [750 watts EACH] and in tandem with those two side amped speakers, I am literally in heaven!

You may want to investigate self amped side speakers [perhaps Genilecs] and hopefully they will enhance your existing front and rears!

Do I really miss sounds coming from OVERHEAD ..... ????? Those sides, IMO, really fill in the sound and surprisingly are FULLY active when playing QUAD sources, as well!

Product Image
Meridian DSP3200 Active Speakers....The DSP3200 employs Meridian’s award-winning DSP technologies which includes two integrated amplifiers and two drive-units.


 
Last edited:
Yes to AR speakers!
AR9 in the 4 corners. AR4c center and sides. AR17 heights.
Whole system is speaker managed using the 4 12" subs for system sub.
Those "center" speakers are literally the top section of the AR9. Slightly compromised on the heights with a single mids I suppose.
 
I ran Atmos down mixed to 5.1 for quite a while before I was Atmos capable. I felt it all down mixed quite well. Nothing should "disappear".
If being put up for a vote, I'd say address whatever is spoiling the Atmos downmix experience. 100% nothing should 'disappear' unless your amp is trying to send the ceiling signal to speakers you don't have connected or it's configured to send the signal someplace instead of merging it into existing channels(?).

I'm still holding on contently with 5.1, even cross-graded my amp recently to a newer 5.1 amp [was just trying to get out ahead of imminent failure of my existing amp]. I have a few Atmos discs with and without distinct 5.1 playback options, and haven't had any major issues with the Atmos mix "fold down" to 5.1

It sounds like you have good gear (none of what you listed I'm familiar with) and if you think there's a long game in continuing to use it, then stay with what's working. If you've heard some Atmos material and feel compelled to start heading down that road, then by all means. But it sounds more like you're where I'm at -- Atmos is a nice curiosity, and I'll maybe get there someday. Maybe. And maybe someday.
 
So there's been a couple questions about what I mean by "down mixing" . The Oppo 205 under speaker settings has a 7.1 and 5.1 down mix option. If I set it to 7.1 (even though I don't have the surround back speakers), it sounds the best on an Atmos mix especially, until you get to areas of the mix that uses the surround back speakers that don't exist--so it just completely drops out. It's very apparent on the DSO mix in particular. Changing that option to 5.1 brings the mix more in focus...but it's still is not anchored as well as a true 5.1 mix (in particular vocals are too floaty and not anchored in the center channel like they should be). It's not as noticeable on streaming/compressed/fake Atmos because well it sucks :). No seriously it doesn't make use of all the channels like true Atmos does so I don't notice it as much. The Steven Wilson remix of Chic songs sound particularly good on Apple music in that 7.1 mode.

Probably what I really need is something better than the Oppo to do a downmixing... because I really don't need more speakers I just need them to sound better on the more modern material--if that makes sense. Let's put it this way: Any Atmos mix I run with any setting pales in comparison to something like the amazing sounding purposely discrete 5.1 of Beck Sea Change. I see there's been some suggestions listed so I'm going to research some of those.

Nope. Sold it (AR preamp) to the OP because I could not live with the noise.

As we've discussed I only notice it when my ear is right next to the cabinet which of course it never is. I think the AR factory check took care of the majority of the issue. There's absolutely nothing wrong with its superlative sound quality (especially coupled with that amp.. neither of which are built to this quality anymore)--it's just the fact that it's stuck in a 5.1 world as media is rapidly moving out of it.
 
I'd treat the Atmos downmixing as an aside. The full mix delivered 1:1 is the main event. The downmixes are only meant to be better than nothing. Sometimes they aren't checked. Some engineers deliver discrete 5.1 and stereo mixes for full control over them.

The Atmos system has better downmix ability than previous systems and I don't mean to just be snobby for the full system and dismiss it. Just that I'd chase the full system for accuracy and expect any downmix to be what it is and probably not as balanced as intended.
 
If you guys haven't seen the poke-fun-at-the-industry amusing (but very accurate!) commentary on the PF Atmos discs, I've included a picture of the most informative section. I definitely know what they're talking about in the highlighted part (I remember trying to tie two speaker connections to one post --it's just ridiculous) and that is 100% just not happening. I have to do some kind of setup where for the majority of my stuff which is 5.1 (way too much media with that encoding) is played properly with the wall speakers behind me--none of this side BS or repeated patching. As this plainly demonstrates, unfortunately that probably means I cannot do a 7.1 system and should instead concentrate on something above.

BRAVO to whoever wrote this for telling it like it is with a nice dose of humor & not sugarcoating things!
Screenshot_20240516_193050_Gallery.jpg

Screenshot_20240516_193445_Gallery.jpg
 
Last edited:
I parse the decision like this:
Ability to listen to both 5.1 and 7.1.4 vs not able to hear 7.1.4 fully.
Option #1 means clicking the correct speaker manager and no mix and match shuffle playlists.
Option #2 means no full 7.1.4. Shuffle is a moot point because I can't even hear 7.1.4 at all without downmixing.

I'll take the click-clicking to be able to listen to 7.1.4. Think of it like grabbing an input switch on a receiver to switch between phono and tuner.

To be clear, I'm chasing the mix for good or bad. 7.1.4 landed as a mix format and I want to hear them 1:1. I might agree that some downmixes sound good. Maybe even that the balances are still on point. But I'm chasing the mix... so the downmix scenarios don't even compute.

I hadn't noticed that note on the Floyd disc. Points there! Now I'm sad I don't really like that Atmos mix.
 
Back
Top